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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Leviticus 1

Verses 1-2

"And Jehovah called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When any man of you offereth an oblation unto Jehovah, ye shall offer your oblation of the cattle, even of the herd and of the flock."

"And Jehovah called unto Moses ..." This is the correct order of the Hebrew words in this passage, the connective "and" indicating that Leviticus continues the narrative "at the end of Exodus."[4] This coordinate conjunction joins all the books of the Pentateuch, showing that they are a SINGLE book by a SINGLE author - Moses!

"Out of the tent of meeting ..." Some think that this is a reference to that special tent in which, for awhile, God communed with Moses, but we agree with Bamberger that, according to the usage of this same expression in Leviticus 1:3, "Before the Lord plainly means in the Tent, in front of the inner Shrine."[5]

"An oblation ..." This word means "any grateful or solemn offering." It comes from a technical Hebrew word that is "identical with Korban,"[6] and has the meaning of something brought near to the altar. This is the same word that Jesus spoke of in Mark 7:11.

"Ye shall offer ... of the cattle ... of the herd and of the flock ..." The last phrases here are restrictive with regard to the kinds of cattle that could be offered. The word "cattle" is an inclusive term that refers not only to flocks and herds, but to many unsuitable animals such as horses, camels, asses, swine, etc. The reference to herd and flock shows the kinds of cattle that were suitable.

CONCERNING SACRIFICE

There are many opinions relative to how the institution of sacrifice began. Dummelow supposed that it came about from natural human instinct,[7] but Richard Collins appears to be absolutely correct in his affirmation that, "There is nothing whatever in human nature" that could have invented or suggested sacrifice as the institution appears in the Holy Scriptures.

Furthermore, God's specific instructions given here with regard to sacrifices points up the contrast between paganism that surrounded Israel and the worship of the one true God. The animals that Israel was commanded to offer were those worshipped by many of the pagans, and other animals held suitable for sacrifice by the pagans were proscribed in the worship of God.

The sacrifices of the O.T. were not merely allowed by God, but were commanded. They were therefore necessary and important. First, in the aggregate, they bore witness to the central fact of revelation that "without the shedding of blood" there can be no forgiveness of sins. Secondly, they were in many particulars (especially in the case of the paschal lamb) typical of the ultimate Sacrifice on Calvary. Christ was the lamb slain from the foundation of the world! And he is depicted in Revelation as a Lamb, having been slain, on the very throne of God Himself!

What a misunderstanding it is, therefore, that some have presumptuously sought to downgrade the whole institution of sacrifice. Certain sayings of the prophets in Amos 5:22ff; Jeremiah 7:22; 1 Samuel 15:22,23; Isaiah 1:11-13; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8, etc., have been grossly misinterpreted, resulting in the false conclusion that, "The pre-exilic prophets rejected all formal worship and called for a religion of ethical conduct only."[9] However, every one of the passages cited is nothing more than a protest against the substitution of ritual for morality. The whole teaching of the Bible attests the necessity, importance, and divine origin of the institution of sacrifice. (See my comments on all of the passages cited from the minor prophets.)

Verses 3-4

"If his oblation be a burnt offering, he shall offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it at the door of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before Jehovah. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him."

"Burnt offering ..." In some ways, this was the most important of all the sacrifices. First it could be offered by men of any race or nation,[10] being distinguished in this from all other Jewish sacrifices. Also, it was an essential element in the extremely important ritual of the Day of Atonement, which is indeed suggested by the terminology here. Thus, right here at the threshold of God's instructions to Israel was a witness to the worldwide purpose of his divine grace that included all nations. The great difference in the burnt-offering was that it was wholly consumed by fire, except the skin which was a prerequisite of the priests. Other sacrifices were, in part, eaten by the priests. The Hebrew word for burnt-offering is [~`olah]; it is related to the word "holocaust." A very high degree of sanctity[11] pertained to the burnt-offering.

"A male without blemish ..." This is not for the purpose of indicating any superiority of the male over the female, but was due to the typical intent of conforming to the fact that the world's Redeemer would be a MALE without blemish.

"Offer it at the door of the tent of meeting ..." This symbolized the intention of the worshipper in presenting himself as submissive to the Law of God. Paul's reference in Romans 12:1 reflects the intention here.

"He shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering ..." Despite "hand" being used in the singular, "The Talmud inferred from Leviticus 16:21, that both the worshipper's hands should be imposed upon the sacrifice."[12] Adam Clarke listed the implications of this as follows:

(1) the worshipper acknowledged the sacrifice as his own;

(2) he offered it as an atonement for his sins;

(3) he thus admitted his own worthiness of death due to sin;

(4) he entreated God to accept the life of the sacrifice as a substitution for his own life.[13]

"It shall be accepted for him to make an atonement for him ..." Four synonyms for atonement are propitiation, expiation, reconciliation, and satisfaction. Of all these, propitiation is to be preferred, because, "This word conveys the idea both of the pacification of wrath, and of the covering of transgression."[14] The first of these meanings is absent from the other synonyms. A fuller discussion of the atonement will be given in Leviticus 16. It would be erroneous here to understand "atonement" in any absolute sense. The actual atonement for mankind would never be achieved until the Son of God suffered on the Cross. Therefore, Meyrick was correct in the view that, "It is not the sin of the sinner, but the sinner himself who is covered in the type of atonement visible here."[15] Only Jesus Christ our Lord took away the sin of the world. Of course, these sacrifices were a type of the ultimate atonement which appeared in the death of Christ.

Verses 5-9

"And he shall kill the bullock before Jehovah: and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall sprinkle its blood upon the altar round about upon the altar that is at the door of the tent of meeting. And he shall flay the burnt-offering, and cut it into its pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay wood in order upon the fire; and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall lay the pieces, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar; but its inwards and its legs shall he wash with water. And the priest shall burn the whole on the altar, for a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Jehovah."

A number of things in the procedure here were to be done by the worshipper himself, and these are in addition to his bringing it, laying his hands upon it, and presenting it at the door of the tent of meeting. Note, however, that the priests were to put on the fire and the wood. Bamberger called this a "discrepancy" from Leviticus 9:24, where it is said the fire came "from heaven." This is merely another of the feeble pseudocons that critics love to find in the Bible. It is inherent in every line of the Leviticus narrative that the fire had to be rekindled, rekindled and rekindled continually by the priests; and, as Gordon stated it, "The fire was not allowed to go out, but must often have smoldered."[16]

"Shall burn the whole on the altar ..." Meyrick informs us that the Hebrew here carries the meaning of: "the whole substance is made to ascend unto the Lord";[17] and Orlinsky rendered the passage as "turn ... into smoke."[18] This, of course, is scientifically accurate. Smoke is actually the substance in another form of that which is burned. Thus, the offering literally ascended.

Verses 10-13

"And if his oblation be of the flock, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt-offering, he shall offer it a male without blemish. And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before Jehovah; and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall sprinkle its blood upon the altar round about. And he shall cut it into its pieces, with its head and its fat; and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: but the inwards and the legs shall he wash with water. And the priest shall offer the whole, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Jehovah."

This whole paragraph is repetitive, stating simply that the same procedure followed for the bullock was also to be followed in case the offering was a sheep or a goat.

The significance of the whole burnt-offering was very great. In this type of sacrifice, the worshipper kept back nothing for himself. Neither he nor his friends used or enjoyed any part of it. It belonged wholly to God. The meaning of this lay in such an acknowledgment of God's total authority. It was also an act of submission and a pledge of obedience.

The specific manner of doing all of this is amazing, even such a thing as the northward direction from the altar being designated as the place where the sacrifice was to be slain! All such particular directions have the utility of teaching that only God is capable of revealing the manner in which He must be approached in worship. Can it be any less true today?

"Of a sweet savor unto Jehovah ..." This is an anthropomorphism in which what pleases men is understood also as pleasing to God. The same expression is found in this chapter three times - Leviticus 1:9,13,17. This figure also appears in the N.T. as well. "Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell" (Ephesians 5:2). In appealing to a metaphor found so often in the O.T., Paul likewise taught the typical significance of all these things as being foreshadowings of the great spiritual realities destined to appear in the fullness of time in the spiritual kingdom of the Son of God.

Verses 14-17

"And if his oblation to Jehovah be a burnt offering of birds, then he shall offer his oblation of turtledoves, or of young pigeons. And the priest shall bring it unto the altar, and wring off its head, and burn it on the altar; and the blood thereof shall be drained out on the side of the altar; and he shall take away its crop with the filth thereof, and shall cast it beside the altar on the east part, in the place of the ashes: and he shall rend it by the wings thereof, but shall not divide it asunder. And the priest shall burn it upon the altar, upon the wood that is upon the fire: it is a burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Jehovah."

These instructions also follow the general pattern laid down with reference to the greater offering of the bullock, or of the sheep or goats, the variations being merely accommodation to the smaller size of the offering. Notice the close correspondence between these instructions and those God gave to Abraham in Genesis 15:10, just another indication, of many, indicating that in the entire Pentateuch, we are dealing not with several books but with one!

Without doubt, the provision here for an oblation of birds was also an accommodation to the poverty of some who would not have been able to bring a sheep or bullock. As Unger noted, "Whether he brought much or little, in God's sight it was acceptable if brought in faith, in dependence on divine grace."[19]

Even in the matter of the smaller offering allowed for the poor, not just any kind of bird would do. Pigeons and doves were allowed; birds of prey or eaters of carrion were disallowed. Note the appropriateness of the dove, for example:

  1. it suggests sorrowing and innocence;
  2. it is monogamous, mating only once;
  3. in all ages, it has been the symbol of peace;
  4. it is a messenger, as when the dove brought back the green leaf to Noah;
  5. the carrier pigeon is still used as a messenger;
  6. naturalists tell us that the dove has no gall, anciently understood as a source of bitterness and contention.[20]
  7. In time, the Holy Spirit himself would descend upon the Lord of glory in a dove-like form!

In this connection, it should also be remembered that when Joseph and Mary observed the ceremonies of purification in the Jewish Temple for the purification of Mary, they brought the humble oblation of the poor (Luke 2:24). Were all of these regulations merely rules conceived of and laid down by the priests? No. They are called specifically "The Law of the Lord" in that passage in Luke just cited.

On Leviticus 1:14, it is appropriate to mention the denial expressed by Clements to the effect that the instructions regarding doves and pigeons "could not" have originated with Moses, because "these birds were not available in the wilderness."[21] Such a fanciful objection ignores the almost universal appearance of these birds all over the earth. Noah even had doves on the ark! Like every other unbelieving denial of God's Word, this one also carries within it its own refutation. Significantly, Clements did not tell us where he got that information regarding the scarcity of doves in the wilderness! Maybe it was his own imagination?

"Or of young pigeons ..." (Leviticus 1:14). The literal meaning of this phrase is "sons of pigeons,"[22] which does not necessarily refer to the age of the birds. In fact, Orlinsky stated that in this passage the reference is to "indicate merely the species"[23] rather than the age of the birds.

Some of the Jewish comments on these verses are amazing. Rabbi Rashi, for example, stated that the divine instructions given in Leviticus 1:16, to cast away the bird's crop and not to use it as part of the offering was due to the fact that, "birds feed on what is stolen"![24] It appears to us that the conception of birds "stealing" anything is incorrect. The Bible says, "Your heavenly Father feedeth them" (Matthew 6:26), and it can hardly be allowed that God feeds them with "stolen goods"! The word "filth" appearing in this context is the explanation of why the crop was not offered.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Leviticus 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/leviticus-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.