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Deeper Commentary


Lev 18:1 Yahweh said to Moses-
So far in Leviticus the text has dealt with uncleanness and sin in an abstract sense. Now Lev. 18-20 exemplify this by talking of sin in more concrete, actual terms.

Lev 18:2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, ‘I am Yahweh your God-
The following commandments relate to matters of intimate relationships. If Yahweh is our God, then His commandments and principles extent to every part of our lives, especially the most personal and intimate.

Lev 18:3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived; and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you; neither shall you walk according to their statutes-
The contrast is presented between the word of God and that of man (:4). And this is the abiding conflict in our lives. The chapter will go on to outlaw various immoral relationships and sexual bonding. But these are all prefaced by this commandment not to do according to the laws of the Gentiles. These outlawed sexual behaviours were therefore part of the laws of the various fertility cults. These things were done in the belief they would thereby please the gods and result in abundant harvests. And the idea was the more attractive because it appealed to the lust of the flesh.

Lev 18:4 You shall do My ordinances, and you shall keep My statutes, and walk in them: I am Yahweh your God-
The Hebrew mishpat, "ordinances", has a wide range of meaning. The idea is of judgment, as if God and His Angels gave these laws as their considered judgment after considering the human condition, and Israel were to abide by them. But the word also the idea of a right or privilege; and that is how we should see God's laws. They are only felt as a burden because of human hardness of neck towards God's ways. His laws are not of themselves burdensome, but rather a privilege and blessing. The law was indeed "holy, just and good" (Rom. 7:12), designed to inculcate a holy, just and good life (Tit. 1:8), a way in which a man should "walk" in daily life (Lev. 18:4), a culture of kindness and grace to others which reflected God's grace to man. If we dwell upon the idea of "rights" carried within the word mishpat, we note that the law begins in Ex. 21:1,2 (also Dt. 15:12-18) with the rights of a slave- those considered to have no rights in the society of that day. The "rights" to be afforded by us to others are the essence of God's rightness / justice.  

Lev 18:5 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My ordinances; which if a man does, he shall live in them: I am Yahweh-
Rom. 7:10 “unto life” presumably implies that perfect keeping of the law would have resulted in a person living the life of God, the kind of life which will be lived in the eternal life (which might also be implied in Lev. 18:5 cp. Rom. 10:5; Ps. 19:7-10; Ez. 20:11; Lk. 20:28). Death for such a person would therefore be necessary because of their relation with Adam, but would in another sense be unjust, in that they had not sinned. The perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus therefore required His resurrection. His eternal life wasn’t given to Him by grace, but He was entitled to it by obedience. He had no pre-existent eternal life; He was given eternal life because of His obedience. And His life is counted to us who are “in Him” by grace. See on Rom. 7:12.

"If a man does, he shall live in them" is quoted in Gal. 3:12 to prove that life with God was possible by complete obedience to the Law of Moses. The Law could not give life in practice only in that people broke it (Gal. 3:21). Paul’s point in Galatians is that eternal life therefore cannot be given on the basis of doing the Law- because we all break it. But Jesus completely kept the Law, and therefore deserved to have eternal life; but He died for us. Because of His perfect obedience to it, it wasn’t therefore possible for Him to remain dead, He had to be raised from the dead (Acts 2:24). The principle that life was possible for those who lived in perfect obedience to the Law would have driven every humble, sensitive, Godly minded person to wonder how he or she could attain to eternal life; they would’ve so wished to find a person who was completely obedient to the Law whose righteousness could as it were be counted to them. In this sense, the Law was a household servant which led people to perceive their need for Christ (Gal. 3:24).

The life of serious obedience will lead to more obedience. Likewise the man who is obedient to God's commands will live in them, i.e. they will become an integral part of his way of life (Lev. 18:5; Neh. 9:29; Ez. 20:13,21 etc.). The further we go in God’s way, the clearer and more obvious it all becomes, and the fewer agonies we face over decisions, as perhaps we did in our early days of believing. The way of wisdom is “plain to him that understands” (Prov. 8:9). Some seek for wisdom but can never find it; for others, “knowledge is easy unto him that understands” (Prov. 14:6).

Lev 18:6 None of you shall approach anyone who are his close relatives, to uncover their nakedness: I am Yahweh-
Who God is becomes the motive for obedience; our core desire to be like Him, rather than a legalistic, literalistic desire to keep commandments, is what will help us in practice to be like Him.

Lev 18:7 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, nor the nakedness of your mother: she is your mother. You shall not uncover her nakedness-
Uncovering nakedness alludes to the result of the first sin in Eden. The idea therefore is not that it is a sin to simply see a parent naked. Rather is it that such sins are sins because you are leading your sexual partner into sin and they will receive the same judgment as Adam and Eve- their nakedness will be uncovered. And so the Lord Jesus likewise reasons that the problem with sexual sin is that it leads other parties into sin (Mt. 5:32).

Lev 18:8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife: it is your father’s nakedness-
In a polygamous society, this is not the same as "your mother", which has been addressed in :7. We learned in :3 that this kind of thing happened amongst the Gentiles, but was not to happen amongst God's people. Paul makes some kind of allusion to this by complaining that this was happening in the church at Corinth, but it didn't happen amongst the Gentiles (1 Cor. 5:1). His idea may be that there had been some moral progression amongst the Gentiles in this area- but sadly not amongst God's people.

Lev 18:9 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home, or born abroad-
These laws teach that nakedness should only be uncovered before your wife or husband. Uncovering nakedness is an idiom for the sexual act. The allusion is to Adam and Eve having their nakedness uncovered; we have to accept the situation we are in as a result of the curse, rather than having sexual relations with who we like, as if uncovering nakedness is nothing shameful. Our hope is for the curse put on us in Eden to be lifted at Christ’s return; we can’t lift it in this life, as our own ever insistent mortality reminds us.

Lev 18:10 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son’s daughter, or of your daughter’s daughter, even their nakedness: for theirs is your own nakedness-
The idea is that such sexual sin is effectively a sin against ourselves, a shaming of self. Paul sees this as an abiding principle, when he warns the Corinthian Christians to quit using temple prostitutes because they were thereby sinning against their own bodies (1 Cor. 6:18). Sin is its own judgment, and to be made naked is the language of the shame of condemnation (Rev. 16:15). By being naked with inappropriate partners, the sinner was effectively living out their own condemnation. Sin is its own judgment, the condemned are essentially self condemned, and in this sense judgment day is now.

Lev 18:11 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, conceived by your father, since she is your sister-
It is no mere coincidence that so many of these forbidden relationships were seen in the patriarchal family. Abraham and Sarah were half brother and sister. So we see that Israel were being reminded that their whole national basis was rooted in moral weakness from the start. They were God's people by grace alone.

Lev 18:12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister: she is your father’s near kinswoman-
We note that Moses' father Amram had married his father's sister (Ex. 6:20). It could be that uncovering the nakedness therefore refers specifically to perversions practiced in the name of idolatry, which is the context here. Or the idea may be that the founding fathers of Israel broke these very principles, showing how the whole nation was built upon Divine grace rather than obedience.

Lev 18:13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister: for she is your mother’s near kinswoman-
These awful things listed here were clearly real temptations for Israel; for they are repeated in the list of what Judah actually did in their idol worship (Ez. 22:11).

Lev 18:14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother, you shall not approach his wife: she is your aunt-
We note the distinction between uncovering nakedness and 'approaching' the woman. The word for "approach" is the standard word used in Leviticus, and very often, for 'offering' in a religious sense. This confirms that what is in view here is illicit sexual activity performed as part of idol cult worship.

Lev 18:15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law: she is your son’s wife. You shall not uncover her nakedness-
This was exactly what Judah did (Gen. 38:11,16,24). The founding fathers of Israel broke these very principles, showing how the whole nation was built upon Divine grace rather than obedience.

Uncovering nakedness was what would happen to Israel in the shame of their condemnation at the hands of their one time lovers (Is. 47:3; Ez. 16:36,37; 23:10). But this was because they had themselves inappropriately revealed their nakedness to those lovers when they were still lovers (Ez. 22:10; 23:18). Sin is therefore its own judgment. In this sense it is man who condemns himself, rather than being condemned by the Lord Jesus (Jn. 8:15).

Lev 18:16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife: it is your brother’s nakedness-
Herod was condemned by John the Baptist for doing this (Mt. 14:3). This raises the issue as to whether we have a duty to point out to people in the world that they are living in sin. Although it could be argued that Herod claimed to be some kind of Jew, and therefore was under these laws. The laws of Levirate marriage allowed such marriage (Dt. 25:5), so it seems to me that uncovering nakedness doesn't refer to marriage but to illicit sexual activity, probably in the context of idol worship.

Lev 18:17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter. You shall not take her son’s daughter, or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness: they are near kinswomen: it is wickedness-
David took the wives of Saul and also Saul’s daughter- and his breaking of the Law in this didn’t lead to happiness, even though he remained God’s man. But I suggest that it is not marriage which is in view here by 'uncovering the nakedness'. Rather is it some sexual ritual involving sleeping with a mother and her daughter at the same time as part of idol worship. Am. 2:7 condemns a man and his son for sleeping with the same girl, again in the context of idolatry. 

Lev 18:18 You shall not marry your wife’s sister, to be a rival, to uncover her nakedness, while her sister is yet alive-
Jacob broke this principle by taking Rachel and Leah, and his sad family life afterwards was recorded as a testimony to how if we break God’s principles, we may remain His people as Jacob did, but we will suffer the consequences. Many aspects of the Mosaic Law were already in place before it was pronounced to Moses; the prohibition on marrying a second wife who was the sister of the first wife could well have been known among God's people in Jacob's time, seeing that it was a precept based on the principles of Eden (Lev. 18:17,18). "It is wickedness" was God's comment to Moses, and there is no reason to think that His essential moral judgment on this kind of thing has ever changed much. Yet Jacob thought nothing of breaching this command, and committing this "wickedness". And yet through this, God  worked to create the house of Israel.

Lev 18:19 You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is impure by her uncleanness-
This verse seems to have stuck in David's mind, in that he lay with Bathsheba "because" she was "purified from her uncleanness". This is typical of so much spiritual dysfunction- to focus on a few Divine words and be strictly obedient to them, whilst ignoring the far larger principles. We think of the Jews being so careful to keep the Passover, whilst crucifying God's Son.

However I suggested on Lev. 15:24 that the woman in view was not simply menstruating but suffering a specific Divine stroke or plague which involved bleeding. To sleep with such a woman was therefore particularly defiant of God's judgments and therefore is so strongly condemned (Ez. 18:6; 22:10).

Lev 18:20 You shall not lie carnally with your neighbour’s wife, and defile yourself with her-
This may indeed be a condemnation of adultery, but I suggest that the specific reference is not to having an affair, but to sleeping with women as part of the Moloch cult- and the woman slept with might well be their neighbour's wife. "And defile yourself with her" makes better sense if read as referring to defilement with idols, you along with her. "Defile" is often used in the context of idolatry.

Lev 18:21 You shall not give any of your children to sacrifice to Molech; neither shall you profane the name of your God: I am Yahweh-
We carry God’s Name too, in that we are baptized into the Name. Our behaviour must therefore be appropriate to the Name we bear (James 2:7). Children born within the covenant were intended to bear Yahweh's Name; to sacrifice them to Molech was therefore to profane Yahweh's Name. "I am Yahweh" means that He is real and His Name is real, and we are not to profane it through devoting our children to idols. And we can devote them to the idols of career and secular success just as much as Israelites gave their children to Molech. The Hebrew phrase is literally "to pass over to Molech". "Pass [through the fire]" [AV] is an interpretation not a translation. "Pass over" translates abar, the root of the word 'Hebrew', those who passed over. By letting their children pass over to Molech, the parents were denying their calling as Hebrews, to pass over from this world to the things of the Kingdom. "Profane" is the word for prostitution or defilement. This is what we do to God's wonderful Name if we as His people pass over to other gods.

Lev 18:22 You shall not lie with a man, as with a woman. That is detestable-
Or, "an abomination". The related passage in Lev. 20:13 also says that the two men have committed "abomination". "Abomination" is a word distinctly and specifically associated with idol worship. The context of these commands is an appeal not to follow the ways of Moloch worshippers (also in Lev. 20:2-5). As was the case in Corinth centuries later, idol worshippers slept with both male and female prostitutes; and that is what is primarily in view here.

Lev 18:23 You shall not lie with any animal to defile yourself with it; neither shall any woman give herself to an animal, to lie down with it: it is a perversion-
Such was God's desire to teach that we are made in His image, and must not act as animals, bringing ourselves down to their level as if we are equal only to them. So the message for us is that we are to respect ourselves as made in God's image, and not act on a purely animal level.

"Perversion" is AV "confusion", and is the word also used of God's condemnation of men in "confusion" unto destruction (Gen. 11:7,9). Again we see that sin is its own judgment; people condemn themselves by their behaviour, living out condemnation in their sins. Israel are condemned for having 'mixed themselves' amongst the Gentiles (s.w. Hos. 7:8).

Lev 18:24 Don’t defile yourselves in any of these things; for in all these the nations which I am casting out before you were defiled-
I suggested on Lev. 1:1 that Leviticus was given at the beginning of the wilderness wanderings. At that point, God was casting out the nations from Canaan. Their refusal to enter the land was therefore a waste of so much potential. And a reflection of their disbelief in words like these which were spoken to them. Israel were eventually cast out of the land as the Canaanites were intended to be; and yet God's patience with them was remarkable. We note that God's plan was to cast out the nations before Israel so that they could enter the land immediately after leaving Egypt. But there is no evidence this happened- because the people chose not to enter the land. And when they did, they themselves didn't cast out the nations but rather coexisted with them in the land, and worshipped their gods. Again we see how so much potential was wasted; just as many have the path to entrance into the Kingdom made clear for them, but they reject it. 

Lev 18:25 The land was defiled; therefore I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out her inhabitants-
The period for gathering iniquity was fulfilled, and so the land was intended to vomit out the Canaanites (Gen. 15:16). But we see here the flexibility and open ended nature of God's ways of working. For one thing, that period was extended by around 40 years; for Israel didn't enter the land when they were intended to, and so the local inhabitants remained there. And the vomiting out of the inhabitants was to be fulfilled through human agency, i.e. the Israelites were to cast them out with God's help. But they generally didn't do this, and chose to coexist with those inhabitants within the land, and to serve their gods.

Lev 18:26 You therefore shall keep my statutes and my ordinances, and shall not do any of these abominations; neither the native-born, nor the stranger who lives as a foreigner among you-
The idea was that the perversions listed above were not to be found within the land. The original inhabitants who did these things were to be vomited out; and Israel and any Gentiles remaining in the land were to not do these things, lest they be vomited out of the land. This was the Divine intention. But as noted on :24,25, the reality was different. Israel chose not to enter the land, so these abominations were done in the land for another 40 years longer than ideally anticipated. Israel then entered the land, didn't cast the nations who did these things out of the land; and Israel did the same abominations because they worshipped the gods of the local inhabitants.

Lev 18:27 (for all these abominations have the men of the land done that were before you, and the land became defiled)-
"Defiled" is the word used for being ritually "unclean". The land was to be "clean" because Yahweh lived as it were in the land (Num. 35:34). As soon as Israel entered the land, they defiled it by their abominations / idolatry (Jer. 2:7 s.w.). Clearly Joshua was not representative of the people generally, and the generation who entered the land were hardly strongly committed to Yahweh. They had after all carried the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of Remphan all through the wilderness, and Joshua himself told them that he considered that they were so far gone in idolatry that they ought not to sign up to a covenant of loyalty to Yahweh. We can therefore assume that seeing the land was instantly defiled by Israel when they entered it, they therefore did in fact commit the abominations of the Canaanites which are listed in this chapter.

Lev 18:28 that the land not vomit you out also, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you-
When you defile it" shows God's premonition that they would do all these abominations and defile it; and indeed that is what happened (s.w. Jer. 2:7). The figure of vomiting suggests that their rejection from the land was going to happen as an immediate gut reaction if they did these abominations. They did them, but God's response was so patient. It was as if He did not vomit them out immediately as planned, but remained feeling nauseous at their behaviour for centuries, until He finally did so.

Lev 18:29 For whoever shall do any of these abominations, even the souls that do them shall be cut off from among their people-
As noted on :29, this didn't happen immediately, because of God's love and patient, pitiful hopefulness that it wouldn't continue. But they defiled the land when they entered it by their idolatry (Jer. 2:7 s.w.), and they repeatedly defiled the land by their abominations, i.e. their idolatry and the associated perverted practices listed in this chapter (s.w. Ez. 22:4; 33:26; 36:18).

Lev 18:30 Therefore you shall keep My requirements, that you do not practice any of these abominable customs, which were practiced before you, and that you do not defile yourselves with them: I am Yahweh your God’-
The word so often used for "diligently observing" Yahweh's commandments is from the word meaning a thorn hedge; the idea originally was to hedge in. Taking this too literally led Judaism to all their endless fences around the law, i.e. forbidding this or that because it might lead to doing that or this, which in turn would then lead to breaking an actual commandment. And those various fences become elevated to the level of commandments. But this is not the idea. We are indeed to hedge ourselves in ("take heed to yourself", Dt. 11:16; 12:13,19,30,32 s.w.), so that we may keep / hedge ourselves in to keep the commandments of God (Lev. 18:4,5,26,30; 19:19,37; 20:8,22; 22:9,31; 25:18; 26:3; Num. 28:2;  Dt. 7:11,12; 8:1,11 [s.w. "beware"]; 10:13; 11:1,8,22,32; 12:1; 13:4,18; 15:5,9 ["beware"]; 17:19; 19:9; 23:9 ["keep yourself"]; 24:8; 26:16-18; 27:1; 28:1,9,13; 29:9; 30:10,16; 31:12; 32:46). And without falling into the legalism of Judaism, self discipline does require a degree of fencing ourselves in to the one way. Thus the man struggling with alcoholism avoids the supermarket where alcohol is pushed in front of the eyes of the shoppers; the married woman struggling with attraction to another man makes little laws for herself about avoiding his company. And if we do this, then the Lord will "keep" us, will hedge us in to keeping His way (s.w. Num. 6:24).