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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 1

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

Verses 1-17

The Burnt Offering

This is mentioned first as being the most general form of sacrifice. Its characteristic feature is the consumption of the entire animal by fire upon the altar, for which reason it is also described as the ’whole burnt offering’ (1 Samuel 7:9, cp. Psalms 51:19). The victims are oxen, sheep, or goats, for which, in the case of poor persons, turtle doves or young pigeons may be substituted (Leviticus 1:14). The animal must be a male, i.e. of the superior sex, and without blemish (Leviticus 1:3). The ritual of the sacrifice is as follows. (1) The animal is presented at the door of the tabernacle by the offerer, who solemnly dedicates it by laying both his hands upon its head (Leviticus 1:4). (2) It is then slaughtered, by the offerer himself it would appear (Leviticus 1:5). (3) The blood is caught in a bowl by the priest in attendance and flung round the altar (Leviticus 1:5). (4) The carcase is then skinned and divided, the entrails and legs washed with water, and the whole, with the exception of the skin, which falls to the priest (Leviticus 7:8), laid upon the altar and burned (Leviticus 1:6-9). In the case of pigeons, their small size and moderate quantity of blood necessitate some differences of detail (Leviticus 1:14-17).

The Burnt Offering, being wholly consumed upon the altar, signified the complete self-surrender of the offerer to God. It was the sacrifice of devotion, and formed therefore the main element of individual and collective worship. It was offered in daily service, morning and evening, on behalf of the entire community (the ’continual burnt offering’: see on Exodus 29:38-42).

1. Tabernacle of the congregation] RV ’tent of meeting’: see on Exodus 25:22.

2. Children of Israel] The instructions in Leviticus 1:1 to Leviticus 6:7 are for the laity. Those addressed to the priests follow in Leviticus 6:8 to Leviticus 7:38. Offering] RV ’oblation’: the general name for a sacrifice or votive offering. The Heb. word is Corban, which means a thing ’brought near’ or presented: see Mark 7:11 RV.

3. Male without blemish] What is offered to God must be the best of its kind: see on Leviticus 22:17-25 and on Exodus 12:5.

4. Put his hand upon the head] This signifies the surrender of the animal to God, and, though this is not so clear, the transference of the offerer’s guilt to it. In doing so he made a confession of his sins: cp. Leviticus 3:2. Make atonement] lit. ’put a covering over him,’ i.e. screen his unworthiness, protect him in the presence of the holiness of God.

5. He shall kill] The subject is the offerer. The blood represents the life, and is sprinkled upon the altar in token that the offerer yields his life to God, in expiation of his sins and in consecration to His service.

11. Northward] On the E. side was the place for ashes and refuse (Leviticus 1:16); on the W. stood the laver and the Holy of Holies; the ascent to the altar was on the S. side. The N. side, accordingly, was the most convenient place of slaughter.

17. A sweet savour] see on Exodus 29:18.

Verses 1-38

The Law Of Sacrifice

What is recorded here is not the institution of the rite of sacrifice, which is assumed to be already in existence (see Leviticus 1:2), but its regulation in matters of detail. It did not originate among the Israelites; it is a primitive and universal custom, based apparently upon a natural instinct, and found in one form or other in all parts of the world. Sacrifice is an act of worship, whereby the offerer either expresses his sense of the harmony and communion existing between himself and his god, or endeavours to restore these when by any means they have been destroyed. In all probability the former idea is the earlier, and the origin of sacrifice is to be found in the conception that the god of a tribe stands in a very close relationship to it, and in some respects has a common life and interests with it. In primitive times the god was conceived in a crude and material form. He was supposed to require food and drink (see on Leviticus 3:11). And, as eating and drinking together is a common token of good relationship, it may well be that sacrifice in its primitive form was regarded as a common meal partaken of by the Deity and his worshippers in good fellowship. Part of the offering was eaten by the latter, and the portion for the god was laid out, and left for him, in some place where he was supposed to dwell. As the god came to be regarded as a more or less ethereal being, means were taken to send his portion to him, as it were, by converting the solid parts into smoke by burning and pouring out the liquids, wine, blood of the sacrificial victim, etc., and letting them sink into the earth. Traces of this primitive idea of sacrifice, as a feast or common meal partaken of by the god and his worshippers, may be discovered among the Israelites in Bible times: e.g. in the sacrificial feast which followed the making of the covenant between Jehovah and His people in Exodus 24 (see on Exodus 24:9-11), and in the feast at the ’high place’ to which Saul went (1 Samuel 9:13) See also the note on the Shewbread (Leviticus 24:5-9) and on the Peace Offering (Leviticus 3); and see for a protest against this materialistic conception of God Psalms 50:8-15.

Alongside of this idea, and perhaps growing out of it, is that which regards the sacrifice as a gift made to the god to procure his favour or appease his vengeance. The worshipper makes his offering as before, by burning or by libation; but hopes, in consideration of its value, to procure protection from danger, deliverance from calamity, or success in enterprise. This was probably the meaning of the Burnt Offering in Leviticus 1, and of such human sacrifices as are referred to in Leviticus 18:21 (see note there and references).

It is probably not the earliest but the latest view of sacrifice which sees in it a means of expiating the sins of the offerer. When God has come to be regarded as a holy Being to whom all sin is offensive, the sinner feels himself to lie under His wrath and curse. He is conscious that the good relationship that ought to exist between himself and the Deity has been interrupted by his transgression, and seeks a means of restoring harmony. He finds this in the offering of sacrifice, which is said to have a ’covering’ efficacy: see on Leviticus 1:4. Wherein this atoning efficacy lay is not certain. Some have found it in the idea of substitution. The offerer feels that his life is forfeited by his sins, but believes that he is graciously permitted to substitute a victim, to which his sins are in some way transferred, and which dies in his stead: see on Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 16:8, Leviticus 16:20-22, and cp. Leviticus 17:11. Others have held that the efficacy of the atoning sacrifice consists in its being an expression of the offerer’s feelings and desires, his penitence, humility, and prayer for forgiveness, and that it is the latter that procures the remission of his sins. In the Levitical system the idea of expiation and atonement is specially emphasised in the Sin Offering and Guilt Offering (see Leviticus 4:1 to Leviticus 6:7 and notes there, and cp. what is said on the ritual of the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16).

In considering the various forms of sacrifice prescribed in Leviticus, it must be borne in mind that the book is a collection or codification of the law of ritual, and contains therefore regulations dating from different times. Of the five main types specified (see Intro. § 1, and the notes prefixed to Leviticus 1-4), the first three, the Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1), the Meal Offering (Leviticus 2), and the Peace Offering (Leviticus 3) are, generally speaking, sacrifices expressive of harmony between the worshipper and God; they are sacrifices of joy, of wholehearted devotion, of thanksgiving. The other forms of sacrifice, the Sin and Guilt Offerings (Leviticus 4 - Leviticus 6:7), are expressive of the sense of interrupted communion; they are sacrifices of atonement and expiation. In them the sense of sin comes more into prominence.

The Levitical system of sacrifice underlies the worship of the OT. Like all systems of rites and ceremonies it was liable to abuse. From the writings of the prophets we learn that a common fault of Israel was to place reliance on the performance of the outward ceremony, and to neglect the weightier matters of the law. It was not the least part of the work of the prophets to counteract the tendency to formalism, perfunctoriness, and externality, and to remind the people of Israel that ’to obey is better than sacrifice,’ that God ’desired mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,’ and that ’the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.’ At the same time, the entire nation could hardly ever be blind to the fact that ’gifts and sacrifices could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience.’ OT. forms of expiation accordingly have an anticipatory function, and find their fulfilment in the NT., wherein we are taught that Christ shed Bus blood ’for the remission of sins,’ and that He ’put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.’ He is the ’Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.’ In His death the whole endeavour of God’s saving love, represented and illustrated in the OT. sacrifices, reaches its attainment, and other sacrifices are superseded. They are rendered needless because the goodwill of God to men is fully expressed in the incarnation, life, sufferings, and death of His only begotten Son, and because Christ has offered to God the only real sacrifice for the sins of humanity, in His life of perfect obedience, crowned by His death of free and absolute submission to the will of God.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 1". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/leviticus-1.html. 1909.
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