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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 1



Verse 1

1.And the Lord called unto Moses. In these seven chapters Moses will treat generally of the sacrifices. But since we read of many things here, the use of which has passed away, and others, the grounds of which I do not understand, I intend to content myself with a brief summary, from whence, however, the reader may fully perceive that whatever has been left to us relative to the legal sacrifices is even now profitable, provided we are not too curious. Let those who choose to hunt for allegories receive the praise they covet; my object is only to profit my readers, and it will suffice briefly to sum up what I think useful to be known. Although in this chapter burnt-offerings only are treated of, yet the rule which is laid down respecting them has a more extensive application, since Moses teaches what animals God would have offered to Him, so as that they may be acceptable, and also by whom and with what ceremonies they are to be offered. He enumerates three kinds, of the herd, of the flocks, and of fowls; for the case of the red heifer, from which the ashes of atonement were made, was different and peculiar; and here the question is as to the ordinary sacrifices, by which private individuals used either to atone for their sins or to testify their piety. He commands, therefore, that the cattle as well as the lambs and kids should be males, and also perfect and free from all blemish. We see, then, that only clean animals were chosen for the sacrifices, and again that all clean animals did not please God, but only domestic ones, such as allow themselves to be directed by the hand and will of men. For, though deer and roes are sometimes tamed, yet God did not admit them to His altar. This, then, was the first rule of obedience, that men should not offer promiscuously this or that victim, but bulls or bull-calves of their herds, and male lambs or kids of their flocks. Freedom from blemish is required for two reasons; for, since the sacrifices were types of Christ, it behooved that in all of them should be represented that complete perfection of His whereby His heavenly Father was to be propitiated; and, secondly, the Israelites were reminded that all uncleanness was repudiated by God lest his service should be polluted by their impurity. But whilst God exhorted them to study true sincerity, so he abundantly taught them that unless they directed their faith to Christ, whatsoever came from them would be rejected; for neither would the purity of a brute animal have satisfied Him if it had not represented something better. In the second place, it is prescribed that whosoever presented a burnt-offering should lay his hand on its head, after he had come near the door of the tabernacle. This ceremony was not only a sign of consecration, but also of its being an atonement, (249) since it was substituted for the man, as is expressed in the words of Moses, “And it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” (Leviticus 1:4.) There is not, then, the least doubt but that they transferred their guilt and whatever penalties they had deserved to the victims, in order that they might be reconciled to God. Now, since this promise could not have been at all delusive, it must be concluded that in the ancient sacrifices there was a price of satisfaction which should release them from guilt and blame in the judgment of God; yet still not as though these brute animals availed in themselves unto expiation, except in so far as they were testimonies of the grace to be manifested by Christ. Thus the ancients were reconciled to God in a sacramental manner by the victims, just as we are now cleansed through baptism. Hence it follows that these symbols were useful only as they were exercises unto faith and repentance, so that the sinner might learn to fear God’s wrath, and to seek pardon in Christ.

Verse 5

5.And he shall kill the bullock. The ceremony of killing is subjoined, viz., that the priest should prepare the victim itself, and pour its blood upon the altar, for it was not allowable for a private person to kill the victim with his own hands, but what the priest did in their name was transferred to them. (250) But this is worth remarking, that although they brought the pledge of reconciliation from their home, yet that the ministers of expiation were to be sought elsewhere, since no one was competent for so illustrious an office, save he who was graced by the holy unction of God. It was, therefore, plainly manifested that all mortals are unworthy of coming near God to propitiate Him, and that the hands of all are in a manner polluted or profane except those which God himself has purged. For the honor of sacrificing came from nowhere else but from the grace of the Spirit, of which the external anointing was a pledge. We now understand how it was that individuals offered sacrifices to God, and yet that the priest alone performed this office. The altar was sprinkled with the blood, that the people might know that the blood poured from the victim did not fall on the ground, but was consecrated to God, and breathed, as it were, a sweet savor; just as now the blood of Christ appears before His face. I pass by the rest, since it does not seem worth while to enlarge on the third kind of offering, i.e., of the birds. Yet we must recollect that thus far Moses only speaks of the burnt-offerings, whose flesh was burned; for this was not the case with all, as we shall see hereafter. Although, then, it is twice said that “the priests shall lay the parts, the head and the fat,” etc., we must not understand it as if he only commanded the fat and the head to be burned, but that nothing was to be left the skin. Some think that פדר pheder, (251) is a dissevered head, nor do I reject their opinion, provided we do not exclude the fat. Whatever was filthy in the victim, God would have to be washed, that it might not contaminate it. The question now arises why it was burned either wholly or partially. My own opinion is, that by the fire the efficacy of the Spirit is represented, on which all the profit of the sacrifices depends; for unless Christ had suffered in the Spirit, He would not have been a propitiatory sacrifice. Fire, then, was as the condiment which gave their true savor to the sacrifices, because the blood of Christ was to be consecrated by the Spirit, that it might cleanse us from all the stains of our sins. This God would have more fully represented in the burnt-offerings, yet no victim was offered of which some part was not consumed by fire.


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 1:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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