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Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

- Leviticus

by Charles John Ellicott


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I. Name and Signification.—The name Leviticus, by which the third book is called, is taken from the Greek Version (LXX) of the Old Testament. It properly denotes the Levitical book, or the volume treating on Levitical matters. In Hebrew it is called the Book Vayikra” or simply “Vayikra,” from the word with which it commences, and which denotes and he called. It is by this name that the Book is always quoted in Jewish writings. In the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament, Leviticus is not only always a book by itself marked off from the rest both at the beginning and at the end by the space of four vacant lines, but like the other four books of the Pentateuch it begins a new column, whilst the other books of the Old Testament, though having the same vacant space to separate them from each other, do not begin at the top of a new column.

II. Division.—In accordance with the practice which obtained from time immemorial, the Book is divided, both in the most ancient MSS. and in the earliest printed editions of the Hebrew Scriptures, into the following ten sections: —


Leviticus 1:1 to Leviticus 5:19.


Leviticus 6:1 to Leviticus 8:36.


Leviticus 9:1 to Leviticus 11:47.


Leviticus 12:1 to Leviticus 13:59.


Leviticus 14:1 to Leviticus 15:33.


Leviticus 16:1 to Leviticus 18:30.


Leviticus 19:1 to Leviticus 20:27.


Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 24:23.


Leviticus 25:1 to Leviticus 26:2.


Leviticus 26:3 to Leviticus 27:34.

These are ten of the fifty-four sections into which the whole Pentateuch is divided in order to furnish a lesson for each Sabbath of those years which, according to Jewish chronology, have fifty-four Sabbaths, so that the whole Law of Moses should be read through once every year. This division and the reading through of the Law in the manner here indicated are observed by the Jews to this day, and it is to these weekly lessons, in conjunction with portions from the Prophets, that reference is made in the New Testament (Acts 13:15, &c.). Besides this division, which is designed for the weekly lessons, the Book of Leviticus is also divided into twenty-three larger sections, which correspond more nearly to our modern chapters, and which are as follows:—


Leviticus 1:1 to Leviticus 3:17.


Leviticus 4:1 to Leviticus 6:11.


Leviticus 6:12 to Leviticus 7:38.


Leviticus 8:1 to Leviticus 10:7.


Leviticus 10:8-20.


Leviticus 11:1-47.


Leviticus 12:1 to Leviticus 13:28.


Leviticus 13:29-59.


Leviticus 14:1-32.


Leviticus 14:33-57.


Leviticus 15:1-24.


Leviticus 15:25 to Leviticus 16:34


Leviticus 17:1-16.


Leviticus 18:1-30.


Leviticus 19:1-22.


Leviticus 19:23 to Leviticus 20:27.


Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 22:16.


Leviticus 22:17 to Leviticus 23:14.


Leviticus 23:15 to Leviticus 25:13.


Leviticus 25:14-38.


Leviticus 25:39 to Leviticus 26:2.


Leviticus 26:3-46.


Leviticus 27:1-34.

These sections are called Sedarim,, and are indicated in all the correct manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures.[114]

[114] See Ginsburg, The Massorah, Vol. 2, Letter Samech, § 77, p. 330.

There is a third division, or rather subdivision, of this Book, which consists of 98 smaller sections or paragraphs, 52 of which are open sections and 46 closed sections. These minor sections are so minutely indicated by a vacant space, either at the beginning or end of the line, and are so sacredly guarded that a manuscript of the Pentateuch in which one of the open sections has, by mistake, been made into a closed section, or vice versa, is ritually illegal.[115]

[115] For a complete list of these sections see Ginsburg, The Massorah, Vol. 2, Letter Pè, § 407, p. 482.

III. Design and Contents.—The design of the Book has been aptly described as “the spiritual statute-book of Israel as the congregation of God.” By the laws therein enacted, God designed to train Israel as His peculiar people, to keep them from defilements, and to sanctify them for holy fellowship with their covenant Jehovah, who has deigned to erect His sanctuary in their midst. To effect this purpose enactments are in the first place laid down to regulate the access of the Israelites to the Divine Being, as follows: The sacrifices which obtained from time immemorial are more minutely defined and systematised (Leviticus 1:1 to Leviticus 7:38); the priesthood whose duty it is to offer up these sacrifices are consecrated and installed (Leviticus 8:1 to Leviticus 10:20); the uncleanness of animals (Leviticus 11:1-47), and the impurities of men (Leviticus 12:1 to Leviticus 15:33), which cause defilement and debar access to God, are described; and, finally, the Day of Atonement is instituted, which is to expiate at the end of every year the neglect of any of the above-named regulations (Leviticus 16:1-34), thus appropriately concluding the enactments which are designed to fit God’s people for fellowship with Him. This group of laws is followed by sundry enactments which have for their object the holiness of the people in their every-day life, in their domestic relations, and in their! intercourse with one another (Leviticus 17:1 to Leviticus 20:27); the holiness of the priesthood, and their purity in their sacred ministrations (Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 22:33); the sanctification of the festivals (Leviticus 23:1 to Leviticus 24:12) and of the whole land (Leviticus 25:1 to Leviticus 26:2); with directions about collateral questions arising from this part of legislation. The logical sequence of these different regulations, however, is not always apparent.

IV. Authorship.—As I do not believe that the Book of Leviticus, in its present form, was written by Moses, and as it is against the plan of this commentary to enter at this place into a discussion on this question, which has nothing whatever to do with the inspiration of the Book, I thought that I should best serve the student of Holy Writ by showing him how the laws here enacted were administered during the second Temple. I have therefore endeavoured to depict the Temple service in the time of Christ as conducted according to the laws laid down in the Book before us.

V. Literature.—The most important aids are (1) the Septuagint, an English translation of which has been published by Bagster. (2) The two Chaldee versions of the Pentateuch, one under the name of Onkelos, and the other under the name of Jonathan b. Uzziel, both of which have been translated into English, but not altogether satisfactorily, by Etheridge (Longman, 1865). The latter of the two is especially important, since, though in its present form it is a late compilation, it embodies the ancient development of the Mosaic Law as administered during the second Temple. (3) The Midrach Rabboth, which is a traditional explanation of the Mosaic Law, containing many expositions which obtained in the time of Christ, A German translation of this work by Dr. Wünsche has been published at Leipzig. Modern commentaries are too well known to require description.


THE name Leviticus, that is, the Levitical book, as this portion of the Pentateuch is called in our Bibles, is taken from the Greek (LXX.) Version of the Old Testament, where it is so called because it treats of the sacrificial ordinances and the services performed by the Levites.

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