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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Leviticus 3

Verse 1

1. And if his oblation be a sacrifice. He now proceeds to a different class, viz., to the sacrifices, which were testimonies of gratitude in celebration of God’s blessings; part of which was burnt with fire, part was claimed by the priests, and the rest remained to the offerers themselves. As to the word שלמים, shelomim, I have briefly given my opinion elsewhere; (253) the common translation of it is certainly unsuitable, “the sacrifices of peace-offerings:” and the statement of others is far-fetched, that they are called “sacrifices of perfections,” because it was unlawful for the unclean to touch them. Since, however, the Hebrews include in the word “peace,” safety, and all good success, I have thought that its plural number might aptly be translated “prosperities:” on which account, David calls the libation which used to be made in this sacrifice, “the cup of salvations:” (Psalms 116:13,) nor do I doubt but that by this outward sign he designates thanksgiving. I admit indeed that this sacrifice was not only offered in acknowledgment of gratitude, but also when they sought of God peace and good success; yet still the epithet will always admirably suit it, because they confessed by it that God was the author of all good things, so as to attribute all their prosperity to Him. First, however, he commands all the sacrifices to be brought to the tabernacle, which is what he means by “the face of God;” (254) else would altars have been everywhere erected in their cities and villages, and by this license God’s service would have been mangled, and religion undermined. Wherefore, in order to keep the people in the unity of the faith, he bids them all be content with a single altar. But He would be worshipped and honored in that place, which He had dedicated to Himself, lest they should be scattered abroad after strange gods; and then He prescribes the mode of offering, whether the victim were of the herd or the flock. That such exact injunctions should be given as to trifles, might seem to be an unnecessary particularity, and even a superfluous repetition, inasmuch as the same thing is often inculcated, in precisely similar words: if it were not that this earnestness reminded the people that something higher was enwrapped in the ceremonies, whilst it restrained them from allowing themselves wantonly to add or change the smallest point. This very scrupulous observance, then, ought to have led them by the hand, as it were, to the things signified; so that under the external image the spiritual truth might meet their eyes; secondly, it ought to have held them bound, as it were, to the word of God, lest they should do anything in sacred matters from the dictates of their own reason. But now, since the use of sacrifices has ceased, we are first taught that God’s blessings are profaned, unless we diligently exercise ourselves in manifesting our religion, as His infinite and constant liberality towards us deserves; secondly, that unless our devotion is unmixed and paid to Him alone, we impiously defraud Him of His right; thirdly, that as we pray in Christ’s name, so our vows are to be paid, and our thanksgivings to be rendered, through His hand; and fourthly, that God’s loving-kindness is not to be celebrated in a negligent or perfunctory manner, but that we must labor to do so, as in a matter of the utmost importance, with no common zeal and attention.

(253) Vide supra , p. 149, and note.

(254) A.V., “before the Lord."

Verse 16

16. And the priest shall burn them. He justly assigns to the priest the main duties of sacrificing, i.e., to sprinkle the blood, and to cast the fat into the fire, since he alone was competent to make atonement. Moreover, although there is a harsh metaphor contained in the word “food,” yet it admirably expresses what the Holy Spirit would teach, that the legal service pleased God, just as the food which we eat is pleasing to us; whilst it at the same time marks God’s familiar communion with His people, as if He sat at the same table with them. It is indeed sure that God, who breathes life into all, and borrows nothing from any, does not want food; but His incomparable kindness could not be better shewn forth, than by deigning to make Himself, as it were, the messmate of His worshippers. In the same figure of speech the ingratitude of the people is reproved by Malachi, when he says,

"The table of the Lord is polluted, and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible,” (Malachi 1:12;)

not because God delighted in the fat of fed beasts, or in bread; but because it was a gross and intolerable act of impiety to neglect this extraordinary pledge of His grace. This similitude, however, ought to be referred to the truth it represents, viz., that the exercise of faith, and the proofs of our piety, are no less pleasing to God than as if He should be feasted delicately and sumptuously; wherefore we ought to take the greater care not to defraud Him of the things He takes delight in. It is not very clear to me why God claims for Himself the fat in all the sacrifices, and commands it to be burnt, unless that in this way He might accustom His servants to temperance. We have already seen that the fat is certainly accounted the most delicate part, where Moses applies this word to corn and wine; and this also is plain from Psalms 63:5, “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness.” And when God declares (Isaiah 1:11,) that He does not desire “the fat,” He signifies that He does not require for His own sake the choicest part of animals, but that the Israelites might remember that they should partake soberly of all their food, as if they had consecrated the best and first-fruits of it. If any one desire a more distinct exposition of this, the offering of the fat taught them to pay more honor to the service of God; and secondly, it instructed them in abstinence. The allegories, suited only to tickle men’s ears, must be sought from others. (255) Isychius, after having pretended that the fat represented spiritual affections, soon afterwards metamorphoses it into gross appetites. Others suppose that Christ was designed by it. Others understand by it that the grossness or fatness of our flesh must be refined by the fire of the Spirit, that it may be mortified unto God. This simple meaning satisfies me, that, when the Law permitted them to eat the sacred meats, an exception was added, which left the best portion in God’s hands; secondly, that the part which might have been most attractive to the greedy, was consumed in the fire as a restraint upon their gluttony. The eating of blood is here prohibited, as also elsewhere, because it was consecrated to God in order to make expiation; but there was another and higher reason why it was forbidden, of which mention was made in Genesis 9:0, and which must be again handled in our exposition of the Sixth Commandment.

(255) Abundance of these may be found collected by Lorinus. Bonar says, “Observe that all these portions of the animal are the richest; and also deep-seated, near the heart. In an offering of thanks and fellowship, nothing was more appropriate than to enjoin that the pieces presented should be those seated deep within.” The marginal deduction of Corn. a Lapide, is not very dissimilar: “ Mystice, adeps est devotio et intentio, quae in omni opere ad Deum est dirigenda."

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/leviticus-3.html. 1840-57.