Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 4

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-2

Leviticus 4:1 f. General Statement.— These sins are committed “ through error” (RVm), when the “ sinner” thinks that he is doing something else, or does not know that what he is doing is wrong; i.e. to us, they are not “ sins” at all. Cf. Leviticus 4:22, Numbers 15:24-29, Joshua 20:3, and contrast the phrase, sinning “ with a high hand,” i.e. deliberately ( Numbers 15:30; cf. penalties in Leviticus 20:2 ff.); for this, only excommunication or death is possible.

Verses 1-35

Leviticus 4:1 to Leviticus 5:13 . The Sin Offering.— This, and the guilt offering, whose ritual follows, are unknown before the Exile, save as fines ( 2 Kings 12:16, Amos 2:8). Ezek. mentions both, but is conscious of no difference between them. Probably the distinction between them grew up gradually (see on Ezekiel 5:14 ff.). The ritual is derived partly from that of the burnt offering and peace offering; partly from other old rites. No idea of substitution seems to be implied (though it is true that a ritual tablet from Babylonia states that idea very clearly; “ the life of the kid has he given for his own life, its head for his head,” etc.), since the sin offering is “ most holy,” a term which could not be applied to the offerer; a meal offering is included, as if the sacrifice were thought of originally as an offering of food; and the sacrifice is offered for sins not demanding death, though the victim is always killed, and by the worshipper. [Observe also that were the sacrifice substitutionary, the chief point would be the slaughter. But it was rather the manipulation of the blood.— A. S. P.] On the other hand, the conception of a gift or payment in return for a wrong done is prominent throughout. The offerer has no more share in his offering than in the case of the burnt offering, though the priest has. This becomes clearer when it is seen that “ sin” is used, not of deliberate disobedience or defiance of Yahweh’ s moral law, but more particularly of ritual or ceremonial mistakes or defilement committed through inadvertence or ignorance. The sin offering often accompanies other sacrifices; in Ezek., the consecration of the altar ( Ezekiel 43:19). While the later legislation thus purifies the sacrificial ritual from anything that could remotely savour of irreverence, it is very far from the standpoint of Psalms 51; it simply perpetuates, for good and evil, the primitive conception of sin as an infraction of the restrictions or “ taboos” imposed on human conduct by the deity. The main characteristics of the sin offering are the killing of the victim by the worshipper and the pouring out of the blood, as in the burnt offering; the flesh is burnt outside the camp or eaten by the priest, i.e. it is “ most holy.” The manipulation of the blood, however, is more complicated ( cf. Leviticus 4:5 ff.), and different kinds of animals are to be offered, according to the rank of the offerer— High Priest, congregation, ruler, private person, or the poor. The seven times repeated sprinkling of the blood “ before Yahweh” ( Leviticus 4:6) recalls the ritual of ch. 16; both may well be among the latest developments of Priestly legislation.

Verses 3-12

Leviticus 4:3-12 . Sin Offering of the High Priest.— Inadvertences at the altar, which would, if unatoned for, have the most dangerous consequences for the whole community. The “ anointed” priest is the High Priest ( Leviticus 6:22, Leviticus 8:12; Leviticus 8:30, Leviticus 21:10). He is the representative of the whole people; his guilt or error is therefore theirs. There is no choice of animals here, as in Leviticus 3. The chief part of the rite is the presentation of the blood, the life of the animal, to Yahweh. It is brought to the tent of meeting, i.e. the actual shrine of the sanctuary, where alone Yahweh “ meets” with the priest. The more important the offence and the offerer, the nearer the blood must be brought to Yahweh; hence, in this case, sprinkling on the altar would not be enough. The priest stands with the blood inside the outer compartment of the shrine, and sprinkles the blood upon the curtain that separates the outer from the inner compartment— the latter being regarded as the special abode of the Shekinah, or glory of Yahweh on earth. (For the seven-fold sprinkling, cf. Joshua 6:15, 2 Kings 5:10.) The analogy with the special rite of Leviticus 16 is clear; but nothing is said in Leviticus 16 of the altar of incense; in Exodus 30:10, the sprinkling on the altar of incense is mentioned in connexion with the Day of Atonement, but its use is restricted to that rite. Probably, therefore, unlike the altar, it was within the shrine. Not even the priests may eat of this sacrifice; they are involved in the “ sin.” The duty of burning the carcase belongs to the High Priest himself; but in the text of the LXX and Sam. it is assigned to the priests. The “ clean place” to which the carcase is taken may possibly be a euphemism.

Verses 13-21

Leviticus 4:13-21 . The Sin Offering for the Whole Congregation.— The offering is the same as for the priest, but the elders, as acting for the congregation or assembly, are to lay hands on the victim. These elders are not elsewhere mentioned in P. Some of the ritual directions are here omitted ( Leviticus 4:8 f., Leviticus 4:11), but the significant clause is added that by the offering the people have atonement made for them, and they are forgiven. The formula for sin in Leviticus 4:13 is a quite general one, and the word used for “ forgive” is not peculiarly ritual in its use; but it is difficult to see what sins could be committed by the congregation as a whole save ritual ones; and this is borne out by the words “ when (it) is known.” Such a sin as that of Achan (Joshua 7), though it involved the whole nation in its consequences, was punished in a very different way. What if such a “ sin” never became known? It was covered on the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 5:3, however, the guilt is said to follow on the discovery of the unintentional wrong-doing. Contrast this ritual with that of Numbers 15:24 ff.

Verses 22-26

Leviticus 4:22-26 . The Sin Offering tor a Ruler, or tribal chief or representative. The word is also used of the one chief of the nation in post-exilic writers when the succession of kings had come to an end. It would apply to Nehemiah, or perhaps to a foreign ruler like the Persian Bagoas, governor of Jerusalem in 402 B.C. The offering is a goat instead of a bullock, and its blood is only smeared on the horns of the altar, not sprinkled, and, as it would seem, by an ordinary priest, not the High Priest.

Verses 27-35

Leviticus 4:27-35 . The Laymen’ s Sin Offering.— The victim is here either a goat or a lamb— the offerer could apparently choose which, and in each case a female. In other points the ritual is the same. For “ common people” RVm is better. The phrase is used in the histories for the people as a whole or the popular party in opposition to the court. In Ezra it denotes the semi-heathen population surviving after the return from exile. Cf. John 7:49.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Leviticus 4". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/leviticus-4.html. 1919.
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