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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 19

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


HOLINESS TOWARDS GOD AND RIGHTEOUSNESS TOWARDS MEN. Various laws are repeated, (Leviticus 19:1-13,) and a number of brief prohibitions follow, (Leviticus 19:14-19,) also the case of a seduced bondmaid and the penalty for both parties, (Leviticus 19:20-22,) and regulations respecting the fruit of trees planted in Canaan, (Leviticus 19:23-25;) blood-eating, enchantment, rounding the hair and marring the beard, cutting or printing the flesh, training a daughter for prostitution, profaning the sabbath, and witchcraft, are forbidden, (Leviticus 19:26-31;) veneration for the aged, regard for the stranger, and standard weights and measures are enjoined, (Leviticus 19:32-37.)

Verse 2

2. Ye shall be holy Inward and outward holiness is the aim of all the laws of God. He seeks to cleanse the heart, the fountain of action, and the very seat of character. See Introduction, (8.)

For… I am holy This implies that man is bound to realize his loftiest ideal of purity, and that the revelation of God’s holiness is that ideal. The grounds of obligation for Israel were: 1.) the nature of God, holiness; 2.) his act of creation, Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 3:0.) his act of deliverance from Egypt, Exodus 20:2.

Changing the third to the redemption from sin, procured by Jesus Christ, we have the New Testament grounds of obligation for all men. See Leviticus 11:44, notes.

Verse 3

3. Ye shall fear Reverence or honour, and not slavish fear, is here enjoined. See Exodus 20:12, note.

Keep my sabbaths Exodus 20:8-11, notes.

Verse 4

4. Idols The Hebrew term elilim, nothings, or “things of naught,” (Jeremiah 14:14,) is very expressive. There is a paronomasia, or similarity of sound with elohim, God, which heightens the contrast. “As the Living One, Jehovah, is placed in contrast to the gods of the heathen, which can reveal nothing, perform nothing, grant no requests, and send no help, Deuteronomy 32:37-39; which are nothings, and dead, Psalms 106:28.” Oehler. But Furst derives the word from el with a diminutive syllable, “little gods,” indicating the greatest contempt.

Molten gods The massecha, or molten image, is spoken of in distinction from the graven or carved images. The precious metals were used. Exodus 20:23; Exodus 32:2; Exodus 32:8.

Verse 5

5. Peace offerings See chap. 3, notes, Leviticus 7:11-21, notes.

Own will This may also be translated, acceptable or pleasing, “that ye may be accepted,” (R.V.) See Leviticus 1:3, note.

Verse 8

8. Shall bear his iniquity See Leviticus 10:17; Leviticus 17:16; Numbers 9:13, notes.

That soul shall be cut off Capital punishment is to be inflicted. See Leviticus 7:20.

Verse 9

9. Corners of thy field Rather, borders. See Leviticus 23:22, note.

Verse 10

10. Every grape “The fallen fruit,” (R.V.)

For the poor As soon as the grape harvest had been carried to the vats, the owner was forbidden to glean the vineyard again. The poor were to be relieved, not as beggars, by food from the granaries of the prosperous, but through their own industry. Thus their self-respect was preserved, and they were kept from the temptations of idleness.

The… stranger For the origin of the strangers and the causes of their poverty, see Leviticus 23:22, note.

Verse 11

11. Not steal Property, one of the great natural rights of man, is sacredly guarded by the eighth commandment. See Exodus 20:15. “Here is a marvellous distinction of classes. That distinction is carefully preserved throughout the whole record of Scripture. At first sight, it is not only a marvelous, but an incredible thing that one man should be rich and another poor. Poverty is more than a merely incidental condition of life. There is a moral mystery about poverty, relating alike to the poor man and to the rich man. It may seem heartless to speak in this way, and it would be heartless but for the consistent record of time and testimony of experience. Here is a distinct recognition of the right of prosperity. We read of ‘thy field,’ and ‘thy vineyard,’ and ‘thy harvest.’ Yet though property is distinctly recognised, beneficence is also made matter of law. The Bible is the book of the poor. From no other book in the world could so many injunctions be culled as bearing upon the rich in relation to the claims of poverty.” Joseph Parker.

Neither deal falsely All fraud, which is not included in stealing, is forbidden. See Leviticus 6:2-4, notes.

Verse 12

12. Not swear by my name falsely The principle of the oath is incidentally laid down in Hebrews 6:16, as an ultimate appeal to divine authority to ratify the assertion. The forms of appeal are various, as, “The God of Abraham judge;” “As the Lord liveth;” “God knoweth,” and the like. See Exodus 20:7; Matthew 5:33-34, notes.

Verse 13

13. Not defraud thy neighbour This prohibition of fraud is not practically neutralized, as some assent, by the spoiling of the Egyptians by borrowing their jewels, since the borrowing was simply asking for a parting gift. See Exodus 3:22, note.

The wages… all night This is a merciful protection of the labouring class, many of whom had so narrow a margin between themselves and starvation, that the detention of their wages for even a few hours might produce great suffering. According to the Mishna, the proper time for demanding wages is, for the day labourer, the whole of the night, for the night labourer, the whole of the following day. In a suit for wages the plaintiff must prove that his demand was made at the right time. There was in Mosaism no servant without wages, either paid beforehand, for a term of years, or paid daily, if hired by the day, or annually, as the case might be. Exodus 21:2; Leviticus 25:53; Malachi 3:5; James 5:4. It is evident that God is not favourably disposed toward the modern credit system, with its periodical earthquakes engulfing labour in ruin.

Verse 14

14. Not curse the deaf This prohibits the cowardly practice of reviling and vilifying persons who cannot hear or reply or defend themselves against such abuse.

Stumblingblock before the blind The fact that acts so dastardly are expressly forbidden demonstrates the fiendish dispositions of depraved men, and the exceeding compassion of God for those who are deprived of any special sense. He will avenge them together with the stranger, the poor, the widow, and the fatherless.

Verse 15

15. Not respect the person of the poor From no unmanly and unjust pity shall the poor man go unwhipped of justice. To “respect the person” is to give sentence not in view of proved guilt, but in view of other considerations. The person of the mighty is honoured in the court of justice, when the verdict is so influenced by the rank, power, or the money of the accused, as to secure impunity. The scales of justice should be held evenly between all classes of men.

Verse 16

16. A talebearer Literally, a peddler whose wares are slanders and detractions. Such a person, possessing himself of the secrets of individuals and of families and then whispering them abroad, falsely colouring motives and distorting facts, is a social pest worthy to be banished from the haunts of men. A significant lesson respecting the character of the calumniator is taught in the curious fact that the Greek slanderer, διαβολος , has become the English devil.

Neither… stand against the blood That is, maliciously seek the life. This does not debar a person from giving testimony against a criminal. Such testimony is positively enjoined in Leviticus 5:1. See note.

Verse 17

17. Not hate thy brother As in our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, the evil of human action is traced back to the heart, the state of the will and the affections, and the command is laid upon the very dispositions and thoughts. Hence it is not correct to say that the law of Moses demands only the opus operatum, an outward conformity to the law, not an inward principle; legality and not morality. It enjoins right dispositions of heart, Deuteronomy 6:5, and forbids wrong ones, Exodus 20:17.

Rebuke Admonish frankly, telling him what he had against him, according to the gospel rule. Matthew 18:15-17.

Not suffer sin upon him Knobel interprets this as atoning or suffering for a sin on his account. Keil says, “Not to load a sin upon himself.” Both may be combined in the idea that the injured party is not to incur sin, either by bearing secret ill-will or by encouraging the wrong-doer by his silence. See Numbers 9:13, note.

Verse 18

18. Love thy neighbour See Matthew 5:43, note. “The traditional division of the law of Moses into moral, ceremonial, and juristic laws may serve to facilitate a general view of theocratic ordinances; but it is incorrect if it seeks to express a distinction within the law, and to claim various dignity for various parts. For the most inward commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” stands beside “Thou shalt not sow thy field with two kinds of seed.” Oehler.

Verse 19

19. Gender with a diverse kind This would forbid the propagation of mules. Those mentioned in 2 Samuel 13:29; 2 Samuel 18:9, and in many other passages, were probably imported, as they evidently were in the reign of Solomon. See 1 Kings 10:25. They are not mentioned in the New Testament. Such a mixture of species confounds the distinctions made by a wise Creator, and contradicts the fundamental notion of holiness, as that of unmingled purity and wholeness of moral character. It is a symbolical prohibition of improper alliances in religious, civil, and social life.

A garment mingled Hebrew, or rather Coptic, shaatnez, mixtures. The words of woollen and linen are not in the original, but are supplied from Deuteronomy 22:11, the only other place where shaatnez is found. It is supposed to signify “carded, spun, and twisted;” and to relate not to fabrics of different materials, which can be distinctly seen, as in the embroidered apparel of the high priest, but to spinning flax and wool with one thread, making linsey woolsey. Spencer conjectures that this mixed garment was forbidden because it was worn by the ancient Tabii, and was associated with their idolatrous ceremonies.

Verse 20

20. A bondmaid In ancient wars there were but two ways of dealing with the captives, namely, putting them to death or reducing them to slavery. The latter, as the milder of these alternatives, was recognised and greatly mitigated by the Mosaic law. But when Christianity came, whose first evangel was peace on earth, the death blow was given to war and slavery, its hideous progeny.

Betrothed to a husband Rather, to a man, probably a fellow-servant. Unfaithfulness in a free betrothed woman was a capital offence. Deuteronomy 22:23-24.

Not… redeemed The rabbins specify four modes of redemption: 1.) by money, 2.) by a ticket of freedom, 3.) by testamentary disposition, or, 4.) by an act implying manumission, such as making the slave one’s heir.

Freedom This Hebrew word, chuphshah, occurs nowhere else in the Bible. It probably signifies “free papers,” or a certificate of freedom.

She shall be scourged Hebrew, there shall be a chastisement inflicted, evidently upon both parties. Thus read the Seventy, Vulgate, Syriac, and the Revised Version, and thus says the moral sense of universal humanity. The Authorized Version, which limits the scourging to the weaker criminal to the tempted and lets the tempter off with the fine of a ram, is an unpardonable blunder, and a foul blot needlessly cast upon the law of Moses.

Not free There was property invested in the woman, and probably in the man also, which would be destroyed by putting them to death.

Verse 21

21. Trespass offering See 6-13, notes. Also, chap. v, Introductory. This offering was always special, as 1.) for sacrilege in ignorance, Leviticus 5:15; Leviticus 16:2.) for ignorant infraction of some definite prohibition, Leviticus 5:17 to Leviticus 19:3.) for fraud, concealing the truth, or perjury, Leviticus 6:1-4.) at the purification of a leper, Leviticus 14:12, and the polluted Nazarite, Numbers 6:12 and 5.) for the seduction of a betrothed slave. The only exception to this use of ahsham is in Isaiah 53:10.

Verse 23

23. Count the fruit… as uncircumcised The fruit of the first three years was to be thrown away as unclean or uneatable. Some assign as the ground of this law that the fruit of these years was little in quantity and inferior in quality, and that by breaking off the fruit blossoms the growth of the trees and vines was stimulated and the future fruitfulness greatly increased. But it seems more reasonable to suppose that this requirement rests on the same grounds as the command to offer the firstborn of the flocks and the firstfruits of the harvest as a thank offering to Jehovah for his blessing upon the fruit-trees. The trees planted by the Canaanites, before the conquest by Joshua, were treated as exempt from this rule.

Verse 24

24. All the fruit… shall be holy This offering, like the firstfruits in general, was given up entirely to Jehovah for his priests, who probably sold it to the Gentiles, since it was not lawful to eat it.

Verse 25

25. That it may yield… the increase By the divine blessing and by plucking off the blossoms during the first three years. Says Michaelis: “The wisdom of this law is very striking. Every gardener will teach us not to let fruit-trees bear in their earliest years, but to pluck off the blossoms; and for this reason, they will thus thrive the better and bear more abundantly afterwards.”

Verse 26

26. Neither… use enchantment Literally, Ye shall not whisper, hence, divine, or give oracles. The magical practices against which the Hebrews are here warned were borrowed from the nations around, for they had no magic of their own. Yet from the conquest of Canaan until the destruction of Jerusalem we have constant glimpses of magic practised in secret, not only by the ignoble, but by the great. Whether or not there is any reality in the art, it is clearly incompatible with a calm and firm trust in God alone to order future events for our good. “Israel is directed to the word of revelation (Deuteronomy 18:9-22) in contrast to all heathen mantic, which has searched through heaven and earth to find signs of the divine counsel, but finding no help, falls into dissolution. The exorcism of the dead, and other forms of mantic, are a horror, and astrology is a folly. Isaiah 47:13.” Oehler.

Nor observe times Practise soothsaying by regarding the aspect of the clouds. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:2) exhorts the people not to be “dismayed at the signs of heaven,” at which the heathen are “dismayed.” The practice of regarding some days as lucky and others as unlucky, and of foretelling the future by seeing the new moon over the right or left shoulder, are relics of this species of divination. Keil, with certain rabbins, derives the Hebrew term from ayin an eye; hence, literally, “to ogle, to bewitch with an evil eye.”

Verse 27

27. Not round the corners of your heads That is, cut the hair in a circle from temple to temple, as Herodotus relates that some Arabs did in honour of their god. Also, in opposition to heathen usage, the beard must be permitted to grow equally over all the lower part of the face.

Verse 28

28. Cuttings in your flesh The excitable Oriental nations were accustomed to scratch the arms, hands, and face in their passionate outbursts of mourning for the dead. The practice was associated with idolatrous rites. See Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 41:5, where it was practised notwithstanding this prohibition. See Leviticus 21:5, note.

Nor print any marks Tattooing, almost universal with savages, is still found in Arabia. It mars that which the Creator has made perfect, and thus degrades both the work and the Workman.

Verse 29

29. Do not prostitute The cursed thirst for gold was the motive which incited fathers to an act so unnatural. This prohibition aims at the practice which prevailed in Phenicia, Babylonia, and Syria, nations soon to be neighbours to Israel.

Full of wickedness Licentiousness is a sin which so corrupts the moral nature that it arouses all the evil passions and breeds all crimes. Herodias was led by evil desire to plot the beheading of John.

Verse 30

30. Sanctuary The tabernacle, the place of Jehovah’s abode among men, was reverenced when Israel approached in ceremonial and moral purity, bringing the required offerings in humility and penitence.

Verse 31

31. Familiar spirits The Hebrew oboth signifies skins used for bottles, Job 32:19. Its secondary meaning is the hollow belly of conjurers, supposed to be inflated by the spirit. Hence the obh properly denotes, not the conjurer himself but the spirit which is conjured by him, and is supposed to speak in him. See the Seventy, who render it by εγγαστριμυθοι , ventriloquists. The “familiar” is not in the Hebrew; it comes from the idea that the necromancers, soothsayers, and the like had spirits or demons whom they could summon from the unseen world to wait upon them as famuli, servants, and execute their commands. The ventriloquists “peeped and muttered,” (Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 29:4,) to imitate the voice of the revealing “familiar.” All the descriptions of the ancient necromancy are strikingly like the practices of modern spirit-circles. The sin in such consultations of the dead is the implied abandonment of God and his word as man’s only and sufficient light on all questions respecting the future state, and the resort to unauthorized sources of revelation, whose utterances are repugnant to the Holy Scriptures, and frequently grossly immoral.

Wizards Wizard is derived from wise and the old English termination ard a wise man, hence a magician or sorcerer. The Hebrew and Greek terms have the same meaning, indicating those that could by any means reveal the future. The rabbins derive the Hebrew word from a certain man-shaped beast, the bones of which the diviner held in his teeth. The Greek wizard ate certain portions of beasts supposed to be endowed with the faculty of divination. “Admitting that the terms ‘witchcraft,’ ‘wizard,’ and the like were used in their modern signification, as implying the possession of supernatural or magical powers by compact with evil spirits, it would follow, upon theocratic principles, that he who so much as pretends to exercise this power, seducing the people from their allegiance to God, would be worthy of death.” The law, like that on the statute books of England against the pretence to witchcraft among the negroes of Jamaica, does not assume the real existence of any such Satanic power attainable by men, but it pronounces its penalty against him or her who assumes to exercise this nefarious art. But Sir Walter Scott observes: “The sorcery or witchcraft of the Old Testament resolves itself into a trafficking with idols and asking counsel of false deities; or, in other words, into idolatry.” R.S. Poole regards it as a distinctive characteristic of the Bible that from first to last it warrants no trust in or dread of charms and incantations as capable of producing evil consequences when used against a man. In the Psalms, the most personal of all the books of Scripture, there is no prayer to be protected against magical influences, though every other kind of evil to body or soul is mentioned. These facts prove that the modern notion of witchcraft was a superstition entirely unknown to the early Hebrews.

Verse 32

32. Honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God Respect for age is here associated with the fear of God. The two virtues are beautifully blended in the Latin word pietas, signifying dutiful conduct towards one’s parents and the gods. In Exodus 22:28, the law connects respect towards civil rulers with piety towards God. In the East age is invested with authority more than in the Western nations. Hence honour rendered to the old implies, in an eminent degree, obedience to parents, the germ of all good citizenship and of all reverence towards God. The converse is true, that contempt for the old and disobedience to parents is the germ of all lawlessness and irreligion.

Verse 34

34. The stranger… thou shalt love Judaism, as Christianity in the bud, was a religion of love. The Mosaic law here sets up a safeguard against that hostility which is so natural to differences of race and religion that in the Latin tongue the word hostis, stranger, soon came to signify an enemy.

The contempt of the Gentile as a dog, which was manifested in the time of Christ, was no part of true Judaism, but a sad degeneracy from its own law. See Leviticus 23:22, note. The permission to exact interest on money loaned to a stranger, granted in Deuteronomy xxiii, 20, shows that this verse is not to be understood as making absolutely no distinction between an alien and a Hebrew.

Verse 35

35. Meteyard Measuring line or rod.

Verse 36

36. Balances are found on Egyptian monuments as early as the time of Joseph, and they are alluded to in the story of the purchase of the cave of Machpelah, Genesis 23:16. Before coinage they were necessary to all payments of money. The weights at first were “stones,” which gave to them their name in later times, when lead was used. A parallel is found in England. The weights were carried in a bag suspended from the girdle. The habit of carrying a set of large weights to buy with and of smaller to sell with, sprang up very early. Inasmuch as there was a “shekel of the sanctuary” it is probable that The standard weights and measures were sacredly kept in the tabernacle by the priests. Numbers 3:47, note.

Ephah This measure is the same as the bath, and according to Josephus it contains about eight and a half gallons; according to the rabbins less than four and a half.

Hin This is estimated, in like manner, at about one and a half, or at about three quarters of a gallon. Since the dealings of man with his fellow in the marts of trade constitute a school for the development and discipline of moral character, they are not matters of indifference to the holy and just One. True holiness shines out in the measuring of tape and in the weighing of sugar more convincingly than in prayer and praise and conspicuous acts of beneficence. See Matthew 5:16; and Philippians 2:15. “A book which talks in this language is a book which ought to be carefully preserved by the people. The Bible is not a sentimental book, dealing with abstract emotion, or confining itself to metaphysical mysteries. A religion that examines the balances and weights is a religion that may be trusted to attach a true value to praise and prayer. This is the strength of biblical doctrine.” Joseph Parker.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 19". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/leviticus-19.html. 1874-1909.
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