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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Leviticus 4

Verse 1

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 2

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them:

If a soul shall sin through ignorance - a soul-an individual. All sins may be considered, in a certain sense, as committed "through ignorance," error, or misapprehension of one's true interests. The sins, however, referred to in this law were unintentional violations of the ceremonial laws, breaches made through haste, or inadvertency of some negative precepts, which, if done knowingly and willfully, would have involved a capital punishment.

Do against any of them. To bring out the meaning, it is necessary to supply, 'he shall bring a sin offering.' Such sins of ignorance must have been of rare, or at least, of only occasional occurrence. [ ChaTaa't (H2403)] "sin offering" is distinguished from [ 'aashaam (H817)] trespass offering in the statutes which describe the occasion and particularize, in minute details, the formalities with which they were to be respectively presented. (See the notes at Leviticus 7:1-10: cf. Leviticus 14:12; Leviticus 14:19; Numbers 6:12; Numbers 6:14.)

Verse 3

If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the LORD for a sin offering.

If the priest that is anointed do sin, [ hakoheen (H3548) hamaashiyach (H4899)] - the priest the anointed (see the note at Leviticus 8:12); an expression which occurs three times in this chapter, and frequently elsewhere in reference to that dignified functionary (cf. Leviticus 5:16; Leviticus 16:32; Exodus 40:13). [But this word never does denote the priestly office, except when koheen (H3548) is added.] The high priest, in whom, considering his character as typical mediator, and his exalted office, the people had the deepest interest, and whose transgression of any part of the divine law, therefore, whether done unconsciously or heedlessly, was a very serious offence, both as regarded himself individually and the influence of his example. He is the person principally meant, though the common order of the priesthood was included.

Do sin according to the sin of the people - i:e., bring guilt on the people. He was to take a young bullock (the age and sex being expressly mentioned), and having lured it according to the form prescribed for the burnt offerings, he was to take it into the holy place, and sprinkle the atoning blood seven times before the veil, and tip with the crimson fluid the horns of the golden altar of incense, on his way to the court of the priests, and pour out what remained upon the ground in the court before the altar of burnt offering. Nothing was burnt upon the altar, except the fat and the abdominal appurtenances. This was a solemn ceremonial, appointed only for very grave and heinous offences, and which betokened that his sin, though done in ignorance, had vitiated all his services; nor could any official duty he engaged in be beneficial either to himself or the people unless it were atoned for by blood.

Verses 4-10

And he shall bring the bullock unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD; and shall lay his hand upon the bullock's head, and kill the bullock before the LORD.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 11

And the skin of the bullock, and all his flesh, with his head, and with his legs, and his inwards, and his dung,

The skin of the bullock, and all his flesh. In ordinary circumstances these were perquisites of the priests. But in the expiation necessary for a sin of the high priest's, after the fat of the sacrifice was offered on the altar, the carcass was carried outside the camp, in order that the total combustion of it in the place of ashes might the more strikingly indicate the enormity of the transgression, and the horror with which he regarded it (cf. Hebrews 13:12-13).

Verse 12

Even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn him on the wood with fire: where the ashes are poured out shall he be burnt.

Even the whole bullock shall he carry forth, [ wªhowtsiy' (H3318) (in the Hiphil or causative conjugation of the verb yaatsa' (H3318)] - he shall cause to go forth; i:e., to have conveyed (cf. Leviticus 6:10-11; Hebrews 6:3-4; 14:45 ) or carried, as the word implies (Exodus 12:46; Deuteronomy 24:11; Judges 6:18), in whatever manner, or by whatever instrumentality, he might accomplish the removal (cf. Numbers 19:9, where an attendant is described as gathering up the ashes of the victim). Most probably, however, he employed the Levites (Numbers 2:1-34; Numbers 4:1-49; Numbers 7:1-89; Numbers 18:2), whose special duty it was to transport the tabernacle furniture during the journeyings, as well as to perform all sorts of servile work connected with the tabernacle when it was stationary, except in the direct ministrations of the altar, and who numbered at the time of their consecration 8,580 men capable of active labour.

Without the camp unto a clean place. The tribes were commanded (Numbers 2:1-34) to pitch in a certain specified order, being so arranged as to make the camp in the form of an immense square, with the tabernacle in the center, near which was stationed the tribe of Levi, consisting of three great divisions, with the distinguished families of Moses and Aaron. Each of the tribes was separated by a considerable distance from that on each side of it; the expression of the historian (see the note at Numbers 2:2) indicating that a large, though undefined extent of vacant ground intervened-that space being doubtless left for the purpose of having all refuse deposited and buried there.

The "clean place without the camp," then, to which the offal of the sacrificed bullock was directed to be taken was that which lay on the outskirts of the camp of the Levites; so that, with this explanation, the objection which has been recently dwelt upon as so fatal to the veracious character of this history, vanishes; and instead of the carcass having to be carried, through a dense population of two million people, six miles to the extremities of the camp, the distance would not exceed half-a-mile in any direction.

The reference to "the camp," in the injunctions given here and elsewhere, has also been made an argument for maintaining that the whole sacrificial system is described as put in operation in the wilderness, and that, as insuperable difficulties lay in the way, this history cannot be historically correct. Now, it is true that these laws were intended to be immediately acted upon; because in due course the Israelites would soon have arrived in the promised land. Some of the oblations were doubtless presented in "the camp;" but many of them were never intended to be made until the people's settlement in that country (see the notes at Leviticus 2:14; Leviticus 23:39, etc.); and, as will be shown afterward, in consequence of the covenant being suspended through rebellion (see the notes at Numbers 14:1-45; Joshua 5:2-9), there is reason to believe that no sacrifices were offered during the greater part of the sojourn in the wilderness.

Verse 13

And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty;

If the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance. In consequence of some culpable neglect or misapprehension of the law the people might contract national guilt, and national expiation was necessary. The same sacrifice was to be offered as in the former case, but with this difference in the ceremonial, that the elders or heads of the tribes, as representing the people, and being the principal aggressors in misleading the congregation, laid their hands on the head of the victim. The priest then took the blood into the holy place, where, after dipping his finger in it seven times, he sprinkled the drops seven times before the veil; this done, he returned to the court of the priests, and ascending the altar, put some portion upon its horns; then he poured it out at the foot of the altar. The fat was the only part of the animal which was offered on the altar; for the carcass, with its appurtenances and offals, was carried outside the camp, into the place where the ashes were deposited, and there consumed with fire.

Verses 14-21

When the sin, which they have sinned against it, is known, then the congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring him before the tabernacle of the congregation.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 22-26

When a ruler hath sinned, and done somewhat through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty;

When a ruler hath sinned. Whatever was the form of government, the king, judge, or subordinate was the party concerned in this law. The transgression of such a civil functionary being less serious in its character and consequences than that either of the high priest or the congregation, a sin offering of inferior value was required - "a kid of the goats" [ sª`iyr (H8163) `iziym (H5795), a goat-buck]; and neither was the blood carried into the sanctuary, but applied only to the altar of burnt offering; nor was the carcass taken without the camp-it was eaten by the priests in waiting.

The name given to the goat, says Bahr, will afford a clue to the design contemplated in the selection of that particular kind. [It is called sª`iyr (H8163) on account of its long shaggy hair.] From this the garments of the mourners and the preachers of repentance were commonly manufactured (cf. Zechariah 13:4 with 2 Kings 1:8). [Among the mourners such a garment was called saq (H8242), sakkos (Isaiah 20:2).] That these garments possessed a significant character needs no proof. With the mourners they were the direct signs of sorrow. With the prophets they indicated that he who was thus clad proclaims sin and repentance-a sermo propheticus realis. [The sª`iyr 'aziym, as the sin-offering, had a similar reference to sin, and the mourning necessary for it-namely, repentance.]

Very suitable, then, was the appointment of this animal for those offerings chiefly which had to do only with sin; and this was the more appropriate in case offerings, especially burnt offerings, were brought at the same time. That this selection had not to do with male goats as such, is shown by the simple circumstance, that not male goats in general, but only this species of the same, were selected for the sin offerings, and never the other species [`atuwdiym], which were employed in the peace or thank offerings (Numbers 7:7). Other reasons for the choice of the particular goat so called, are given by Bochart and Knobel.

Verses 27-35

And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and be guilty;

If any one of the common people sin through ignorance. In this case the expiatory offering appointed was a female kid, or a ewe-lamb without blemish; and the ceremonies were exactly the same as those observed in the case of the offending ruler. In these two latter instances the blood of the sin offering was applied to the altar of burnt offering-the place where bloody sacrifices were appointed to be immolated. But the transgression of a high priest, who represented the people, or of the whole congregation, who were to be a kingdom of priests (Leviticus 19:6), entailing a general taint on the ritual of the tabernacle, and vitiating its services, required a further expiation; and therefore, in these cases, the blood of the sin offering was carried into the holy place, the apartment in which the priests performed their sacred functions, as well as the ideal residence of the "holy nation," and there was applied to the altar of incense.

Verse 35. It shall be forgiven him. None of these sacrifices possessed any intrinsic value sufficient to free the conscience of the sinner from the pollution of guilt, or to obtain his pardon from God; but they gave a formal deliverance from a secular penalty (Hebrews 9:13-14); and they were figurative representations of the full and perfect sin offering which was to be made by Christ. The word "atonement," both in English and in other languages, signifies any reconciliation-at-one-merit, a bringing to unity; and when used for the 'sin offering' (Leviticus 4:26; Leviticus 4:31; Leviticus 4:35) expresses nothing more than that, in consequence of this sacrifice, there was reconciliation made between God and the worshipper; whereas the worshipper, before the sacrifice, was not in communion, he was now restored. In the old covenant the sin offering made atonement by bringing back the Israelite to his share in that covenant. In the new covenant, the offering of Christ also made atonement, by bringing all people to their share of this covenant ('Israel after the Flesh,' p. 57).

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Leviticus 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/leviticus-4.html. 1871-8.