Leviticus 18
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—Unlike the preceding Divine communications, which treated of the ritual and ceremonial pollutions, the enactments which Moses is here commanded to communicate direct to the children of Israel, or their representatives, the elders, affect their moral life—precepts which form the basis of domestic purity, and which are the foundation of human happiness.

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God.
(2) I am the Lord your God.—The Lord is their recognised and sole sovereign, the children of Israel are therefore bound to obey His precepts, and not be led astray by the customs or statutes which prevailed among the people whose country they are to possess. Moreover, as He is holy, the Israelites, by faithfully obeying His sacred laws, will attain to that holiness which will bring them in communion with Him in whose image they were created. This phrase, which is so emphatically repeated twice more in this chapter (Leviticus 18:4; Leviticus 18:30), has only been used once before in this book. (See Leviticus 11:44.)

After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.
(3) After the doings of the land of Egypt.—During their sojourn in Egypt the Israelites became familiar with the practices which obtained in the land of their bondage, and as they adopted some of them (see Leviticus 17:7), they are here solemnly warned to eschew those which are especially proscribed in the sequel.

And after the doings of the land of Canaan. The danger of imitating the customs which they had for centuries witnessed in the land they quitted, was greatly increased by the fact that these licentious practices obtained in worse forms in the land which they were to inherit. It is therefore against the past and the future that they are here warned.

Neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. As some of “the doings” referred to may have been simple custom, not based upon the law of the country where they obtained, the Lawgiver here emphatically condemns the acts which were legalised, declaring them to have no authority whatever. (See Leviticus 18:30.)

Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.
(4) Ye shall do my judgments.—The expression “my judgments and mine ordinances” is here used emphatically, in opposition to “their ordinances,” and has here the force of Mine only; just as the phrase “Him shalt thou serve” (Deuteronomy 6:13) is explained by Christ “Him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10).

Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.
(5) Ye shall therefore keep my statutes. Better, and ye shall keep my ordinances. The word here rendered by “statutes” is the same which the Authorised Version translates ordinances in Leviticus 18:3-4.

He shall live in them.—Better, he shall live by or through them; that is, by observing them the law abiding will live a happy and prosperous life, since disobedience will expose the offender to the penalty of death. The spiritual authorities in the time of the second Temple interpreted this clause to mean that he who obeys these laws shall have eternal life. Hence the ancient Chaldee Versions translate it, “Shall have life eternal.” This passage is quoted both in the Prophets (Ezekiel 20:11; Ezekiel 20:13; Ezekiel 20:21; Nehemiah 9:29) and by St. Paul (Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12), who contrasts this promise made to works with the promise of the Gospel made to faith.

None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD.
(6) None of you shall approach.—Literally, man, man, ye shall not approach. It is part of the phrase used in Leviticus 17:3; Leviticus 17:8; Leviticus 17:13, and should accordingly be rendered by no man whatsoever shall approach. The absence of the words “of the house of Israel,” which, in the other instances, form part of this phrase, as we are assured by the authorities in the time of Christ, shows that these prohibitions are also binding upon the stranger who took up his abode among the Israelites, lest the land be defiled by his transgressions. Though primarily addressed to man, who, in these cases, takes the initiative, the punishment for violating any of these laws was visited upon both man and woman.

Near of kin to him.—Literally, the flesh of his flesh. (See Psalm 73:26; Psalm 78:20; Psalm 78:27; Micah 3:2-3.) The combination of two synonymous expressions is often used to denote intensity. Thus the phrase rendered “my exceeding joy” in the Authorised Version (Psalm 43:4), literally means the joy of my joy, or, as the Margin has it, “the gladness of my joy.” Accordingly, “the flesh of his flesh” signified “nearness of his flesh,” his near kin. This technical sense is assigned to the first of these two words by itself in Leviticus 18:12-13, &c, where it is translated “near kinswoman.” It expresses kinship of both consanguinity and mere affinity. (See Leviticus 18:17.)

To uncover their nakedness.—Upon the import of this phrase depends the interpretation of the laws laid down in this chapter and chapter 20, inasmuch as it furnishes the clue to the definition whether the interdicts refer to illicit commerce or to incestuous marriages. In the only other passage in the Pentateuch where it occurs, it does not appear to imply any unseemly intention (Exodus 20:26). This is also its sense in Isaiah 47:3. In the seven instances in Ezekiel, however (Ezekiel 16:36-37; Ezekiel 22:10; Ezekiel 23:10; Ezekiel 23:18; Ezekiel 23:29), which are the only other passages in the Bible where this phrase is used, it denotes unseemly exposure, sexual intercourse, etc. Hence some high authorities maintain that in the twenty-one instances in which it is used in this part of the legislation (Leviticus 18:6-19; Leviticus 20:11; Leviticus 20:17; Leviticus 20:20-21), it denotes extra-conjugal licentiousness, and is simply an explanatory addition to the phrase “approach to,” with which it is combined in Leviticus 18:6; Leviticus 18:14; Leviticus 18:18. From a comparison, however, of Leviticus 18:18 with Leviticus 18:19 to Leviticus 20:11, it will be seen that it is undoubtedly used to denote sexual intercourse both within and without the pale of matrimony. As cohabitation without any religious ceremony whatever constituted and consummated marriage amongst the early Hebrews, the euphemistic phrases “to take home,” “to approach to,” “to know,” etc., as well as the less veiled expressions, “to lie with,” “to uncover her nakedness,” etc., denote marriage in Hebrew, not excluding, however, the primary sense of illicit commerce or incestuous marriages. The context in which the phrase occurs must determine the sense in which it is used. The administrators of the law during the second Temple, whilst rightly interpreting it here generally to denote incestuous marriages, also apply it in some instances to fornication and adultery.

The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
(7) The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother.—The rendering of the Authorised Version is based upon the interpretation which obtained during the second Temple, according to which this injunction is addressed both to the daughter and the son. The daughter must not marry or have commerce with the father, nor the son with the mother. Hence the Chaldee Version of Jonathan translates it “the woman shall not lie with her father, and the man shall not lie with his mother.” Accordingly the case here contemplated is that of Lot’s daughters (Genesis 19:31-38). This passage may, however, be translated literally, the nakedness of thy father, and the nakedness of thy mother shalt thou not uncover. That is, they being both one flesh, the nakedness of the one is the nakedness of the other. Amongst the Persians and other eastern nations, marriage between son and mother was allowed.

The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.
(8) The nakedness of thy father’s wife.—Whilst the former prohibition refers to the son’s own mother, this law is directed against illicit commerce with his stepmother. Here we have an instance where the phrase “to uncover the nakedness” denotes both illicit commerce and incestuous marriage. Accordingly the administrators of the law during the second Temple defined it as follows; a man’s father’s wife is for ever prohibited, whether she be simply betrothed or married to his father, whether she be divorced or not, whether she be a widow or not; all connection with her on the part of the father’s son is forbidden. If he lie with her while her husband is alive, he is doubly guilty, first, because she is near of kin, and secondly, because she is another man’s wife. This, therefore, includes the sin of Reuben with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22), and of Absalom with the wives of his father (2Samuel 16:20-23; 1Kings 2:17), which was not incestuous marriage but adultery, since their husbands were alive and the wives were not divorced from them, as well as the sin practised among some of the Christians in Corinth, which consisted in sons actually marrying their divorced stepmothers in the lifetime of their fathers, and which the Apostle denounced with such severity (1Corinthians 5:1-4). Among the ancient Arabs, marriages with stepmothers were common, and to this day among some tribes in Africa, when a father is unable through advanced age to attend to his young wives, he voluntarily gives them over to his eldest son. The Koran, however, like the Mosaic law, proscribes these marriages (Koran, 4:27).

The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover.
(9) The nakedness of thy sister.—The fact that Adam married “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh,” and that his sons married their own sisters, encouraged the ancient Hebrew to imitate their example. Hence we find Abraham, the father of the faithful, married his half-sister (Genesis 20:12). The same practice obtained amongst other nations of antiquity. Thus the Athenians married their half-sisters by their father’s side, and the Spartans married half-sisters by the same mother, whilst the Assyrians and Egyptians married full sisters. Though nothing can be more explicit than the law here laid down, and though the transgression of it is denounced as an accursed and impious crime, to be visited with capital punishment (see Leviticus 20:17; Deuteronomy 27:22), yet from the narrative of Amnon and his sister Tamar, and especially from the touching and melancholy remark of the outraged sister (2Samuel 13:13; 2Samuel 13:16; 2Samuel 13:20), it is evident that the practice of the primitive parents of the human race and the example of the father of the Hebrew nation, continued to be followed in spite of this law. (Comp. Ezekiel 22:11.)

Born at home or born abroad.—Literally, the birth, or offspring of the house or the birth, or offspring from abroad. According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, the import of this precept is to forbid commerce between a brother and a sister, whether the sister is born in wedlock, which is meant by born at home, or whether she is illegitimate, which is meant by birth or offspring from abroad. Hence the ancient Chaldee Version of this clause, “whom thy father begot of another woman or of thy mother, or whom thy mother brought forth by thy father or by another man.”

The nakedness of thy son's daughter, or of thy daughter's daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thine own nakedness.
(10) The nakedness of thy son’s daughter. From this prohibition it is inferred that a man must not marry his own daughter. If a granddaughter, who is a degree further removed from him, is proscribed, how much more his own daughter. Hence the canonical law during the second Temple deduced from this passage that “whoso companieth with a woman, even by way of fornication, and begetteth a daughter, she is forbidden to him.” Still, when the mother is expressly forbidden to the son (see Leviticus 18:7), it is strange that the daughter should have been passed over in silence, and be left to inference. It is therefore more than probable that a word has dropped out of the text, and that originally it stood here, “the nakedness of thy daughter and of thy son’s daughter,” &c. That this is not a solitary instance where the text has suffered from disarrangement we shall presently have occasion to see in Leviticus 18:11.

The nakedness of thy father's wife's daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
(11) Thy father’s wife’s daughter.—If this clause stood alone it would denote the daughter of a man’s stepmother by another or previous husband, since “father’s wife” in Hebrew always denotes stepmother (see Leviticus 18:8, Leviticus 20:11; Deuteronomy 23:1, Deut. 26:20), in which case the man and the maiden, though no blood relations at all, would be forbidden to each other by virtue of the damsel’s mother having married the man’s father. It would thus differ from Leviticus 18:9, where the maiden is a half-sister either by the same father or the same mother.

Begotten of thy father.—Literally, the birth, or offspring of thy father (see Leviticus 18:9), that is, though the daughter of the stepmother, she is begotten by the same father, and hence is his half-sister on the father’s side, which is exactly the same case already prohibited in the first clause of Leviticus 18:9. Hence to avoid a senseless repetition of the same prohibition we must either regard this clause as having crept into the text from a marginal gloss, or we must correct the first letter of the disjunctive particle in Leviticus 18:9, which would make it “the nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father and the daughter of thy mother.” Accordingly, Leviticus 18:9 prohibits marriage with a full sister, whilst the verse before us forbids it with a half-sister. The latter is the more probable, since intermarriage between entire stepbrother and stepsister has always been, and still is, legitimate among the Jews.

Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister: she is thy father's near kinswoman.
(12) Thy father’s sister.—According to the law which obtained in the time of Christ this prohibition not only extended to the father’s half-sisters, but even when they were begotten by the grandfather illegitimately. It is remarkable that Moses himself was the offspring of such an alliance, since his father Amram married his own aunt Jochebed, who was the sister of his father. (See Exodus 6:20.)

Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister: for she is thy mother's near kinswoman.
(13) Thy mother’s sister.—Equally forbidden is the aunt by the mother’s side. The law which obtained in the time of Christ also defines this prohibition to extend to a mother’s sister or half-sister by the same father or mother, whether born in wedlock or out of it. It is remarkable that the administrators of the law during the second Temple understood this last prohibition strictly to apply to alliances between nephews and aunts, but not vice versâ to marriages between nieces and uncles. They regarded intermarriage between uncle and niece as an especially meritorious act, and interpreted the promises “then shalt thou call and the Lord shall answer” (Isaiah 58:9) to refer more particularly to the man “who loves his neighbours, befriends his relations, marries his brother’s daughter, and lends money to the poor in the hour of need.” This is in accordance with the fact that not only do we find that Nahor married Milcah the daughter of his brother Haran(Genesis 11:29), but that Othniel, the son of Kenaz, married his niece Achsah, being the daughter of Caleb, his father’s brother (Joshua 15:17; Judges 1:13). Hence among the Jews to this day intermarriages between uncles and nieces is of common occurrence.

Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt.
(14) Thy father’s brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife.—That is, according to the ancient legal interpretation, a nephew is to have no commerce with her during her husband’s lifetime, nor marry her when his uncle is dead. Those who transgressed this law had not only to bear their sin, but were doomed to die without issue. (See Leviticus 20:20.)

Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son's wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
(15) Thy daughter-in-law.—The legislators in the time of Christ defined this prohibition as applicable not only to cases where marriage between them had actually been consummated, but to cases where the maiden had only been espoused, or when the daughter-in-law had been divorced by the son, or had become a widow. For an offence of this kind both parties were punished with death. (See Leviticus 20:12.) Other nations regarded such alliances with the same abhorrence. (See Koran, 4:27.)

Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's nakedness.
(16) The nakedness of thy brother’s wife.—Though alliance with a brother’s wife is here forbidden—the prohibition, according to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, extending to illicit commerce or marriage in case she is divorced from her husband during the lifetime of her husband—and though the offenders are threatened with the curse of childlessness (see Leviticus 20:21), yet the law on this point is by no means absolute. Under certain conditions the law enjoins it as a moral and civil duty for a man to marry his brother’s widow. If a brother dies without issue, it is incumbent upon each surviving brother in succession to marry the widow, and if the brother-in-law refused to perform the sacred duty, the widow made him pass through a ceremony in which she heaped upon him the greatest indignity. This clearly shows that the prohibition here could not be based upon the ground of incest, since that which is inherently incestuous the Divine law itself would under no circumstances have set aside. This duty the surviving brother-in-law had to perform to the widows of as many of his brothers as happened to die without issue. A striking illustration of this fact occurred whilst Jehudah the Holy was president of the Sanhedrin. Twelve widows appealed to their brother-in-law to perform the duty of Levir. He refused to marry them because he saw no prospect how to maintain such an additional number of wives, and possibly a large increase of children. The case came before the President of the Sanhedrin, who not only decided that he must marry them all, but promised that if he would do the duty enjoined upon him by the Law of Moses, he himself would maintain the family, and their children in case there should be any, every Sabbatical year, when no produce was got from the land, which was at rest. The offer was accepted by the Levir, and he accordingly married his twelve sisters-in-law. After three years these twelve wives appeared with thirty-six children before Jehudah the Holy, to claim the promised alimony, as it was the Sabbatical year, and they actually obtained it. To this day this law is in force among the orthodox Jews. When a man dies without issue, the widow ipso facto belongs to the surviving brother, and she is not allowed to marry any one else unless her brother-in-law has gone through the ceremony of publicly renouncing her, which is tantamount to a divorce. This will explain the rendering of the clause before us in the ancient Chaldee Version, “thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife in the lifetime of thy brother or after his death if he has children.”

Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness.
(17) A woman and her daughter.—That is, if a man marries a widow who has a daughter by a former husband, or if he forms an alliance with a woman who has a daughter out of wedlock, he is forbidden to marry also the daughter. But though this prohibition is directed against a peculiar form of polygamy. there can hardly be any doubt that, as the administrators of the law during the second Temple interpreted it, if he married either of them and she died, he could not marry the other any more, and that this prohibition did not apply to cases of illicit commerce. Criminal intercourse with one did not preclude him from marrying the other. For contracting the kind of polygamy here forbidden, the offenders were punished with death by fire. (See Leviticus 20:14.)

Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.
(18) A wife to her sister.—That is, a man is here forbidden to take a second sister for a wife to or in addition to the one who is already his wife, and who is still alive. This clause therefore forbids the Jews, who were permitted to have several wives, a particular kind of polygamy, i.e., a plurality of sisters. According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, the expression “sister” here not only denotes a full sister by the same father and the same mother, but a half-sister either by the same father or the same mother. The marginal rendering in the Authorised Version, “one wife to another,” which makes this a prohibition of polygamy, and which was first proposed by Junius and Tremelius in 1575, is (1) contrary to the expressions “wife” and “sister,” which, in every verse of these prohibitions (see Leviticus 18:8-9; Leviticus 18:11-17), invariably mean wife and sister. (2) Whenever the phrase, “a man to his brother,” or “a woman to her sister,” is used metaphorically in the sense of “one to” or “one with another” (Exodus 26:3; Exodus 26:5-6; Exodus 26:17; Ezekiel 1:9; Ezekiel 1:23; Ezekiel 3:13, &c.), the words have always a distributive force, and are invariably preceded by a plural verb, and the things themselves to which they refer are mentioned by name. Thus, for instance, in Ezekiel 1:23, it is, “their wings were straight one toward the other,” which is not the case in the passage before us. (3) This rendering is at variance with the Mosaic code, which bases its legislation upon the existence of polygamy, and thus authorises it, as will be seen from the following facts. It permits a father, who had given his son a bond-woman for a wife, to give him a second wife of “freer birth,” and prescribes how the first is to be treated under such circumstances (Exodus 21:9-10). It ordains that a king “shall not multiply wives unto himself” (Deuteronomy 17:17), which, as Bishop Patrick rightly remarks, “is not a prohibition to take more wives than one, but not to have an excessive number”; thus, in fact, legalising a moderate number. The law of primogeniture presupposes the case of a man having two wives (Deuteronomy 21:15-17), and the Levitical law expressly enjoins that a man, though having a wife already, is to marry his deceased brother’s widow (Deuteronomy 25:17). Hence we find that the judges and kings of Israel had many wives (Judges 10:4, Judges 12:9; 1Samuel 1:2; 2Samuel 3:7). David, the royal singer of Israel, “their best king,” as Bishop Patrick remarks, “who read God’s word day and night and could not but understand it, took many wives without reproof; nay, God gave him more than he had before by delivering his master’s wives to him” (2Samuel 12:8), and the case adduced in the previous verse plainly shows that polygamy continued among the Jews after the destruction of the second Temple (Leviticus 18:10). (4) The Jews to whom this law was given to be observed in their every day life, and to whom the right understanding of its import was of the utmost importance, inasmuch as it involved the happiness of their families, the transgression of it being visited with capital punishment, have, as far as we can trace it, always interpreted this precept as referring to marriage with two sisters together. Hence the ancient canonical interpretation of it is embodied in the Chaldee Version, “a woman in the lifetime of her sister thou shalt not take,” in the LXX., Vulg., the Syriac, and all the ancient versions.

To vex her.—That is, by marrying also the younger sister, the first, who is already the wife, would be roused to jealousy, and the natural love of sisters would thus be converted into enmity, thus precluding the occurrence of a case like that of Jacob with Leah and Rachel. (See Genesis 29:30.)

In her life-time.—This limits the prohibition to her lifetime, that is, as long as the sister who was first married is still living, he must not marry another of her sisters, but he may marry her when the first one is dead. According to the authorities during the second Temple, “in her lifetime” also includes a woman who had been divorced from her husband, and though she is no longer his wife, yet as long as she lives he is forbidden to marry her sister. When the wife died, he was not only free to marry her sister, but in case the deceased left issue, it was regarded as a specially meritorious thing for the widower to do so. Hence the Jews from time immemorial have afforded the bereaved husband special facilities to marry his deceased wife’s sister, by allowing the alliance to take place within a shorter period after the demise of his first wife than is usually the case.

Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.
(19) Also thou shalt not approach.—Literally, thou shalt not approach. The marriage laws are now followed by sexual impurities, which to some extent are suggested by the subjects that had necessarily to be discussed or hinted at in regulating the alliance in question.

As long as she is put apart.—Put apart, i.e., seven days. (See Leviticus 15:19.) For consorting with her without being aware of her condition the man contracted defilement for seven days (see Leviticus 15:24), and for committing this gross act presumptuously, both parties to it were visited with death. (See Leviticus 20:18.) Ezekiel refers to the transgression of this law as one of the heinous sins perpetrated by the people of Israel (Ezekiel 18:16; Ezekiel 22:10).

Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her.
(20) Thy neighbour’s wife.—For committing adultery, which is here branded as a defilement, whether with a betrothed or married woman, both guilty parties incurred the penalty of death by stoning. (See Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; Ezekiel 16:38; Ezekiel 16:40; John 8:5.) In Egypt the adulterer received a thousand strokes with a stick, and the guilty woman had her nose cut off, and to this day the criminal wife among the Bedouins is executed by her husband, father, or brother, without any mercy. Both criminals were also punished with death among other Eastern nations.

And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
(21) And thou shalt not let any of thy seed.—Literally, And thou shalt not give any of thy seed. Those who violate the sanctity of the marriage ties will readily sacrifice their children. Hence the prohibition to offer up their children to idols follows the law about unchastity.

Pass through the fire to Molech.—Literally, to let it pass to Molech, that is, to put the child into the hands of the figure of Molech, when it fell into the fire which was kindled in the hollow statue of this idol. Molech, also called Milcom, which denotes king, is described as the hideous idol, or “the abomination of the Ammonites” (1Kings 11:5; 1Kings 11:11). The following graphic description has been handed down traditionally of this idol and its worship :—“Our sages of blessed memory say that whilst all other idols had temples in Jerusalem, Molech had his temple outside Jerusalem, in a place by itself. It was a brass and hollow image, bull-headed, with arms stretched out like a human being who opens his hands to receive something from his neighbour. Its temple had seven compartments, into which the offerers went according to their respective gifts. If one offered a fowl, he went into the first compartment; if a sheep, into the second; if a lamb, into the third; if a ram, into the fourth; if a bullock, into the fifth; if an ox, into the sixth; and if he offered his son, he was conducted into the seventh compartment. He first kissed the image, as it is written, ‘let the sacrificers of men kiss the calf’ (Hosea 13:2), whereupon a fire was kindled in Molech till its arms became red hot; the child was then put into its hands, and drums were beaten to produce tremendous noises so as to prevent the shrieks of the child reaching the father’s ears, lest he should be moved with pity towards his offspring.” It was to this idol that Solomon erected a temple on the southern side of Mount Olivet (2Kings 23:13). This idolatrous worship was punished with death by stoning. (See Leviticus 20:2.)

Neither shalt thou profane.—Better, And thou shalt not profane, that is, by causing other nations to say that the Israelites regard their God as an inferior deity, and hence offer unto him animals, whilst to Molech they sacrifice their own children. Hence any act which is done in violation of his commands, or misrepresents God, or by which He is put on a par with other gods, is called “profaning the name of God.” (See Leviticus 19:12; Leviticus 20:3; Leviticus 21:6; Leviticus 22:2; Leviticus 22:32, &c.)

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
(22) As with womankind.—This was the sin of Sodom (Genesis 19:5), whence it derived its name, and in spite of the penalty of death enacted by the Law against those who were found guilty of it (see Leviticus 20:13), the Israelites did not quite relinquish this abominable vice (Judges 19:22; 1Kings 14:24), to which the surrounding nations were addicted and which was so prevalent in the time of the Apostles (Romans 1:27; 1Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19; 1Timothy 1:10). By the law of Christ those who are guilty of this sin are excluded from the kingdom of God (1Corinthians 6:9-10), whilst the laws of civilised Europe rightly inflict the severest penalties upon offenders of this kind.

Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.
(23) Any beast.—The necessity for the prohibition of this shocking crime, for which the Mosaic law enacts the penalty of death (see Leviticus 20:15-16; Exodus 22:18), will appear all the more important when it is borne in mind that this degrading practice actually formed a part of the religious worship of the Egyptians in connection with the goat deities.

Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you:
(24) Defile not ye yourselves.—The Lawgiver who solemnly introduced these precepts by five verses of preamble at the beginning of the chapter (Leviticus 18:1-5), now concludes by an equally solemn appeal to God’s people sacredly to observe them in all their integrity, since the violation of them (Leviticus 18:6-23) has branded those nations with infamy, and brought about their national destruction, and expulsion from the very land which is now to be given to the Israelites.

And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.
(25) The land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.—From the creation the earth shared in the punishment of man’s guilt (Genesis 3:17), and at the restitution of all things she is to participate in his restoration (Romans 8:19-22). The physical condition of the land, therefore, depends upon the moral conduct of man. When he disobeys God’s commandments she is parched up and does not yield her fruit” (Deuteronomy 11:17). “The land is defiled” when he defiles himself. When he walks in the way of the Divine commands she is blessed (Leviticus 25:19; Leviticus 26:4); “God is merciful unto his land and to his people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). Hence, “the earth mourneth” when her inhabitants sin (Isaiah 24:4-5), and “the earth is glad” when God avenges the cause of His people (Psalm 96:11-13). It is owing to this intimate connection between them that the land, which is here personified, is represented as loathing the wicked conduct of her children and being unable to restrain them. She nauseated them. The same figure is used in Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 20:22; and in Revelation 3:16.

Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you:
(26) Ye shall therefore keep my statutes.—As the perpetration of the above named abominations entailed such disastrous consequences both to the land and to its inhabitants, the strict observance of the Divine statutes is enjoined upon all alike, whether they be Israelites by race or strangers who took up their abode amongst them and joined the Jewish community. (See Leviticus 17:9.)

(For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;)
(27) For all these abominations.—Though the contents of this verse are substantially the same as those in Leviticus 18:24-25, yet the wording is different. In the former the Israelites are exhorted not to pollute themselves as the different tribes or nations have both polluted themselves and the land, whilst here the inhabitants of Canaan are more specifically described as having practised the abominations. The repetition of the same sentiments in diiferent words, as is frequently the case in Hebrew, is designed to impart emphasis. The parentheses are unnecessary.

That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.
(28) That the land spue not you out also.—Better, Lest the land vomit you out. By unnecessarily translating the same word differently into “vomiteth” in Leviticus 18:25, and “spue” here, as is done in the Authorised Version, the striking connection between the two verses is somewhat weakened.

For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
(29) For whosoever shall commit.—This clause, according to the interpretation which obtained during the second Temple, particularises every individual, and is intended to indicate that any one, whether it be male or female, who is guilty, will incur the punishment prescribed for these sins.

Shall be cut off.—That is, in case the transgression escapes the ken of the tribunal, God himself will inflict the punishment upon the criminals, since some of the crimes specified in this chapter are, according to Leviticus 20, to be visited with death by the hand of man.

Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.
(30) Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance. As God is no respecter of persons, and as He will assuredly visit His own people with the same punishment which He inflicted upon the former occupants of the laud, the Israelites are to take special care to keep inviolate His ordinances.

Commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you. Better, Do not any one of these abominable statutes which were done, as the Authorised Version translates the word in Deuteronomy 6:24; Deuteronomy 16:12; Deuteronomy 26:16. These abominations were not practised simply as customs, but were legally enacted as statutes of the land, and formed part of their religious institutions (see Leviticus 18:3). A similar state of degeneracy is described by Isaiah, who tells us that the Divine statutes, which is the same word used in the passage before us, were changed. By deviating here from the usual rendering of this phrase the Authorised Version mars the import of the passage.

I am the Lord your God.—This is the declaration with which this group of laws was introduced. Its repetition at the end imparts peculiar solemnity to these enactments. (See Leviticus 18:1.)

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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Leviticus 17
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