Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
2. Speak unto all the congregation of the children of
Israel--Many of the laws enumerated in this chapter had been
previously announced. As they were, however, of a general application,
not suited to particular classes, but to the nation at large, so Moses
seems, according to divine instructions, to have rehearsed them,
perhaps on different occasions and to successive divisions of the
people, till "all the congregation of the children of Israel" were
taught to know them. The will of God in the Old as well as the New
Testament Church was not locked up in the repositories of an unknown
tongue, but communicated plainly and openly to the people.
Ye shall be holy: for I . . . am holy--Separated from
the world, the people of God were required to be holy, for His
character, His laws, and service were holy. (See
3. Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my
sabbaths--The duty of obedience to parents is placed in connection
with the proper observance of the Sabbaths, both of them lying at the
foundation of practical religion.
5-8. if ye offer a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord, ye
shall offer it at your own will--Those which included thank
offerings, or offerings made for vows, were always freewill offerings.
Except the portions which, being waved and heaved, became the property
of the priests (see
the rest of the victim was eaten by the offerer and his friend, under
the following regulations, however, that, if thank offerings, they were
to be eaten on the day of their presentation; and if a freewill
offering, although it might be eaten on the second day, yet if any
remained of it till the third day, it was to be burnt, or deep
criminality was incurred by the person who then ventured to partake of
it. The reason of this strict prohibition seems to have been to prevent
any mysterious virtue being superstitiously attached to meat offered on
9, 10. And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not
wholly reap the corners of thy field--The right of the poor in
Israel to glean after reapers, as well as to the unreaped corners of
the field, was secured by a positive statute; and this, in addition to
other enactments connected with the ceremonial law, formed a beneficial
provision for their support. At the same time, proprietors were not
obliged to admit them into the field until the grain had been carried
off the field; and they seem also to have been left at liberty to
choose the poor whom they deemed the most deserving or needful
(Ru 2:2, 8).
This was the earliest law for the benefit of the poor that we read of
in the code of any people; and it combined in admirable union the
obligation of a public duty with the exercise of private and voluntary
benevolence at a time when the hearts of the rich would be strongly
inclined to liberality.
11-16. Ye shall not steal--A variety of social duties are
inculcated in this passage, chiefly in reference to common and
little-thought-of vices to which mankind are exceedingly prone; such as
committing petty frauds, or not scrupling to violate truth in
transactions of business, ridiculing bodily infirmities, or circulating
stories to the prejudice of others. In opposition to these bad habits,
a spirit of humanity and brotherly kindness is strongly enforced.
17. thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour--Instead of
cherishing latent feelings of malice or meditating purposes of revenge
against a person who has committed an insult or injury against them,
God's people were taught to remonstrate with the offender and endeavor,
by calm and kindly reason, to bring him to a sense of his fault.
not suffer sin upon him--literally, "that ye may not participate
in his sin."
18. thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself--The word
"neighbour" is used as synonymous with "fellow creature." The
Israelites in a later age restricted its meaning as applicable only to
their own countrymen. This narrow interpretation was refuted by our
Lord in a beautiful parable
19. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse
kind--This prohibition was probably intended to discourage a
practice which seemed to infringe upon the economy which God has
established in the animal kingdom.
thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed--This also was
directed against an idolatrous practice, namely, that of the ancient
Zabians, or fire-worshippers, who sowed different seeds, accompanying
the act with magical rites and invocations; and commentators have
generally thought the design of this and the preceding law was to put
an end to the unnatural lusts and foolish superstitions which were
prevalent among the heathen. But the reason of the prohibition was
probably deeper: for those who have studied the diseases of land and
vegetables tell us, that the practice of mingling seeds is injurious
both to flowers and to grains. "If the various genera of the natural
order Gramineæ, which includes the grains and the grasses, should
be sown in the same field, and flower at the same time, so that the
pollen of the two flowers mix, a spurious seed will be the consequence,
called by the farmers chess. It is always inferior and unlike
either of the two grains that produced it, in size, flavor, and
nutritious principles. Independently of contributing to disease the
soil, they never fail to produce the same in animals and men that feed
on them" [WHITLAW].
neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon
thee--Although this precept, like the other two with which it is
associated, was in all probability designed to root out some
superstition, it seems to have had a further meaning. The law, it is to
be observed, did not prohibit the Israelites wearing many different
kinds of cloths together, but only the two specified; and the
observations and researches of modern science have proved that "wool,
when combined with linen, increases its power of passing off the
electricity from the body. In hot climates, it brings on malignant
fevers and exhausts the strength; and when passing off from the body,
it meets with the heated air, inflames and excoriates like a blister"
Eze 44:17, 18).
23-25. ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised; three
years . . . it shall not be eaten of--"The wisdom of this
law is very striking. Every gardener will teach us not to let fruit
trees bear in their earliest years, but to pluck off the blossoms: and
for this reason, that they will thus thrive the better, and bear more
abundantly afterwards. The very expression, 'to regard them as
uncircumcised,' suggests the propriety of pinching them off; I do not
say cutting them off, because it is generally the hand, and not
a knife, that is employed in this operation" [MICHAELIS].
26. shall not eat any thing with the blood--(See on
neither . . . use enchantment, nor observe times--The
former refers to divination by serpents--one of the earliest forms of
enchantment, and the other means the observation, literally, of
clouds, as a study of the appearance and motion of clouds was a
common way of foretelling good or bad fortune. Such absurd but
deep-rooted superstitions often put a stop to the prosecution of
serious and important transactions, but they were forbidden especially
as implying a want of faith in the being, or of reliance on the
providence of God.
27. Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, &c.--It seems
probable that this fashion had been learned by the Israelites in Egypt,
for the ancient Egyptians had their dark locks cropped short or shaved
with great nicety, so that what remained on the crown appeared in the
form of a circle surrounding the head, while the beard was dressed into
a square form. This kind of coiffure had a highly idolatrous meaning;
and it was adopted, with some slight variations, by almost all
idolaters in ancient times.
(Jer 9:25, 26; 25:23,
where "in the utmost corners" means having the corners of their hair
cut.) Frequently a lock or tuft of hair was left on the hinder part of
the head, the rest being cut round in the form of a ring, as the Turks,
Chinese, and Hindus do at the present day.
neither shalt thou mar, &c.--The Egyptians used to cut or shave
off their whiskers, as may be seen in the coffins of mummies, and the
representations of divinities on the monuments. But the Hebrews, in
order to separate them from the neighboring nations, or perhaps to put
a stop to some existing superstition, were forbidden to imitate this
practice. It may appear surprising that Moses should condescend to such
minutiæ as that of regulating the fashion of the hair and the
beard--matters which do not usually occupy the attention of a
legislator--and which appear widely remote from the province either of
government or of a religion. A strong presumption, therefore, arises
that he had in mind by these regulations to combat some superstitious
practices of the Egyptians.
28. Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the
dead--The practice of making deep gashes on the face and arms and
legs, in time of bereavement, was universal among the heathen, and it
was deemed a becoming mark of respect for the dead, as well as a sort
of propitiatory offering to the deities who presided over death and the
grave. The Jews learned this custom in Egypt, and though weaned from
it, relapsed in a later and degenerate age into this old superstition
Jer 16:6; 41:5).
nor print any marks upon you--by tattooing, imprinting
figures of flowers, leaves, stars, and other fanciful devices on
various parts of their person. The impression was made sometimes by
means of a hot iron, sometimes by ink or paint, as is done by the Arab
females of the present day and the different castes of the Hindus. It
is probable that a strong propensity to adopt such marks in honor of
some idol gave occasion to the prohibition in this verse; and they were
wisely forbidden, for they were signs of apostasy; and, when once made,
they were insuperable obstacles to a return. (See allusions to the
Re 13:17; 14:1).
30. Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary--This
precept is frequently repeated along with the prohibition of idolatrous
practices, and here it stands closely connected with the superstitions
forbidden in the previous verses.
31. Regard not them that have familiar spirits--The
Hebrew word, rendered "familiar spirit," signifies the belly,
and sometimes a leathern bottle, from its similarity to the belly. It
was applied in the sense of this passage to ventriloquists, who
pretended to have communication with the invisible world. The Hebrews
were strictly forbidden to consult them as the vain but high
pretensions of those impostors were derogatory to the honor of God and
subversive of their covenant relations with Him as His people.
neither seek after wizards--fortunetellers, who pretended, as
the Hebrew word indicates, to prognosticate by palmistry (or an
inspection of the lines of the hand) the future fate of those who
applied to them.
33, 34. if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not
vex him--The Israelites were to hold out encouragement to strangers
to settle among them, that they might be brought to the knowledge and
worship of the true God; and with this in view, they were enjoined to
treat them not as aliens, but as friends, on the ground that they
themselves, who were strangers in Egypt, were at first kindly and
hospitably received in that country.
37. I am the Lord--This solemn admonition, by which these
various precepts are repeatedly sanctioned, is equivalent to "I, your
Creator--your Deliverer from bondage, and your Sovereign, who have
wisdom to establish laws, have power also to punish the violation of
them." It was well fitted to impress the minds of the Israelites with a
sense of their duty and God's claims to obedience.