Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Holiness of the Marriage Relation. - The prohibition of incest and similar sensual abominations is introduced with a general warning as to the licentious customs of the Egyptians and Canaanites, and an exhortation to walk in the judgments and ordinances of Jehovah (Lev 18:2-5), and is brought to a close with a threatening allusion to the consequences of all such defilements (Lev 18:24-30).
By the words, "I am Jehovah your God," which are placed at the head and repeated at the close (Lev 18:30), the observance of the command is enforced upon the people as a covenant obligation, and urged upon them most strongly by the promise, that through the observance of the ordinances and judgments of Jehovah they should live (Lev 18:5).
"The man who does them (the ordinances of Jehovah) shall live (gain true life) through them" (see at Exo 1:16 and Gen 3:22).
The laws against incest are introduced in Lev 18:6 with the general prohibition, descriptive of the nature of this sin, "None of you shall approach בּשׂרו אל־כּל־שׁאר to any flesh of his flesh, to uncover nakedness." The difference between שׁאר flesh, and בּשׂר flesh, is involved in obscurity, as both words are used in connection with edible flesh (see the Lexicons). "Flesh of his flesh" is a flesh that is of his own flesh, belongs to the same flesh as himself (Gen 2:24), and is applied to a blood-relation, blood-relationship being called שׁארה (or flesh-kindred) in Hebrew (Lev 18:17). Sexual intercourse is called uncovering the nakedness of another (Eze 16:36; Eze 23:18). The prohibition relates to both married and unmarried intercourse, though the reference is chiefly to the former (see Lev 18:18; Lev 20:14, Lev 20:17, Lev 20:21). Intercourse is forbidden (1) with a mother, (2) with a step-mother, (3) with a sister or half-sister, (4) with a granddaughter, the daughter of either son or daughter, (5) with the daughter of a step-mother, (6) with an aunt, the sister of either father or mother, (7) with the wife of an uncle on the father's side, (8) with a daughter-in-law, (9) with a sister-in-law, or brother's wife, (10) with a woman and her daughter, or a woman and her granddaughter, and (11) with two sisters at the same time. No special reference is made to sexual intercourse with (a) a daughter, (b) a full sister, (c) a mother-in-law; the last, however, which is mentioned in Deu 27:23 as an accursed crime, is included here in No. 10, and the second in No. 3, whilst the first, like parricide in Exo 21:15, is not expressly noticed, simply because the crime was regarded as one that never could occur. Those mentioned under Nos. 1, 2, 3, 8, and 10 were to be followed by the death or extermination of the criminals (Lev 20:11-12, Lev 20:14, Lev 20:17), on account of their being accursed crimes (Deu 23:1; Deu 27:20, Deu 27:22-23). On the other hand, the only threat held out in the case of the connection mentioned under Nos. 6, 7, and 9, was that those who committed such crimes should bear their iniquity, or die childless (Lev 20:19-21). The cases noticed under Nos. 4 and 5 are passed over in ch. 20, though they no doubt belonged to the crimes which were to be punished with death, and No. 11, for which no punishment was fixed, because the wrong had been already pointed out in Lev 18:18.
(Note: The marriage laws and customs were much more lax among the Gentiles. With the Egyptians it was lawful to marry sisters and half-sisters (Diod. Sic. i. 27), and the licentiousness of the women was very great among them (see at Gen 39:6.). With the Persians marriage was allowed with mother, daughter, and sister (Clem. Al. strom. iii. p. 431; Eusebii praep. ev. vi. 10); and this is also said to have been the case with the Medians, Indians, and Ethiopians, as well as with the Assyrians (Jerome adv. Jovin. ii. 7; Lucian, Sacriff. 5); whereas the Greeks and Romans abhorred such marriages, and the Athenians and Spartans only permitted marriages with half-sisters (cf. Selden de jure nat. et gent. v. 11, pp. 619ff.). The ancient Arabs, before the time of Mohammed, were very strict in this respect, and would not allow of marriage with a mother, daughter, or aunt on either the father's or mother's side, or with two sisters at the same time. The only cases on record of marriage between brothers and sisters are among the Arabs of Marbat (Seetzen, Zach's Mon. Corresp. Oct. 1809). This custom Mohammed raised into a law, and extended it to nieces, nurses, foster-sisters, etc. (Koran, Sure iv. 20ff.).)
Elaborate commentaries upon this chapter are to be found in Michaelis Abhandl. ber die Ehegesetze Mosis, and his Mos. Recht; also in Saalschtz Mos. Recth. See also my Archologie ii. p. 108. For the rabbinical laws and those of the Talmud, see Selden oxur ebr. lib. 1, c. 1ff., and Saalschtz ut sup.
The enumeration of the different cases commences in Lev 18:7 very appropriately with the prohibition of incest with a mother. Sexual connection with a mother is called "uncovering the nakedness of father and mother." As husband and wife are one flesh (Gen 2:24), the nakedness of the husband is uncovered in that of his wife, or, as it is described in Deu 22:30; Deu 27:20, the wing, i.e., the edge, of the bedclothes of the father's bed, as the husband spreads his bedclothes over his wife as well as himself (Rut 3:9). For, strictly speaking, ערוה גּלּה is only used with reference to the wife; but in the dishonouring of his wife the honour of the husband is violated also, and his bed defiled, Gen 49:4. It is wrong, therefore, to interpret the verse, as Jonathan and Clericus do, as relating to carnal intercourse between a daughter and father. Not only is this at variance with the circumstance that all these laws are intended for the man alone, and addressed expressly to him, but also with Lev 18:8, where the nakedness of the father's wife is distinctly called the father's shame.
Intercourse with a father's wife, i.e., with a step-mother, is forbidden as uncovering the father's nakedness; since a father's wife stood in blood-relationship only to the son whose mother she was. But for the father's sake her nakedness was to be inaccessible to the son, and uncovering it was to be punished with death as incest (Lev 20:11; Deu 27:20). By the "father's wife" we are probably to understand not merely his full lawful wife, but his concubine also, since the father's bed was defiled in the latter case no less than in the former (Gen 49:4), and an accursed crime was committed, the punishment of which was death. At all events, it cannot be inferred from Lev 19:20-22 and Exo 21:9, as Knobel supposes, that a milder punishment was inflicted in this case.
By the sister, the daughter of father or mother, we are to understand only the step-or half-sister, who had either the same father or the same mother as the brother had. The clause, "whether born at home or born abroad," does not refer to legitimate or illegitimate birth, but is to be taken as a more precise definition of the words, daughter of thy father or of thy mother, and understood, as Lud. de Dieu supposes, as referring to the half-sister "of the first marriage, whether the father's daughter left by a deceased wife, or the mother's daughter left by a deceased husband," so that the person marrying her would be a son by a second marriage. Sexual intercourse with a half-sister is described as חסד in Lev 20:17, and threatened with extermination. This word generally signifies sparing love, favour, grace; but here, as in Pro 14:34, it means dishonour, shame, from the Piel חסּד, to dishonour.
The prohibition of marriage with a granddaughter, whether the daughter of a son or daughter, is explained in the words, "for they are thy nakedness," the meaning of which is, that as they were directly descended from the grandfather, carnal intercourse with them would be equivalent to dishonouring his own flesh and blood.
"The daughter of thy father's wife (i.e., thy step-mother), born to thy father," is the half-sister by a second marriage; and the prohibition refers to the son by a first marriage, whereas Lev 18:9 treats of the son by a second marriage. The notion that the man's own mother is also included, and that the prohibition includes marriage with a full sister, is at variance with the usage of the expression "thy father's wife."
Marriage or conjugal intercourse with the sister of either father or mother (i.e., with either the paternal or maternal aunt) was prohibited, because she was the blood-relation of the father or mother. שׁאר = בּשׂר שׁאר (Lev 18:6, as in Lev 20:19; Lev 21:2; Num 27:11), hence שׁארה, blood-relationship (Lev 18:17).
So, again, with the wife of the father's brother, because the nakedness of the uncle was thereby uncovered. The threat held out in Lev 20:19 and Lev 20:20 against the alliances prohibited in Lev 18:12-14, is that the persons concerned should bear their iniquity or sin, i.e., should suffer punishment in consequence (see at Lev 5:1); and in the last case it is stated that they should die childless. From this it is obvious that sexual connection with the sister of either father or mother was not to be punished with death by the magistrate, but would be punished with disease by God Himself.
Sexual connection with a daughter-in-law, a son's wife, is called תּבל in Lev 20:12, and threatened with death to both the parties concerned. תּבל, from בּלל to mix, to confuse, signifies a sinful mixing up or confusing of the divine ordinances by unnatural unchastity, like the lying of a woman with a beast, which is the only other connection in which the word occurs (Lev 18:23).
Marriage with a brother's wife was a sin against the brother's nakedness, a sexual defilement, which God would punish with barrenness. This prohibition, however, only refers to cases in which the deceased brother had left children; for if he had died childless, the brother not only might, but was required to marry his sister-in-law (Deu 25:5).
Marriage with a woman and her daughter, whether both together or in succession, is described in Deu 27:20 as an accursed lying with the mother-in-law; whereas here it is the relation to the step-daughter which is primarily referred to, as we may see from the parallel prohibition, which is added, against taking the daughter of her son or daughter, i.e., the granddaughter-in-law. Both of these were crimes against blood-relationship which were to be punished with death in the case of both parties (Lev 20:14), because they were "wickedness," זמּה, lit., invention, design, here applied to the crime of licentiousness and whoredom (Lev 19:29; Jdg 20:6; Job 31:11).
Lastly, it was forbidden to take a wife to her sister (עליה upon her, as in Gen 28:9; Gen 31:50) in her life-time, that is to say, to marry two sisters at the same time, לצרר "to pack together, to uncover this nakedness," i.e., to pack both together into one marriage bond, and so place the sisters in carnal union through their common husband, and disturb the sisterly relation, as the marriage with two sisters that was forced upon Jacob had evidently done. No punishment is fixed for the marriage with two sisters; and, of course, after the death of the first wife a man was at liberty to marry her sister.
Prohibition of other kinds of unchastity and of unnatural crimes. - Lev 18:19 prohibits intercourse with a woman during her uncleanness. טמאה נדּת signifies the uncleanness of a woman's hemorrhage, whether menstruation or after childbirth, which is called in Lev 12:7; Lev 20:18, the fountain of bleeding. The guilty persons were both of them to be cut off from their nation according to Lev 20:18, i.e., to be punished with death.
"To a neighbour's wife thou shalt not give שׁכבתּך thy pouring as seed" (i.e., make her pregnant), "to defile thyself with her," viz., by the emissio seminis (Lev 15:16-17), a defilement which was to be punished as adultery by the stoning to death of both parties (Lev 20:10; Deu 22:22, cf. Joh 9:5).
To bodily unchastity there is appended a prohibition of spiritual whoredom. "Thou shalt not give of thy seed to cause to pass through (sc., the fire; Deu 18:10) for Moloch." המּלך is constantly written with the article: it is rendered by the lxx ἄρχων both here and in Lev 20:2., but ὁ Μολόχ βασιλεύς in other places (Kg2 23:10; Jer 32:35). Moloch was an old Canaanitish idol, called by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians Melkarth, Baal-melech, Malcom, and other such names, and related to Baal, a sun-god worshipped, like Kronos and Saturn, by the sacrifice of children. It was represented by a brazen statue, which was hollow and capable of being heated, and formed with a bull's head, and arms stretched out to receive the children to be sacrificed. From the time of Ahaz children were slain at Jerusalem in the valley of Ben-hinnom, and then sacrificed by being laid in the heated arms and burned (Eze 16:20-21; Eze 20:31; Jer 32:35; Kg2 23:10; Kg2 16:3; Kg2 17:17; Kg2 21:6, cf. Psa 106:37-38). Now although this offering of children in the valley of Ben-hinnom is called a "slaughtering" by Ezekiel (Eze 16:21), and a "burning through (in the) fire" by Jeremiah (Jer 7:31), and although, in the times of the later kings, children were actually given up to Moloch and burned as slain-offerings, even among the Israelites; it by no means follows from this, that "passing through to Moloch," or "passing through the fire," or "passing through the fire to Moloch" (Kg2 23:10), signified slaughtering and burning with fire, though this has been almost unanimously assumed since the time of Clericus. But according to the unanimous explanation of the Rabbins, fathers, and earlier theologians, "causing to pass through the fire" denoted primarily going through the fire without burning, a februation, or purification through fire, by which the children were consecrated to Moloch; a kind of fire-baptism, which preceded the sacrificing, and was performed, particularly in olden time, without actual sacrificing, or slaying and burning. For februation was practised among the most different nations without being connected with human sacrifices; and, like most of the idolatrous rites of the heathen, no doubt the worship of Moloch assumed different forms at different times and among different nations. If the Israelites had really sacrificed their children to Moloch, i.e., had slain and burned them, before the time of Ahaz, the burning would certainly have been mentioned before; for Solomon had built a high place upon the mountain to the east of Jerusalem for Moloch, the abomination of the children of Ammon, to please his foreign wives (Kg1 11:7 : see the Art. Moloch in Herzog's Cycl.). This idolatrous worship was to be punished with death by stoning, as a desecration of the name of Jehovah, and a defiling of His sanctuary (Lev 20:3), i.e., as a practical contempt of the manifestations of the grace of the living God (Lev 20:2-3).
Lastly, it was forbidden to "lie with mankind as with womankind," i.e., to commit the crime of paederastia, that sin of Sodom (Gen 19:5), to which the whole of the heathen were more or less addicted (Rom 1:27), and from which even the Israelites did not keep themselves free (Jdg 19:22.); or to "lie with any beast." "Into no beast shalt thou give thine emission of seed,...and a woman shall not place herself before a beast to lie down thereto." רבע = רבץ "to lie," is the term used particularly to denote a crime of this description (Lev 20:13 and Lev 20:15, Lev 20:16, cf. Exo 22:18). Lying with animals was connected in Egypt with the worship of the goat; at Mendes especially, where the women lay down before he-goats (Herodotus, 2, 46; Strabo, 17, p. 802). Aelian (nat. an. vii. 19) relates an account of the crime being also committed with a dog in Rome; and according to Sonnini, R. 11, p. 330, in modern Egypt men are said to lie even with female crocodiles.
In the concluding exhortation God pointed expressly to the fact, that the nations which He was driving out before the Israelites (the participle משׁלּח is used of that which is certainly and speedily coming to pass) had defiled the land by such abominations as those, that He had visited their iniquity and the land had spat out its inhabitants, and warned the Israelites to beware of these abominations, that the land might not spit them out as it had the Canaanites before them. The pret. ותּקא (Lev 18:25) and קאה (Lev 18:28) are prophetic (cf. Lev 20:22-23), and the expression is poetical. The land is personified as a living creature, which violently rejects food that it dislikes. "Hoc enim tropo vult significare Scriptura enormitatem criminum, quod scilicet ipsae creaturae irrationales suo creatori semper obedientes et pro illo pugnantes detestentur peccatores tales eosque terra quasi evomat, cum illi expelluntur ab ea" (C. a Lap.).