Leviticus 19
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
From the prohibition of moral uncleanness exhibiting itself in the form of incest and licentiousness, the legislator proceeds to a series of laws and commandments against other kinds of immorality, inculcating piety, righteousness, and kindness. Chapter 19 may be regarded as an extension of the previous chapter in this direction, after which the subject of chapter 18, is again taken up in chapter 20. The precepts now given are not arranged systematically, though, as Keil has remarked, "while grouped together rather according to a loose association of ideas than according to any logical arrangement, they are all linked together by the common purpose expressed in the words, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.' " They begin by inculcating (in verses 3, 4) duties which fall under the heads of

(1) the fifth commandment of the Decalogue,

(2) the fourth,

(3) the first,

(4) the second.

These four laws are, in their positive aspects,

(1) the religious law of social order, on which a commonwealth rests;

(2) the law of positive obedience to God's command because it is his command;

(3) the law of piety towards the invisible Lord;

(4) the law of faith, which trusts him without requiring risible emblems or pictures of him. In verses 11, 14, 16, 35, 36, obedience is inculcated to the eighth and the ninth commandments, which are the laws of honesty and of truthfulness; in verse 12 to the third commandment, which is the law of reverence; in verses 17, 18, 33, 34, to the sixth commandment, which is the law of love; in verses 20, 29, to the seventh commandment, which is the law of purity; in verses 9, 10, 13, the spirit of covetousness is prohibited, as forbidden in the tenth commandment, which is the law of charity. Thus this chapter may in a way be regarded as the Old Testament counterpart of the Sermon on the Mount, inasmuch as it lays down the laws of conduct, as the latter lays down the principles of action, in as comprehensive though not in so systematic a manner as the ten commandments.
Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.
Verse 2. - Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy. The religious motive is put forward here, as in the previous chapter, as the foundation of all morality. It is God's will that we should be holy, and by being holy we. are like God, who is to be our model so far as is possible to the creature. So in the new dispensation, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). "As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Peter 1:15).
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.
Verse 3. - Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father. The words fear and reverence are in this connection interchangeable. So Ephesians 5:33, "Let the wife see that she reverence her husband," where the word "reverence" would be more exactly translated by "fear." St. Paul points out that the importance of the fifth commandment is indicated in the Decalogue by its being" the first commandment with promise," that is, with a promise attached to it (Ephesians 6:2). The family life is built upon reverence to parents, and on the family is built society. Obedience to parents is a duty flowing out of one of the first two laws instituted by God - the law of marriage (Genesis 2:24). The second law instituted at the same time was that of the sabbath (Genesis 2:3), and in the verse before us observance of the sabbatical law is likewise inculcated, in the words that immediately follow - ye shall keep my sabbaths.
Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.
Verse 4. - Turn ye not unto idols. The word used for idols, elilim, meaning nothings, is contrasted with Elohim, God. Psalm 115 exhibits this contrast in several of its particulars. Cf. St. Paul's statement, "We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4). "If the heart of man becomes benumbed to the use of images of false gods of any kind, he sinks down to the idols which are his ideals, and becomes as dumb and unspiritual as they are" (Lunge). The remainder of the verse forbids the transgression of the second commandment, as the earlier part of the verse forbids the transgression of the first commandment: nor make to yourselves molten gods, as was done by Jeroboam when he set up the calves (1 Kings 12:23).
And if ye offer a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD, ye shall offer it at your own will.
Verses 5-8. - The unsystematic character of this chapter is indicated by prohibitions under the fifth, fourth, first, and second commandments (verses 3, 4) being succeeded by a ceremonial instruction respecting the peace offerings, repeated from Leviticus 7:16-18. The words, ye shall offer it at your own will, should rather be, for your acceptance, as in chapter Leviticus 1:3. In the seventh chapter a distinction is drawn between the peace offerings that are thank offerings, which must be eaten on the first day, and the peace offerings which are vow or voluntary offerings, which may be eaten on the first or second day. In the present resume this distinction is not noticed. Whoever transgresses this ceremonial command is to bear his iniquity and to be cut off from among his people, that is, to be excommunicated without any appointed form of reconciliation by means of sacrifice.
It shall be eaten the same day ye offer it, and on the morrow: and if ought remain until the third day, it shall be burnt in the fire.
And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is abominable; it shall not be accepted.
Therefore every one that eateth it shall bear his iniquity, because he hath profaned the hallowed thing of the LORD: and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.
Verses 9, 10. - The injunction contained in these verses, to not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither... gather the gleanings of thy harvest, is twice afterwards repeated (Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-22). In Deuteronomy, the oliveyard is specified together with the harvest-field and the vineyard, and it is added that, if a sheaf be by chance left behind, it is to remain for the benefit of the poor. The object of this law is to inculcate a general spirit of mercy, which is willing to give up its own exact rights in kindness to others suffering from want. The word here used for vineyard covers also the oliveyard. The expression, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard, would be more literally rendered, neither shalt thou gather the scattering of thy vineyard, meaning the berries (grapes or olives)which had fallen or which were left singly on the boughs.
And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.
Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.
Verse 11. - Stealing, cheating, and lying are classed together as kindred sins (see chapter Leviticus 6:2, where an example is given of theft performed by means of lying; cf. Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9).
And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
Verse 12. - And ye shall not swear by my name falsely. These words contain a positive permission to swear, or take a solemn oath, by the Name of God, and a prohibition to swear falsely by it (see Matthew 5:33).
Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.
Verse 13. - Cheating and stealing are again forbidden, and, together with these, other forms of oppression although legal. The command to pay labourers their hire promptly - which covers also the case of paying tradesmen promptly - is repeated in Deuteronomy 24:14 (cf. James 5:4).
Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.
Verse 14. - Thou shalt not curse the deaf. The sin of cursing another is in itself complete, whether the curse be heard by that other or not, because it is the outcome of sin in the speaker's heart. The suffering caused to one who hears the curse creates a further sin by adding an injury to the person addressed. Strangely in contrast with this is not only the practice of irreligious men, who care little how they curse a man in his absence, but the teaching which is regarded by a large body of Christians as incontrovertible. "No harm is done to reverence but by an open manifestation of insult. How, then, can a son sin gravely when he curses his father without the latter's knowing it, or mocks at him behind his back, inasmuch as in that case there is neither insult nor irreverence? And I think that the same is to be said, even though he does this before others. It must be altogether understood that he does not sin gravely if he curses his parents, whether they are alive or dead, unless the curses are uttered with malevolent meaning." This is the decision of one that is called not only a saint, but a "doctor of the Church" (Liguori, 'Theol. Moral.,' 4:334). "Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put ant in obscure darkness," says the Word of God (Proverbs 20:20). Nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God. By the last clause the eye is directed to God, who can see and punish, however little the blind man is able to help himself. (Cf. Job 29:15, "I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame.")
Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.
Verse 15. - Justice is to be done to all. The less danger of respecting the person of the poor has to be guarded against, as well as the greater and more obvious peril of honouring the person of the mighty. The scales of Justice must be held even and her eyes bandaged, that she may not prefer one appellant to another on any ground except that of merit and demerit. "If ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors" (James 2:9).
Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.
Verse 16. - Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people. For the evil done by mere idle talebearing, see Bishop Butler's sermon, 'Upon the Government of the Tongue,' and four sermons by Bishop Jeremy Taylor, on 'The Good and Evil Tongue; Slander and Flattery; the Duties of the Tongue.' Neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; that is, thou shalt not endanger his life, which is the result of the worst kind of talebearing, namely, bearing false witness against him. Thus the effect of the false witness of the two men of Belial against Naboth was that "they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died" (1 Kings 21:13; cf. Matthew 26:60; Matthew 27:4).
Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.
Verse 17. - On the one side we are not to hate our brother in our heart, whatever wrongs he may commit; but on the other side, we are in any wise to rebuke our neighbour for his wrong doing. So our Lord teaches, "if thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him" (Luke 17:3); and he appoints a solemn mode of procedure, by which this fraternal rebuke is to be conveyed in his Church: "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church; but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matthew 18:15-17). Therefore St. Paul warns his delegates, Timothy and Titus, "Them that sin rebuke before all" (1 Timothy 5:20). "Reprove, rebuke" (2 Timothy 4:2). "Rebuke them sharply" (Titus 1:13). "Rebuke with all authority" (Titus 2:15). By withholding reproof in a bitter spirit, or from a feeling of cowardice, we may become partakers of other men's sins. Whoever fails to rebuke his neighbour when he ought to do so, bears sin on his account (the more correct and less ambiguous rendering of the words translated in the Authorized Version, suffer sin upon him, cf. Numbers 18:22, 32). God's people are their brothers' keepers (Genesis 4:9).
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
Verse 18. - Revenge and malice are forbidden as well as hatred, and the negative precepts culminate in the positive law. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, which sums up in itself one half of the Decalogue (Matthew 22:40). "For he that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law" (Romans 13:8-10).
Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.
Verse 19. - Ye shall keep my statutes. Having arrived at the general conclusion, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, in the previous verse, the legislator pauses, and then presents a collection of further laws, arranged as before in no special order. The first is a mystical injunction against the confusion of things which are best kept apart, illustrated in three subjects - diverse kinds of cattle in breeding, mingled seeds in sowing a field, and mixed materials in garments. In Deuteronomy 22:10, a fresher illustration is added, "Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together." The existence of mules, which we find frequently mentioned in the' later history (2 Samuel 13:29; 2 Samuel 18:9; 1 Kings 1:33), may be accounted for by supposing that the positive precept with regard to breeding cattle here laid down was transgressed, or that the mules were imported from abroad (see 1 Kings 10:25). The word used here and in Deuteronomy 22:11 for a garment mingled of linen and woolen, is shaatenez, an Egyptian word, meaning probably mixed. The difficulty raised on this verse by the allegation that the high priest's dress was made of mixed materials, is met by the answer that, if it were of mixed materials (which is uncertain, for wool is not mentioned in Exodus 28, nor is it quite determined that shesh means linen), the mixture was not such as is here forbidden. The moral meaning of the whole of this injunction is exhibited in the following passages from the New Testament, "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils" (1 Corinthians 10:21). "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). "He cannot love the Lord Jesus with his heart," says Hooker, "who lendeth one ear to his apostles and another to false teachers, and who can brook to see a mingle-mangle of religion and superstition' ('Serm.' 5:7, quoted by Wordsworth).
And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.
Verses 20-22. - A distinction is drawn between adultery with a free woman, or a betrothed free virgin, which was punishable with death (Leviticus 20:20; Deuteronomy 22:23), and with a slave betrothed to another man (probably a slave also). In the latter ease a lesser punishment, no doubt that of scourging (according to the Mishna to the extent of forty stripes), was to be inflicted on one or both, according to the circumstances of the case. The words, she shall he scourged, should be translated, there shall be investigation, followed, presumably, by the punishment of scourging, for both parties if both were guilty, for one if the woman was unwilling. The man is afterwards to offer a trespass offering. As the offense has been a wrong as well as a sin, his offering is to be a trespass offering (see on Leviticus 5:14). In this case the fine of one-fifth could not be inflicted, as the wrong done could not be estimated by money, and the cost of the ram seems to be regarded as the required satisfaction. No mention is made of damages to be paid to the man to whom the slave-girl was betrothed, probably because he was himself a slave, and had not juridical rights against a freeman.
And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering.
And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him.
And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of.
Verses 23-25. - The eating of the fruit of young trees by their owners for five years is forbidden, on the principle that such fruit is unclean until it has been sanctified by the offering of a crop as firstfruits to the Lord for the use of the servants of the tabernacle, and a full crop is not to be expected until the fourth year from the time that the trees were planted. The fruit is at first to be counted as uncircumcised, being regarded in a position similar to that of the heathen, that is, unclean, from not having been yet sanctified by the offering of the firstfruits. This sanctification takes place in the fourth year.
But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the LORD withal.
And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am the LORD your God.
Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times.
Verses 26-28. - After a repetition of the fundamental ceremonial law against eating things which have the blood in them (the LXX. rendering, ἐπὶ τῶν ὀρέων, "upon the mountains," arises from a mistaken reading), follow prohibitions

(1) to use enchantment, literally, to whisper or mutter after holding communication with serpents (if the word nichesh be derived from nachash, a serpent);

(2) to observe times, or rather, according to a more probable etymology, exercise the evil eye;

(3) to round the corners of your heads, that is, use a sort of tonsure, as was done by some Arabian tribes (Herod., 3:3) in honour of their god Orotal, and by the Israelites as a form of mourning (Deuteronomy 14:1; Isaiah 22:12);

(4) to mar the corners of thy beard, a fashion of mourning which accompanied the tonsure of the head (see Leviticus 21:5; Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 48:37;

(5) to make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, another form of mourning, associated with the two previously mentioned practices (see chapter Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1; Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 41:3; Jeremiah 48:37);

(6) to print any marks upon you, that is, tattoo themselves in memory of the dead. All these customs were unbecoming the dignity of God's people, and had been connected with idolatrous practices.
Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.
Verse 29. - Do not prostitute thy daughter. This is a peremptory prohibition, applying to every Jewish maiden, introduced in this place with a primary relation to the sanctification of lust by the dedication of young girls at some heathen temples; but by no means confined in its application to such practices. All legal sanction of the sin of prostitution is forbidden, for whatever purpose it may be given; and the certain result of such sanction is indicated in the final words of the verse, lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness (cf. Deuteronomy 23:17).
Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.
Verse 30. - The command in this verse differs from that in verse 3 by adding the injunction to reverence my sanctuary to that requiring the observance of the sabbath. It is a matter of experience that where the sabbath is not kept, God's sanctuary is not reverenced, and that that reverence increases or fails away according as the obligation of the sabbatical law, whether in its Jewish form or its Christian form, be more or less recognized. The sabbatical ordinance is necessary as a previous condition of religious worship. Without it, the business and pleasure of the world are too strong to give way to the demands upon time made by the stated service of God. The verse is repeated in Leviticus 26:2. "When the Lord's day is kept holy, and a holy reverence for the Lord's sanctuary lives in the heart, not only are many sins avoided, but social and domestic life is pervaded by the fear of God, and characterized by devoutness and propriety" (Keil).
Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.
Verse 31. - This verse contains a prohibition of all dealings with those that have familiar spirits or are wizards. The punishment of such persons is appointed in the next chapter. Both in the Old and the New Testament, the real existence of evil spirits and their power of communicating with the human spirit is assumed.
Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.
Verse 32. - Reverence for the old is inculcated as being a part, not merely of natural respect, but of the fear of God. In the East this virtue, implying deference on the part of the strong to the weak, and of the inexperienced to the wise, exists in larger influence for good than in the West, where, however, its place has been, but only partially, supplied by the greater deference paid by man to woman (cf. Proverbs 16:31; Proverbs 20:29).
And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
Verses 33, 34. - The command already given "neither to vex a stranger, nor oppress him" (Exodus 22:21), on the pathetic ground that "ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 23:9), is broadened in these verses to the positive law, thou shalt love him as thyself. "The royal law of verse 18 is expressly extended to the stranger, and notwithstanding the national narrowness necessary to preserve the true religion in the world, the general brotherhood of mankind is hereby taught as far as was possible under the circumstances" (Gardiner).
But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.
Verses 35, 36. - These verses, beginning with the same words as verse 15, Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, contain another and wider application of that principle. Verse 15 prohibited unrighteousness in the judge, or in one who was in the position of a judge; these verses forbid it in merchants and tradesmen. It is the more necessary to condemn dishonesty, in unmistakable terms, as men who make a profession of religion, and therefore would be shocked at stealing, have often less scruple in cheating. Here and in Deuteronomy, where the Law is repeated, a religious sanction is given to the command; "For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the Lord thy God" (Deuteronomy 25:16). Cf. Proverbs 11:1, "A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight;" and Proverbs 20:10, "Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the Lord;" see also Micah 6:10, 11 and Ezekiel 45:10.
Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD.
Verse 37. - Moral precepts are rested on their right foundation - the command of God and the religious motive.

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