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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 4

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-35

Leviticus 4:2. Sin through ignorance. Ignorance is itself a crime, for all men ought to know the scriptures; or in doubtful cases, they should ask advice. Error and negligence are therefore without excuse.

Leviticus 4:3. If the priest do sin. The LXX read the highpriest; and the Vulgate version adds, making the people to be delinquents, their sins tending to seduce them. The jewish highpriest we see was not infallible, much less is the Roman pontiff. The sins of men high in office in the sanctuary are doubly conspicuous, and doubly heinous.

Leviticus 4:6. Seven times. This number is much used in scripture as a number of perfection; but it is used here to mark the perfection of the atonement. The fathers had a notion that the world should endure seven thousand years; hence they affirmed, that Christ’s blood should be sprinkled throughout the seven ages or periods.

Leviticus 4:21. Carry forth the bullock without the camp. Maimonides observes here, as in the case of the red heifer and of the scape-goat, that the more heinous crimes of the nation, for which no atonement was provided by the altar, but the law requiring on the contrary that such offenders should be put to death, those crimes were expiated by the victims being burned without the camp. And as no vestige of such sacrifices remained, so the remembrance of the sin was forgotten. The people, returning from those tragic sacrifices, left their sins behind their backs. An apostle calls those sins, “dead works,” which could only be purged by the superior efficacy of the blood shed on Calvary.


For wilful and presumptuous crimes there was no atonement: the soul so offending was to be cut off from the congregation of the Lord, and then to fall into the hands of divine justice. But for sins of ignorance and negligence, however great, atonement was provided. And if the highpriest at the head of the Jewish church, who bore the breastplate of righteousness and wore the robe of purity, was not infallible; if his sins subjected him to appear at the bloody altar as the chief of sinners, it should be a striking caution to all clothed with the ministerial character to beware of sin. See the highpriest bring his sacrifice, and stand arraigned with thieves and robbers, what an awful sight! He being the anointed of the Lord, and chief shepherd of the flock, it required a young bullock to be offered; the very same sacrifice to purge his sin, as to purge the sin of the whole congregation! The blot of ministers is not a common blot. The irregularity of their conduct is pregnant with mischief to weak believers, and to the infidel world, beyond all that language can convey.

If the highpriest had need of these atonements, then he was not the true priest, because his person and services were all defective. There was consequently a holier priest to arise, who should perfect the atonement without the camp, even on Calvary, without the gates of Jerusalem, once for all, and then appear in the presence of God for us.

The priest was not only to sprinkle the blood seven times before the Lord, but to put some of it on the horns of the altar of incense; and the veil so sprinkled was a striking figure of the raiment of Christ dipped or spotted with blood; and that altar, whose horns were tipped with gore, shows that there is no approach to God, no offering up of the incense of prayer, without the merits of Jesus Christ.

It was surely no small humiliation to the priest, and no small mark of the greatness of his sin, to see a ruler or a prince stand by him with a kid of the goats, though he had been guilty of the same offence. This evidently teaches that the sins of magistrates and of secular men, are far less heinous than the sins of those who officiate in the sanctuary of God. But let not the rich man triumph in his pride, as though the Lord took no cognizance of his crimes; for unless he also appear before his Maker with humility, with sincere repentance and all its fruits, he abides under the divine displeasure, and is cut off from his kingdom.

Whether an individual had offended in a private way, or whether the people had offended by a popular crime, atonement must be made. The prince and the peasant, the priest and the people, must all stand guilty before the tribunal of the Lord. No man being free from sin, no man can be exempt from repentance. Let every one therefore make haste, and sprinkle his conscience with the blood of the covenant; for if the destroying angel should pass by, and find no mark on his forehead, no blood on the door of his house, he will become a victim of divine justice, and be cut off from the city and temple of our God.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Leviticus 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/leviticus-4.html. 1835.
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