Lectionary Calendar
Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- Leviticus

by Editor - Joseph Exell



The importance of the book

The historical importance of the Book of Leviticus is very great. One might as well expect to understand the history of Greece, while remaining in ignorance of philosophy and art, or of England, while knowing nothing whatever of parliament and the constitution as to understand the history of Israel without a knowledge of the Hebrew ritual. Think how much labour is spent in the study of the classical mythology at our schools and universities, not for any value there is in itself, but for the light it throws upon classical literature; and yet how little do Christian people realise the importance of studying the modes of worship among the Jews, in order to understand their literature, which is our Bible! And besides, not only is the knowledge of the Tabernacle worship necessary in order to understand the sacred literature, but it is of real value in itself; not merely of antiquarian and psychological value, like the ancient mythologies, but of present practical value, as throwing light upon the New Testament and illustrating that gospel on which our hopes are founded. This Book of Leviticus, like the Tabernacle itself, is rough and unattractive on the outside, and may even provoke the sneers of the mere passers-by; but it is all glorious within, and to those who with reverent feet enter its portal, there will be unfolded no inconsiderable amount of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” There are the rough “badgers’ skins” without; but within there is the glory of gold and the beauty of “the fine twined linen, with blue and purple and scarlet, and cherubims cunningly wrought.” (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)

The unity, design, and contents of the book

This Book is marked on the surface with these elements of unity; it is all centred in the newly-erected Tabernacle; and only a few weeks passed away between its beginning and its close. There is necessarily much variety in so considerable a collection of laws, and something of historical narrative in connection with the immediate application of those laws; but the main purpose is everywhere apparent and controlling--the arrangements whereby a sinful people may approach, and remain in permanent communion with a holy God. This will better appear in the following table of contents. The arrangement of the Book is as systematic as the nature of its contents allowed. In regard to one or two alleged instances of repetition (Leviticus 11:39-40 compared with Leviticus 22:8; and Leviticus 19:9 with Leviticus 23:22) it is sufficient to say that they were intentional; and in regard to several chapters supposed to be placed out of their natural connection (as, e.g., chaps. 12 and 15), it simply does not appear that the thread of connection in the mind of Moses was the same as in that of the critic. In fact, in the instances alleged, the great Legislator seems to have taken especial pains to break that connection which is now spoken of as the natural one, and has thus, for important reasons, separated the purification after child-birth from all other purifications which might otherwise have seemed to be of the same character. Nevertheless, it is to be remembered that Leviticus was given at Sinai in view of an immediate and direct march to Canaan, which should have culminated in the possession of the Promised Land. When this had been prevented in consequence of the sin of the people, a long time--above thirty-eight years--passed away before the encampment on the plains of Moab. During this period the law was largely in abeyance, as is shown by the fact that its most imperative requirement, circumcision, was entirely omitted to the close (Joshua 5:5-8). After this long interval it is not unreasonable to suppose that the writings of Moses would have been revised before his death, and such clauses and exhortations added as the changed circumstances might require. These passages, however, if really written at that time, so far from being in any degree incongruous with the original work, do but fill out and emphasise its teachings. The contents of Leviticus are arranged in the following table in such a way as to show something of the connection of its parts:

Of approach to god (Leviticus 1-16).--

First part. Laws of sacrifice (Leviticus 1-7).--

1. General rules for the sacrifices (Lev 1-6:7).

(1) Burnt-offerings (Leviticus 1:1-17).

(2) Oblations (meat-offerings) (Leviticus 2:1-16.).

(3) Peace-offerings (Leviticus 3:1-17).

(4) Sin-offerings (Lev 4-5:13).

(5) Trespass-offerings (Leviticus 5:14-19; Leviticus 6:1-7).

2. Special instructions chiefly for the priests (Leviticus 6:8-30; Leviticus 7:1-38).

(1) For burnt-offerings (Leviticus 6:8-13).

(2) For oblations (meat-offerings) (Leviticus 6:14-23).

(3) For sin-offerings (Leviticus 6:24-30).

(4) For trespass-offerings (Leviticus 7:1-6).

(5) For the priests’ portion of the above (Leviticus 7:7-10).

(6) For peace-offerings in their variety (Leviticus 7:11-21).

(7) For the fat and the blood (Leviticus 7:22-27).

(8) For the priests’ portion of peace-offerings (Leviticus 7:28-36).

(9) Conclusion of this section (Leviticus 7:37-38).

Second part. Historical (Leviticus 8-10).--

1. The consecration of the priests (Leviticus 8:1-36.).

2. Entrance of Aaron and his sons on their office (Leviticus 9:1-24).

3. The sin and punishment of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-20.).

Third part. The laws of purity (chaps, 11-15).--

1. Laws of clean and unclean food (Leviticus 11:1-47).

2. Laws of purification after child-birth (Leviticus 12:1-8).

3. Laws concerning leprosy (Leviticus 13:1-59; Leviticus 14:1-57).

(1) Examination and its result (Leviticus 13:1-46).

(2) Leprosy in clothing and leather (Leviticus 13:47-59).

(3) Cleansing and restoration of sloper (Leviticus 14:1-32).

(4) Leprosy in a house (Leviticus 14:33-53).

(5) Conclusion (Leviticus 14:54-57).

4. Sexual impurities and cleansings (Leviticus 15:1-33).

Fourth part. The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1-34).

Of continuance in communion with god (Leviticus 17-26).--

First part. Holiness on the part of the people (Leviticus 17-20).--

1. Holiness in regard to food (Leviticus 17:1-16).

2. Holiness of the marriage relation (Leviticus 18:1-30).

3. Holiness of conduct towards God and man (Leviticus 19:1-37).

4. Punishment for unholiness (Leviticus 20:1-27).

Second part. Holiness on the part of the priests, and holiness of the offerings (Leviticus 21:1-24; Leviticus 22:1-33).

Third part. Sanctification of feasts (Leviticus 23-25).--

1. Of the sabbaths and annual feasts (Leviticus 23:1-44).

2. Of the holy lamps and shewbread (Leviticus 24:1-9).

3. Historical. The punishment of a blasphemer (Leviticus 24:10-23).

4. Of the sabbatical and jubilee years (Leviticus 25:1-55).

Fourth part. Conclusion.--Promises and threats (Leviticus 26:1-46).

Appendix.--Of vows (27). (Prof. F. Gardiner.)

The relation of the levitical code to heathen usages

Widely divergent views have been held by different writers upon this subject. Spencer was disposed to find an Egyptian origin for almost every Mosaic institution. Baehr has sought to disprove all connection between them. The a priori probability seems well expressed by Marsham: “We know from Scripture that the Hebrews were for a long time inhabitants of Egypt; and we may suspect, not without reason, that they did not wholly cast off Egyptian usages, but rather that some traces of Egyptian habit remained. Many laws of Moses are from ancient customs. Whatever hindered the cultus of the true Deity he strictly forbad. Moses abrogated most of the Egyptian rites, some he changed, some he held as indifferent, some he permitted, and even commanded,” Yet this legislation by its many additions and omissions, and the general remoulding of all that remained, became, as Rosenmueller remarks, peculiarly and distinctively Hebrew, adapted to their needs, and sharply separating them from all other people. It can scarcely be necessary to speak of what the Mosaic Law taught in common with the customs of all people at this period of the world’s history. The aim of the law was to elevate the Israelites to a higher and better standard, but gently, and as they were able to bear it. Certain essential laws were given, and these were insisted upon absolutely and with every varied form of command which could add to the emphasis. The unity of God and His omnipotence, were taught with a distinctness which was fast fading out from the world’s recollection, and which we scarcely find elsewhere at this period except in the Book of Job, which may itself have been modified in Mosaic hands. So, too, the necessity of outward sacramental observance for the whole people, whereby communion with God through His Church should be maintained, were strongly insisted upon, as in Circumcision and the Passover, and other sacrifices. But when we come to consider the conduct of the ordinary life, we find the universally received customs of the times not abrogated, but only restrained and checked according to the capacity of the people. All these checks and restraints were in the direction of, and looking towards, the higher standard of the morality of the gospel, as may be seen in the law of revenge, where unlimited vengeance was restricted to a return simply equal to the injury received; in the laws of marriage, which imposed many restrictions on the freedom of divorce and of polygamy; in the laws of slavery, which so greatly mitigated the hardships of that condition. But in these, as in many other matters, their Heavenly Father dealt tenderly with His people, and “for the hardness of their hearts” suffered many things which were yet contrary to His will. The same general principles apply to the retention among them of very much of Egyptian custom and law. It is more important to speak of these because the Israelites lived so long and in such close contact with the Egyptians from the very time of their beginning to multiply into a nation until the eve of the promulgation of the Sinaitic legislation. It is only necessary here to point out on the one hand how apparent lacuna in the Mosaic teaching may thus be explained, and on the other how largely the Egyptian cultus itself had already been modified, in all probability, by the influence of the fathers of the Jewish people. By consideration of the former it is seen, e.g., why so little should have been said in the Mosaic writings of immortality and the future life. This doctrine was deeply engraven in the Egyptian mind, and interwoven as a fundamental principle with their whole theology and worship. It passed on to the Israelites as one of those elementary truths so universally received that it needed not to be dwelt upon. The latter is necessarily involved in more obscurity; but when we consider the terms on which Abraham was received by the monarch of Egypt; the position occupied at a later date by Jacob; the rank of Joseph, and his intermarriage with the high-priestly family; and remember at the same time that the priesthood of Egypt was still in possession of a higher and purer secret theology than was communicated to the people--we see how Israel could have accepted from the land of the Pharaohs an extent of customs (to be purified, modified, and toned by their own Sinaitic legislation) which it might have been dangerous to receive from any other people. Yet plainly, whatever of detail may have been adopted from Egyptian sources, it was so connected and correlated in the Mosaic legislation that the whole spirit of the two systems became totally unlike. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

The spiritual meaning of the book

That so elaborate a ritual looked beyond itself we cannot doubt. It was a prophecy of things to come; a shadow whereof the substance was Christ and His Kingdom. We may not always be able to say what the exact relation is between the type and the antitype. Of many things we may be sure that they belonged only to the nation to whom they were given, containing no prophetic significance, but serving as witnesses and signs to them of God’s covenant of grace. We may hesitate to pronounce with Jerome, that “every sacrifice, nay, almost every syllable--the garments of Aaron and the whole Levitical system--breathe of heavenly mysteries.” But we cannot read the Epistle to the Hebrews and not acknowledge that the Levitical priests “served the pattern and type of heavenly things”--that the sacrifices of the law pointed to and found their interpretation in the Lamb of God--that the ordinances of outward purification signified the true inner cleansing of the heart and conscience from dead works to serve the living God. One idea, moreover, penetrates the whole of this vast and burdensome ceremonial, and gives it a real glory even apart from any prophetic significance. Holiness is its end. Holiness is its character. The Tabernacle is holy--the vessels are holy--the offerings are most holy unto Jehovah--the garments of the priests are holy. All who approach Him whose name is “Holy,” whether priests who minister unto Him or people who worship Him, must themselves be holy. It would seem as if, amid the camp and dwellings of Israel, was ever to be heard an echo of that solemn strain which fills the courts above, where the seraphim cry one unto another, Holy, Holy, Holy. (Bp. Perowne, in Smith’s Dict. of Bible.)

It shadows forth the gospel

Sometimes in a shadow we may see details of workmanship which otherwise in the substance we might have missed. One of the most wonderful achievements of the present day is sun-photography, by which photographs are obtained of the sun-disc, under certain conditions. And it is obviously much easier to investigate the nature of the sun from such photographs than to study it amid the unbearable glory of his presence. The eye may quietly pursue its investigations undazzled and unabashed. So we may better understand some of the details of Christ’s work, as we study Leviticus, than when we stand with the apostles amid the marvels of the Cross, or with the seer amid the supernal blaze of Apocalyptic vision. Turn not lightly, then, from the Book of Leviticus, which shadows forth the gospel; and, indeed, gives much of the terminology, the phrases and symbols, to be afterwards employed. And beneath the teaching of the same Holy Spirit as taught Moses of old, explore the sacred meanings which underlie ark and propitiatory; fine twined linen and blue; candlestick and table; altar of incense and altar of burnt-offering; basin and vessel and snuffer. Each is like a hook in the Divine household, to which God has attached a sacred meaning, and which will yield up its secret to those who reverently ask, and seek, and knock. Adapting some memorable words we may say: “The invisible things of God from the construction of the Tabernacle are clearly seen, being understood by the things that were made, even His eternal purpose of redemption.” (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Was the religion of Israel a revelation or a merely human development?

What were the salient features of the religion of Israel as compared with other religions of the ancient world? Nowhere else is there the same recognition at once of the unity of the Supreme Being, of His separation from and yet constant government over His creation, and of the consequent relations of duty and love on the part of man towards Him. Single philosophers in various nations and at various times, as Confucius or Buddha, Zoroaster or Plato, in some of these points rose to higher and better conceptions than their contemporaries; but confessedly, the religion proclaimed with authority to the whole people of Israel was immeasurably superior to that made known to any other ancient nation. For this fact there must be a cause. A theory proposed for acceptance is this: Some germs of this higher religion were handed down from very ancient times, here and there accepted and improved by the wiser and more spiritual among the people, gradually worked over by the enlightened prophets of Israel in the face of much opposition, and finally adopted by the people in the erroneous belief that such had been the faith of their fathers. We need not stop to ask how it happened that, among this particular people, so obstinately given, like their contemporaries, to polytheism and idolatry, such a long succession of enlightened prophets, teaching as with one voice, should have arisen. The theory itself does not meet the facts. The tradition that the religion of Amos and Isaiah was, in all its essential features, the religion also of Abraham and Moses was deeply imbedded in all the literature of Israel, and, what is, perhaps, still more important, in all their “folk-lore.” Assign what dates we please to the narratives of Genesis and Exodus, make even the reality-breathing stories of Abraham and Joseph and Moses mere legends and myths, if one can, there yet remains in these very legends and in every record by which we may look into the deepest convictions of the people, the consciousness that they were a nation chosen out of the whole earth by the Lord to receive certain revelations and promises from Him, bound to Him by peculiar ties, intended to fulfil certain purposes of His, and under the obligation of certain duties towards Him. How is this to be accounted for? Again, another difficulty with this theory is, that the essential basis of the religion of Israel is not one which admits of the sort of growth supposed. We might imagine a worship of the separate powers of nature gradually superseded by a recognition of the unity of nature, and so of one universal, underlying force, although historically such a process has tended rather to pantheism than to monotheism. But in Israel the first notes that are heard at all are of solitary supremacy. The fundamental utterance alike of command, of history, of popular song, through all the previous ages, is summed up in the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 42:8), “I am the Lord My glory will I not give to another.” The ten commandments form the very gist and kernel of the Hebrew religion, and are acknowledged by all critics to be a part of its most ancient statutes. They belonged to Israel when just emerging from a servile condition and when bent upon having a golden calf for their god; yet they open with the absolute and uncompromising command: “I am the Lord thy God: thou shalt have none other gods but Me?’ Other nations were more powerful, more numerous, more wealthy, more advanced in the arts; but in religion they stood on a lower plane. The only escape from the enormous difficulties of supposing such an evolution among the ancient Israelites is in the recognition of a revelation, and such revelation is entirely in accordance with the character of a loving and Almighty Father. The religion of Israel did not stop with the bare assertion of the unity of God. It insisted equally upon His absolute holiness and His benevolence. Here it was still more widely separated from other religions of antiquity. Is it probable that the Israelites, of all people in the world, developed this conception unaided? It is alleged that even among them this conception was very imperfect, that the sacred books attribute to God human passions and imperfections unworthy of this ideal, and put into His mouth commands of savage cruelty and revenge. The simple answer to this allegation is, that it is not true. God did indeed allow slavery, while greatly mitigating its hardships. He suffered divorce and polygamy, while imposing many restraints upon its license. He tolerated revenge, and even required a penalty equal to the injury in judicial judgments. But in all these things the same Scriptures taught that this was suffered for the time because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Man cannot be suddenly lifted from a very low to a high spiritual level. He must be raised little by little, as children are trained. But it is further said that men were “raised up by the Spirit of the Lord” for the deliverance of Israel, like Ehud, Samson, and others, who did very strange and very wicked things. These men were raised up for a noble purpose, but in the execution of it they were guided by their own imperfect light and erring judgment, and perhaps often swayed far more than they knew by human passion. But besides these there were men “after God’s own heart,” whom He loved and blessed, and yet who were guilty of very abominable crimes. “What,” it is asked, “was the holiness which could bear with such things?” But is God to be held responsible for every ill-advised or even wrong act which a man may do who has set out with an earnest desire to serve Him? Do we now reduce our conception of the holiness of our Heavenly Father to the level of the imperfect lives of those who profess to serve Him? Then why should we do so in judging of those far-away ages? There is really no difficulty in any of the things alleged when the story is read in the light of the times to which it belongs. The difficulties only become insoluble when the narratives and commands are supposed to have been written in a later and more enlightened age. But however these things may be, and whatever difficulties may arise from the lives Of the saints of old, or from things suffered or commanded in dealing with the hardness of men’s hearts, everywhere in the sacred books God Himself appears in unutterable and perfect holiness. Only in Israel is the first and greatest of all the commandments, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5); and nowhere else do we find failure in this authoritatively recognised as a moral offence, as sin. Is it more probable that the sages of Israel worked out this deepest of all relations from their own understanding and embodied it in their earliest law, or that they were taught it from on high? Closely related with the idea of sin was the practice of sacrifice. This practice, whencesoever derived, was substantially universal in the ancient world. The Hebrew sacrifices, however, are so distinguished from those of other nations in two points as to make them an essentially different institution.

1. Elsewhere sacrifice might be offered by any one, without regard to his character; and--

2. It was customary to increase the value of the offering--even to the extent sometimes of providing human victims--in proportion to the magnitude of the offence. The underlying idea, therefore, of these sacrifices, was the offering to the offended Deity an equivalent for the offence--a quid pro quo, a compensation for the wrong done--so that no further penalty could justly be exacted. Hence there was very little of a moral character about the transaction. In Israel it was far otherwise. Sacrifices were allowed by the law only for “sins of ignorance”--rather of inadvertence, of carelessness, of being led away by temptation and passion; for sins committed with a “high hand,” with a full knowledge of their wrongfulness and the defiance of a proud heart, no sacrifice was allowed (Numbers 15:30; Deuteronomy 17:12). This fact alone gives a totally different character to sacrifice in the two cases, because it introduces a moral element, and makes their acceptance depend upon motive and character. The second point is, if possible, still more distinctive. While the idea of sacrificial compensation was carried out among the heathen by proportioning the number and value of the victims to the greatness of the offence, nothing of this kind was so much as allowed by the Hebrew law. The sin-offering in every case must be the same, the she-goat--the commonest and cheapest of the domestic animals. Whole burnt-offerings might be increased, and peace-offerings, those feasts of communion with God, might be indefinitely-multiplied; but for the atoning sin-offering only and always the same simple victim. The lesson hereby taught is plain: sacrifices in themselves had no compensatory value. The value of sacrifices therefore could be but symbolic. Now, to suppose such a system of sacrifice, so unlike that of any other nation, so far-reaching in its meaning, and yet so adapted to a spiritually debased people, keeping alive in them the sense of sin and yet pointing to something better as the true atonement for sin--to suppose such a system to have been evolved by the philosophers of Judea and adopted by the Jews, seems by many degrees more improbable than that it was given them from on high. In the Hebrew religion the ground of man’s acceptance with God was neither sacrifice nor ceremonial observance, though these were required, but faith--a trust in God, bringing the whole heart and life into dependence upon Him and harmony with His will. The gospel teaches that this is the essential principle of all true religion; but how did Israel know it? Here and there the truth was more or less clearly seen by ore and another of the sages of antiquity; in Israel it was the fundamental teaching by the most varied teachers during more than a millennium of most changing fortune. How were those rude ages and those rough men of action able to grasp that principle which, even in our times, it has ever proved so difficult to keep alive in the hearts of men? It seems almost an insult to the understanding to ask whether it could have been a merely human ,development. It does not matter how little or how much the ordinary Hebrew may have recognised and acted upon this principle. It avails nothing to say that the men who illustrate it were remarkable and exceptional. The point is, that whether the people heard, or whether they forbore, this was the teaching of their religion. And there is no parallel to it elsewhere in the world. It may be objected that this must be a partial representation, since the religion of Israel was confessedly so largely ceremonial. But there was certainly no ceremonial law down to the time of Moses; and if (which the objectors deny)it was given then, it could have been but slightly observed during the wanderings in the wilderness, since even its fundamental rite of circumcision was neglected during this whole period (Joshua 5:2-7); further, it must have been largely in abeyance during the troubled time of the Judges; and it certainly could not have been carried out during the separation of the ark and the Tabernacle in the reigns of Saul and David. Thus its full observance only became possible after the building of Solomon’s temple, leaving, at the most, but two centuries before the voice of the prophets begins clearly to exalt the inward disposition of the heart above the outward forms of the ritual. It is impossible, chronologically, that the ceremonial law could, for any great length of time, have obscured the higher teaching of faith; and during this short period there were, on the one hand, some spiritual leaders, and on the part of the people continual opposition and revolt against the law. The general result, therefore, cannot have been very deeply affected in those early times by ,the ceremonial law; and even the law itself, as has been seen in regard to the sacrifices and as is equally true in other points, was but a guard arranged to prevent apostasy from the principle of faith. The ceremonial law has formed the gist of ,recent controversies about the antiquity of the religious system of the Israelites. “If;” it is asked, “the fundamental principle of that system was so true and spiritual, how came it to he overlaid by a mass of detailed and often petty precepts, by a rigid and elaborate ritual, and by a sternly fixed priestly hierarchy?” Two answers have been given. One is that of St. Paul, that the “law was added because of transgressions” (Galatians 3:19), and that it “was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24); the other, put forward by certain recent critics, is, that it was a gradual growth of ordinances under the influence of men who had usurped priestly power and functions. They maintain that while certain germs of it may have been handed down from very ancient times, it had its formal beginning about the reign of Josiah, and received its great development during the Babylonian captivity, especially under the influence of the prophet-priest, Ezekiel, but did not take its final shape until the remnant of the people had returned and been settled again in their ancestral land. Without here entering irate the question of the reliability of the history, it is sufficient to say that while St. Paul’s statement gives a clear and satisfactory view of the whole matter, an examination of the theory f the critics will show it to be improbable and self-destructive. In the first place, with what purpose in view could men have worked out such an elaborate system as the Levitical law? There are many instances of arrogant hierarhical systems among ancient nations as well as in corrupt forms of Christianity; but in all the system has ministered to the wealth or to the power of the priesthood by whom it is upheld. Now the fact stares us in the face that at no period of history, until long after the captivity, were the priests of Israel either a wealthy or a powerful body. At the outset, it was not Aaron, but Moses who was chosen to be the leader and lawgiver of the people; and Aaron, though high priest, was in a wholly subordinate position, he and his descendants, and the whole tribe of Levi, were cut off from inheritance with their fellow tribes in the division of laud, except mere cities of residence scattered among the other tribes. For their support the tithes of the increase of the other tribes was assigned to the Levites, and from them in turn the priests were to receive their tithes and also certain portions of the sacrifices. This seems, at first sight, an ample provision, and to have given the Levites a larger income than their brethren. But how was the collection of these tithes to be enforced? For this there was no other provision whatever than the influence of moral obligation. What would be the revenue of a modern state and the salaries of its officers if the payment of taxes rested only upon men’s sense of duty? In truth, all the incidental notices of the Levites, down to the time of David, represent them as poor, and as easily tempted to sacrifice the purity of their religion for the merest support, and they are spoken of in the law as objects for the charity of the people. If, then, the Levitical law was devised by the priests, it was so devised in opposition to all experience of human nature as to bring to themselves neither wealth nor power. They exerted a certain moral influence, and sometimes were advisers of the kings, as, e.g., Abiathar was to David, under very peculiar circumstances; yet even in this case the prophets Nathan and Gad appear to have had more influence, and Abiathar was at last deposed altogether from the high priesthood by Solomon. Peculiar circumstances gave Jehoiada great power over the youthful Joash, but when the old high priest died his successors could not keep Joash from apostasy (2 Chronicles 24:17, &c.), and it was no to the priests but to the prophet Zachariah that the fatal duty was entrusted of remonstrating with him for his sin (2 Chronicles 24:20; 2 Chronicles 24:22). When we come down to the times of the writing prophets, represented on the theory of the critics as teachers of a more spiritual religion which the priests were perverting to ceremonialism, two of the greater of them, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and we know not how many of the minor, were themselves priests. Further, in all the charges brought against the priests for their sins, the acquisition of power is not mentioned. On the return from the captivity Ezra is prominent in the organisation of the restored state; but it is more in his capacity as a scribe, learned in the law, than as a priest, and even so, he is entirely subordinate to Nehemiah, the civil governor. The theory, then, that the Levitical law was gradually developed by the priests for their own benefit, is plainly insufficient and not in accordance with the facts. Before taking up the other answer, given by St. Paul, a rapid glance must be taken at the prominent features of the law itself. Many of its precepts were simply intended to make Israel a peculiar people and prevent their too close mingling with men of other religions. Were these more likely to have been given at the outset, when there was no insuperable difficulty in their observance, or is it more probable that they grew up after Israel had been for centuries inextricably involved in the political struggles of her more powerful neighbours? A very large part of the detailed precepts of the law may be classed as educational--rules designed to train for a time spiritual children until they should be able to receive the principles on which they rested. If we compare the principles of morality and virtue as they are set forth in Christianity and in the various heathen religions, it is evident that the training provided by the precepts of the Mosaic Law was a preparation for the former and not for the latter. This relation of Judaism to Christianity is amply recognised by all the teachers of the latter, and it is historically abundantly evident that the gospel arose out of Judaism, as it could not have arisen out of any form of heathenism. Can it be supposed that a system of legislation should have been gradually evolved, providing petty precepts for a narrow-minded nation and seeking to isolate them from all other people, and yet, as shown by the result, designed to prepare them for the broad principles of a world-wide religion in the future? We may now turn to St. Paul’s answer to the question, “Wherefore then the law?” He had been maintaining that “the gospel was preached before unto Abraham,” to which this question came as an objection. He gives a twofold reply:

(1) “It was added because of transgressions,” and--

(2) “It was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.”

The force of the first reason is plain, and the whole history of Israel is an illustration of it. The nation who could worship a golden calf in the shadow of Sinai, and commit themselves to the abominations of the Canaanites, and could again and again apostatise, surely needed some stringent law “because of transgressions,” lest the knowledge of God should altogether perish from the world. The other answer, that “it was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ,” is involved in the whole preparatory office of the Hebrew religion, and is historically true. It did lead to Christ all that portion of the people who “looked for redemption,” “many myriads of the people,” and “a great company of the priests.” A glance must now be given to the completing elation of Christianity to Judaism. Throughout the New Testament, in every form of utterance, teaching, narrative, exhortation, argument, it is constantly reiterated by our Lord Himself and by all those whom He commissioned, that the gospel was the intended fulfillment and culmination of the law. It were hard to conceive of a greater contrast to the outward eye and to the superficial thought than was presented between the Judaism and the Christianity of apostolic days. So the unbelieving Jews regarded it, and persecuted to the death those who, they considered, had apostatised from the ancestral faith. Nevertheless, all the earlier promulgators of Christianity with one view steadfastly affirmed that the religion was essentially the same, and that the gospel was but the designed culmination of the law and the realisation of the “new covenant” which the God of Israel had promised to make with His people. They started in their preaching from the synagogue, and the Old Testament was everywhere the foundation of their reasoning. Now if all this was an entire error in the men who made the mistake and in the circumstances under which it was made, it was one of the most wonderful illusions of history, and an illusion shared by substantially all believers in Christianity to the present day. It is a phenomenon without parallel and requires explanation. But if they were right, then the law and the gospel must have proceeded from the same source, and that source could have been none other than Divine. (Prof. Gardiner.)


Ads FreeProfile