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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Leviticus 1

 

 

Verse 1

(1) And the Lord called . . . and spake.—Rather, And he called unto Moses, and the Lord spake, &c. (See Leviticus 8:15.) At the end of the previous book we are told that when the tent of meeting was completed, the Lord showed His approbation of it by covering the outside of the edifice with a heaven-sent cloud, and by filling the inside with His glory (Exodus 40:34-38). He therefore, who had filled the sanctuary with his glory now “called unto Moses,” thus indicating by “And he called,” which are one word in the original, the intimate connection between the two books. The ancient Jewish synagogue already pointed out the fact that this unusual phrase, “And he called unto Moses,” is used as an introductory formula on the three different occasions when the Lord made a special communication to this great law-giver. Thus when the Lord first communicated to Moses that He was about to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, “He called unto him” from the burning bush (Exodus 3:4). When the Lord was about to give to Moses the Ten Commandments for the people of Israel, “He called unto him” from the top of Sinai (Exodus 19:3; Exodus 19:20); and now when the Lord is about to give to His chosen people, through His servant Moses, the laws by which their Divine worship is to be regulated, “He called unto him” from the tent of meeting (Leviticus 1:1).


Verse 2

(2) Speak unto the children of Israel.—The directions for the different sacrifices specified in Leviticus 1:2; Leviticus 3:17, are not in the first instance communicated to the priests who should teach them to the people, but are directly addressed to the people themselves.

Ye shall bring your offering . . . —Or, from the cattle ye shall bring your offering, from the oxen and from the flock, that is, if the offering be of quadrupeds in contradistinction to the “fowl” mentioned in Leviticus 1:14, they are to be of oxen and small cattle (tzön), i.e., sheep and goats.


Verse 3

(3) If his offering be a burnt sacrifice.—Having stated what is meant by animals, the directions now treat upon the different kinds of the offerings them-selves. First in order comes the burnt offering, which is divided into burnt offering from the beeves (Leviticus 1:3-9), and burnt offering from the flock (Leviticus 1:10-13). The ox takes precedence because it is the more costly and more important sacrifice. It had to be without disease or blemish of any kind. To offer a defective sacrifice was an insult and a deception. Hence the exclamation of the prophet, “cursed be the deceiver which hath in his flock a male and voweth and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing” (i.e., an animal with a blemish), Malachi 1:14. The offerer is to bring the animal to the entrance of the tent of meeting, as it should be rendered, that is, to the front of the Tabernacle where the brazen altar stood (Exodus 40:6).

Of his own voluntary will.—The whole passage is better rendered, at the entrance of the tent of meeting shall he offer it, that he may be accepted before the Lord. (Comp. Exodus 28:38; Leviticus 19:5; Leviticus 22:19-20; Leviticus 22:29; Leviticus 23:11.) This meaning is unmistakably set forth in Leviticus 22:19-21, where it is explicitly declared, “ye shall offer for your acceptance a male without blemish of the beeves, of the sheep or of the goats, but whatsoever hath a blemish that ye shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable for you.” It is to be remarked that the phrase “for your acceptance,” or “acceptable for you,” is only used in connection with burnt offerings and peace offerings, but never with sin offerings.


Verse 4

(4) And he shall put his hand.—Or, lay his hand, as the same phrase is rendered in Leviticus 3:2-3; Leviticus 3:17, &c. The laying on of hands by the offerer on the victim was enjoined not only in the case of burnt offerings, but also in peace offerings (Leviticus 3:2; Leviticus 3:7; Leviticus 3:13; Leviticus 8:22, &c.) and in sin offerings (Leviticus 4:4; Leviticus 4:15; Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 4:29; Leviticus 4:33; Leviticus 8:14, &c.). The offerer indicated thereby both the surrender of his ownership of the victim, and the transfer to it of’ the feelings by which he was influenced in performing this act of dedication to the Lord. From the practice which obtained during the second Temple, we know that the offerer himself laid both his hands between the two horns of the animal whilst alive, and that no proxy could do it. If several offered one sacrifice, each one laid his hand separately on the victim, confessing his sins and saying, “I have sinned, I have committed iniquity, I have transgressed and I have done this and this, but I repent before Thee, and this is my atonement.”

Accepted for him.—That is, his offer will be acceptable before the Lord, when the offerer thus complies with the prescribed sacrificial regulations. (Comp. Leviticus 1:3.)

To make atonement for him.—As the imposition of hands, confession, repentance, and prayer accompanied this sacrifice, and, moreover, as these acts secure for the offerer acceptance with God, hence expiatory virtue is here and elsewhere ascribed to this burnt offering (Leviticus 14:20; Leviticus 16:24; Micah 6:6; Job 1:5; Job 42:8), which belongs more especially to sin and trespass offerings (Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 4:26; Leviticus 4:31; Leviticus 4:35; Leviticus 5:16; Leviticus 5:18; Leviticus 7:7, &c.).


Verse 5

(5) And he shall kill the bullock.—The sacrificer himself slaughtered the victim on the north side of the altar, by cutting its throat, while a priest or an assistant held a bowl under the neck to receive the blood.

Before the Lord.—That is, before the door of the tent of meeting (comp. Leviticus 1:11). The two phrases constantly interchange in the directions about the sacrifices. (Comp. Leviticus 3:2; Leviticus 3:8; Leviticus 3:12; Leviticus 4:4; Leviticus 4:15; Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 6:18, &c.)

The priests, Aaron’s sons.—Better, the sons of Aaron, the priests, as the Authorised Version renders this phrase in Numbers 10:8. Besides the passage in Joshua 21:19, this phrase only occurs six times, once in Numbers, where it is properly rendered, and five times in this book, where it is translated three times “the priests Aaron’s sons” (Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 1:8; Leviticus 1:11), and twice “Aaron’s sons the priests” (Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 3:2). (See Leviticus 21:1.)

And sprinkle.—Better, throw the blood. The priestly functions, which began with the catching of the blood in the bowl, are now to continue also in this instance. The priest threw the blood upon the walls of the altar in two portions. He first stepped to the north-eastern corner, and from that corner diffused the blood on the northern and eastern walls; he then placed himself at the south-western corner, whence he diffused the second portion of the blood on the south and western walls. The rest of the blood he poured out at the Southern side of the altar, which was furnished with two holes; these holes communicated with a drain which conducted the blood into the Kedron.

By the door of the tabernacle.—Better, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. (See Leviticus 1:3.)


Verse 6

(6) And he shall flay.—After the priest threw the blood on the walls of the altar, the sacrificer himself had to skin and cut up the sacrifice into its natural limbs (comp. Leviticus 1:12; Leviticus 8:20; Exodus 29:17), as head, breast, legs, &c., and not mangle it. The skin was the perquisite of the officiating priest (Leviticus 8).


Verse 7

(7) And the sons of Aaron.—The priests are to put the fire upon the altar, because they offered the sacrifice upon the altar. This applies to the first burnt offering which was offered upon the newly-erected altar, since afterwards the fire was always burning, and was never allowed to go out (Leviticus 6:13).

And lay the wood.—No other fuel but wood was allowed for the altar, and no one was allowed to bring it from his own house, but it had to be the wood of the congregation. (Comp. Nehemiah 10:34; Nehemiah 13:31.) It had to be of the best kind; worm-eaten wood or timber from pulled-down buildings was not allowed.


Verse 8

(8) Shall lay the parts.—Better, shall lay the pieces in order, as in Leviticus 1:12. The word here rendered by parts is the same which is more properly translated pieces in Leviticus 1:6. Here again the priests are not to lay the pieces upon the altar anyhow, but are to arrange them systematically. In consequence of the order expressed in this verse, the rule obtained during the second Temple that the parts of the victim should as much as possible be arranged in the same order which they occupied in the animal when alive.


Verse 9

(9) But his inwards.—Before, however, the cut-up victim was thus arranged to be burnt, the stomach, the bowels, and the feet had to be thoroughly cleansed. In the time of the second Temple, the washing had to be repeated three times before the ablution was deemed complete.

And the priest shall burn.—The word here used is not the one generally used to denote consuming by fire, but it originally signifies to make a fume or vapour by incense. It is used in connection with all sacrifices (Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:9; Leviticus 3:5; Leviticus 3:11; Leviticus 4:10; Leviticus 4:19; Leviticus 6:8; Leviticus 7:5, &c.) and the idea intended to be conveyed thereby is, that man upon earth fitly brought his gift to God in heaven, by causing the odour emitted from the burning sacrifice to ascend in a sweet-smelling savour to heaven.


Verse 10

(10) Of the flocks.—Bullocks of course could only be offered by the wealthy. Hence the law now provides for those who could not afford so costly a sacrifice. They are to bring a lamb of the first year, which was the ordinary burnt offering in the time of Christ, and not a goat. The directions given with regard to the burnt offering from bullocks, equally apply to the burnt offering from the flock (Leviticus 1:10-13). They are therefore not repeated.


Verse 11

(11) On the side of the altar northward.—As the place for the refuse was on the east side (see Leviticus 1:16), as the laver stood on the west side, and as the ascent to the altar was on the south side, the north side was the most convenient for slaughtering the victims. This also applies to the sin and trespass offerings (Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 4:29; Leviticus 4:33; Leviticus 6:25; Leviticus 7:2; Leviticus 14:13, &c.).


Verse 12

(12) With his head and his fat.—That is, “he shall cut it into its pieces, and sever or cut off its head and its fat.” By a figure of speech not uncommon in Hebrew, one verb is connected with two substantives, though it only applies to one of the two, and a kindred verb has to be supplied for the second substantive to obtain the proper sense.


Verse 14

(14) Be of fowls.—The fowls here are in contrast to the cattle in Leviticus 1:2. And as the quadrupeds there are immediately defined to consist of bullocks, sheep and goats, so the generic term winged creature is here restricted to the dove and pigeon. It will thus be seen that five different kinds are allowed for the burnt offering, viz., the bullock, lamb, goat, dove and pigeon, the same that Abram was commanded to offer (Genesis 15:9).

Of turtledoves.—Though in the case of the burnt offering, as well as of the sin offering, pigeons were permitted to those who were too poor to offer quadrupeds, yet in certain other cases birds were prescribed for all irrespective of their circumstances. Not only did turtledoves regularly come in large flocks (Song of Solomon 2:11-12; Jeremiah 8:7) into Palestine at certain periods, but owing to these sacrifices the Jews have always kept dove-cots and reared pigeons (2 Kings 6:25; Isaiah 60:8; Joseph. Wars, v. 4, 4). To supply the demand for them, dealers in these birds sat about with them in cages on stalls in the Temple court (Matthew 21:2; John 11:16, &c.).


Verse 15

(15) And the priest.—It was probably out of consideration for the feelings of the poor offerer, and to increase the importance of the otherwise small offering, that the priest himself brought the victim to the altar and slew it instead of the worshipper performing these acts, as in the case of quadrupeds. The imposition of hands upon the victim was dispensed with, both because the bird was too small for this ceremony, and because the offerer brought it in his hands to the place of sacrifice, thus conveying by this act the idea involved in the imposition of hands.

And wring off his head.—When the bird is handed to him, the priest is not to use any knife, but is to nip off its head with his nails, throw the severed head on the altar fire, and thus cause it to ascend in the sweet smelling savour. As the small quantity of blood could not be caught in a bowl, and would not suffice for throwing it or pouring it on the four walls, as was the case in the offering of quadrupeds, he pressed it out from the headless body, and let it run on the walls.


Verse 16

(16) His crop with his feathers.—Just as in the case of quadrupeds the skin was flayed off the victim before it was put on the altar fire, so the feathers were removed from the bird before its body was placed on the altar. This is the natural sense which is to be expected from the context, since it can hardly be imagined that the victims would be burnt with the feathers, and thus cause an intolerable smell. The rendering, however, given in the margin, “with the filth thereof,” is now adopted by the greater number of expositors. As the two words filth and feathers resemble each other in Hebrew, it is probable that one of them has dropped out of the text. The maw, therefore, with its contents, as well as the feathers, were removed to the eastern side of the altar, where the ashes from the altar were thrown (Leviticus 6:3).


Verse 17

(17) And he shall cleave it with the wings thereof.—Before placing it on the altar fire the priest made an incision in the wings, without, however, separating them wholly from the body, thus corresponding in some degree to the limbing of the quadruped. (See Leviticus 1:6.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Leviticus 1:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/leviticus-1.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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