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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 16

Hole's Old and New Testament CommentaryHole's Commentary

Verses 1-33

Lev_16:1 Lev_22:33 .

The opening words of chapter 16 carry us back to the early verses of Leviticus 10.0 where the sin of Nadab and Abihu is recorded. Certain consequences flowing from that sin are mentioned in the rest of the 10th chapter, but now we find that it furnished the occasion for the ritual of the annual day of atonement to be revealed. Verse Lev_16:29 of our chapter shows that it was the procedure to be observed on that day, and how it fitted into the succession of feasts that filled Israel's year we shall discover when we come to Lev_23:26-32 . For the moment we confine ourselves to what is contained in this chapter, viewing it in a twofold way.

In the first place then we have a type of the efficacy which in due time was to be found in the sacrificial "offering of the body of Jesus Christ once" ( Heb_10:10 ) In the type two animals were needed, and each subjected to different treatment, so as to set forth the two aspects of the death of Christ, which we must carefully distinguish. When, however, we turn to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and read the latter part of Leviticus 9.0 , and the early part of Leviticus 10.0 we find the word, " once" or "one " used no less than six times in regard to the anti-typical Sacrifice, which was one in its nature, and offered once for all. Just as two men Moses and Aaron, Apostle and Priest were needed to shadow forth the excellence and office of Christ personally, so two goats were needed to shadow forth the excellence of His work.

The details as to the two goats are given to us in verses Lev_16:7-10 and again in 15- The one upon which the Lord's lot fell had to be slain and its blood carried within the veil and sprinkled upon the mercy seat and seven times before it; Aaron being enveloped in a cloud of incense as he did this. Here then is a type of Christ entering into heaven itself, having obtained eternal redemption. He entered once in the fragrance of His own perfection, and "by His own blood," as Heb_9:12 tells us.

The blood sprinkled once only on the mercy seat sets forth the propitiatory value and perfection before God of the blood of Christ, the virtue of which lies in the infinitude and eternity of the Person who shed it. The cherubim were placed so that they gazed down upon the blood of the mercy seat, and that with complacency, since typically the claims of God on account of Israel's sins for the past year were satisfactorily met. While we have in the type that which is limited and temporal, we have in the Antitype that which is infinite and eternal.

The blood sprinkled seven times before the mercy seat sets forth rather the perfection of the sacrifice in its application to men. It is a glorious fact that the redemptive value of the work of Christ will be displayed in a variety of ways. We, who are the Church today, know its propitiatory value, for it has met the Divine claims against us. But the same thing will be true as to a restored Israel, and as to the nations who will be blessed in the millennial age, and as to the eternal state which lies beyond that. But whether we think of the blood sprinkled once or as sprinkled seven times, all indicates the propitiatory efficacy of the blood of Christ, that is, its value as meeting all the righteous claims of the throne of God.

The second goat was treated in an entirely different way. Upon the first goat the lot fell "for the Lord." The other was the "scapegoat," or more literally, a "goat for going away." Upon its head Aaron had to put his hands, and, confessing over it the sins and transgressions of the people, put them all upon its head, and then send him away into an uninhabited land by the hand of a fit man. Here we see in type not propitiation but substitution our side of the matter rather than God's. The actual word, "substitute," does not occur in the Bible, but what it signifies is there, and first comes clearly to light when we read that Abraham offered the ram " in the stead of his son" ( Gen_22:13 ). Here the sins of the people in their condemning weight were placed on the head of the goat instead of resting on themselves. Their sins were typically borne away by their substitute

When we turn to the Antitype the same truth meets us in the prediction of the prophet, "All we like sheep have gone astray; . . . and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" ( Isa_53:6 ). In this great verse two things strike us. First, it is "all we" and "us all." Who are the "we" and the "us"? The people of God who confess their sins and believe in the Substitute. Exactly so; for while the propitiatory work of Christ opens the door in righteousness to whosoever will, its substitutionary effect is confined to believers.

But further, it is the Lord Himself who laid our sins on the Substitute. Aaron doubtless confessed and laid on the head of the goat all that he knew and remembered of the transgressions of the people, but how could he confess them all? A well-known hymn may say, "I lay my sins on Jesus," but we may well be thankful that it is not left for us to do it. It has been accomplished by an act of God, and hence done perfectly.

But now, having briefly considered this chapter as a type, let us note in the second place the contrasts that it presents. The second verse indicates what is stated in Heb_9:8 , Heb_9:9 , that, "the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest." And further, verse Lev_16:4 shows that Aaron could no longer wear his garments " for glory and for beauty. " The failure of the priesthood had supervened, and consequently he had to go in wearing holy garments of plain linen. The holiest was closed to all, save this one man on this one special yearly occasion. How great then the contrast with our Lord, who has entered the true holiest, even heaven itself, in virtue of His own blood, and who is there in perpetuity and "crowned with glory and honour."

Again, Aaron had first to offer the bullock for himself and for his house, since he was, as Hebrews 5.1-5.3 points out, compassed with infirmity, and so had to offer for his own sins. Our High Priest is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" ( Heb_7:26 ).

And further, there was no finality about these proceedings. They were to take place every year on the tenth day of the month, though we believe there is no record in the rest of the Scriptures of its being observed in Israel. Year by year it was to remind the people of their sins and give them in type a settlement of those sins, and a cleansing of the sanctuary and their earthly religious system. Hence, reminded of their sins, the day was to be one of affliction and mourning and cessation of work. Thus Israel was shown that in the work of atonement their works had no place.

Once more, we may note the contrast stated in Hebrews 10.1-10.4 . In those sacrifices there was a remembrance of sins made every year, for it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. What happened was that in His forbearance God "passed over" (the words placed in the margin against Rom_3:25 ) the sins that were committed before Christ died. Hence the word used so frequently in the Old Testament is "atonement," the literal meaning of which is "covering." In the New Testament that word does not occur Rom_5:11 being a mistranslation. The rather, we read in Heb_10:18 , that, "where remission of these is there is no more offering for sin." The word for "remission" means "a sending away," and not merely a covering. So in the Old Testament we find a provisional covering of sin in the forbearance of God, awaiting the complete sending away of sin, which was only accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ.

Thus in Leviticus 16.0 we have a striking exemplification of the fact that the law had only a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, and that consequently these yearly sacrifices could not "make the comers thereunto perfect" ( Heb_10:1 ). Have we ever thanked God in adequate measure that we are in the favoured position of being once purged, and therefore having no more conscience of sins?

Chapter 17 gives us a kind of appendix to all this, guarding against abuses that might so easily creep in. If sacrifices were offered, the animal must be presented at the door of the tabernacle and not slain elsewhere in the camp or outside in the open field. The evil practice that this guarded against is revealed in verse Lev_16:7 , which verse also discloses that already the people had been infected with idolatry. We may remember how Stephen in his address Act_7:42 , Act_7:43 charged the people with idolatry even in the wilderness. This shows how much the prohibition of verses Lev_16:1-9 , was needed, and how it was disregarded by some, though perhaps not in a public way. Verse Lev_16:7 plainly says, "they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils;" and that "devils," or more correctly "demons," were the objects of such sacrifices is corroborated by Paul in 1Co_10:20 .

The rest of Leviticus 17.0 is occupied with regulations as to eating. The blood, neither of beast nor fowl, was to be eaten for it is the life of the creature, and life belongs to God. This enactment specially enforced for Israel what had been laid down in the time of Noah after the flood, as recorded in Gen_9:4 . So when the apostles and elders gave this injunction to Gentile believers, as recorded in Act_15:20 and 29, they were not imposing upon them what was merely an item of the law of Moses, but rather a prohibition that applies to mankind generally. We do well to observe it, though we do not need to observe the extreme scruples of the Jews, as is shown by the instruction of 1Co_10:25 .

An important fact is stated in verse Lev_16:11 . The life of the flesh is in the blood, but atonement was only made when the blood was shed and "upon the altar." The blood in the veins of the living animal effected nothing. Men, who profess to be Christian teachers, have taken the words, "the life of the flesh is in the blood," and have made the attempt to prove from them the idea that the blood of Christ means the life of Christ, and that it is really His wonderful life that works salvation. But they only utter this falsity by ignoring what this verse states. It was not the blood of the living animal that made atonement in the type. It was only the blood "upon the altar."

Three chapters follow 18, 19, and 20 which in many respects make terrible reading, but which, if read quietly as in the presence of God, are calculated to have a wholesome effect upon us. We are brought face to face, especially in chapters 18 and 20, with great depths of depravity, and it is a solemn and soul-searching thing to realize that we have within us that fallen, fleshly nature which is capable of such things as these. The sins prohibited have largely to do with the sexual nature of mankind, and it is today perfectly obvious that sins of that nature underlie a vast amount of the depravity and crime that fill every land.

The opening verses of Leviticus 18.0 show that the Lord was looking back on Egypt and forward to Canaan. Both these lands were in the grip of very degrading idolatry, and so Israel was exposed to the infection both before and after their wilderness journey. They were not to follow the evil but keep God's statutes and judgments, and so doing they should live in them. This is the statement that the Apostle quotes in Galations 3.12 . This doing was not "of faith," and obedience would ensure not heaven but continued life on earth.

Leviticus 19.0 contains sundry statutes, many of which were designed to regulate man's dealings with his neighbour, and at the same time display the gracious thought of God for those not easily able to protect themselves. In all this Jehovah asserted the glory of His name and manifested His own rights. This we see in such verses as 4, 12, 21, 26, 30, 37.

At the same time we delight in the care for the poor and the stranger manifested in verses Lev_16:9 and 10. If Boaz had not observed this regulation the Book of Ruth had never been written. Again the hired servant is protected in verse Lev_16:13 , and the deaf and blind in verse Lev_16:14 . Towards the end of the chapter honour is demanded for the aged, though such may be getting feeble, and the stranger is specially protected. All this displays the kindness of God.

In the middle of the chapter what we may call social sins and errors are prohibited. It is well for us to observe these things for they are not unknown in Christian circles. Especially would we desire to emphasize verse Lev_16:16 . Who can estimate the trouble and sorrow caused by talebearers among the saints of God? It is connected here with standing up against the "blood," or "life," of one's neighbours. To such a length will tale-bearing go. But notice the next verse. We are to rebuke our neighbour and not suffer sin upon him. The instruction evidently is: if you discern wrong or sin in your brother, go straight to him about it, and do not talk against him behind his back. If we Christians acted thus how much good would be gained and how much evil avoided!

Leviticus 20.0 opens with warnings against the very idolatry that Stephen had to accuse the people of, as we have seen, and verse Lev_16:6 adds to this a warning against the practice of spiritism, which, sad to say, has become so common in our day. Following this are verses that indicate that if we do not sanctify the Lord in our hearts we shall not observe the natural relations that God has ordained, whether parents, as in verse Lev_16:9 , or other relationships as in verses Lev_16:10-21 .

This thought is enforced in the closing verses of the chapter. The many statutes were given so that Israel might be utterly different from the corrupted nations into whose land they were going. The holiness of God is greatly stressed, and it is remarkable how many times the words "I am the Lord your God," are repeated. Verse Lev_16:27 certainly infers that the terrible evils forbidden were largely introduced among the nations by spiritist practices the trafficking with demons.

Leviticus 21.0 is occupied with special instructions for the priests, not only as to themselves but also as to their families. Special sanctity became such in their habits and their persons. Reading this chapter we perceive how serious was the sin of Eli in not restraining his sons in their evil ways. Even more stringent were the rules for the high priest himself, as seen in verses Lev_16:10-15 . So when Caiaphas rent his clothes, as recorded in Mat_26:65 , he definitely broke the commandment of verse Lev_16:10 . It has been asserted by some who have investigated the matter, that every possible rule of justice, both divine and human, was broken in the condemnation of our Lord

What is ordained in verses Lev_16:16-24 , is very striking. Any man of the priestly family, who was deformed or blemished, was debarred from going into the sanctuary and exercising his functions, but he was not to be deprived of priestly food. He should eat "the bread of his God," though he might not offer "the bread of his God." Today all true Christians are priests, and we cannot but think that something analogous may be seen. There may be those who, by reason of some grievous defect which is public, are debarred from public activity, whether in worship or in service, yet they are as much entitled to have their part in that which as spiritual food is the life of the priestly family, as the most unblemished and favoured of their brethren.

Leviticus 22.0 continues the same strain for the first 16 verses. The most rigid care had to be taken lest uncleanness of any sort was brought into contact with the holy things of God. All these regulations were clearly intended to impress the children of Israel with their own natural liability to that which was defiling in contrast with the essential holiness of God. We too need to be impressed with this, though the uncleanness we have to fear today is that which springs from within rather than from without. In our Lord's time the Pharisees and others were misusing instructions such as these, treating such ceremonial observances as if they were the only thing that mattered. Hence the Lord's word that, "those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man" ( Mat_15:18 ).

From verse Lev_16:17 to the end of the chapter we have regulations as to offerings which might be brought by the ordinary Israelite or even by a stranger. Here the same intention is seen Every offerer had to know the holiness of Jehovah to whom the offering was made, and see that no blemish of any kind marked the offering, and that it was not some very small and feeble creature just born. All was to be done as God ordained. They were hallowed, and thus set apart, by Jehovah; and He was to be hallowed in the midst of them.

When we turn to the Book of Malachi, we at once see that the remnant of the people who had returned to the land, were violating these instructions in outrageous fashion. The priests were offering "polluted bread" on the altar of the Lord. They were offering "the blind for sacrifice," and also "the lame and sick." They were challenged to offer such things to the governor and see what he would say. Offered to him it would be an impertinence; offered to God it was a shameful sin. They were treating the statutes of our chapter as though they were null and void. Hence the reminder that the "law of Moses . . . with the statutes and judgments" ( Mal_4:4 ), had not lost any of its force though a thousand years had passed since it was given. What God ordains at the beginning of a dispensation stands unaltered and authoritative at the end of it.

When we turn from the type to the Antitype we find as ever that which is perfect and in full agreement with God's thoughts and demands. We have only to quote one verse in connection with that which has been before us. We know that we have been redeemed "with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot " ( 1Pe_1:19 ).

Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Leviticus 16". "Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbh/leviticus-16.html. 1947.
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