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Wednesday, July 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 5

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And if a soul sin. The three kinds of offense, to which Moses refers in the beginning of the chapter, seem to differ much from each other; for the first, when a person concealed a matter which he knew, could not arise from error, yet I include this concealment of which he treats under the head of error, by supposing it to have been when a person should be induced by shame or fear to connive at any crime or offense respecting which he might be interrogated, and so, without any design of perjuring himself, but by blinding himself, should withhold what he would have said, if he had duly examined the matter. Yet these words must be more narrowly discussed, respecting the meaning of which men are not well agreed. Some think that the word אלה, (266) alah, is put for “execration,” as though it were said, if any shall have heard a misdoing or detestable crime worthy of execration; yet their gloss is contradicted by what immediately follows, “Whether he hath seen or known it.” Others indeed interpret it to mean an oath, yet improperly confine it to perjury, as if Moses stated that he was guilty who had heard a man perjuring himself, and had not opposed him, but had rather covered the perjury by his own connivance or silence. I rather subscribe, then, to their opinion who expound it as meaning “adjuration;” for the words will thus combine very well, “If any one, being summoned as a witness, shall have heard the voice of adjuration, whereby he shall be required in God’s name to answer truly as to the matter proposed, and from favor, or good nature, or any other false pretext, as if he were enveloped in a cloud of error, shall conceal what, if he had paid diligent attention, he well knew, he shall be guilty.” We must then here render the disjunctive particle as the conditional. Literally it is, “If any shall have heard the voice of adjuration, and (is) himself a witness.” But wherefore should he say, “if he hath been a witness,” and then add, “or have known it,” as if he referred to different things? What I have said squares very well, that a person becomes himself guilty, who, when summoned as a witness, does not answer to a matter of which he is cognizant. Now, what does hearing the voice of adjuration mean, unless you understand that he is adjured by the mouth of a judge? We must observe, too, that the three kinds of sin which are first enumerated have a connection with each other, since they speak of sinners who are infected by the uncleanness of others; for, after Moses had commanded generally that offenses committed in error should be expiated, he now adds what had not been stated explicitly enough, that those also required atonement who had been polluted by the defilements of others. Thus this first will accord very well with the other two, i.e., that if any should make himself an accomplice in the offense of another, by indirect perjury, he should be unclean until he had offered a propitiation; for this is what the expression “bear his iniquity” conveys; as if Moses had said that he contracts guilt who shall have concealed a crime, respecting which he had been interrogated as a witness.

(266) It was in S. M. that C. found it mentioned that some took אלה to mean execration, blasphemy, or perjury; but S. M. himself held it to be equivalent to שבועה, adjuration, and explains the passage as meaning, “If any person shall be adjured, and will not declare the truth, etc.” — W

Verse 2

2.Or if a soul touch any unclean thing. This precept seems not only to be superfluous but also absurd; for Moses had already shewn sufficiently how uncleanness contracted by touching a dead body, or any other unclean thing, was to be purged, and had prescribed an easy and inexpensive mode of purification. This repetition appears, therefore, to be useless. But to impose a heavier punishment on an offense which is extenuated by the pretext of error, than where there is no allusion to error, is unjust. But we must remember that not only is the uncleanness itself here punished, but; the inadvertence, from whence it arose that he who was polluted omitted the purification. For it may be that those who thus lie torpid in their sins pollute for a season the service of God. No wonder, then, that a heavier punishment is inflicted, where error, springing from supine and gross security, begets still more sins, that thus believers may be aroused to greater vigilance. Let the reader, therefore, recollect that the offense which is now adverted to did not consist in the mere touching of a dead body, but in the thoughtlessness itself; for if all would diligently meditate on the Law of God, forgetfulness would not so easily steal over them, whereby the distinction between right and wrong is lost. The same is the reason for the following ordinance, where Moses subjects to the same punishment any one who shall have touched an unclean or defiled man: thus the very contact of a woman at a particular period produces pollution.

Verse 4

4.Or if a soul shall swear. The Gulf is also ascribed to error and ignorance, when a person does inconsiderately what he has promised not to do; for the oath is not in that case violated, which would be criminal; (267) but in this very carelessness there is enough of wrong, because sound religion would renew the recollection of the vow. Consequently, where no anxiety (to fulfill it) is shewn, there is no serious desire to do so. But this commandment was necessary, because it might often happen that men who had pledged their faith in a vow, and had broken it in thoughtlessness, would deem themselves released from every, and would in future give themselves up to indulgence, whereas they who arrive at such a pitch of licentiousness, harden themselves more and more, until at length they throw off all reverence for God. God would therefore have vows kept faithfully, lest those who despised them should thus rush into impiety. If then any one had thoughtlessly broken faith, he is commanded to make atonement to God; not on account of his levity, as some think, as if he had rashly promised what he might not, but on account of his neglect, because he had not given diligence to remember the vow at the proper time. Now if the Papists stupidly wrest this text after their custom, in order to establish the obligation of all kinds of vows, their confutation is easy; viz., that God requires this stedfastness only with respect to lawful vows duly made. We have already understood from the teaching of Moses, what is the rule of pious vow-making; whence we gather, that those which profane God’s name are by no means to be kept; for if we set out with doing wrong, obstinacy in it is doubly wicked. In this passage, therefore, “to do evil” is not to perform any improper action, but to undertake something which would otherwise be disagreeable and burdensome to the flesh; such as to diminish domestic expenditure, or to deprive one’s self of luxuries, or to determine upon abstinence from something which would gratify or profit us.

(267)Ce qui seroit repute a crime enorme;” which would be accounted an enormous crime. —Fr.

Verse 6

6.And he shall bring his trespass-offering. He proceeds with what we have already been considering, as to the removal of guilt by sacrifice; but he begins to make a distinction between the poor and the rich, which distinction applies also to what has gone before; hence it appears that the order is not exactly observed by Moses, since the cases which he inserts seem to interrupt the thread of his discourse; yet the fact remains clear, that whosoever have fallen through error are unclean until they have offered an atonement. But what had been before omitted is here inserted, that the poor and needy are not to be pressed beyond the extent of their means; nay, the different grades of offering are appointed, so that he to whom it was not convenient to offer two turtle-doves, or pigeons, might be quit for a small measure of flour. Hence we infer that God’s only design was to shew the one true means of reconciliation to the people, that they might have recourse to the Mediator and His sacrifice; for the poor are here commanded to offer either two turtle-doves, or a small quantity of meal, which would propitiate God towards them, just as much as would the victim required of the rich. The citation, (268) however, which our interpreters make from the poet is a lame one; viz., “Whoever shall have brought integrity of mind into the temples, makes a sacrifice of corn;” since this blind man did not see what was the object of sacrifices, and thus despised all kinds of propitiations, as if purity and innocency alone recommended men to God. We must remember, then, that the victims of themselves were of no importance, and yet that the ancient people were exercised in these ceremonies, to teach them that God can only be appeased by the payment of a ransom.

(268)Un poete payen a dit, ‘que celuy qui offrira un grain d’encens, ou un espi de ble en integritd de coeur, appaisera Dieu autant que s’il tuoit une centaine de bestes.’ Or, Il n’a parle qu’a demi, et m’esbahi comment les Chrestiens osent alleguer ceste sentence comme vraye;” a heathen poet has said, that he who shall offer a grain of incense, or an ear of corn in integrity of heart, will appease God as much as if he had killed a hundred beasts. Now he only spoke by halves; and I am astonished how Christians dare to allege this sentence, as if it were true. — Fr.

The reference is probably to Persius, Sat 2, in finem

" Composttum jus, fasque animi, sanctosque recessus
Mentis, et incoctum generoso pectus honesto,
Hoc cedo ut admoveam templis,
etfarre litabo."

Horace has nearly the same idea, Od. 3:23, 17-20 —

" Immunis aram si tetigit manus,
Non sumptuosa blandior hostia
Mollivit aversos Penates
Farre pio, et saliente mica

Verse 14

14.And the Lord spake unto Moses. The difference of the victim clearly shews, that another kind of offense is here referred to; for God now requires a male instead of a female. Before, He had been contented with an ewe lamb or a female kid; but inasmuch as a ram is more valuable, it follows that punishment is now awarded to a heavier offense. The heinousness of the fault depends upon the quality of the act; i.e., when a person shall have wronged not a mortal man merely, but God Himself, nor shall have transgressed only one of the Commandments of the first Table, but shall not have paid a vow, or shall have offered a defective victim, or shall have defrauded God of His right in any oblation; since this is what is meant by the clause “in the holy things of the Lord.” In this expression Moses includes both vows voluntarily made, as well as the legitimate oblations, such as tithes, first-fruits, the offering of the first-born; since in all these things the Israelites were strictly charged to deal most faithfully with God. If by chance avarice had blinded any one, so that in pursuit of personal gain he paid God less than he ought, his recklessness justly received a heavier punishment. Yet it must be understood, that the offense here referred to is one in which no fraud or evil deceit had place; for if any one had designedly and craftily appropriated what was sacred, the impiety of this sacrilege was not so easily expiated. But inasmuch as it often happens that the covetous and grasping are too ready to spare themselves, God enjoins a sacrifice in such a case, where private advantage has through thoughtlessness prevailed over religious feeling. The words, “with thy estimation,” some refer to Moses, others to the priest; but I prefer taking it passively for the estimation prescribed by God; which is called the estimation of the people, because they were bound to acquiesce in the Law appointed by Him, and not arbitrarily to alter the value. Moses estimates the ram at two shekels of the sanctuary, equivalent to four common shekels, (269) amounting in French money to about twenty-eight sols, (asses.)

(269)Ainsi revienent a vingt huit sols de roy, ou environ;” thus they amount to twenty-eight sols of the king, or thereabouts. — Fr.Vide note, vol. 1 p. 483.

Verse 16

16.And he shall make amends for the harm. Hence it more plainly appears, as I have recently stated, that they, who withheld anything of God’s full right, are said to have sinned “in the holy thing;” since they are commanded to make restitution with the addition of a fifth part. Yet let my readers remember, that those who are compelled to make restitution, are not such as have fraudulently embezzled the sacred things, but those who under some vain pretext have flattered themselves for a time, so as to be unaffected by any conviction of their fault. The object therefore of this sacrifice, was to arouse the people to attention, so that postponing their private advantage, they should freely pay what was due to God. (270) Theirs is but foolish trifling who think that Moses, having before spoken of sins (peccata ), now prescribes the mode of making expiation for delinquencies (delicta ), since he uses the same words indifferently on all occasions, and also designates all the victims by the same name. But to make out a delinquency to be greater than a sin is a piece of gross ignorance; nor does it need a long refutation, since it manifestly appears that in this passage a special rule is delivered as to the means of obtaining pardon when a person through thoughtlessness has not reflected that he has omitted to discharge in full either his vows or oblations.

(270) This is the gloss of Bonfrerius in Poole’s Synopsis.

Verse 17

17.And if soul sin. Although the expressions seem to be general, as if he briefly confirmed what he had said before, yet it is necessary to connect them with the last sentence, or at least to restrict them to certain cases. The former exposition appears to me to be the right one; nor is there any absurdity in the repetition, to cut off all occasion for subterfuge from the disobedient. Still I do not deny that the reason which is added at the end, applies to all the modes of expiation of which he has been treating; viz., that although he may pretend ignorance who has fallen into sin inconsiderately, or who has not intentionally sinned, or who through forgetfulness has contracted any defilement, still he is guilty before God until he makes reconciliation. When therefore he again commands that a ram without blemish, and of full value should be offered, he once more shews how they must purge themselves who have been too stingy in their oblations. Immediately after he adds a reason common to all the other errors; as if he had said, that they are not absolved before God who offer the excuse of ignorance as a cover for their fault.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/leviticus-5.html. 1840-57.
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