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Leviticus: Chapter 18

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1The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: I am the LORD your God. 3You 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, to which I am bringing you. You shall not follow their statutes. 4My ordinances you shall observe and my statutes you shall keep, following them: I am the LORD your God. 5You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am the LORD.

6None of you shall approach anyone near of kin to uncover nakedness: I am the LORD. 7You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. 8You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife; it is the nakedness of your father. 9You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether born at home or born abroad. 10You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son's daughter or of your daughter's daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness. 11You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife's daughter, begotten by your father, since she is your sister. 12You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's sister; she is your father's flesh. 13You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister, for she is your mother's flesh. 14You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's brother, that is, you shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. 15You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter‐in‐law: she is your son's wife; you shall not uncover her nakedness. 16You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife; it is your brother's nakedness. 17You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, and you shall not take a Heb to pass them over her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are your b Meaning of Heb uncertain flesh; it is depravity. 18And you shall not take a Heb to pass them over a woman as a rival to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.

19You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. 20You shall not have sexual relations with your kinsman's wife, and defile yourself with her. 21You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them c Heb stand against the blood to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 22You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.

24Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for by all these practices the nations I am casting out before you have defiled themselves. 25Thus the land became defiled; and I punished it for its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you 27(for the inhabitants of the land, who were before you, committed all of these abominations, and the land became defiled); 28otherwise the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. 29For whoever commits any of these abominations shall be cut off from their people. 30So keep my charge not to commit any of these abominations that were done before you, and not to defile yourselves by them: I am the LORD your God.

Notes:

c Heb to pass them over

a Meaning of Heb uncertain

b Heb stand against the blood

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

16.1–34 : The Day of Atonement.

In its present context this chapter describes an annual sanctuary purification rite that occurs every fall, on the tenth day of the seventh month (September‐October), accompanied by the people's fasting (v. 29; 23.26–32 ). It may have originally been a sanctuary purification rite, not connected to a particular day nor requiring fasting ( 16.29–34 are not original to the chapter, and are part of the Holiness tradition found mainly in chs 17–26 ). Thus it makes sense that the ceremony, in vv. 1–28 , is prescribed immediately after, and contains a reference to, the death of Aaron's sons in Lev 10.1–7 (cf. 16.1; see 11.1–15.33n.; Num 7.1–89n.). The sanctuary needed purification because the priests’ corpses had polluted it (cf. Lev 10.4–5; Num 19 ). Cf. Ezek 45.18–20 .

2 :

Mercy seat, see Ex 25.17–22n. Cloud, see Ex 40.34–38n.

3 :

4.3 .

4 :

See 8.6–7.

6–19 :

The primary goal of the sin offering is to achieve “atonement” (Heb “kipper”; cf. the noun “kippûr,” “atonement,” as in the later Jewish term for the occasion, “Yom Kippur,” based on a similar term in 23.27–28; 25.9 ). With the sin/purification offering, the Heb verb refers to the removal of impurity from certain sanctuary furniture and locales caused by sin and severe personal pollution (Ex 30.10; Lev 6.23; 8.15; 16.16,18,20,27,33; cf. Ezek 43.20, 26; 45.20; see Lev 4.1–35n. ). The focus of the chapter is thus on the purification of the sanctuary, not, as in later times, on repentance of the individual. “Kipper” should therefore be translated as “purify” or “make purification on behalf of.” When used in a summary fashion in sacrificial contexts, the term appears to indicate that all negative effects of the sin or personal pollution have been resolved, and thus carries the notion of “appeasement” (Num 17.11; 25.13; cf. Ex 30.15–16; Lev 17.11; Num 31.50 ). Other sacrifices, except for the well‐being offering, may also achieve atonement (the burnt offering, Lev 1.4; cf. 14.31; 15.15; Num 6.11 ; the guilt offering, Lev 5.16; 14.21; 19.22; Num 5.8 ).

7 :

Tent of meeting, see 1.1n.

8 :

Azazel, meaning “angry/fierce god,” probably a demonic figure (cf. 17.7 ), in contrast to the LORD, i.e., Yahweh. This is the “scapegoat” of older translations.

16 :

The first part of the verse might be alternatively rendered: “Thus shall he purify the sanctuary from the impurities of the people of Israel and from their rebellious acts, including all their sins.” On rebellious acts, i.e., deliberate sins, in the scheme of the sin offering system, see 4.1–35n.; cf. Num 15.30–31n. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, now that the inner room of the tent has been purified (vv. 11–16a ), its outer room is purified. The procedure is not spelled out, but is probably similar to that in 4.5–7,16–18 (cf. Ex 30.10).

18–19 :

The open‐air altar, a third locale of the sanctuary area, is here purified. Horns, see Ex 27.2n.

21 :

Both his hands, this gesture transfers sins to the head of the scapegoat (cf. 24.14; Num 27.18,23 , where apparently two hands are used for transfer). This differs in form and meaning from the one‐handed gesture that precedes the slaughtering of sacrificial animals (see 1.4; 3.2; 4.4 ; this gesture is not found with birds or grain offerings), which may seek to identify the animal as belonging to the offerer who brings it (cf. Num 8.5–26n.). This scapegoat ritual is somewhat redundant with the earlier purification rituals, but the purity of the sanctuary was so significant that redundancy was sensible. Though the goat to Azazel is part of a purgation offering complex (cf. Lev 16.5 ), it is not sacrificed or killed according to the biblical text, though further development of this ritual in early rabbinic literature assured that the scapegoat would die, so it could not return with the sins.

29 , 31 :

Deny yourselves, in addition to abstaining from food and anointing (Dan 10.12 ), sexual intercourse may be prohibited (2 Sam 12.15–24 ). These verses derive from the Holiness School (see Introduction), which viewed Yom Kippur in terms that are broader than the Priestly Torah described in vv. 1–28 .

18.1–30 : Sexual prohibitions.

1–5 :

The introduction is structured similarly to the conclusion (vv. 24–30 ), with a general prohibition followed by an admonition.

6–23 :

These laws prohibit various cases of incestuous relationships, intercourse with a menstruating wife, adultery, male homosexuality, and intercourse with animals. The incest laws prohibit intercourse with mothers and aunts, sisters of any type, daughters, and granddaughters. 20.10–21 enumerates punishments. Cf. Deut 27.15–26; Ezek 22.7–12 . In Lev 18 blood relatives are listed first (vv. 6–13 ), then those related by marriage (vv. 14–18 ), then other cases (vv. 19–23 ).

6 :

This general introduction covers relations with any close family member not explicitly stated in the following (e.g., one's own daughter; a full sister). Nakedness refers specifically to the genitals; to uncover nakedness was a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

7–8 :

Cf. Reuben and Bilhah, Gen 35.22; 49.4 .

9,11 :

Cf. Abraham and Sarah, Gen 20.12; Amnon and Tamar, 2 Sam 13.13 .

10 :

Cf. Lot and his daughters, Gen 19.30–38 .

15 :

Cf. Judah and Tamar, Gen 38 .

16 :

Contrast the levirate marriage law in Deut 25.5–10 .

19 :

Cf. 15.24,33 .

20 :

Cf. Deut 22.22–29 .

21 :

Molech, a Canaanite deity associated with child sacrifice; see 20.2–5n. This prohibition may have been included here because it involved the abuse of family members.

22 :

Cf. Gen 19.4–11; Judg 19.22–30 .

23 :

Cf. Ex 22.18; Deut 27.21 .

24–30 :

For crimes and sins polluting the land, see Num 35.33–34; Isa 24.5–7; Ezek 22.24; Ezra 9.11 . These impurities are fundamentally different from the impurities noted in 11.1–15.33 (see note there). Punishment for sinful impurity is often exile or other destruction (Isa 64.4–11; Ezek 20.38; 22.2–16; 39.23–24; cf. Lev 26.33–39 ).

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