Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Leviticus 18". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ leviticus-18.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Leviticus 18". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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PART III. SECTION III.
MORAL UNCLEANNESS AND ITS PUNISHMENT. This being the subject of the three following chapters (chapters 18-20), they naturally form a sequence to chapters 11-17, which have dealt with ceremonial uncleanness and its purification. It is a remarkable thing that, except by implication in connection with the sin offerings and the trespass offerings and the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement, there has not yet been a single moral precept, as such, in the Book of Leviticus, and there has been very little recognition of sin as distinct from pollution. All has been ceremonial. But the ceremonial is typical of the moral, and from the consideration of ceremonial uncleanness and its remedy, we now proceed to the consideration of moral uncleanness and its penalty. It is to be noticed too that, while the ensuing laws are commanded as the positive injunction of God (verses 2, 30), which of itself is sufficient to give them their authority and force, they are still founded, like the ceremonial prohibitions, upon the feelings of repugnance implanted in the mind of man. To enter into the marriage relation with near relatives is abhorrent to a sentiment in mankind so widely spread that it may be deemed to have been originally universal, and the same abhorrence is entertained towards other foul sins of lust. Ugliness, which creates disgust by its ugliness, symbolizes sin; immorality, which inspires abhorrence by its immoral character, proves itself thereby to be sin. The section deals first with sin in the marriage relation, next with sexual impurities connected with marriage, then with other cases of immorality, and lastly with the penalties inflicted on these sins in their character of crimes.
Form an introduction to the Hebrew code of prohibited degrees of marriage and of forbidden sins of lust. The formal and solemn declaration, I am the Lord your God, is made three times in these five verses. This places before the people the two thoughts:
1. That the Lord is holy, and they ought to be like him in holiness;
2. That the Lord has commanded holiness, and they ought to obey him by being holy. Because the Lord is their God, and they are his people, they are, negatively, to refrain from the vicious habits and lax customs prevalent in the land of Egypt wherein they dwelt, and in the land of Canaan whither they were going, the sensuality of which is indirectly condemned by the injunctions which command purity in contrast to their doings; and, positively, they are to keep God's statutes, and his judgments, as laid down in the following code, which if a man do, he shall live in them. The latter clause is of special importance, because it is repeated in the same connection by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:11, Ezekiel 20:13, Ezekiel 20:21), and in the Levitical confession in the Book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:29), and is quoted by St. Paul in a controversial sense (Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12). Its full meaning is that by obedience to God's commands man attains to a state of existence which alone deserves to be called true life—"the life which connects him with Jehovah through his obedience" (Clark). And this involves the further truth that disobedience results in death. Accordingly, St. Paul uses the text as being the testimony of the Law with regard to itself, that salvation by it is of works in contrast with faith. (Cf. Luke 10:28.) We have no evidence to tell us what were the doings of the land of Canaan in respect to the marriage relation, but this chapter is enough to show that the utmost laxity prevailed in it, and we may be sure that their religious rites, like those of Midian (Numbers 25:1-18), were penetrated with the spirit of licentiousness. With regard to the doings of the land of Egypt, we have fuller information. We know that among the Egyptians marriage with sisters and half-sisters was not only permissible, but that its propriety was justified by their religious beliefs, and practiced in the royal family (Died. Sic; 1:27; Die. Cass; 42). Other abominations condemned in this chapter (verse 23) also, as we know, existed there (Herod; 2:46), and if queens could be what in later times Cleopatra was, we may imagine the general dissoluteness of the people. Among Persians, Medes, Indians, Ethiopians and Assyrians, marriage with mothers and daughters was allowed, and from the time of Cambyses, marriage with a sister was regarded as lawful (Herod; Nehemiah 3:31). The Athenians and Spartans permitted marriage with half-sisters. All these concessions to lust, and ether unclean acts with which the heathen world was full (verse 22; Romans 1:27), were fallings away from the law of purity implanted in the heart of man and now renewed for the Hebrew people.
The next thirteen verses contain the law of incest, or the prohibited degrees of marriage. The positive law of marriage, as implanted in the human heart, would be simply that any man of full age might marry any woman of full age, provided that both parties were willing. But this liberty is at once controlled by a number of restrictions, the main purpose of which is to prevent incest, which, however much one nation may come to be indifferent to one form of it, and another to another, is yet abhorrent to the feelings and principles of mankind. The Hebrew restrictive law is contained in one verse. None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him to uncover their nakedness: I am the Lord. All that follows (Leviticus 18:9-18) is simply an amplification and an explanation of the words, near of kin to him. These words would be literally rendered, flesh of his flesh, or less probably, remainder of his flesh. They certainly include within the compass of their meaning those that are near by affinity, as much as those that are near by consanguinity. This is proved by the instances given below, where no difference is drawn between blood relations and relations by marriage, the latter being supposed to become the former, in consequence of the marriage that has taken place. Nearness of kin is generally counted by "degrees;" but, unfortunately, this word is itself ambiguous, for it is used in different senses by canonists and by civilians. So far as the direct line is concerned, the same method of calculation is observed by the canon and by the civil law. There is one degree from the son to the mother, two degrees to the grandmother; one degree from the father to the daughter, two degrees to the granddaughter. But this is not so with the collateral lines. A brother and sister, for example, are regarded by the canon law as in the first degree of kinship, because there is only one step to the father, in whom their blood meets; but the civil lawyers consider them as being in the second degree, because, as they calculate, there is one step from the brother to the father, and a second from the father to the sister. An aunt is, according to the canonists, in the second degree of propinquity, because there are two steps from her nephew to his grandfather, who is likewise her father, in whom their blood unites; but, according to the civilian's calculation, there are three steps, namely, from her nephew to his grandfather, two steps, and a third from that grandfather to his daughter the aunt; and therefore the aunt and nephew are in the third degree of propinquity. The case of an uncle and niece is exactly the same as that of a nephew and aunt. On the same principle, according to the canonists, first cousins are in the second degree of kinship; according to the civilians, in the fourth. Propinquity by affinity is calculated in just the same way; so that the brother's wife is in the same degree of relationship as the brother, and wife's sister as the sister by blood. In the code before us, confirmed by that in Deuteronomy, marriage is forbidden with the following blood relations: mother (verse 7), daughter (verse 17), sister (verse 9; Le Deuteronomy 20:17; Deuteronomy 27:22), granddaughter (verse 10), aunt (verses 12, 13; Le Deuteronomy 20:19); and with the following relations by affinity: mother-in-law (verse 17; Deuteronomy 20:14; Deuteronomy 27:23), daughter-in-law (verse 15; Le Deuteronomy 20:12), brother's wife (verse 16; Leviticus 20:21), stepmother (verse 8; Deuteronomy 20:11; Deuteronomy 22:30; see Genesis 49:4; 1 Corinthians 5:1), stepdaughter and step-granddaughter (verse 17), uncle's wife, or aunt by marriage (verse 14; Le Deuteronomy 20:20); putting aside for the present the question of who is meant by a wife to her sister, in verse 18. In these lists, according to the canonists' method of reckoning, the mother, the daughter, and the sister are related in the first degree of consanguinity; the wife's mother, the wife's daughter, the stepmother, the daughter-in-law, the brother's wife, are related in the first degree of affinity. The granddaughter and the aunt are in the second degree of consanguinity; the wife's granddaughter and the uncle's wife in the second degree of affinity. According to the civilians' reckoning, the following would be the degrees of propinquity:—The mother and the daughter would be in the first degree of consanguinity; the wife's mother, the wife's daughter, the stepmother, the daughter-in-law, would be in the first degree of affinity. The sister and the granddaughter would be in the second degree of consanguinity; the brother's wife and the wife's granddaughter would be in the second degree of affinity. The aunt by blood would be in the third degree of consanguinity, and the uncle's wife, or aunt by marriage, would be in the third degree of affinity. The wife's sister, with regard to whom it is questioned whether she is referred to or not in verse 18, is in the first degree of affinity (a man's wife being regarded as himself) according to the canonists' reckoning, and in the second according to the civilians'. There is no mention made in the code of the grandmother, the niece, and the cousin-german. All of these are in the second degree of consanguinity according to the canon law; and according to the civil law, the grandmother would be in the second degree, the niece in the third, and the cousin-german in the fourth. It may reasonably be supposed that by the expression, None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness, intercourse is forbidden between all those who are related by consanguinity or affinity in the first and second degrees according to the canonists' reckoning (except cousins-german, whose case is considered below); in the first, second, and third degrees 'according to the civilians' method of calculating; whether they are mentioned by name in the list or not. It is only by implication, not by direct injunction, that marriage even with a daughter is forbidden (verse 17).
Leviticus 18:7, Leviticus 18:8
Incest with a stepmother is placed next after that with a mother. On account of the unity caused by marriage ("they shall be one flesh," Genesis 2:24), the stepmother's nakedness is the father's nakedness. The tie of affinity is thus declared to be similar in its effects to the tie of consanguinity. Reuben's sin, by which he forfeited his birthright, is connected with this offense, but is of a more heinous character, as his father was alive at the time of his transgression (Genesis 49:4). It is one of the sins which Ezekiel enumerates as those which brought the judgment of God on Israel (Ezekiel 22:10). "That one should have his father's wife" is declared by St. Paul to be "such fornication as is not named among the Gentiles," and to call for the excommunication of the offender (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Adonijah's marriage with Abishag, so strongly resented by Solomon on political grounds, is not denounced as morally reprehensible, probably because Abishag was not the wife of David in such a way as to cause the marriage with his son to be abominable in the eye of the law (cf. 1 Kings 1:4 with Amos 2:7). Absalom's" going in unto his father's concubines" was regarded as the final act which made reconciliation with his father impossible (2 Samuel 16:22; 2 Samuel 20:3). The history of the Church has shown that marriage with the stepmother has had to be again and again prohibited by Council after Council (see Smith and Cheetham's 'Dictionary of Antiquities,' s.v. 'Prohibited Degrees').
In the third place, incest with a sister is forbidden, and it is specifically stated that under the term "sister" is meant the half-sister, the daughter of thy father, or … thy mother,… born at home, as would naturally be the case if she were the father's daughter, or born abroad, that is, the daughter of the mother by a previous marriage, when she belonged to a different household. Tamar's appeal to Amnon, "I pray thee speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee," exhibits to us the poor woman grasping at any argument which might save her from her half-brother's brutality, and does not indicate that such marriages were, in the time of David, permissible (2 Samuel 13:29). The exact degree of relationship which existed between Abraham and Sarah is not altogether certain (cf. Genesis 20:12 with Genesis 11:29). Ezekiel reckons this sin in the catalogue of the iniquities of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 22:11).
The fourth case of incest which is prohibited is that with a granddaughter, whether the daughter of son or daughter, for, as they are descended from the grandfather, their's is thine own nakedness.
Incest with a half-sister on the father's side is again forbidden. Perhaps "the prohibition refers to the son by a first marriage, whereas Leviticus 18:9 treats of the son by a second marriage" (Keil).
Fifthly, incest with a paternal or maternal aunt is forbidden; sixthly, with an aunt by marriage; seventhly, with a daughter-in-law. The last of these finds its place in Ezekiel's catalogue of abominations (Ezekiel 22:11; cf. Genesis 28:18, 26).
The eighth ease of incest is intercourse with a brother's wife. Yet this is commanded under certain circumstances in the Book of Deuteronomy, and was practiced in patriarchal times (Genesis 38:8). The following are the circumstances under which it is commanded. "If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her" (Deuteronomy 25:5). It has been asked, "How can the same thing be forbidden as immoral in Leviticus, and commanded as a duly in Deuteronomy?" Bishop Wordsworth replies, "In a special case, for a special reason applicable only to the Jews, God was pleased to dispense with that law, and in the plenitude of his omnipotence to change the prohibition into a command.… God cannot command anything that is sinful. For sin is 'transgression of the Law' (1 John 3:4), and whatever he commands is right. But it would be presumptuous to say that we may dispense with God's law concerning marriage, because he in one case dispensed with it; as it would be impious to affirm that murder is not immoral, and may be committed by us, bemuse God, who is the sole Arbiter of life and death, commanded Abraham to slay his son Isaac." The levirate marriage was not a concession to the desires of the second brother, but a duty enjoined for a family or tribal purpose, and it was plainly at all times must distasteful. Thus Onan refused to perform his duty to Er's wife (Genesis 38:9); the legislation in Deuteronomy anticipates objection on the part of the brother, and institutes an in-suiting ceremony to be gone through by him if he declines to do his duty to his dead brother (Deuteronomy 25:9, Deuteronomy 25:10), which we see carried out in some of its details in the case of Ruth's kinsman (Ruth 4:7, Ruth 4:10). Indeed, in such a marriage, the second husband seems rather to have been regarded as the continuation of the first husband than as having a substantive existence of his own as a married man. He performed a function in order "that the name of his brother which is dead may not be put out of Israel" (Deuteronomy 25:6), "to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren" (Ruth 3:10). The second husband's position may be compared to that of the concubine presented by Rachel to her husband. "Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her" (Genesis 30:3). The whole object of the rule was that, as the elder brother could not keep up the flintily by begetting an heir, the younger brother should do it for him after his death.
The ninth form of incest prohibited is intercourse with a stepdaughter, or step-granddaughter, or mother-in-law. The expression made use of, Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, covers the case of a man's own daughter, and it is singular that it is only in this incidental manner that it is specifically named. But it has been already disposed of by the general command, None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness. The daughter being nearest of kin, this command was sufficient without further specification. The niece and probably the wife's sister are forbidden by the same general rule (see following note).
Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time. Do these words refer to the marriage of two sisters or not? It has been passionately affirmed that they do, by those who are opposed to permission being granted for marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and by those who are in favour of that measure, each party striving to derive from the text an argument for the side which they are maintaining. But Holy Scripture ought not to be made a quarry whence partisans hew arguments for views which they have already adopted, nor is that the light in which a commentator can allow himself to regard it. A reverent and profound study of the passage before us, with its context, leads to the conclusion that the words have no bearing at all on the question of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and thus it may be removed from the area and atmosphere of angry polemics. It is certain that the words translated a wife to her sister may be translated, in accordance with the marginal rendering, one wife to another. The objections made to such a version are arbitrary and unconvincing. It is in accordance with the genius of the Hebrew language to take "father," "son, brother," "sister," in a much wider acceptation than is the ease in the Western tongues. Anything that produces or causes is metaphorically a "father;" anything produced or caused is a "son;" any things akin to each other in form, shape, character, or nature, are "brothers" and "sisters." This is the name given to the loops of the curtains of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:3, Exodus 26:5, Exodus 26:6), the tenons of the boards (Exodus 26:17), and the wings of the cherubim (Ezekiel 1:11, Ezekiel 1:23). Indeed, wherever the expression, "a man to his brother," or "a woman to her sister," is used (and it is used very frequently) in the Hebrew Scriptures, it means not two brothers or two sisters, but two things or persons similar in kind. This does more than raise a presumption—it creates a high probability—that the expression should be understood in the same way here. But a difficulty then arises. If the right reading is, Neither shalt thou take one wife to another, does not the verse forbid polygamy altogether, and is not polygamy permitted by Exodus 21:7-11; Deuteronomy 21:15-17; Deuteronomy 17:17? Certainly, if so important a restriction was to be made, we should expect it to be made directly, and in a manner which could not be disputed. Is there any way out of the difficulty? Let us examine each word of the Law. Neither shalt thou take one wife to another, to vex, to uncover her nakedness upon her in her life time. The two words, to vex, have not been sufficiently dwelt on. The Hebrew, tsarar, means to distress by packing closely together, and so, to vex, or to annoy in any way. Here is to be found the ground of the prohibition contained in the law before us. A man is not to take for a second wife a woman who is likely, from spiteful temper or for other reasons, to vex the first wife. Rachel vexed Leah; Peninnah vexed Hannah; the first pair were blood relations, the second were not; but under the present law the second marriage would in both cases have been equally forbidden, if the probability of the provocation had been foreseen. It follows that polygamy is not prohibited by the text before us, but that the liberty of the polygamist is somewhat circumscribed by the application of the law of charity. It follows, too, that the law has no bearing on the question of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, which is neither forbidden nor allowed by it. Are we then to conclude that the Law of Moses leaves the case of the wife's sister untouched? Not so, for the general principle has been laid down, None of you shall approach to any, that is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness, and, as we have seen, the expression, near of kin, includes relations by affinity equally with blood relations; as therefore the wife's sister is in the canonists' first degree of affinity (and in the second according to the civilians), it is reasonably inferred that marriage with her is forbidden under the above law, and this inference is confirmed by marriage with the other sister-in-law—the brother's wife—being, as the rule, prohibited. It can hardly be doubted that marriage with the grandmother and with the niece—both in the second degree of consanguinity according to the canonists, and the third degree according to the civilians—and incest with a daughter are forbidden under the same clause.
The present verse completes the Levitical code of prohibited degrees. The Roman code of restrictions on marriage was almost identical with the Mosaic tables. It only differed from them by specifically naming the grandmother and the niece among the blood relations with whom a marriage might not be contracted, and omitting the brother's wife among relatives by affinity. In the time of Claudius, a change was introduced into it, for the purpose of gratifying the emperor's passion for Agrippina, which legalized marriage with a brother's daughter. This legalization con-tinned in force until the time of Constantius, who made marriage with a niece a capital crime. The imperial code and the canon law were framed upon the Mosaic and the Roman tables, and under them no question arose, except as to the marriage of the niece, the decreased wife's sister, and the first cousin. Marriage with the niece was forbidden by Constantius, as we have said, in the year 355, on penalty of capital punishment for committing the offense, and marriage with a deceased wife's sister was declared by the same emperor to be null. The canons of Councils and the declarations of the chief Church teachers are in full accordance with the imperial legislation, condemning these marriages without a dissentient voice. The only ease in which no consensus is found is that of the marriage of first cousins. By the earliest Roman law these marriages had been disallowed (Tacitus, 'Annal.,' Deuteronomy 12:6), but in the second century B.C. they had become common (Livy, 42:34), and they continued to be lawful till the year A.D. 384 or 385, when Theodosius condemned them, and made them punishable by the severest penalties possible. This enactment lasted only twenty years, when it was repealed by Arcadius, A.D. 404 or 405. No adverse judgment respecting the marriage of first cousins was pronounced by the Church until after the legislation of Theodosius, but it appears that that legislation was promoted at her instance, and from that time forward the tendency to condemn these marriages became more and more pronounced. See the canons of the Councils of Agde, Epaone, Auvergne, Orleans, Tours, Auxerre, in the sixth century, and of the Council in Trullo in the seventh century. The reformers of the sixteenth century in England, entrenching themselves, as usual, behind the letter of Scripture and the practice of the primitive Church, forbade marriages of consanguinity and affinity in the first, second, and third degrees according to the reckoning of the civil law, and in the first and second degrees according to the reckoning of the canon law, excepting those of first cousins, on which the early Christians pronounced no decisive judgment.
The marriage restrictions having been laid down, there follows in the five next verses the prohibition of five sexual impurities unconnected with marriage except by their subject-matter. The first is to approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness, that is, either for seven days at the time of her ordinary illnesses (Leviticus 15:19), or any longer time that her illness might last (Leviticus 15:25), or for forty days after the birth of a man child (Leviticus 12:2-4), or for eighty days after the birth of a girl (Leviticus 12:5). The penalty for the offense within the seven days is death if committed willfully (Leviticus 20:18); if fallen into unknowingly, a ceremonial penalty of seven days' uncleanness is incurred (Leviticus 15:24). It is twice referred to by Ezekiel as a gross sin (Ezekiel 18:6; Ezekiel 22:10).
The second prohibition is, Thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife—a prohibition already made in other words in the ten commandments. The punishment for adultery is death by stoning (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; John 9:5)—a more severe penalty than was usually inflicted in other nations.
The third prohibition is, Thou shall not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech. The words the fire are properly inserted, though not expressed in the original (cf. Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 22:10). What was the nature and purpose of the idolatrous rite in question is, however, uncertain. It is generally assumed that reference is made to the practice of offering children in sacrifice to Molech, Deuteronomy 12:31, Ezekiel 16:20, and Psalms 106:37 being quoted in support of that view. But it is by no means certain that this was the case. It might have been a rite by which children were dedicated to Molech—a baptism by fire, not resulting in the death of the child. Its mention here, in close connection with carnal sins, has led some to regard it as an impure rite; but this is a mistaken inference, for the prohibition of adultery naturally suggests the prohibition of a spiritual unfaithfulness. That it was some kind of idolatrous ceremony is shown by the addition of the words, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God. But if the children were burnt to death in honour of the idol, from the beginning, we should expect to find a notice of the fact in less ambiguous language than the expression, pass through the fire, conveys, earlier than the days of Ahaz. It is easy to imagine that what began as a dedication ceremony may have become converted into an absolute sacrifice, retaining still its original designation. Molech was a Canaanitish and Phoenician deity, the name meaning King, just as Baal means Lord (see Selden, 'De Diis Syris,' Psalms 1:6). Jarchi, quoted by Wordsworth, describes the idol as "made of brass, having the face of an ox, with arms stretched out, in which the child was placed and burnt with fire, while the priests were beating drums, in order to drown the noise of its shrieks, lest the fathers might be moved with pity thereby." The place where the children were offered, in the later period of the Jewish history, was the valley of Hinnom (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 32:35; 2 Kings 23:10).
The fourth prohibition forbids the sin of Sodom (see Genesis 19:5; Judges 11:22; Romans 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). The penalty is death (Leviticus 20:13).
The fifth prohibition (see Herod; Leviticus 2:16). The penalty is death (Leviticus 20:15).
These verses contain a warning against the sins of incest and impurity already specified. The reason why the Canaanites were east out before the Israelites was that they were defiled in all these things,… and the land was defiled by them. God visited the iniquity of these debased races, and the land itself vomited out her inhabitants on account of their abominations. The fate of the Canaanites was therefore a witness to them of what would be their fate if they did like them. Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things … . Ye shall not commit any of these abominations,… that the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it. Special penalties are appointed for particular sins further on. Here there are but two punishments denounced, one for individual sinners, the other national. The individual sinner is to be cut off from the nation by excommunication, For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. The nation, if it does not thus purify itself by cutting off from itself the authors of these corruptions, is to perish like the Canaanites. The words vomiteth (Leviticus 18:25) and spued out (Leviticus 18:28) are in that tense of the Hebrew verb which is generally called by grammarians a preterite, but this tense does not necessarily imply a past time; the time referred to depends on the context. The previous verbs, "I cast out," "I do visit," being present in sense, the two verbs, "vomiteth out (her inhabitants)," and "spued out (the nations that were before you)," are present also (see Introduction).
The restraints thrown about marriage by God's Law
are not meant to confine within the narrowest limits that which is a necessary evil, but to guard a holy institution, and prevent its being corrupted by abuse. Manichaeanism and asceticism, which is essentially Manichaean in its character, denounce the body and the bodily affections as being in themselves bad; stoicism strives to crush out or eradicate natural feelings, to make place for a passionless calm. God's Law and the doctrine of the Church declare that it is the abuse, not the use, of the body that is wrong; and, like the better forms of philosophy, occupy themselves with regulating, controlling, ruling man's passions, instead of vainly attempting to kill them. "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). £
I. MARRIAGE WAS INSTITUTED AS THE PRIMEVAL LAW AT THE CREATION OF WOMAN. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Genesis 1:27, Genesis 1:28). "And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:23, Genesis 2:24).
II. PARALLEL BETWEEN THE MARRIAGE LAW AND THE SABBATICAL LAW.
1. The sabbatical law, in like manner as the marriage law, was instituted at the creation (Genesis 2:3).
2. Both laws took a special form for the patriarchal and Israelitish Churches.
3. In both cases an alteration was made by the authority of our Lord, the obligation of the laws still continuing as before. The form which the law of the sabbath took for the Jewish people may be seen in the seventh commandment and other Mosaic injunctions respecting the seventh day. The law of marriage likewise underwent a change from its original character, and instead of enjoining monogamy, it allowed polygamy; and "because of the hardness of men's hearts," it permitted divorce for light causes (see Matthew 19:3-12). The manner of observing the sabbatical law was changed for Christians by the authority which cur Lord declared himself to possess for the purpose (Matthew 12:8), and which the constant habit of the earliest Christians, of assembling on the first day of the week and regarding it as the commemoration of the Resurrection day, proves him to have exercised. In like manner, he restored the law of monogamy (Matthew 19:8), and withdrew the license for divorce, except in the one case of adultery on the part of the wife (Matthew 19:9). In respect to the Levitical restraints on marriage he made no change, as is again proved to us by the universal recognition of these obligations on the part of the early Christians.
III. ADDITIONAL SANCTITY WAS ADDED TO MARRIAGE BY CHRISTIANITY. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul points out the analogy which exists between the relation of husbands to wives, and of wives to husbands, and the relation of Christ to the Church, and of the Church to Christ. "The husband is the head of the wife, ever as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:23-32). An inference has been drawn from these words that Christ instituted holy matrimony as a sacrament of the Christian Church. Such inference is altogether false. Marriage was not considered one of seven sacraments until the days of the Schoolmen; but the passage exhibits the holiness of marriage in a new light, and gives a new reason for its being regarded as holy. The "mystery" is the analogy which exists between married persons and Christ and the Church. St. Paul quotes the words of institution from the Book of Genesis, showing what a high estate matrimony is, and gives this further reason for its holiness, which had not previously been known to exist. Such a thought as this takes marriage out of the sphere of carnal things, refining, purifying, and sanctifying it in a manner not yet appreciated wherever celibacy is regarded as a higher and holier condition.
IV. THE CAUSES FOR WHICH MATRIMONY WAS ORDAINED. "First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name. Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication. Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity" (Form of Solemnization of Matrimony). The third of these causes has been too often forgotten in the Christian Church, and the second has been too much dwelt upon; the consequence of which has been a low estimate of marriage, and therefore of woman. St. Paul's words ought to show us that it is this characteristic which gives its Christian aspect to marriage.
V. DUTIES OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES TOWARDS EACH OTHER. On the one side, love and protection (Ephesians 5:25); on the other side, love and submission (Ephesians 5:24, Ephesians 5:33).
The preservation of the marriage relationship in its purity is the safeguard against sins of lust, which will be sure to invade a society wherever licentiousness or asceticism has dishonoured marriage.
Dissolute morals in respect to the relations of the sexes is always a symptom which precedes the ruin of an empire or the fall of a nation. It is both a sign and a cause—a sign of a general corruption, which will show itself elsewhere and under other forms; and a cause of the coming evils, as indulgence in bodily pleasures and. Sybarite excesses takes away the firmness of will and readiness to endure hardness which are necessary conditions of both soldiers and citizens doing their duty to the State. When a country is sunk in dissoluteness there is, generally speaking, no renovation for it except by the irruption of a new race, as of the Israelites in Canaan, or of the barbarous nations on the breaking up of the old Roman Empire. The moral reason of the extermination of the Canaanites was the danger of their licentiousness spreading, as has often been the case, to the conquerors (cf. Numbers 25:17, Numbers 25:18).
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
cf. Romans 12:2. The next element in the morality required of the Lord's people is non-conformity to this world. We are such imitative creatures that we are prone to do as our neighbours do, without questioning the propriety of their conduct. Whenever we adopt the ordinary standard of life, without inquiring how it is related to the Divine standard, we are conforming to the worldly spirit. The worldly conduct may be much higher in one age than in another, and in one country than in another; but the essence of worldliness is unquestioning conformity to the standard of our neighbours.
In the present chapter we have a fearful picture of the morality, or rather immorality, of Canaan. It may be read in connection with Romans 1:18-32, as showing the depth to which unrestrained desire may descend. Not only do the Canaanites appear to have indulged in the most reckless licentiousness with nearest relatives, but also to have indulged in sodomy, and even to have descended to carnal intercourse with beasts. That is to say, they gave up their high vantage-ground as intellectual and moral beings, and descended to the level of brute beasts (cf. 2 Peter 2:12). We would require to go to the dark places of heathenism, which are still "full of the habitations of cruelty" (Psalms 74:20), to find an exact parallel at present for Canaan. The progress of civilization has smoothed the surface of society, however little it may have touched its heart. But what we must notice is that the principle of worldly conformity may be just as active in our boasted civilization, as in the darkest haunts of heathenism.
I. THE HIGHEST CIVILIZATION IS NO SUFFICIENT REASON FOR A CERTAIN LINE OF CONDUCT. The Israelites had been developed in Egypt, which was then at the head of civilization. It would be a very great temptation, therefore, to these liberated bondmen to walk according to the customs and ordinances of Egypt. They would be tempted to do many things on no higher ground than that they had seen them done in Egypt. No wonder, therefore, that the Lord admonishes them in these terms: "After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do" (Romans 1:3).
And yet is not this exactly the position taken up by many at this hour? They do many things "on the very highest authority." The reason of the course, its moral value, is never thought of, but simply the precedent which can be produced for it. This spirit of" simian imitation" is worldliness pure and simple. The highest civilization is not necessarily moral, much less religious: why should I conform to the demands of a capricious code of laws, which may have no valid moral principle within them at all? God surely has not given us reflection and conscience to be ignored in such a way as this.
II. PREVAILING CUSTOM IS NO SUFFICIENT REASON EITHER FOR A CERTAIN LINE OF CONDUCT. The Israelites, in coming into Canaan, would find the inhabitants the freest and easiest possible in the matter of morals. No restraint appears to have been put upon their passions. They did whatever was right in their own eyes. Their lusts were their law. Now, were the Israelites to go into the land in the "jolly-good-fellow" style, they would be popular at once. The entrance into Canaan would in such a case have been an easy and triumphal march. Conformity to prevailing custom would have made the immigration a God-send to the beastly inhabitants. It would have given novelty to their desires. Hence God warns his people in the words, "And after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances" (Romans 1:3).
The snare of popularity prevails at present as powerfully as it did when Israel was about to enter Canaan. There is a great disposition with professedly religious people, "when at Rome, not to quarrel with the pope." Conformity to prevailing custom is a popular role to play. It costs nothing, except indeed the sacrifice of principle, and it gains in the worldly sense much. But no thinking mind imagines it is a rule of human conduct which will stand a moment's consideration. Why should I yield to what may be a senseless and even an immoral custom, simply because it is a custom? I have not been endowed with reason for such an irrational result as this.
III. WHEN MEN SACRIFICE THEIR MANHOOD TO WORLDLY CONFORMITY, THEY FIND EVENTUALLY THAT THEY HAVE TAKEN A SUICIDAL COURSE. The course of the Canaanites was a suicidal one. The land was spuing them out (Romans 1:28). The selfish, lustful lives they led, the brutalities they practiced, became their scourge, and they were fading away. The same result is found among the heathen nations. The sacrifice of manhood to bestiality must pay the penalty of eventual extinction.
And though at first sight the operation of the principle may be retarded by the higher morale of civilization, there can be no doubt that the suicidal character of worldly conformity is a real experience. An individual loses mental as well as moral power, who conforms without question to the worldly customs of his time, and thus sacrifices his manhood. The easy-going, popular individual, who does this, that, and the other, for fear of being thought singular, is found to have very little strength of mind to begin with, and less every day he lives. In fact, nature is constructed upon the principle that the despised talent of manhood is forfeited when not employed, and there is a clear descent in the scale of being.
IV. GOD HAS GIVEN US SUFFICIENTLY PLAIN STATUTES AND LAWS TO BE-INFORCE US IN OUR COMBAT WITH THE WORLD. "Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments; which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord "(Romans 1:4, Romans 1:5). "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). Transformation, "transfiguration" as we might call it, that is, a bringing of ourselves into conformity to a Divine ideal; this is what unworldliness consists in. We do not cease to be worldly when we surrender half a dozen suspicious pleasures. We cease to be "worldly" only when we refuse to accept of the prevailing worldly standard as our law of life, and seek earnestly to know "what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."
And to help us to this God has not only given us a book so plain and practical upon matters of daily life that he that runs may read; but he has also embodied his ideal in the perfect manhood of his Son. We have simply to ask the question, "What would Christ, were he in our circumstances, do?" and instantly we are enabled to decide on an appropriate and an unworldly course of action. It is this manly rule of life to which we are called. To bow down to the customs of even the best society or the highest civilization without inquiring how these customs stand towards the Divine
Law, is to sacrifice our birthright of manliness for a mess of the rudest pottage.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
This chapter contains laws against abominations practiced by the heathen, together with reasons why they must be avoided by the people of God. Foremost amongst these reasons is—
I. THAT THEY ARE FORBIDDEN BY GOD. This is the highest reason, for:
1. He is the supreme Arbiter of men (Leviticus 18:5, Leviticus 18:6, Leviticus 18:24): "I am the Lord."
(1) He is our Creator. His power over the work of his hands is absolute. It is our wisdom to confess this without gainsaying.
(2) He is our Governor. He has not abandoned his creation to mechanical laws. The providence of his intelligence is everywhere and ever active. This his people saw in the miracles of the Exodus.
(3) Moral beings are morally responsible to a God of holiness and truth. His will is law. It is truth. It is purity.
2. He is the covenant Friend of his people (Leviticus 18:1, Leviticus 18:4, Leviticus 18:30): "I am the Lord your God."
(1) The covenant relationship is set forth in this declaration. It therefore suggests all the promises:, Blessings pertaining to this life; also to that which is to come. What glorious blessings!
(2) Gratitude is appealed to here. Love should constrain us. The obedience of love is the purest. It is most acceptable to God. It is most perfect; for the whole being is in it.
II. THAT THE HEATHEN HAVE PRACTISED THEM.
1. They were the doings of the Egyptians (Leviticus 18:3).
(1) The corrupt state of heart which prompted them, and which was aggravated by their repetition, was that from which the children of Israel suffered cruel and relentless persecutions and oppressions. The bitter experience they had of these abominations should lead them scrupulously to avoid them.
(2) If they had learnt to follow their vices, it is time to unlearn them, now that they have been delivered from Egypt. Providence furnishes men with opportunities favourable to repentance and reformation. We are answerable for these.
2. They were the doings of the Canaanites.
(1) Customs common to the heathen should be viewed with suspicion by the people of God. The practices of custom come to be called "ordinances" (see Leviticus 18:3). Ordinances of man must not be confounded with ordinances of God.
(2) We need admonition here. It is easy to flow with the stream; difficult to stem the torrent. We must brace ourselves to this. We should look to God to nerve our resolution.
III. THAT THE MATTER IS VITAL.
1. God leads his people into temptation.
(1) Thus he led his people into Egypt. Now he conducts them in amongst the Canaanites. "Shall there be evil in a city and the Lord hath not done it?" (see Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6).
(2) Yet is not God the Author of moral evil. Physical may exist apart from moral evil. Witness the afflictions of Job (see also John 9:1-3).
(3) God leads men into temptation, not that they may fall into it, but that they may learn to resist it, and so form a strong moral character.
2. There is life in the Law to those who can keep it.
(1) In so far as it is fulfilled, it brings the benefits of a wise and good code (Deuteronomy 4:8; Nehemiah 9:13, Nehemiah 9:14; Psalms 147:19, Psalms 147:20).
(2) But who can so fulfill it as to ensure eternal life? No one (see Luke 10:25-28; Romans 10:5).
(3) Therefore faith is declared to be the principle of justification (Hebrews 2:14). Upon this Paul founds his reasoning (Galatians 3:10-14; Romans 1:16, Romans 1:17; Philippians 3:9).
3. Ruin is denounced upon the transgressor.
(1) Faith is the principle of a true obedience. The transgressor of the Law denies his faith and comes under the curse (Hebrews 10:38; Deuteronomy 27:26; Jeremiah 11:3)
(2) For his sake the land is cursed (verse 25). So defiled may it become as to be unfit for the tabernacle of God. The curse upon the ground for man's sake came in the form of a deluge of water; it will yet come in a flood of fire (Genesis 3:17; Genesis 5:29; 2 Peter 3:7).
(3) The transgressor is cut off from among his people. The abomination in which he is held is vigorously set forth under the figure of the land vomiting and spuing out its inhabitants (verses 25, 28). So were the Egyptians ejected. So were the ancient Canaanites (see Genesis 15:16; Revelation 3:16). So in turn were the Israelites (Ezekiel 20:11, Ezekiel 20:13, Ezekiel 20:21). We should not be highminded, but fear (Romans 11:19-21; Hebrews 4:11). "Lay the car of your faith to the gates of the bottomless pit, and hear the doleful shrieks and outcries of damned sinners, whom earth hath spewed out, and hell has swallowed, and tremble lest this be your portion at the last" (M. Henry).—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Two aspects of sin.
There are many ways in which sin may be regarded. Directed by these words, we may look at it in—
I. ITS UGLY ASPECT AS SEEN IN HUMAN ILLUSTRATIONS. The children of Israel were warned to separate themselves in every way from "the doings of the land of Egypt" and from "the doings of the land of Canaan" (Leviticus 18:3). These were to be a beacon to them; they were things to be hated and shunned. To those who had not been brought down themselves to the same low moral level, these doings would appear the shameful things they were—base, corrupt, vile. It is well for us to glance at, though not to dwell upon, sin in its last and worst developments, in its final issues; to see and understand what it leads to and ends in. Look at intemperance, dishonesty, cruelty, cupidity, profanity, impurity, as these sins are seen in their full development and complete outworking; see how utterly vile and hideous they appear to those in whom any purity is left. You would not resemble these; you start and shrink at the very thought of it; then do not move one inch down the smooth decline, do not take one step along "the primrose path of dalliance" with temptation. If we would keep well away from the beginnings of evil, we shall find a strong inducement to purity and honour by one thought of "the doings of the land" of impurity and shame.
II. ITS EVIL ASPECT AS GATHERED FROM THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD. "I am the Lord your God … Ye shall not do … Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God." These solemn and weighty words introduce the prohibition of various evil lusts; these unholy passions were not only to be loathed and shunned because of the shamefulness of them in themselves and because of the evil consequences they would entail, but also and chiefly because they were imperatively disallowed by God. "I am the Lord … ye shall not do these things," etc. God's decisive disapproval is enough for us; it is final; it should be all-prevailing. For:
1. His sovereignty suffices, without further thought. He is "the Lord our God." Surely our Divine Creator, he from whom we came, in whom we live, without the continual exercise of whose power we should cease to be, to whom we owe all that we are and have, has sovereign right to decide concerning us, what things we may do and what things we shall shun. It is enough, it is more than enough, that the Lord our God says, concerning anything, "Ye shall not do it."
2. Nevertheless, there is the further thought that God knows best what is good and evil. He who made us, who "knows what is in man," who sees the end from the beginning, and knows what are the tendencies and issues of all things, can surely decide better than we can what are the desirable relations we should hold with our fellows; how near we may approach them; what may be our alliances and intimacies with them, etc.; which is the right and true path in which to walk.
3. And there is this additional thought that his Divine interest in us is equal to his Divine knowledge of us. We are sure that God will not deny us any really desirable thing; that he seeks our happiness and well-being; that if he limits our liberty or narrows our delights, it is purely because he is working out our true and lasting good.
Therefore, if we would not "condemn ourselves in those things which we allow" (Romans 14:22), we must not only shrink from those evils which show themselves in the "doings of the land" of ungodly men, but also consult the commandment of the Lord. We must ask ourselves what those actions and relations are which he has forbidden. We must remind ourselves of his sovereignty over us, his knowledge of us, and his good pleasure toward us; we must. also sedulously banish from our mind as well as put away from our life the evil thing to which we may be tempted.—C.
Life in obedience.
The Apostle Paul, both in his letter to the Romans (Romans 10:5), and in that to the Churches of Galatia (Galatians 3:12), brings this passage to prove that salvation under the Law was by obedience rather than by faith. We may approach the main thought of the text by two preliminary remarks on the relation of these two principles of life, showing the consistency of the Law and the gospel We maintain—
I. THAT, UNDER THE LAW, MERE CONFORMITY OF CONDUCT WITHOUT FAITH WAS UNACCEPTABLE TO GOD. it is a mistake to suppose that God's requirements of his ancient people were satisfied with a purely mechanical obedience. They were not only to "walk in his ways," but they were also to "fear the Lord their God, and to love him and to serve him with all their heart and with all their soul" (Deuteronomy 10:12; see also Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 11:13; Deuteronomy 30:16, Deuteronomy 30:20). They were not only to act righteously toward their neighbour, but to love him (Leviticus 19:18). They were to "afflict their souls" on the Day of Atonement and Reconciliation (Leviticus 16:29). There can be little doubt that it was the duty of the priests and Levites to instruct the Hebrew worshippers to present their sacrifice unto the Lord, believing and feeling that he was there to receive their offering and to accept their penitence and their faith.
II. THAT, UNDER THE GOSPEL, A LIVING FAITH IS CONSTANTLY ASSOCIATED WITH ACTIVE OBEDIENCE. We are not saved by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:28; Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8, etc.). Yet the faith which saves is a "faith which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6; James 2:18, James 2:20, James 2:22, etc.).
But the primary truth which is taught in this passage is rather this—
III. THAT SPIRITUAL OBEDIENCE IS THE SECRET AND THE SOURCE OF TRUE HUMAN LIFE.
1. It is the secret of all real life. What is human life? In what does it actually consist? The life of the brute consists in the performance of its animal functions, in its outward, sensible existence. But the life of a man consists in something higher. We live when our souls live, when we live before God and unto him; if a man will do God's will and keep his statutes and his judgments, "he shall live in them;" he will find his true life in the doing and the keeping of these; "this is life eternal, to know thee," etc. (John 17:3). To know God, to know him as he is revealed to us in Christ Jesus, to worship him, to rejoice in him, to love and to please him, to be gratefully and cheerfully obedient to his will in all things,—this is human life; all else is immeasurably below it. There is nothing worth calling life apart from the holy and happy service of God; a spiritual not a servile obedience is the secret of life on earth.
2. It is also the source of the higher human life which is beyond. The Jew who kept God's statutes not only found a true life in his obedience, but he also guided a true life through his obedience. God bestowed on him his Divine favour, conferred on him all those outward blessings which were then regarded as the highest token of the favour of the Eternal; he lived in the smile and the benediction of Jehovah. Our hope is brighter and more far-reaching than his. He had some glimmering of the blessedness beyond, but it was faint and feeble. We know that if our faith in a Divine Redeemer is manifested in a lasting spiritual obedience, we "shall live" a life of which the Jew had little thought, and of which we ourselves can only form some struggling anticipation. We know that if "we are faithful unto death," we shall have "a crown of life." The obedience of faith, continued to the end, will introduce us to the life which is
(1) one of celestial fullness;
(2) free from present care, sorrow, sin;
Impurity-its extent and source.
There are times when and conditions under which it is both our right and our duty to speak on this subject. We may offend delicacy by speech, and must therefore be careful what we say. But we may neglect obligation and opportunity by silence, and must therefore use fitting occasion for speech. There is a time to warn the young against an evil which may slay them with a mortal wound. We may glance, and only glance, at—
I. THE FEARFUL LENGTH TO WHICH IMPURITY MAY PASS. God made man male and female that, related to one another thus, they might be happy in one another's fellowship; that husband, wife, and child might complete the harmony of human life. But for the confusing and disturbing element of sin, there would have been nothing but holy conjugal affection and happy human homes. How dark and sad a contrast to this does society present! How melancholy the thought that impurity should Dot only have tainted so many souls, but should have taken so may forms! that not only have the natural relations of the sexes been too unlimited, too unrestrained, but that sin of this description has taken unnatural, shocking, and abominable forms! that its dark and shameful manifestations are such as we hardly like to Dame, and do not dare to think of (Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 18:23)! Only a holy compulsion will induce us even to make passing reference to such things. So low, to such dark depths, into such a "far country" of vileness does the sin of impurity extend.
II. THAT GUILTY INDULGENCE IS THE ONLY EXPLANATION OF THIS EVIL PROGRESS.
How can such things be? is the simple question of the pure heart. How by any possibility can human nature sink into such a gulf of depravity? How can we account for it that the soul which once knew the innocency of childhood finds an awful pleasure in such shameful deeds? The answer is undoubtedly here. The very possibility of it is a part of the penalty of the sins which have been committed. Sins of impurity leave a stain upon the soul; the seducer has not only to suffer the rebuke of God, the reproaches of the one he has wronged and ruined, and the stings of his own conscience—some day to be awakened, but he has to "bear his iniquity" in a depraved taste, in a stained and injured nature, in a lowered and baser appetite. In this, as in other matters, perhaps more fearfully than in most, "he that sinneth against God wrongeth his own soul" (Proverbs 8:36). Let the man who gives way to impurity remember that he is traveling on a downward course that ends in saddest depravation of soul, and that will leave him open to those more vile temptations which would disgrace and even disgust him now.
III. THE TRUE TREATMENT OF THIS DESTROYING SIN. Trace the evil back from its worst developments to its mildest form; from its fullest crime to its source in the soul. Incest, adultery, fornication, seduction, indecency, indelicate conversation, the impure thought. This last is the source of all. It is that which must be assailed, which must be expelled.
In this matter of the relation of the sexes, there are three main truths.
1. God gives to most of us the joy of conjugal love, and this is to be sanctified by being accepted as his gift (James 1:17). Where it is denied we must be well satisfied with other mercies so freely given.
2. Its lasting happiness is only assured to the pure of heart. With all others its excellency will soon fade and die.
3. Therefore let us, by all possible means, guard our purity:
(1) by avoidance of temptation (evil company, wrong literature);
(2) by energetic expulsion of unworthy thoughts;
(3) by realization of the presence of the heart-searching Holy One;
(4) by earnest prayer; let us "keep our heart beyond all keeping," etc. (Proverbs 4:23).—C.
The penalty of sin.
The disastrous consequences of iniquity are clearly and strongly expressed in these concluding words of the chapter. We have the truth brought out—
I. THAT BY SIN WE CORRUPT OURSELVES. "Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things" (Leviticus 18:24); "that ye defile not yourselves therein" (Leviticus 18:30). Our Lord tells us that "out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications," etc; and that "these things defile a man" (Matthew 7:19, Matthew 7:20). And Paul tells us that we "are the temple of God," and that "if any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy" (1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 3:17). Those sins which a man commits against his own spirit or his own body—those wrongs which a man does himself—end in positive and serious injury. They enfeeble, they degrade, they brutalize, they bring down a man's tastes and appetites to the meanest levels, they lay and leave his nature open to the worst temptations. In the practice of vice a man sinks down daily until he becomes thoroughly corrupt, averse to all that is holy, prone to everything impure.
II. THAT BY SIN WE CONTAMINATE SOCIETY. "In all these the nations are defiled" (Leviticus 18:24); "and the land is defiled" (Leviticus 18:25, Leviticus 18:27). Societies as well as individuals become corrupt. Even one Achan defiled the whole camp of Israel and paralyzed its power. One incestuous member of the Corinthian Church infected and stained that Christian society. How much more will many evil-doers corrupt the community! It may not take a large number of unholy, impure, unrighteous souls to make a Church or society "defiled" in the sight of the Holy One, no longer a fit dwelling-place for his Holy Spirit, a community to be abandoned to itself.
III. THAT BY SIN WE INCUR THE HIGH DISPLEASURE OF ALMIGHTY GOD. "Ye shall not commit any of these abominations" (Leviticus 18:26, Leviticus 18:27, Leviticus 18:29), "of these abominable customs" (Leviticus 18:30). The Holy One, in his righteous indignation, threatens that "the land shall spue them out" if they indulge in such iniquities. No stronger language could be employed to indicate the uttermost conceivable detestation and abhorrence which God has of such sins as these described. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31); and it is a fearful thing to have done or to have become that which God regards with Divine abomination, to be the object of his awful resentment and indignation; to have to feel that he, the Divine Father and the righteous Judge, cannot look on us without terrible aversion.
IV. THAT BY SIN WE ARE DETERMINING OUR DOOM. (Leviticus 18:29.) Whether by being "cut off from among the people" we understand excommunication and exile or death, the penalty is severe. It is certain that Leviticus 18:28 points to stern rejection and utter destruction.
1. It is certain that by open sin we expose ourselves to exile from the Christian Church, and even to banishment from all decent and honourable society. The Church, the family, and the social circle must exclude the wanton offender for the sake of their pure and innocent members.
2. Also that by continuance in deliberate sin, whether open or secret, whether of the body or of the soul, we shall be rejected from the city of God. "There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination" (Revelation 21:27).—C.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
Leviticus 18:5, "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord."
I. THE TRUE MORALITY IS BASED UPON THE TRUE RELIGION.
1. Special need of insisting on this in times when men seek to make light of religious obligation.
2. Historical confirmation: Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome,—all corrupt because degenerate. No protection, as luxury, increases, from relaxation of manners save in religious safeguards.
3. The life of faith is life in commandments. The Lord is both the Object of faith and the Ruler of life. The commandments do not give faith or dispense, with it, but reveal, test, and approve it.
II. THE WORLD WITHOUT GOD IS A WORLD OF ABOMINATIONS AND DEATH. All God's laws contribute to health and happiness. His judgments on the nations were the clearing away of moral filth and disorder. The state of the heathen is an indisputable evidence of man's natural depravity and ruin. Intellect, physical prowess, wealth, learning,—all were rendered useless, and worse than useless, by moral weakness.
III. JUDGMENT AND MERCY WENT HAND IN HAND IN THE DIVINE DISPENSATION. The offender was excommunicated that he might have opportunity for repentance—which made a warning to all. The land was to be kept from defilement that it might be the land of God's people. The sanctity of the bodily life, of personal purity, of domestic relationship, of the family, and so of the nation, are all made to depend on the sanctity of the first and deepest of all relations—that between man and God. "I am the Lord." The land is mine first, then yours. The Law is your safety and peace.—R.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
A nation's importance is not to be reckoned according to its size, but more according to the character of its people and of the great men who have belonged to it. That must ever be a distinguished nation which has had a Moses ruling over it, a man with whom God spoke face to face, instructing him by what rules to govern the people. Those rules form a code second to none in history for purity, justice, and completeness. At the head of a number of separate precepts stands the special injunction of the text, calling upon the Israelites to respect the entire Law.
I. A REMINDER THAT IN EVERY PLACE THERE ARE EVIL PRACTICES TO BE SHUNNED. The present position of every individual is an isthmus connecting the continent of the past and the future. Israel in the wilderness journeying from Egypt to Canaan was but like many between youth and manhood, school and business, activity and retirement. Such a transition state may be profitably used as a time of thought and resolution. In no position must we expect freedom from temptation. The conduct of the Egyptians and of the Canaanites must alike be avoided (Leviticus 18:3). And those who defer religious decision until a season of immunity from danger arrives, may tarry in vain. The wilderness has its lawless manners as well as the settled country. How necessary to be upon our guard lest we be corrupted by the customs of our neighbours! Happy the college, the mart, the home, that is less likely to contaminate than to purify!
II. COMPLIANCE WITH THE LAWS OF GOD IS THE BEST PRESERVATIVE AGAINST IMITATING SINFUL CUSTOMS. He runs quickest away from evil who pursues the good in front of him. Simply to retreat from danger, backing from it, is a slow and insecure method. We want more than negative righteousness, we need positive fulfillment of holy commands to ensure us against adopting odious habits. It is not safe to take men as our patterns of behaviour. "Be ye imitators of God as beloved children," Egyptians and Canaanites were equally unfit to be followed. The Apostle Paul did not set up his own life as a model except in so far as he also imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Obedience is here described in three ways, as doing the judgments of God, keeping his ordinances, and walking therein (Leviticus 18:4). Great is the privilege that moderns enjoy in having so many copies of God's Word multiplied as to be easily accessible to all. Surely we ought to meditate therein day and night, that we may order our steps thereby.
III. OBEDIENCE MAY BE STIMULATED BY REFLECTION.
1. Upon the right of God to issue commands. "I am Jehovah" is his claim to attention as the Fount of law, and a claim which no thoughtful mind should reject. The ever-living Almighty Holy One possesses in himself every attribute that demands our homage. To withhold it is to violate congruity, to act in a manner out of harmony with what fitness requires.
2. Upon our acceptance of his lordship over us. "I am the Lord your God." We have entered into covenant relationship with him, and we break the terms of agreement if we fail to keep his statutes. The plural form of "God" may, without forcing, be taken here to indicate that the Israelites had deliberately bound themselves to the one Jehovah as their "Gods," instead of the idols of the nations round. God is our Father, how shall we be disobedient children? our King, how can we act as rebellious subjects? our Lawgiver, how can we dare to transgress his commandments?
3. Upon the blessedness attained by observance of God's statutes. "Which if a man do, he shall live in them." Man thought to increase his power by tasting forbidden fruit, but he lost his life, and only regained it in proportion as he returned to obedience. It is true that the impossibility of perfectly keeping the Law foreshadowed the necessity of another way of salvation, but according as the Israelites adhered to the Law in letter and spirit, so they experienced happiness and the favour of God, which is life indeed. We rejoice in the gospel plan of faith in Christ, not as making the Law inoperative, but as enabling us to fulfill its aim, to accomplish its real design—sanctification of life; and therein delivered from thraldom, we enter upon the life eternal that comprehends all blessing. We listen to the Law now, not as if it were the stern prescription of a hard Taskmaster, but as the instruction of a loving, all-wise Friend, which the more closely we follow, the more prosperous our career will be. "Freely we serve, because we freely love."—S.R.A.
Leviticus 18:24, Leviticus 18:25
Some chapters of law, as of history, are not pleasant reading. That they should have been found necessary is a proof of the fearful depravity into which man may fall, sinning against natural instincts, hurried away and blinded by passion so as to overstep the bounds of decency. The prohibitions of this chapter were designed to hallow marriage and the family relationship. Their observance would tend to benefit the entire nation, for the laws of God are framed with benevolent wisdom. To sin against them is to wrong one's own soul.
I. THE DENUNCIATIONS AND THREATENINGS EVINCE GOD'S HATRED OF ABOMINABLE CONDUCT. "That the land spue not you out also." "The souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people." Strong is the language applied to sinful practices—they are "wickedness" (Leviticus 18:17), "abomination" (Leviticus 18:22), "confusion" (Leviticus 18:23). The Law will have no compromise, admits of no alternative amongst God's people, the command is, "Thou shalt not." Wickedness is not to be tolerated even in the stranger (Leviticus 18:26); he is not obliged to conform to all the ceremonies, but he must rigidly abstain from every moral offense. The New Testament relaxes not one jot in condemnation of all that is impure and filthy in conduct and even language (see Romans 1:18, Romans 1:32; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Corinthians 6:10; Ephesians 5:3-5; Revelation 21:8).
II. THE DELAY BETWEEN SIN AND PUNISHMENT IS A MARK OF THE KINDNESS AND LONG-SUFFERING OF GOD. (See Peter's argument in 2 Peter 3:9.) In Genesis 15:16 it was expressly declared, "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." They were allowed four hundred years to repent, or to fill up the cup of their iniquity, and they chose the latter. This is the clearest answer to any who would impugn the justice of God's dealing with the Canaanites in exterminating them with fire and sword. Oh, the folly of men who abuse precious time by laughing at solemn announcements of coming woe, instead of employing it in making their peace with God! By every moment that intervenes between the sinner and death God urges him to seek pardon and amendment.
III. THE INSTANCES RECORDED SHOW THE CERTAIN VISITATION OF SIN WITH GOD'S DISPLEASURE. Delay is no guarantee of final immunity from punishment. The heathen were at last driven out of the land, and likewise the Israelites who succeeded felt the wrath of God on account of the shameful customs in which they indulged. God is impartial, and does not spare sin in his people or his enemies. As the denunciation shows God in principle and language, so the fulfillment of his threat demonstrates him in act, and is a further vivid evidence of his dislike of all wickedness. Nathan was God's messenger to rebuke and threaten David, as afterwards John the Baptist denounced Herod for taking his brother's wife. Just retribution foretells a day of judgment, when inequalities of punishment shall be righted and God's equity triumphantly vindicated. Here we see sufficient to establish the fact of the existence of a moral government (Ecclesiastes 8:11-13).
IV. THE CLIMAX OF SIN IS REACHED WHEN NATURE HERSELF SEEMS TO ABHOR THE SINNER. Graphic is the picture of the land loathing its burden and vomiting forth its inhabitants. As a leprosy infected walls and garments, so the abominations of the heathen defiled the land itself that it stank. The results of immorality upon the state of society and of individuals have been appalling. Eventually everything has sunk into ruin, disintegration and corruption have prevailed. The population decreases by sickness and barrenness and murder. The arts and sciences decay, literature is blighted, philanthropy unknown. The text reminds us that a closer connection exists between man and inanimate nature than we sometimes think (see this also suggested in Romans 8:20 and Genesis 3:17).
CONCLUSION. If the subject is painful, the lesson may be salutary. Sin is widespread. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." We may be glad of the healthful influence of Christianity, rightly directing public opinion, and erecting it into a safeguard against evil. "Having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."—S.R.A.