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Bible Commentaries

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and RevelationSeiss' Lectures

- Leviticus

by Joseph A. Seiss


First Lecture.


Moses and his Third Book—What is the Gospel?—The many ways in which it is presented—Natural Symbols of Christ—The value of Types in conveying instruction—Nature and Revelation.

Moses was one of those miraculous men, of whom there have been but a few. History tells not of another like him, unless it be the Savior, whom he so much resembled. Christ and he stand out upon the records of the past, as two great mountains, broad and high—the Alps of the ages—where earth and heaven touch; where the human connects with the divine. They head the two great dispensations of God thus far. All that the heavenly Father has delivered to us as yet, is comprised in the Law and the Gospel; and the one was "given by Moses," and the other "came by Jesus Christ." About one-third of the Old Testament was written by this remarkable man. It was through him that inspiration first broke forth in a steady and continued stream. He was, and remains, the great Lawgiver and Historian of the world.

Leviticus is the third in the order of his inspired writings. It is a book which treats of the offices, rites, services, and feasts of the Hebrew religion, as given in the charge of the priests—the sons of Levi. Hence its title, Λευιτιχον—Leviticus—that is, what relates to Levi. The Talmudists denominated it "The Law of the Priests"—"The Law of the Offerings." Either of these titles sufficiently describes it.

That Moses was really the writer of this book can hardly be doubted. If what it contains be true, as all those best qualified to judge have never questioned, it is impossible to suppose that any but he could have written it. And Nehemiah, Luke, the writer of second Chronicles, and other inspired penmen, refer to it as a genuine production of him whose name it bears, as well as a veritable communication from God. And if it be a history at all, it must be received as inspired. It contains but little else than God’s own utterances. It is more entirely made up of the very words of the Lord than any other book of the Bible. Jehovah himself speaks in every chapter, and in almost every verse, whilst Moses merely sits by, and hears, and writes, as the amanuensis of the speaking Lord.

It has been remarked, however, and not without reason, that this book "constitutes a part of the sacred canon, less read, and usually accounted less interesting and important, than almost any other." Many regard it as the mere record of an obsolete economy, inapplicable to our times, and containing little or nothing of practical value to us. How few have ever heard a chapter read, or a text taken, from this part of Scripture! How generally is it passed by, even by Christians, as of no account! From such an estimate and treatment of it, I feel constrained to enter my dissent. So far from being a mere collection of curiosities for the antiquarian, it is a book of impressive, sublime, evangelical instruction. Here, as much as in any portion of Scripture, hath wisdom prepared her feast, and crieth: "Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled." What were all these ancient institutes but living pictures of the truth as it is in Jesus? Paul says of the Tabernacle and its services, that it "was a παραβοληa parable, illustration, outline, figure—for the time then present." In another place, he speaks of "the Law" as "having a σχιανadumbration, shadow—of good things to come." And elsewhere, referring to God’s doings in connection with the administrations of Moses, he says: "These things were our τύπς,types, patterns, examples." Nathaniel says, that "Moses in the law did write of Jesus of Nazareth." Christ himself says: "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me." And the whole epistle to the Hebrews is one grand argument for Christianity, extracted from the rites and services of the Levitical economy. It must, therefore, be taken, as the teaching of the New Testament, that its outlines and characteristics are contained in these ancient institutes. The matter may be somewhat veiled in type and symbol, but there is as much Gospel in Leviticus as in Daniel, Ezekiel, or Isaiah. This very obsolete law of the priests and offerings, as I hope to make evident in the course of these discourses, contains an evangelism as pure and divine as that which dropped from apostolic lips, or stands written in apostolic records. Christ himself and all his mediatorial doings, from first to last, are nothing more than the fulfilment and complement of the laws herein written. "Think not," said he, "that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." It is indeed astonishing, when we come to consider it, and a strong proof of the divine source of the Bible, how completely Christ is woven into its entire texture. Open the book anywhere, and we are sure to find something of Jesus. He is its Alpha and Omega; its beginning and its ending; its first and its last.

"In the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms," it is "written concerning him." Nor is it saying too much for this third book of Moses, to call it The Gospel according to Leviticus, just as the third book of the New Testament is called "The Gospel according to Luke." The one tells of Jesus and redemption through him, as well as the other; and if we do not find it fall and overflowing with clear and beautiful evangelical instruction, it is because we know not how to read it.

"What is the Gospel? Not, what is the specific meaning of the word here or there; but, generalizing its various applications, and combining its several shades of signification into one view, What is the Gospel? Is it a particular set form of words? Certainly not. If it were, no man could preach it, except by the mere repetition of those words. Then, what is it? To answer briefly, I would say, It is God’s proclamation of a plan of mercy to sinners. It is the divine revelation of grace to fallen man. It is the publication of forgiveness and eternal life through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Hence, whatever announces Christ as the Redeemer, and holds forth forgiveness and salvation through him, comprises and proclaims the Gospel. We call that the Gospel which narrates the Savior’s history, simply and only because it is an account of the Redeemer. We apply the same term to the peculiar doctrines, ordinances and precepts which constitute the Christian system, for the reason that in these Christ is proposed and given to the believing and obedient in all his saving efficacy. The same word is used to denote the scriptural promises of forgiveness and mercy, in contrast with the exactions of the law; but all these various applications are easily resolvable into the one great, original idea of God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.

Man is fallen and depraved. It is upon this assumption that the Gospel starts, and takes its peculiarities as the Gospel. "The son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." I am not among those who think that nothing noble, generous, or lovely, remains in humanity. Man, though fallen, retains a greatness even in his ruin. His nature has been terribly marred and defaced, but there is still some remaining excellence. Dig among the ruins of those noble cities which the foot of time has trodden down, and you will find there outlines of streets, and edifices, and columns, and statues, and many traces of former greatness. Search in like manner into sunken humanity, and you will also find many a mark and relic of original magnificence and glory. But, Babylon in ruins, is no longer the "great Babylon" of the Assyrians’ pride; and no man is now the exalted creature who ate of Eden’s fruits, and stood as lord of earth amid the beauties and harmonies of Paradise. There has been a fall—a dreadful degeneration. All history declares it.

All consciousness bears witness to it. And he has not expressed himself too strongly, who says, "a man must be a fool, nay, a stock, or a stone, not to believe, it. He has no eyes, he has no senses, he has no perceptions, if he refuses to believe it." And in this fallen, degenerate condition, man is lost. Darkness, which he cannot dissipate, is around him. Stains of guilt, which he cannot wash out, are upon him The curse of condemnation stands written against him, beyond his power to expunge it, or check it off A foul disease is fretting through all his nature, against which there is no earthly antidote or remedy. Death and decay are on him, and cling to him as part of himself, and he cannot cut loose from them. Eternity itself, so far as his own strength goes, can bring him only sorrow and despair. But God comes to us in this desperate estate, and proffers, through Christ, an eternal deliverance. For darkness, he proposes to give us light. For sin, he holds out to us the means of an effectual cleansing. For condemnation, he tenders to us a present and full reprieve. For all our ailments, he engages to work for us an abiding cure. And for our corruption and death, he offers us glory and immortality. In one word, he proposes to save us. Restoration—complete restoration—is now proclaimed from the heavens as the portion of those who will receive it through Jesus Christ. It is a blessed proclamation. It is, indeed, Good newsglad tidings of great joy. And this proclamation is the Gospel.

Turning, then, to this Third Book of Moses, called Leviticus, what do we find to be its contents? Here and there we have a few records simply and purely historical; but what is the great burden and scope of the book? From beginning to end, everything bears the one pervading purpose, of showing the transgressor wherewithal he might come before the Lord, and obtain justification and peace. It is a great system of salvation by priestly mediation and bloody sacrifices. Apart from any relation to the New Testament, the prescriptions here given dwindle down to a burdensome round of uninviting and unmeaning ceremonies, unworthy of so high an origin, or so solemn a method of inculcation. We are, therefore, driven to take them as connected with the one and only system of redemption, which is through Christ, and to reverence and study them as God’s own pictorial illustrations of the Gospel, as a system of practical hieroglyphics of his plan of salvation through the blood of Jesus.

Now, God has taken many ways, and employed many methods, of teaching men his Gospel, and of impressing it upon their understandings and their hearts. Sometimes he presents it in plain and simple narratives, or in easy parables, and then again in epistles of classic elegance, filled with close analysis and logical profoundness. One apostle is sent as the apostle of love, whose words melt gently in upon the heart, fragrant as scented dews; and another is sent as the apostle of faith, with his great arguments deep laid in the truth of God. The pro phets are made poets also, to attract and move us the more by the smoothness of their words and the brilliancy of their inspirations. Moses, though else so calm and majestic, now and then breaks out in exalted song. David takes his harp, and utters himself in sweetest minstrelsy. Isaiah stands up to prophesy, and his lips are touched with a coal from the celestial altar, and his words carry us into the highest heavens of poetic sublimity. Jeremiah comes forward in song, mighty as "a lion from the swellings of Jordan, coming up against the habitations of the strong." And a whole constellation of lesser prophets pour forth the light of heaven in scintillating streams of melody and poesy. Gorgeous symbolization has been called into requisition. We look on Ezekiel’s visions and seem to be lifted by the hair into the midst of the scenes of God’s mysterious doings. Daniel’s golden-headed image, and beasts of power, and stone of glory, move before us in significant grandeur. The skies themselves part, and the very secrets of eternity open upon us, in the Apocalypse of John. And even visible nature around us has been transmuted into a living array of pictures and emblems of Jesus and his saving grace. We lift up our eyes in the daytime, and encounter the bright, glad, and golden beams that pour forever from the great orb of heaven. It is the symbol of that bright "Sun of Righteousness," whose rays are the light and healing of earth, and the joy of eternity. We go out with the Psalmist to consider the glories of the starry night; and the brightest of all those glittering and fiery gems—the one which heralds the morning and ushers in the day,—is the appointed picture of that "bright and morning star" who shines with ever cheering radiance in the eyes of Zion’s watchmen, and gives tidings of the promised approaching day of Israel. We walk into the fields among the flocks and lowing herds; and that meek-eyed lamb, reposing on the clean sunny bank, is to us a remembrancer of that unspotted "Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." We take our stand by the gushing spring on the mountain side, and gaze upon the glad waters as they leap forth in their crystal purity to cool the thirsty lip, and refresh the parched ground, and wash away the dust from the worn traveller. It is the joyous symbol of that "fountain opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness."

We turn our eyes to the tall cedar, that pride and glory of the mountain, stretching up its great limbs into the blue sky; and we see there an emblem of that "Branch of the Lord, beautiful and glorious," whose name is, "The Lord our Righteousness." We gaze round on that craggy precipice, extending its bald brow to the lightnings and the storms, on whose top the young eaglets sleep in the warm sunshine, and under whose broad shadow the shepherd reposes in safety with his peaceful flocks. It is earth’s grandest token of that "Rock of Ages," on which frail man finds his salvation, and in whose cool shade this world’s weary ones are blessed. We contemplate that great root of yon mountain oak, which has penetrated the fissure of the rock, and opened its way down to drink up the moisture from the heart of the hill. It is God’s emblem of that "Root of David" which hath prevailed to open the seals, and forced a way to the fountain and waters of life. We listen to the roar of the great lion in the thicket, before whom all the beasts of the field crouch or fly in terror. It is the symbol of that "Lion of the Tribe of Judah," who has sent consternation and dismay among all the hosts of hell, and raised the fallen sinner from his "dead level" to his feet again We look upon the flowers as they spread open their beauties to the sky, and pour from their thousand censers their incense offerings to their God; and that lily there, the most fragrant of all, and that rose yonder, the most deeply colored of all, are meant to tell of "the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the valleys," which God has planted in this bleak world to gladden the eye and revive the heart of drooping man, and to be a soothing balm to his many, many wounds. We sit down in the arbor, and admire the vine which covers it with robes of green, and has hung it with fragrant clusters; and that too is one of nature’s ten thousand images of Jesus and his grace; for he is "the true Vine," and his Father is the husbandman. The visible world scarcely contains one object of glory, beauty, or good, which God has not in some way appropriated as emblematic of his Son Jesus Christ, and of his mercy to sinners through him. He has even made prophecy of history, and written his purposes of grace and good in the very acts and lives of men and nations. And here, in this third book of Moses, in the ceremonial system which it records, there is still another plan adopted to set forth the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. We have here a system of life-pictures and practical allegorical types, in which the Gospel receives a sort of living pictorial incarnation. It treats of the slaying of goats and calves, of meats and drinks, and divers washings, all ordained of God, that in these things men might have a tangible exhibition of the offering of Him who was "delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification." It presents a solemn ritual of blood and butchery, "imposed until the time of reformation," but meant to be "a figure," complete and lively, of those better things which have since been revealed in Jesus Christ. It is only another of those "divers manners" in which God has chosen to deliver to us an idea of the necessity, nature, application and effects of "the common salvation" of which the prophets prophesied, and the apostles wrote. And viewed in this light, so far from being repulsive and profitless, this book of Leviticus at once gathers around it a most attractive interest, and becomes invested with a radiance, which must needs enlist, edify and inspire every attentive Christian heart. It is a torch given of God, and lit with sacred fires, to illuminate redemption’s framework, and light us into those profounds of grace, of which the prophets searched and inquired, when they testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.

But some may ask, Why go back to these ancient types, when we have everything so plain in the writings of evangelists and prophets? Why stop to contemplate a picture when we have the original? Why linger in the twilight when we have the perfect day? Many reasons might be given. Among other things, I may say, that a good part of the light which makes up the brilliancy of gospel day, comes through these ancient institutes. Had it not been for them, gradually preparing the eye of man for intenser light, and opening his mind for moral and spiritual ideas, we would have had no day at all. The very language of evangelists and apostles, which we now think so plain, is all derived and moulded from these ancient rites, and proceeds so fundamentally upon ideas generated by them, that, without them, it would be exceedingly obscure, and, in some things, wholly unintelligible. These typical rites thus hold a place in the economy of revelation, from which they cannot be spared. "Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope." The New Testament is necessary to a right understanding of them, but equally necessary are they to a right understanding of the New Testament. And instead of putting them aside, as we do the toys of childhood, it is our duty to God and to ourselves, and ought to be our delight, to give them a share of our attention, and to do what we can to trace out their glorious meaning.

And, then, who does not know the increased power of pictorial illustration? Who has not felt the additional force imparted to truth by its being clothed and set forth in well-chosen images? Who has not again and again been more touched, moved and convinced by the simple parables of Jesus, than by all the eloquence and massive reasonings of Paul? A thing is not necessarily obscure and difficult because it is typical or figurative. On the contrary, there is nothing which so interests and impresses us. Pictures and images help to simplify truth, and open the mind to receive it with more facility, and write it with greater vividness upon the heart. As Tyndale says, "Similitudes have more virtue and power with them than bare words, and lead a man’s understanding further into the pith and marrow and spiritual understanding of the thing, than all the words that can be imagined. There is not a better, a more vehement, or mightier thing," says he, "to make a man understand with all, than an allegory; for allegories make a man quick-witted, and print wisdom in him, and make it to abide, when bare words go but in at the one ear and out at the other." Only give to people something in the shape of pictures, parables, allegories, fables, fictions, stories, and you are much more likely to arrest their attention and reach their hearts, than by any other form of address; as if there were something in the very nature of man to which such forms of communicating truth are better adapted than any other. There is, perhaps, not another book ill the English language, the Bible excepted, so popular, or so useful, as Bunyan’s "Pilgrim’s Progress;" and yet, what is it but a sort of typical story, allegory, or dramatic picture, of great truths which underlie it? There is nothing more natural than types. Nature itself is but a system of types—the translation of what is invisible and divine into material forms. The visible is not the real, but only a shadowing forth—a type of it. And in all the material world, there are ten thousand "links and ties and silent harmonies" connecting it with the spiritual and the true, making one the illustration of the other, and rendering both beautiful and welcome to him who loveth instruction. Not without good reason, therefore, has Tauler, of the olden time, said, "There be some men who take leave of types and symbols too soon, before they have drawn out all the truth and instruction contained therein." Let us not be among them.

There is one thought to which I will refer, and with that I will close this introductory lecture. It is generally agreed that the delivery and arrangement of this Levitical system, as contained in this book, occupied about one month. Forty days had been previously occupied in directing Moses how to make the tabernacle; here, at least thirty more are added in directing him how to arrange its services; and yet only six days were employed upon the great work of creation. This, at first, may seem a little strange, and yet it is suggestive of important truth. Redemption is the most glorious of God’s works, and is deserving of the most attention. It is of more consequence for man to have his sins forgiven and his soul saved, than to have a fine world to die in, and be lost forever. It is more important for us to understand the laws of grace than the laws of nature. God has devoted only six days, and two chapters of his word to the one, whilst he has devoted a multitude of days and more than fifty, or five hundred chapters, to the other.

Philosophers of this world tell us to study nature—study nature; and praise the knowledge of nature as the perfection of all knowledge. They seem to think that if we only understand nature well, and obey her teachings, we have about enough for all the purposes of life, peace and piety. But, if this were really so, I take it that God would have said more about nature in his word. Instead of confining his account of the heavens and the earth, and all that in them is, to two chapters, I would look to see volumes freighted with it, and would expect Genesis to be geology, and Exodus natural history, and Leviticus medicine, and Numbers mathematics, and Deuteronomy chemistry, and Joshua psychology, and Judges natural law. I certainly could not reconcile it with the fact that he has suffered those great works of Solomon to perish, in which "he speaks of trees from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes."

"Now, it is useful to study nature, and a grand thing to understand nature. It is a dignified and a serviceable work to survey her elements, shapes, motions, and adaptations; to examine the springs, and balance-wheels, and cogs, and bands, and pins, and jewels, and sublime mechanism, and operations, of the universe, so wonderfully set in order by God’s wisdom, and kept in everlasting activity by his almighty power. It helps to expand our nature, to exalt our conceptions of the eternal Contriver, and disposes us to reverent awe, and aids us in many of the outward relations and duties of life. But what can it do for those deeper, urgent, moral, and spiritual wants of man, to which the Gospel addresses itself? How vastly better is the knowledge of grace and salvation! God meant that we should study nature, and know something of nature, and look through nature up to nature’s God. Nature is the grand handwriting of his power, by which he has spelled out to us the letters that compose his ineffable name; and it is his will that we should read that record, and trace his glory in the heavens, and his wonders in the great deep. Otherwise, he would not have written about the creation in his word, nor have commanded us by his Son to consider the ravens or the lilies of the field. But he means that we should "give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and were confirmed unto us by them that heard him." Science can tell of God, and trace his footsteps everywhere; but it can tell of no remedy for sin, no Savior for the soul, no peace for the guilty. And in all our attentions to earthly wisdom, let us not forget that six days to science, with thirty or seventy given to the revelations of grace, is about the apportionment and relative importance which God in his word has indicated with reference to these things. How shall a man be just with God? is the great question, which is answered only in revelation and Christianity. Christ only hath the words of eternal life. And if we would be wise with that wisdom which is unto salvation, we must, above all things, attend to what he has written to us in his law, and meekly sit down as humble learners at the feet of prophets and aposles, whom he has sent to instruct us in the mysteries of his holy truth.

Sad error this, to take

The light of Nature, rather than the light

Of Revelation, for a guide. As well

Prefer the borrowed light of earth’s pale moon

To the effulgence of the noon-day sun.

God hath spoken to us from the heavens—mercifully spoken—spoken to the intent that we might be saved; and whilst we do not refuse to listen to him in his works, let us ever give a reverent attention to him in his words.

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