John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

27 (Leviticus 19:27)

Verse 27

27.Ye shall not round the corners. It clearly appears that God had no other object than by the interposition of this obstacle to sever His people from heathen nations. For there is nothing to which men are more prone than to conform themselves to the customs of others; and hence it arises, that they mutually communicate each other’s vices. Wherefore care was especially to be taken lest the people of Israel should adopt foreign habits, and by this pliableness should fall away from the true worship of God; from whence too the ordinary phrase has arisen, that the word “common” should be used for “unclean.” God then strictly forbids them from declining to the habits of the Gentiles, and confounding the distinction which He had Himself placed between them. There is no doubt but that it was usual for the Gentiles, out of superstition, to cut marks (31) upon their faces, to trim the hair in certain steps or circles, and in their mourning to lacerate their flesh, or to disfigure it with marks. It is well known that the priests of Cybele (32) made gashes in their flesh with knives and razors, and covered themselves all over with wounds, for the sake of shewing their zeal. The same thing was also commonly practiced by others; inasmuch as the world is easily deceived by external ceremonies. But though this were a thing in itself indifferent, yet God would not allow His people to be at liberty to practice it, that, like children, they might learn from these slight rudiments, that they would not be acceptable with God, unless they were altogether different from uncircumcised foreigners, and as far as possible from following their examples; and especially that they should avoid all ceremonies whereby their religion was testified. For experience teaches how greatly the true worship of God is obscured by anything adscititious, and how easily foul superstitions creep in, when the comments of men are tacked on to the word of God. Doubtless that part, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead,” etc., might be expounded as a correction of immoderate grief; because we know how intemperately men set themselves against God when they give the reins to their sorrow; but since the object of the Gentiles was to pay what was due to the dead, and to celebrate their funeral obsequies (33) as a kind of propitiation, it is probable, and more suitable, that by the whole context those preposterous gestures are condemned, which were proofs of piety among the Gentiles, but which would have been defilements to the people of God.

The same thing appears more clearly from the passage in Deuteronomy, which next follows, wherein Moses condemns cutting themselves, and making themselves bald for the dead in connection with each other, as if they were one thing; and confirms the law by a general argument, that they might withdraw themselves from every pollution as the children of God; since they were chosen to be His peculiar people; as much as to say, that God’s grace would be altogether frustrated, if they did not differ at all from foreign nations. As to his saying that they were chosen out of all the nations, it does not a little illustrate the gratuitous mercy of God, wherewith He honored them alone, by calling them to the hope of eternal salvation, and passing by the Gentiles; for there was no nobility found in them, nor did they exceed others either in number or in any other superiority, on account of which He should prefer them to the whole world. But the design of Moses in magnifying the extraordinary goodness of God, was that they might the more abhor that impure cornmixture, which, by bringing them on a par with the Gentiles, degraded them from this high honor.

" All the castes of the Hindoos bear on their foreheads, or elsewhere, what are called sectarian marks, which not only distinguish them in a civil, but in a religious point of view, from each other."

"Herodotus observes that the Arabs shave, or cut their hair round, in honor of Bacchus; (lib. 3. ch. 8). He says, also, that the Macians, a people of Lybia, cut their hair round, so as to leave a tuft on the top of the head; (lib. 4. ch. 175."

"That the ancients were very violent in their grief, tearing the hair and face, beating the breast, etc., is well known. Virgil represents the sister of Dido: — Unguibus ora — foedans, et pectora pugnis. AEn. iv. 672.” — Adam Clarke, in loco.

"Nec paucis pererratis casulis, ad quandam villam possessoris beati perveniunt, et ab ingressu primo statim absonis ululatibus constrepentes, fanatice pervolant. Diuque capite demisso, cervices lubricis intorquentes motibus, crinesque pendulos rotantes in circulum, et nonnunquam morsibus suos incursantes musculos, ad postremum ancipiti ferro, quod gerebant, sua quisque brachia dissecant.” — Metam. (lib. 8, Edit). (Bipont. 1. 184-185)

- John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible