Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 2. God, to whom the right of giving laws belongs. (Du Hamel)
Ver. 3. Ordinances respecting marriages, divine worship, &c. (Haydock)
Ver. 5. Live in them, a long and happy life, (Chaldean) attended with grace and glory. (Lyranus) — Jesus Christ and St. Paul explain it of eternal life. (Matthew xix. 17 and Romans x. 5.) (Calmet)
Ver. 6. Approach to marry, much less to gratify his sensual appetite. (Haydock) — To him. Hebrew, “None shall approach to any of their descendants;” ad omnes reliquias carnis suæ; to any of those who spring from the same stock. The Jews assert, that all are bound by the law of nature to abstain from their own mother and sister, from another’s wife, and from unnatural conjunctions. (Selden, Jur. v. 11.) (Calmet) — Nakedness, or turpitude, which title the body deserves, when it is used in a manner contrary to the law of God.
Ver. 7. Father, with whom the daughters must not have any connexion, as Myrrha had with Cynoras. (Metam. x.) (Haydock) — All relations in a right line are excluded for ever, according to the emperor Justinian. The reason of these various impediments is, 1. That God’s people may not resemble infidels, who permitted such things, ver. 3. The Persians married their own mothers, daughters and sisters. (St. Clement of Alexandria, strom. 3.) Semiramis married her son Justin. Cleopatra was both mother and wife of the two Ptolemies, Philometor and Euergetes, or Physcon. (Tirinus) — The Egyptians took their sisters to wife for a long time, by the authority of their laws, and in imitation of Isis. (Diodorus 1.; Clem. recogn. 9.) Solon permitted people to marry their step-sisters by the same father, and Lycurgus only those by the same mother. (Philo ad 6. præc.) 2. By this law, the bands of society are strengthened, and families become connected. (St. Augustine, City of God xv. 16.) 3. Disorders which would easily take place under the same roof, on the prospect of a future marriage, are prevented. 4. The contrary practice would often prove contrary to order and decency, as the son would be raised above his mother. These regulations seem to have been made from the beginning, or at least from the time of the deluge; since the nations not subject to the law of Moses, are condemned for the transgression of them, ver. 24. See Genesis xix. 33. (Calmet)
Ver. 8. Father. He hath known her; and to him she belongs, as being one flesh. (Haydock) — If he were even dead, it would shew a want of respect to marry his widow, though she were not your own mother. (Calmet) — This law, Ruben and the incestuous Corinthian transgressed. [1 Corinthians 5:1] (Tirinus)
Ver. 9. Abroad; being born of your mother, while she was married to another. The marriages of brothers and sisters at the beginning, were authorized by necessity; but now they are the more to be condemned, as religion forbids them. (St. Augustine, City of God xv. 16.) Some Rabbins assert, that such connexions were lawful till the time of Moses. But St. Epiphanius (hær. 39,) maintains, they had been condemned long before. Seneca (St. Augustine, City of God vi. 10,) acknowledges that such marriages of the pagan gods were not right; ne piè quidem: and Plato says, they are hateful to God. The Romans punished them with death. Many barbarians do not, however, make any scruple to contract marriage with their children, or with their mothers. (St. Jerome, contra Jov. ii. 2.; Eurip. Hermione.) (Calmet)
Ver. 11. Sister, by thy step-mother.
Ver. 12. Father. Nearly related, and springing from the same source. (Menochius)
Ver. 14. Who….affinity. Hebrew, “she is thy aunt.” Some say that, in the old law, a person might marry his niece, but not his aunt; as the order of nature would be inverted if the aunt were subject to her nephew. But others assert that the law was reciprocal, and excluded the marriage of both. The emperor Claudius married his niece Agrippina, and authorized others to do the like. But only one imitated him at Rome; (Suetonius) though Tacitus (An. xii.) says, other nations did it with solemnity, as they had no law to the contrary. Aliis gentibus solemnia, &c. (Calmet)
Ver. 16. Brother; though she may be even divorced from him. (St. Augustine, q. 61.) If the brother were dead without offspring, the next relation was bound to marry her; (Deuteronomy xxv. 5) and the kinsman of Booz was accounted infamous for neglecting this duty, Ruth iv. 6.
Ver. 17. Daughter, together, or successively; even if she were the child of another husband. — Incest. Hebrew, “a crime.” Aquila, “an abomination.” Septuagint, “an impiety.”
Ver. 18. Rival her, (in pellicatum). Hebrew and Chaldean, “to trouble her.” After the death of one sister, it seems, another might be taken. Jacob had two at once. Some think that polygamy is here forbidden. But the law seems to have tolerated it; and only condemns many, or too great a number, with respect to the king, Deuteronomy xvii. 17. The impediments specified in this chapter may be comprised in these four verses:
Nata, soror, neptis, matertera, fratris & uxor,
Et patrui conjux, mater, privigna, noverca,
Uxorisque soror, privigni nata, nurusque,
Atque soror patris, conjungi lege vetantur. (Calmet)
Ver. 19. Thus, &c. The refractory were to be slain, chap xx. 18. It was thought that the infant would be in danger; and hence the Jews punished with death the man whose child was born lame. St. Augustine (q. 64,) believes that this law is still in force; and some accuse the person who neglects it, as guilty of a venial sin. (Bonfrere)
Ver. 20. Wife. This crime is to be punished like the rest, ver. 29.
Ver. 21. Consecrated. Hebrew, “to pass through the fire to Moloch.” Septuagint, “to serve the ruler.” Syriac, “to marry strange women;” as also chap. xx. 2. One of the sons of Achaz was offered to this idol of the Ammonites; and yet, perhaps, succeeded his father; (4 Kings xvi. 3; xviii. 1,) which shews that the children were not always burnt to death, but only lustrated, or made to pass over or between two fires. Yet many assert that the children were frequently consumed in the flames, and God condemns the cruel parents to be punished with death, chap. xx. 2. The brazen idol was heated red hot, and the unhappy victim was placed in its arms, or the priests dragged the child over or between the fires. The surrounding nations delighted in human victims. The Carthaginians offered them till the time of Iphicrates. Adrian abolished several such cruel customs among the Greeks. See Porphyrius, de Abst. ii. Jerem. vii. 31. — God; by causing any to suppose that he is cruel, like the idols. We must mention his name with the utmost respect. “The mouth, which utters the sacred name of God, ought never to pronounce a shameful word.” (Philo de 10. præc.) Some think, that the idolaters honoured their god by committing an abominable action in his presence. See Malvenda. But most people understand that human sacrifices are here forbidden. (Calmet) — The nations of Carolina very lately observed the same custom as the ancient idolaters, in sacrificing their children to the devil, by buring them to death in a brazen statue. (Vives in Civ. Dic. vii. 19.) Moloch was represented as a king, in all his ornaments, with the head of a calf. He was, perhaps, the idol adored by other nations, under the name of Saturn, who devoured his own children. (Bonfrere) (Tirinus)
Ver. 22. Abomination, punished so severely in the Sodomites, Genesis xix. Yet, even the philosophers of Greece were not at all ashamed of it. Bardesanes assures us, that the eastern nations punished it with death, and would not allow the guilty the honours of burial. Those beyond the Euphrates were so shocked at it, that they would kill themselves if they were only accused of such a crime. (Ap. Eusebius, præp. vi. 10.)
Ver. 23. Crime. Hebrew, “confusion.” The Egyptians did so with goats, as part of their religion. See chap. xx. 16. and An. Univ. Hist. We need not, however, infer from this law, that the crime was common among the Jews, as Voltaire would insinuate. (Haydock) — Nothing but monsters can proceed from such wickedness. (Menochius)
Ver. 28. Vomited. Moses speaks of what would shortly happen, as if it had already come to pass, which is familiar with the prophets. (Calmet) — He represents the earth as sick and disgusted with the crimes of its inhabitants, in the same manner as the Book of Wisdom (v. 23,) says, the water of the sea shall rage (or foam, excandescet) against them. The strong expression used by Moses, shews to what a length the Chanaanites had carried their abominations; so that God, justly irritated, orders them all to be exterminated.
Ver. 29. People. Hebrew hammam. The same temporal punishment is inflicted upon all the aforesaid crimes, though they were not all equally grievous. The smallest of them deserved to be treated with such severity, to prevent the spreading of such contagious vices. (Haydock) — The regulations respecting marriage, were not immutable, or all determined by the law of nature, which admits of no dispensation. Only those relations in a right line, and the first in the collateral line, can be esteemed of this description. (Du Hamel) — If Protestants maintain, that all these regulations of Moses are part of the natural law, and bind Christians, they must also allow that a person must marry the widow of his deceased brother, if he has left no children, Deuteronomy xxv. God would never have established this general rule for his people, if it were in opposition to the natural law; which is clear and obvious to all people by the light of reason, according to Aristotle. (Polit. ii.) Neither would so many holy men have violated this law without reproof, if it had prohibited the marriages of two sisters, of aunts, &c. See Genesis xxix.; Exodus vi. 20. God never dispensed in the right line; (1 Corinthians v. 1,) and such relations, or even people in the first collateral degree of consanguinity, marrying, are punished with death, chap. xx. Whereas those in the second degree, or in the first of affinity, undergo a smaller punishment; which shews that the transgression, in both cases, is not against the law of nature. No man ever undertook to dispense with the marriage of brothers and sisters; though Beza lays this to the charge of Pope Martin V. But the person alluded to, only obtained leave to retain the sister of her whom he had privately dishonoured, when his marriage could not be dissolved without great scandal. (St. Antonin. 3. p. tit. i. 11.) As, therefore, some of these impediments were introduced by the positive ceremonial law of the Jews, which was abrogated by Jesus Christ, they have no other force at present than what they derive from the authority of Christian republics, which have adopted some and changed others, appointing, in some countries, death for the punishment of theft, and not of adultery, though the old law enjoined the reverse. See chap. xx. 10, and Genesis xxxviii. 24; Exodus xxii. 1. The Church may, therefore, surely dispense with those laws which she has enacted. (Worthington) (Council of Trent, Session xxiv. 3.) — She has indeed restricted marriage between relations to the fourth degree included, both of consanguinity and of affinity. See the Council of Lateran, under Pope Innocent III. But she will not allow people to marry their aunts, brothers’ widows, or sisters of their deceased wife, as the Jews do. (Tirinus)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Marriage is prohibited in certain degrees of kindred: and all unnatural lusts.
1 And the Lord spoke to Moses,* saying:
2 Speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt say to them: I am the Lord your God.
3 You shall not do according to the custom of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelt: neither shall you act according to the manner of the country of Chanaan, into which I will bring you, nor shall you walk in their ordinances.
4 You shall do my judgments, and shall observe my precepts, and shall walk in them. I am the Lord your God.
5 *Keep my laws and my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them. I am the Lord.
6 No man shall approach to her that is near of kin to him, to uncover her nakedness. I am the Lord.
7 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother: she is thy mother, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
8 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s wife: for it is the nakedness of thy father.
9 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy sister, by father or by mother, whether born at home or abroad.
10 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy son’s daughter, or thy daughter’s daughter: because it is thy own nakedness.
11 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s wife’s daughter, whom she bore to thy father, and who is thy sister.
12 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s sister: because she is the flesh of thy father.
13 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother’s sister: because she is thy mother’s flesh.
14 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s brother: neither shalt thou approach to his wife, who is joined to thee by affinity.
15 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter-in-law: because she is thy son’s wife, neither shalt thou discover her shame.
16 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: because it is the nakedness of thy brother.
17 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy wife, and her daughter. Thou shalt not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter, to discover her shame: because they are her flesh, and such copulation is incest:
18 Thou shalt not take thy wife’s sister for a harlot, to rival her, neither shalt thou discover her nakedness, while she is yet living.
19 Thou shalt not approach to a woman having her flowers, neither shalt thou uncover her nakedness.
20 Thou shalt not lie with thy neighbour’s wife, nor be defiled with mingling of seed.
21 *Thou shalt not give any of thy seed to be consecrated to the idol Moloch, nor defile the name of thy God: I am the Lord.
22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind, because it is an abomination.
23 Thou shalt not copulate with any beast, neither shalt thou be defiled with it. *A woman shall not lie down to a beast, nor copulate with it: because it is a heinous crime.
24 Defile not yourselves with any of these things, with which all the nations have been defiled, which I will cast out before you,
25 And with which the land is defiled: the abominations of which I will visit, that it may vomit out its inhabitants.
26 Keep ye my ordinances and my judgments, and do not any of these abominations: neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you.
27 For all these detestable things, the inhabitants of the land have done that were before you, and have defiled it.
28 Beware then lest in like manner, it vomit you also out, if you do the like things, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.
29 Every soul that shall commit any of these abominations, shall perish from the midst of his people.
30 Keep my commandments. Do not the things which they have done, that have been before you and be not defiled therein. I am the Lord your God.
1: Year of the World 2514.
5: Ezechiel xx. 11.; Romans x. 5.; Galatians iii. 12.
21: Leviticus xx. 2.
23: Leviticus xx. 16.