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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 6

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And the Lord spake unto Moses. Moses now no longer treats of the means of expiating errors when the sinner is guilty through thoughtlessness; but he prescribes the mode of reconciliation, when any one shall have wilfully and designedly offended God. And this is well worthy of notice, lest those who may have been guilty of voluntary sin should doubt whether God will be propitiated towards them, provided they make application to the one sacrifice of Christ, in which consists the entire substance of the shadows of the Law. We must indeed beware lest we indulge ourselves under the cover of God’s clemency and readiness to pardon, — for the lust of the flesh provokes us to sin more than enough, without the addition of this snare, — nor is it less than a blasphemous insult to God to take occasion and license for sin, from the fact of His willingness to pardon. Let then the fear of God reign in us, which will repress our wicked desires like a rein, so that we should not wilfully fall into sin; and let His mercy rather engender the hatred and detestation of sin in our hearts, than incite us to audacity. Yet, at the same time, we must prudently take heed, lest if we imagine God to be inexorable to our voluntary sins, this excessive severity should overthrow the hope of salvation even in those who are the holiest. For even now-a-days there are some madmen who deny pardon to all who may have chanted to fall through the infirmity of the flesh, since to morose men this severity has its charms, and by this hallucination Novatus (271) greatly troubled the Church of old. But if we all honestly examine ourselves, it will plainly appear that those rigid censors, who affect the reputation of sanctity by immoderate asperity, are the grossest hypocrites. For if they would abandon their pride, and examine into their lives, which of them would find himself free from concupiscence? and whose conscience must not often smite him?

It is then monstrous blindness to exalt men, clothed in human flesh, to such a pitch of perfection, as that their conscience should not convict them of any fault or blame. And nothing is more pestilent than this imposture of the devil, excluding from the hope of pardon those who knowingly and willingly have sinned; since there is not one even of God’s best servants, in whom the corrupt affections of the flesh do not sometimes prevail; for although they be neither adulterers, nor thieves, nor murderers, yet there is none whom the last Commandment of the Law — “Thou shalt not covet,” — does not convict of sin. And assuredly the more advance one has made in endeavors after purity, the more he feels and acknowledges that he is still very far from reaching its goal. Therefore, unless we would purposely close the gate of salvation against us, we must hold that God is placable towards all, who trust that their sin is forgiven them by the sacrifice of Christ; for God is neither changed, nor is our condition worse than that of the fathers, whereas under the Law God appointed sacrifices for the expiation even of voluntary offenses. Hence it follows, that although we are convicted of voluntary sin, yet a remedy is set before us in the Gospel for procuring pardon: else would these ancient figures be more than delusive, which had no other object than to be testimonies and mirrors of the grace which was finally manifested to us in Christ. If there ought to be a mutual agreement between the external representation of grace under the Law, and the spiritual effect which Christ brought in, it plainly appears that sins are no less forgiven to us now, than to the ancient people; and thus that believers are reminded by this symbol, that they are not to despair of reconciliation, whilst they take no pleasure in their sins; but rather that they should boldly seek for pardon in the perpetual sacrifice which constantly renders God favorable to all the godly. And surely since repentance and faith are the sure pledges of God’s favor, it cannot be but that they should be received into His grace who are endued with these two gifts. Besides, the remission of sins is an inestimable treasure, which God has deposited in His Church, to be the peculiar blessing of His children; as the Confession of Faith declares, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the forgiveness of sins.” Nor would what Paul proclaims concerning the embassy entrusted to him be consistent, unless Christ’s satisfaction daily propitiated God towards believers. (2 Corinthians 5:20.)

The question here is not about some trifling offense, but about the crime of unfaithfulness, doubled by the addition of perjury. It is true that perfidy, or deceit, or violence, are first mentioned, to mark the grossness of the sin; but the guilt lies chiefly in the profanation of God’s name when the injury done to man is sheltered under a false oath. At any rate, he is admitted to pardon who has both iniquitously deceived his brother and has impiously abused God’s name. Hence it appears that God spares wretched sinners although they may have contaminated themselves by faithlessness, and have aggravated the crime committed against men by sacrilege, having insulted God through their perjury. But although Moses only enumerates transgressions of the Eighth Commandment, still he teaches, according to his usual manner, by synecdoche what must be done in the case of other offenses also. If, then, anything shall have been taken away by violence, or by fraud, and perjury has been superadded, he commands not only that satisfaction should be made to the neighbor who is defrauded, but that the price of atonement should also be offered to God. And the reason for this is expressly given, because not only has a mortal man been injured, but God has also been offended, who would have men conduct themselves justly and reverently towards each other; and then the crime is carried to extremity by the violation of God’s sacred name. The sacrifice is not indeed required from a thief or robber, or from the denier of a deposit, or the appropriator of anything lost, unless they have also perjured themselves; yet the words of Moses are not without their weight: if any one, by the denial of a deposit, or by theft, or robbery, shall have “committed a trespass against the Lord;” whereby he signifies, that whenever an injury is inflicted on men, God in their person is offended, because every transgression of the Law violates and perverts His justice.

We shall elsewhere see more about the restitution to be made in case of theft or robbery, especially when a person has been found guilty. This point, however, is alone referred to directly in this passage, viz., that whoever injures or inflicts a loss upon his brother, incurs guilt and condemnation before God; but if he proceeds to such a pitch of obstinacy, as to cover his crime by falsely appealing to the sacred name of God, he is polluted by double iniquity, so that compensation of the damage is not sufficient, but he must also make atonement to God. But we must understand this of those who, having escaped from the fear of punishment, voluntarily repent. The notion of some commentators who alter the copula into the disjunctive particle, and consider perjury to be one of the various sins referred to, I reject as foreign to the meaning of Moses. Others explain it thus: “If any shall have committed robbery or theft, or shall have sworn falsely about a thing lawful in itself:” but I do not see why the words should be wrested thus; besides, their mistake is refitted by the context itself, in which restitution is coupled with the sacrifices, and this could not be applicable unless perjury were conjoined also with fraud or violence. Nor does the disjunctive particle which follows help them; for after he has commanded what was taken away by force or deceit to be restored, because all the various points could not be separately expressed, it is added, “Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely,” not as if the guilt of perjury had been contracted in any other matters, but that he might cut away all means of subterfuge, which the repetition also confirms; for, after having introduced the crime of swearing falsely, he again, as if more clearly explaining what he had said, commands the restitution of the principal, together with the fifth part. But what is it that he commands to be restored except what the deceiver had kept back under cover of his oath? Of this a clearer exposition will be found under the Eighth Commandment.

A satisfaction is therefore enjoined to be made towards men together with the offering. Nor is it without reason that God commands them to make up the loss on the day when the offering is made, lest hypocrites should promise themselves impunity after having enriched themselves by the property of another. It was indeed permitted them to restore their property to others before they propitiated God by the sacrifice; but God will not have His altar defiled, which would be the case if thieves or robbers offered victims belonging to others. He would, therefore, have the hands of those who sacrifice cleansed from pollution. And surely those who offer a victim to God out of spoils unjustly obtained, in some measure implicate Him as a participator in their crime. Hence may profitable instruction be drawn, viz., that hypocrites busy themselves in vain in reconciling God to themselves, unless they honestly restore what they have unjustly taken. Meanwhile we must observe the distinction in the words of Moses between the satisfaction made to men and the sin-offering which propitiates God; for we gather from hence, as I have said, that they obtain not pardon from God who desire to remain enriched by their stolen property; and yet that God is not appeased by anything but sacrifice. Clear proof of this latter point may be gathered from the whole Law, which prescribes but one means of reconciling God, i.e., when the sinner makes atonement for himself by offering a victim. Hence the diabolical figment as to satisfactions is refuted (272) by which the Papists imagine that they are redeemed from God’s judgment; for although God shall have remitted the guilt, they still think that the liability to punishment remains, until the sinner shall have delivered himself by his own works. To this end they have invented works of supererogation, to be meritorious in redeeming from punishment; hence, too, purgatory has come into existence. But when you have studied all the writings of Moses, and diligently weighed whatsoever is revealed in the Law as to the means of appeasing God, you will find that the Jews were everywhere brought back to sacrifices. Now, it is certain that whatever is attributed to sacrifices is so much taken away from men’s own works. But if it were not God’s intention to down His ancient people to outward ceremonies, it follows that it is only by the one Mediator, through the outpouring of His blood, that men are absolved from all liability either to guilt or punishment, so as to be restored to favor by God.

(271) Novatus, a Carthaginian Presbyter, who in conjunction with Novatian a Presbyter of Rome, was the founder of the Novatian sect, a.d. 251, also called Cathari, or Aristeri. They “considered the genuine Church of Christ to be a society, where virtue and innocence reigned universally, and refused any longer to acknowledge those as its members who had even once degenerated into unrighteousness.” — Waddington’s Church Hist., vol. 1 pp. 165, 166.

C. mentions, Inst., book 4, ch. 1, sect. 23, (Calvin Society’s Translation, vol. 3, p. 35,) the similarity of some of the opinions held by the Anabaptists of his day to those of the Novatians.

(272) For a statement of this doctrine, see Canons of the Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Can. 30; Sess. 14. Caput. 8, 9, Can. 12, 13, 14, 15. See C.’s “ Antidote to the Canons of the Council of Trent,” (Calvin Society’s Edition,) p. 160.

Verse 7

1.Likewise this is the law. I have just confessed that I do not sufficiently understand how these two words, חטאה, chateah, and אשם , asham, differ from each other; and I have therefore followed the sense which is commonly received, and called them the sin and the trespass-offering, (hostiam pro peccato vel pro delicto.) Although in this second kind of offering he commands the same ceremony to be observed as in the former one, yet he mentions some things which he had before omitted, such as the sprinkling of blood around the altar, the offering of the fat, kidneys, etc., which had not been before expressed. The sum amounts to this, that they were to sacrifice in the same manner, and with the same rites for sin as for trespass, and make not the smallest alteration in the rule laid down for them.

Verse 9

9.Command Aaron and his sons. He more distinctly explains what might have appeared to be omitted; nor is it without reason that he carefully enters into these full details, for since God prefers obedience to all sacrifices, he was unwilling that anything should remain doubtful as to the external rites, which were not otherwise of great importance; that they might learn to observe precisely, and with the most exact care, whatever the Law commanded, and that they should not obtrude anything of themselves, inasmuch as the purity of the holy things was corrupted by the very smallest invention. He would, therefore, leave nothing to the people’s judgment, but directed them by a fixed rule even in the most trifling matters. As to the burnt-offerings, he commands that they should not be taken away from the altar till they were consumed by the fire; but after they were put on, he commands them to be burnt in a constant fire till the morrow. With this intent, he expressly says, that the fire should be kept alight on the altar all the night, since the sacrifices would not have been reduced to ashes without the application of fuel. Secondly, he commands the priest, clothed in the linen garment, and breeches, as he was wont to be in the performance of his sacred duties, to go to the altar, and to take away the ashes and put them by the side, or at some part of the altar; but when he shall have gone away from the altar, he bids him take off his holy garments, and carry the ashes out of the camp to a clean place. But what he had before briefly adverted to as to the supply of wood, he immediately declares more fully to be, lest the fire should go out. Again, he assigns to the priest the office of setting the wood in order every morning. But, because in the sacrifices (275) of prosperities the Law commanded the fat only to be burnt, Moses now adds, verse 12, that the fat was to be burnt on the same fire. It is worthy of particular observation, that he finally subjoins a precept as to so keeping up the fire that it may never go out.

The intent of this perpetuity was, that the offerings should be burnt with heavenly fire; for on the day that Aaron was consecrated, the sacrifice was reduced to ashes not by human means but miraculously, in token of approbation. True that God did not choose daily to exert this power; but He interposed the hand and labor of men in such a manner that the origin of the sacred fire should still be from heaven. The same thing afterwards happened at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, because that alteration of the divine decree demanded a sign (tesseram,) lest any should think that it was at the will of man that the splendor of the temple should outvie the tabernacle. Finally, the sacrifice of Elijah was graced by the same privilege when he restored the abolished legal service; and then also God upheld what He had ordained in His Law, in opposition to all corrupt and degenerate rites. Meanwhile, in order to prevent any adulterations, He chose to have the fire continually burning on the altar day and night, nor was it allowable to take it from elsewhere. There was, indeed, amongst the Persians (276) a perpetual fire, and at Rome also under the guardianship of the Vestal virgins; (277) and it may be, that in foolish mimicry they transferred to themselves the custom which they had heard of being observed by the Jews; for thus it is that, for the purpose of deceiving unbelievers, the devil often falsely makes a pretense of something divine, and imitates God just as an ape imitates man: but the purpose of God in rejecting strange fire was to retain the people in His own genuine ordinance prescribed by the Law, lest any inventions of men should insinuate themselves; for the prohibition of strange fire was tantamount to forbidding men to introduce anything of their own, or to add to the pure doctrine of the Law, or to decline from its rule. Meanwhile, since God had once testified, as if by stretching forth His hand from heaven (to receive them, (278)) that the sacrifices were acceptable to Him, believers were confirmed in their confidence of this by the pledge of the perpetual fire.

(275) Or peace-offerings, vide supra, p. 105.

(276) “The Persians regarded with reverence the sun and every kind of fire. The fire continually kept alive in their temples, was considered as sacred. It had been kindled from fire, which Zoroaster pretended to have brought down from heaven. It was fed by a particular kind of wood, and was supposed to be polluted even by the breath of those who approached it.” — Hill’s Essays on Ancient Greece, Essay 20. The sacred fire was kept alive even in their marches. — Curt, 3 3; Ammian Marcel., 23:6.

(277)Virgines Vestales in urbe custodiunto ignem loci publici sempiternum.” — Cicero de Legg. 2:8.

(278) Added from Fr.

Verse 14

14.And this is the Law of the meat-offering. We have already seen that there were various kinds of this offering; now, the cakes or wafers are omitted, (279) and mention is only made of uncooked flour, whereof God commands that the priest should burn on the altar as much as his hand could hold. But this law was necessary in order that believers might be fully assured that God was propitiated by the due offering of this part, and that none might complain because the greater portion remained with the priests. Lest, however, the dignity of the sacrifice should be impaired, it was only permitted to the priests to make unleavened bread of it, which they were to eat in the sanctuary, as we have seen elsewhere. The meat-offering of the priests is excepted, which I conceive to be for two reasons, — first, that the excellency and dignity of their gift, honored as it was by special privilege, might stimulate the priests to greater efforts of piety, so as not to exercise themselves in God’s service in a common and perfunctory manner; secondly, that they might be thus restrained from the affectation of offering it too frequently. For if it only cost them a little flour, a door was opened to vain ostentation; they would have never ceased offering their (280) minha, the profit of which returned to themselves; perhaps they might even have made a trade of it, as we see the Popish sacrificers entice the simple populace to profuse expenditure in offerings by the pomp of their fictitious devotion. Lest, therefore, they should cause their immoderate oblations to minister both to their vainglory and avarice, God willed that their meat-offering should be entirely consumed.

(279)Omettant les gasteux, et les tourtes, et bignets, tant cuits au four que frits;” omitting the cakes, and the tarts, and fritters, both cooked in the oven and fried. — Fr.

(280)Leurs belles parades.” — Fr.

Verse 16

16.And the remainder thereof. He repeats what we have seen just before, that the residue of those oblations, in which there was peculiar holiness, should belong to the priests; but upon condition that they should be eaten nowhere except in the sanctuary. A special precept is also given as to the minha, (meat-offering,) that it should not be made into leavened bread; for thus the meal, which had been already dedicated to God, would be changed into common food, which could not be done without profanation. Since, then, God admits the priests, as it were, to His own table, the dignity of their office is not a little heightened by this privilege; yet in such a manner as that by their liberty the reverence due to God’s service may not be impaired. Afterwards Moses confirms in general terms that right, which had been before assigned to them, that they should take what remained of the burnt-offerings, on condition that it should be eaten by males only, and in the sacred place; in order that God’s presence may not only act as a restraint on their luxury and intemperance, but, also instruct them in the sobriety due from His servants, and, in a word, accustom them to exceeding purity, whilst they reflect that they are separated from all others. At the end of Leviticus 6:18, some translate it in the neuter gender, “every thing that shall have touched them shall be holy:” but in this passage Moses seems to me to prescribe that none but the priests should touch the minha. It was said elsewhere of the altar and its vessels, that by virtue of their anointing they sanctified whatever was placed upon them; but we now see that ordinary men are prohibited from touching sacred things, that their sanctity may be inviolate. For we know that the sons of Aaron were anointed with this object, that they alone might be allowed to touch whatever was consecrated to God. Therefore the verb in the future tense is put for the imperative. So also it is soon afterwards said of the victims, Leviticus 6:27, “Whosoever shall touch the flesh thereof shall be holy:” (212) because Moses enacts this special law for the priests, that they alone should handle the sacrifices. Nor does what immediately follows contradict this, “when there is sprinkled of the blood thereof on any garment,” etc.; for he does not mean to say that the garments or any vessels would be consecrated by the mere touch; but it is an argument from the less to the greater; if it were not lawful to take a garment sprinkled with the blood, or the pots in which the flesh was dressed, out of the tabernacle, unless the garment were washed, or the pots broken or rinsed, much more were they to beware lest any of the ordinary people should meddle with it. For how shall a mortal man dare to lay a hand upon that holy thing (sanctitati) which could not even cleave to the garment; of a priest without atonement? The sum is that a thing so holy should not be mixed with unhallowed things.

(212) A. V., “Whatsoever,” following the V. and not LXX.

Verse 25

25.Speak unto Aaron. We everywhere see how carefully God provided that the people should have no doubts about anything. And assuredly true religion is distinguished from false imaginations by this peculiar mark, that God Himself prescribes what is to be done. Nor can certainty, though religion ought to be based upon it, be derived elsewhere than from His own mouth. Now, because there was a difference between burnt-offerings and sin-offerings, it would have been natural to kill them separately in different, places, unless the error had been anticipated; but all doubt, is removed when God assigns the same place to them both. Whence, too, we gather that one law suffices for the proper worship of God, if men are not wise in their own conceits, but depend on His mouth. For how came it to pass that, whilst these two kinds of oblations differed from each other, the rule respecting them was the same on this point, except because it so pleased God? This passage, therefore, sufficiently reminds us with how great sober-mindedness and modesty it becomes us to follow what is pointed out to us in God’s word. A reason, however, is at the same time added, which may invite reverence to be paid to the sin-offerings, when especial sanctity is attributed to them, which, according to the idiom of the Hebrew language, is called “holiness of holinesses.” Moreover, Moses begins to distinguish between חטאה, chateah, (281) and אשם, asham, which the Latins translate peccatum, and delictum, though he had before used them indifferently to express the same thing. What the difference was, I confess, I know not; I see the guesses of others, but nothing certain.

(281) A. V. , “The sin-offering and the trespass-offering.” Michaelis has affirmed that the former was a sacrifice for sins of commission, and the latter for sins of omission: but the Hebrew lexicographer, J. Simons, has observed that this distinction is by no means compatible with the text in all instances. Professor James Robertson, “Clavis Pentat.,” in a note on Leviticus 4:3, gives other opinions about the distinction, but expresses himself as most approving of that which supposes the first to be an offering for offenses against the First Table of the Decalogue: the second for those against the Second Table. — W.

Verse 30

30.And no sin-offering. The exception is repeated both with reference to the sacrifices mentioned in the fourth chapter, and also to the solemn sacrifice, whereby the priest and the people were reconciled every year: for private persons individually atoned for their sins at less expense, and only the greater altar, which stood in the court, was sprinkled with blood; but if the priest reconciled God to the whole people, or to himself, in order that the intercession might be more efficacious, he entered the sanctuary to pour out blood on the opposite side of the veil. God now again commands that such victims should be entirely burnt. This passage, then, is nothing but a confirmation of the others in which a like command is given. Hence the Apostle, in an apt allusion, infers that the distinction of meats is abolished; for he says that the minor altar, which under the Law was hidden, is now laid open to us, (Hebrews 13:10,) and therefore we no longer eat of the legal sacrifices; yea, forasmuch as our One Priest has brought His blood into the sanctuary, it only remains for us to go forth with Him without the camp.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 6". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/leviticus-6.html. 1840-57.
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