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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 29

Verse 1

1. And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them. Since I shall again repeat and more fully explain these things as they are written in Leviticus 9:0, in the history of the consecration of the tabernacle, it will be sufficient to give nothing more than a brief summary of them here; nor is it my custom to invent mysteries out of vague speculations, (174) such as may rather gratify than instruct my readers. First, since the whole human race is corrupt and infected with many impurities, so that his uncleanness prevents every single individual from having access to God, Moses, before he consecrates the priests, washes them by the sprinkling of water, in order that they may be no longer deemed to be of ordinary rank. Hence we gather that true purity and innocence, which was but typical in the Law, is found in Christ alone. “For such an high priest became us,” says the Apostle, “who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” to present Himself before God for us. (Hebrews 7:26.) After they had been washed, God commands that they should be invested with the sacerdotal dress, according to their respective ranks: that the high priest should wear the ephod with the Urim and Thummim, and the mitre with the golden plate, on which shone forth “holiness to Jehovah;” and in the third place, He adds the anointing. This preparation was for the purpose of initiating them, before they performed the office of sacrificing; but it must be observed that, as to this first sacrifice, the duties which were afterwards transferred to Aaron were imposed upon Moses, as if he were the only priest; and, in point of fact, the temporal dignity which he afterwards resigned to his brother, was still in his own hands. What Moses introduces about the division of the victim, we shall more conveniently explain elsewhere, in treating of the offerings, which we have stated to be the third part of the legal worship.

(174) Probably the Fr., “ de speculations volantes,” suggests the right reading of the Lat. here, viz., alatis for aliis

Verse 16

16. And thou shalt slay the ram. Moses had previously been commanded to take the parts of the victim from the hands of Aaron, to propitiate God with them, in order that he and his posterity might be able hereafter to perform the same office; but here a peculiar ceremony is described, that he should smear the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the toe of the right foot, both of Aaron and his sons, with the blood of a ram; and then that he should sprinkle them and their garments with the blood which was deposited upon the altar. What we must first observe here is, that the priest must be sprinkled with blood, in order that he may conciliate the favor of God towards himself for the purpose of intercession. Thus the priesthood of Christ was dedicated with blood, so that it might be efficacious to reconcile God with us. The question now arises, why only the right ear and the right thumb and toe were sprinkled with blood, as if the priests were consecrated and devoted to God only in half of their persons? I reply, that in this one part the other was comprehended; since both the ears, and both the hands and feet have the same object, and their offices are so connected, that what is said of one ear applies to the other. Again, it is asked, why the ear, and foot, and hand, were smeared rather than the breast and the tongue? and I do not doubt but that by the ear obedience was designated, and by the hands and feet all the actions and the whole course of life; for there is scarcely anything more common in Scripture than these metonymies, by which the cleanness of the hands is taken for the integrity of the whole life, and the way, or course, or walk for the direction, or manner of living. It is therefore very appropriate that man’s life should be consecrated by blood; and, inasmuch as the foundation of welldoing is obedience, which is preferred to all sacrifices, Moses is commanded to begin with the ear. And we know that the “odor of a sweet smell” in the sacrifice of Christ was obedience, (Philippians 4:18;) on which account, David, in the spirit of prophecy, introduces himself, saying, “Mine ears hast thou bored.” (175) (Psalms 40:6.) If any should object that the tongue is of no less importance, because the priest is the messenger of the Lord of hosts, I answer that the office of teaching is not here referred to, but only that of intercession; wherefore in these three members Moses embraced whatever related to atonement. But we must remember that what is said of the consecration of Christ does not apply to His own person, but refers to the profit of the whole Church; for neither was He anointed for His own sake, nor had He need to borrow (176) grace from the blood; but He had regard to His members, and devoted Himself altogether to their salvation, as He himself testifies, “For their sake I sanctify myself.” (John 17:19.)

(175) A. V., “mine ears hast thou opened.” Margin, “Heb., digged.” See C.’s own Commentary, in loco, with Mr. Anderson’s note. Calvin Translation Society’s edition, vol. 2, p. 99.

(176) “ La grace de reconcilier.” — Fr.

Verse 28

28. And it shall be Aaron’s. Lest the dignity of the sacred offerings, which are called the holiness of the Lord, should be impaired, strangers are prohibited from partaking of them; for, if it had been permitted that every one should touch them and eat of them, there would have been no distinction between them and ordinary food. Of the priests’ portion some parts were common to all their families; but the holy parts were excepted, to the intent that by this particular instance the reverence due to all might be inculcated. The reference to place has the same object, for it was not lawful to eat what was holy within the walls of their houses, in order that it might be distinguished from their common and ordinary food. For the same reason, whatever remained of it was to be burnt, lest, if the flesh became rank, or the bread moldy, their ill savor and filthy appearance might somewhat detract from the dignity of the holy things; for the infirmity of the ancient people had need of childish rudiments, which might still have a tendency to elevate the minds of the pious to things above. This was the object of all these things, that no corruption should creep in which might pollute or render contemptible the service of God.

Verse 36

36. And thou shalt offer every day a bullock. Since the ancient altar was no less a type of Christ than the priest was, it may naturally be asked, what its expiation could mean, as if there were anything impure or polluted in Christ. But we must remember, what I before adverted to, that no similitude is identical (with the reality); for then the substance and reality of the shadows could not be represented in their perfection. Yet this was an apt similitude, shewing that God could only be propitiated towards the human race by an expiation made with blood. On this account not only was the altar to be cleansed, but; also dedicated to its use, that reconciliation might proceed from it; and this is expressed by the word “sanctify,” especially when it is added, “it shall be the holiness of holinesses,” (151) that it may sanctify whatever is put upon it. Others read it in the masculine gender: “Whosoever shall touch it, shall be holy;” and understand it of the priest, who by right of his anointing might approach the altar; but; it rather dignifies the consecration of the altar by its consequence, viz., because it sanctifies the victims themselves. The sum is that the body of Christ, inasmuch as it was offered as a sacrifice, and consecrated with blood, was acceptable to God; so that its holiness washes away and blots out all our uncleanness. We shall speak of the anointing a little further on.

(151) A.V., “And it shall be an altar most holy.” Ainsworth, in loco, says: “ Heb. holinesse of holinesses; i.e., most holy, not only sanctified itself, but sanctifying the gifts that were offered to God upon it."

Verse 38

38. Now this is that which thou shalt offer. I have thought it well to give the first place among the sacrifices to that daily one which is called the continual sacrifice; for God would have two lambs offered to Him every morning and evening, that the people might perpetually exercise themselves in the recollection of the future reconciliation. But, although the sacrifices were constantly repeated under the Law, inasmuch as their offering had no efficacy in expiating sin, yet it must be observed that, as the priest entered once every year into the holy of holies with blood, so it was profitable that another kind of victim should be daily set before the people’s eyes, in order that they might reflect that they had constant need of being reconciled to God. Propitiation was, therefore, daily made with two lambs, that the Israelites, being reminded of their guilt and condemnation, from the beginning to the end of the day, might learn to fly to God’s mercy. The lamb chosen for this sacrifice was spotless and entire, for the mention of its age (one year) implies its perfection or entireness. It was offered with a cake made with oil, and a libation of wine; and doubtless the ancients were reminded by these symbols that it is not lawful to offer anything tasteless to God. True that God was not gratified by their sweet savor, neither did He desire to accustom the priests to delicacies that they might be epicures under color of religion; for the scent of wine cannot in itself be pleasing to God; but the object of these seasonings was that the people should not rest in the bare and empty figures, but should acknowledge that something better and more excellent underlay them. The savor of the wine and oil, then, was nothing else than the spiritual truth; that the people, for their part., might bring to the sacrifices faith and repentance. And assuredly the external ceremony without the reality would have been mere folly. Even heathen nations partially imitated this rite; whence those words of Horace, —

" Utque sacerdotis fugitivus, liba recuso :” (230) "And like a runaway from priests, cakes I refuse:"

whereby he implies that cakes were universally offered to idols. But this was a mere blind mimicry, for they looked no higher, but thought that their gods took delight, like, human beings, in sweet and delicate foods; whilst, as I have above hinted, God’s intention was very different; for, by the, external savor, He desired to arouse His people, so that, being affected by a serious feeling of repentance, and by pure faith, they should seek for the remission of their sins, not in these lambs which they saw slain, but in the victim promised to them. They called it the “continual” sacrifice, because God commanded it to be offered continually through all generations; but it appears from Daniel that it was temporary, for it ceased at the coming of Christ; for so speaks the angel: Christ

"shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the continual sacrifice, and the oblation ( minha) to cease.” (231) (Daniel 9:27.)

It is clear that he speaks of this kind of sacrifice. Hence we assuredly gather that by this sacrifice the minds of the people were directed to Christ. But if this was its use and object with the ancients, the profit of it now returns upon us, that we may know that whatever was then shewn under the figure was fulfilled in Christ. God promises that this sacrifice would be to Him “a savor of rest.” (232) We may not, therefore, doubt but that He has been altogether propitiated to us by the sacrifices of His only-begotten Son, and has remitted our sins. But although Christ was once offered, that by that one offering He might consecrate us for ever to God, yet by this daily sacrifice under the Law, we learn that by the benefit of His death pardon is always ready for us, as Paul says (233) that God continually reconciles Himself to the Church when He sets before it the sacrifice of Christ in the Gospel As to the word minha, (234) although it is derived from, נחה nachah, which means to offer, still we must consider it to be peculiarly applied to this oblation, which was a kind of appendix to the daily sacrifice. There are some, too, who restrict it to the evening sacrifice alone, but, when it is used in connection with victims, it is also extended generally to other offerings.

(230) Hor. Epis. 1 10:10.

(231) A. V., “The sacrifice and the oblation to cease."

(232) See Numbers 28:2. Margin, A. V. “a savor of my rest."

(233) The reference here is to 2 Corinthians 7:2, a misprint, I presume, for 2 Corinthians 6:2.

(234) מנחה, A. V., “meat offering.” In deriving this word from, נחה, C. follows S. M.; but later lexicographers observe that this verb means to go or lead, and not to offer; while they tell us that the root מנח has been preserved in Arabic, and signifies to give freely. — W.

Verse 42

42. At the door of the tabernacle (235) of the congregation. This passage shews us in what sense the word מועד mogned, is used, when it is employed in connection with the tabernacle. Some translate it “testimony:” others, “church:” others, “assembly,” ( conventum;) others, “appointment,” ( constitutum;) but its etymology is sufficiently shewn in this passage; for, when Moses gives the reason of its appellation, he uses the word יגד yagnad, from whence it is derived. What, then, is the tabernacle of the convention? God Himself answers, that it is the place which He has chosen and appointed unto His people, that they may there mutually come to agreement with each other. Some conceive its root to be, עדה gnadah, which is to make protestation as by a solemn rite; but since this is opposed to grammar, I will take what is certain. The word יעד yagnad, in this construction, means to contract or agree with another, or at least to meet for the transaction of mutual business; no word, therefore, has appeared to me more nearly equivalent to it than convention; for the fact that God invited them to familiar colloquy, was of the greatest weight in preserving the modest reverence of the faithful towards the priests. In the next verse He repeats to them, addressing them in the third person, that whosoever shall desire to be reckoned among the Israelites, should not turn away or wander elsewhere; for a law is laid down for all the children of Israel, that they should seek God there. Another confirmation is subjoined, i.e., that this place ought to be sanctified, because God will there magnificently display His glory. In fine, from the whole passage, it appears that God’s design was to keep the people bound to Him by the tie of the Levitical priesthood; yet we must observe that it is God alone who sanctifies both the place and the offerings, as well as the men themselves. Wherefore frivolous is the boast of those who arrogate more than God has conferred upon them. If we believe the Pope, in him is the holiness of holiness; yet, since he does not produce God’s authority for this, but vaunts himself of titles invented without foundation, we may safely laugh at his stupid impudence. But from this and similar passages, our doctrine is taken that Christ ought not to be estimated humanly, but according to His heavenly and divine power. Hence, too, is refuted the boast of the Popish priests that they offer Christ; for we must always ask them, By what authority? since God claims for Himself alone this right of sanctifying those who exercise the lawful priesthood.

(235) “ Conventionis :” of the convention. — Lat.

Verse 46

46. And they shall know that I am the Lord. In these words God signifies that He has not only been the deliverer of His people on one occasion, but with the object of presiding over their welfare, and of demonstrating practically that He dwells among them. He, moreover, appointed the sanctuary to be the symbol of His presence, and, as it were, its pledge; from whence He would have the rule of piety proceed, and be sought for by His worshippers.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 29". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/exodus-29.html. 1840-57.