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R. K. Harrison: The attention of the enactments now shifts from the matter of ceremonial defilement and its removal to the question of moral impurity and its consequences. Being a holy nation is not just a matter of obeying mechanically certain cultic prescriptions or following elaborate ceremonial procedures. Holiness is a moral attribute, and thus affects behaviour and character. Jesus warned against the kind of pharisaism that made persons appear attractive outwardly, whereas within they were full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matt. 23:28). In the same way Paul reminded his readers that the real Jew is one who has a special kind of character, not one who depends upon external appearances (Rom. 2:28). A life of holiness involves moral purity as one of its aspects, and the rules given in this section are guidelines for holy living in the midst of an evil and adulterous generation.

Perry Yoder: The moral instructions for living a holy life are found in chapters 18–22. These chapters are shown to be a unit by the similarity between the beginning in chapter 18 and the ending in chapter 22. In both we have an allusion to or mention of the exodus, the declaration that I am the LORD, and the command to keep or guard the commandments (18:3-5; 22:31, 33). . .

Sexual practices are the focus of this chapter and are bracketed by an introduction and a closing statement that echo each other and point to the unity of the whole. These sexual transgressions are not labeled as sins but are sources of impurity. This provides a link with the purity regulations in chapters 11–15.

Merrill: Fundamentally God is holy because He is unique and incomparable. Those whom He calls to servanthood must therefore understand their holiness not primarily as some kind of ‘spirituality’ but as their uniqueness and separateness as the elect and called of God. But holiness must also find expression in life by adhering to ethical principles and practices that demonstrate godlikeness. This is the underlying meaning of being the ‘image of God.’

Roy Gane: In Leviticus 18, incest is defined more broadly than our modern understanding in that relatives by marriage, to whom a man would have easy access within the household, are off limits in addition to blood relatives.

Gordon Wenham: Israel’s sexual morality is here portrayed as something that marks it off from its neighbors as the Lord’s special people. Ch. 17 also stressed that Israel was not to compromise her witness by worshipping demons, or eating blood. This chapter insists that certain standards of sexual morality are equally decisive marks of religious allegiance.

Peter Pett: The chapter is in twelfth century BC treaty form. It begins with the declaration of the overlord, ‘I am Yahweh your God’, goes on with the preamble about their required behaviour, followed by the promised blessing that those who did His commands would live in them, details the further requirements, and finishes up with the final warnings for disobedience.


“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

2 ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them,’”


A. (:2b) Refrain – Reminder of Covenant Connection

“I am the LORD your God.”

R. K. Harrison: Any indulgence in the immoral practices of the land from which God had delivered them would result in punishment, as would an espousal of the abhorrent cultic worship current in the land which God was about to give them. The comprehensiveness of this legislation shows that for the covenant people there was no aspect of their existence that could be regarded as being out of God’s control, a proposition already made clear by earlier enactments. The people of faith and holiness obtained their behavioural precepts and standards from God, unlike the pagan nations of antiquity who were guided as much by self-interest as anything else. Paul summarized the approach which the Christian should adopt towards the new covenant and its obligations in the phrase, not I but Christ (Gal. 2:20). He knew that to be carnally minded resulted in death, but to be spiritually motivated issued in life and peace (Rom. 8:6). In this important respect both the old and new covenants are one.

Perry Yoder: It is not surprising, then, that the section of Leviticus concerning the behavior of the Israelites should be peppered with a reminder of their God’s identity and grace. This identification of Yahweh as their God (and not any other), occurs more than thirty times in chapters 18–22!

Gordon Wenham: The terseness of the phrase disguises the rich association of ideas that it evoked in ancient Israel. It occurs in three main types of context.

First, it looks back to the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt. When God revealed the full meaning of his name Yahweh to Moses, he linked this revelation to a promise that he would save his people from slavery in Egypt and bring them into the land of Canaan. “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage … and I will take you for my people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God” (Exod. 6:6–7). This short phrase, “I am the Lord your God,” was a reminder of what God had done for Israel and how he had chosen to make them his people.

Second, Israel, as the people of God, was expected to imitate God, to be holy. “For I am the Lord your God, and you must sanctify yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Lev. 11:44).

Third, this phrase often provides the motive for observing a particular law. Under the covenant the people of God were expected to keep the law, not merely as a formal duty but as a loving response to God’s grace in redemption.

In this very short formula the Israelites were reminded constantly who they were and whom they served.

Constable: The statement “I am the LORD” reminded the people of their covenant relationship with—and responsibility to—Yahweh. It was because He is who He is (“I am who I am”) that they were to be who He wanted them to be (“My own special treasure … a people for My possession … My peculiar people”). It was a constant reminder to the Israelites of who they were and Whom they served.

B. (:3) Call to Separation

1. From the Practices of Egypt = Your Past Home

“You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived,”

2. From the Practices of Canaan = Your Future Home

“nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes.”

Roy Gane: The Lord contrasts his approach to sexuality with that of Egypt, where incest was common, and Canaan, which was a hotbed of promiscuity.

C. (:4-5) Call to Obedience

1. (:4a) Obey Your God

“You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes,

to live in accord with them;”

2. (:4b) Refrain – Reminder of Covenant Connection

“I am the LORD your God.”

3. (:5a) Obey Your God

“So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments,

by which a man may live if he does them;”

Mark Rooker: A nation cannot exist if the family unit is not well defined, for the family is the foundation of society. Sexual impulse is a potent desire. If gratified incestuously within the family, it blurs family lines and leads to the destruction of the family unit.55 Proper response to these laws and the other legislations handed down to the Israelites holds the promise of providing an abundant life (18:5).

4. (:5b) Refrain – Reminder of Covenant Connection

“I am the LORD.”


A. (:6) General Sexual Prohibition Regarding Family Members

“None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness;

I am the LORD.”

Gordon Wenham: The basic principles underlying the rules in vv. 6–18 are therefore clear: a man may not marry any woman who is a close blood relation, or any woman who has become a close relative through a previous marriage to one of the man’s close blood relations. All the relationships prohibited here can be seen to be out-workings of these two basic principles.

B. (:7-18) Specific Sexual Prohibitions Regarding Family Members

1. (:7-8) Father’s Wife

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, that is, the nakedness of your mother. She is your mother; you are not to uncover her nakedness. 8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.”

2. (:9) Sister or Half Sister

“The nakedness of your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether born at home or born outside,

their nakedness you shall not uncover.”

3. (:10) Granddaughter

“The nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for their nakedness is yours.”

4. (:11) Step Sister

“The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, born to your father,

she is your sister, you shall not uncover her nakedness.”

Kenneth Mathews: Verses 6–11 name the closest blood relatives: mother, stepmother, half-sister, granddaughter, and stepsister. The explanation for the restriction on the stepsister in verse 11 gives us insight into the reasoning behind the prohibitions in this group. Although she is a stepsister, she is treated as a blood sister because she was reared in the same household. Marriage among relatives closely connected as blood relations was outlawed.

5. (:12-13) Aunt

a. (:12) On Your Father’s Side

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister;

she is your father’s blood relative.”

b. (:13) On Your Mother’s Side

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister,

for she is your mother’s blood relative.”

6. (:14) Paternal Uncle’s Wife

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother;

you shall not approach his wife, she is your aunt.”

7. (:15) Daughter-in-Law

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law;

she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness.”

8. (:16) Brother’s Wife

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife;

it is your brother’s nakedness.”

9. (:17) Step-Daughter or Step-Granddaughter

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, nor shall you take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness; they are blood relatives. It is lewdness.”

10. (:18) Wife’s Sister

“And you shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.”

Mark Rooker: As mentioned the need to understand the appropriate guidelines for sexual union among the Israelites was acute since the Israelites were forbidden to marry foreigners (e.g., Deut 7:3; Num 36). The group of relatives the Israelite was forbidden to marry would largely coincide with the relatives who would have lived in a single household in ancient Israel.

Peter Pett: In all these prohibitions we see God’s concern that non-sexual, loving relationships and responsibilities within families were of prime importance, that lines of authority should be clearly maintained, that inheritance questions must not be complicated unduly, and that these things must come before all others, so that lust especially must not be in a position to destroy them. They reveal a deep sense of the current and counter-currents that sexual feelings could cause within close family units, and provided the standards by which they should be assessed and dealt with.

However, they also served another purpose. The inter-marriage of relatives who are in too close a relation to each other can also be the cause of an increase in birth defects and, if continued in through the generations, can result in a lack of vitality and vigour in the strain. That also is therefore not something to be advised.


A. (:19) Menstrual Impurity

“Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness

during her menstrual impurity.”

Roy Gane: Intercourse with a menstruating woman is absolutely forbidden in verse 19, and in verse 29 the consequence of this and other offenses is the divine penalty of being “cut off,” that is, extirpation (cf. 20:18). So how do we explain the fact that in 15:24 a man having sexual relations with a menstruant only incurs a seven-day impurity? Since 15:24 deals with ritual consequences irrespective of intention, it covers situations of accidental violation in which a couple has intercourse without knowing that the woman is menstruating, but they learn this after the fact. In chapters 18 and 20, by contrast, the divine penalty is for deliberate violation; it would be pointless to forbid an accident. . .

Perhaps a moral rationale for the prohibition can be found in 20:18, which describes a woman with any genital flow as dawah (“faint,” i.e., in a state of malaise; see also 12:2; cf. Lam. 1:13; 5:17). If so, this is a women’s rights issue: The law protects the woman from unwanted advances by her husband during her period of weakness.

B. (:20) Neighbor’s Wife

“And you shall not have intercourse with your neighbor’s wife,

to be defiled with her.”

C. (:21) Idolatrous Practices

1. Prohibition

“Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech,

nor shall you profane the name of your God;”

2. Refrain — Reminder of Covenant Connection

“I am the LORD.”

Mark Rooker: Noting that the context deals with sexual activity, many scholars have advocated a position reflected in Jewish tradition that what is involved here is Jewish parents offering their children to Molech to grow up as temple prostitutes. This may be an attempt, however, to avoid the utter horror of what seems to be the face value reading of the text, since it is well known that the worship of Molech involved human sacrifice.

D. (:22) Homosexuality

“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

Kenneth Mathews: We have the reasoning of why homosexuality is unlawful provided in Romans 1 when the Apostle Paul addressed the universality of human sin and guilt (vv. 18–30, esp. 26, 27). The Gentiles had rejected the testimony of nature and chose sinful idolatry and sexual perversions to honor their gods. The sexual practices of the Gentiles were a great affront to God because they were a rejection of God as Creator. He made men and women to play their appropriate sexual roles whereby they would propagate and dominate the world as stewards of the Lord’s creation (Genesis 1:28). Heterosexuality outside the bounds of marriage is no less a sin, but the nature of homosexuality has more serious repercussions since it is a repudiation of the Lord’s claim on his created order.

Hess: This law forbids homosexuality, specifically that between two males (cf. 20:13). The practice of female homosexuality is not specified, but it may be inferred, given the male-oriented nature of the legislation and the assumption that both practices involve the sexual use of a human partner of the same sex as though they were of the opposite sex.

E. (:23) Bestiality

“Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it,

nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.”


A. (:24-25) Defilement Leads to Punishment

“Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 25 For the land has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.”

Mark Rooker: The land will vomit Israel out of the land just as the fish vomited Jonah upon the seashore (Jonah 2:11); in other words, Israel will go into exile (18:25). This imagery indicates that nature itself takes vengeance upon crass moral deviation. The use of the word “vomit” to describe the people’s expulsion from the land particularly stressed the Lord’s repulsion at the people’s activity since vomiting is probably the most violent of all bodily reactions. The reaction of the land to the nation’s moral obedience suggests an interdependence of the people and the land.

B. (:26-29) Covenant Obedience Required

“But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you 27 (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); 28 so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you. 29 For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people.”

C. (:30a) Loyalty to the Lord Commanded

“Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them;”

D. (:30b) Refrain — Reminder of Covenant Connection

“I am the LORD your God.”

Perry Yoder: The last verse in chapter 18 is a negative echo of the beginning of the chapter. The one who practices God’s commandments will find life by doing them (v. 5). The one who does not keep God’s regulations for life will be cut off, and the nation will be expelled by the land. This speech ends as it began: I Yahweh am your God (v. 30 AT).