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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 19

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-37


Leviticus 19:1-37

WE have in this chapter a series of precepts and prohibitions which from internal evidence appear to have been selected by an inspired redactor of the canon from various original documents, with the purpose, not of presenting a complete enumeration of all moral and ceremonial duties, but of illustrating the application in the everyday life of the Israelite of the injunction which stands at the beginning of the chapter (Leviticus 19:2): "Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy."

Truly strange it is, in the full light of Hebrew history, to find anyone, like Kalisch, representing this conception of holiness, so fundamental to this law, as the "ripest fruit of Hebrew culture"! For it is insisted by such competent critics, as Dillmann, that we have not in this chapter a late development of Hebrew thought, but "ancient," "the most ancient" material; -we shall venture to say, dating even from the days of Moses, as is declared in Leviticus 19:1. And we may say more. For If such be the antiquity of this law, it should be easy even for the most superficial reader of the history to see how immeasurably far was that horde of almost wholly uncultured fugitives from Egyptian bondage from having attained through any culture this Mosaic conception of holiness. For "Hebrew culture," even in its latest maturity, has, at the best, only tended to develop more and more the idea, not of holiness, but of legality-a very different thing! The ideal expressed in this command, "Ye shall be holy," must have come, not from Israel, not even from Moses, as if originated by him, but from the Holy God Himself, even as the chapter in its first verse testifies.

The position of this command at the head of the long list of precepts which follows, is most significant and instructive. It sets before us the object of the whole ceremonial and moral law, and, we may add, the supreme object of the Gospel also, namely, to produce a certain type of moral and spiritual character, a HOLY manhood; it, moreover, precisely interprets this term, so universally misunderstood and misapplied among all nations, as essentially consisting in a spiritual likeness to God: "Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy." These words evidently at once define holiness and declare the supreme motive to the attainment and maintenance of a holy character. This then is brought before us as the central thought in which all the diverse precepts and prohibitions which follow find their unity; and, accordingly, we find this keynote of the whole law echoing, as it were, all through this chapter, in the constant refrain, repeated herein no less than fourteen-twice seven-times: "I am the Lord (Heb. Jehovah)!" "I am the Lord your God!"

The first division of the law of holiness which follows (Leviticus 19:3-8) deals with two duties of fundamental importance in the social and the religious life: the one, honour to parents; the other, reverence to God.

If we are surprised, at first, to see this place of honour in the law of holiness given to the fifth commandment (Leviticus 19:3), our surprise will lessen when we remember how, taking the individual in the development of his personal life, he learns to fear God, first of all, through fearing and honouring his parents. In the earliest beginnings of life, the parent-to speak with reverence-stands to his child, in a very peculiar sense, for and in the place of God. We gain the conception of the Father in heaven first from our experience of fatherhood on earth; and so it may be said of this commandment, in a sense in which it cannot be said of any other, that it is the foundation of all religion. Alas for the child who contemns the instruction of his father and the command of his mother! for by so doing he puts himself out of the possibility of coming into the knowledge and experience of the Fatherhood of God.

The principle of reverence toward God is inculcated, not here by direct precept, but by three injunctions, obedience to which presupposes the fear of God in the heart. These are, first (Leviticus 19:3), the keeping of the sabbaths; the possessive, "My sabbaths," reminding us tersely of God’s claim upon the seventh part of all our time as His time. Then is commanded the avoidance of idolatry (Leviticus 19:4); and, lastly (Leviticus 19:5-8), a charge as to the observance of the law of the peace offering.

One reason seems to have determined the selection of each of these three injunctions, namely, that Israel would be more liable to fail in obedience to these than perhaps any other duties of the law. As for the sabbath, this, like the law of the peace offering, was a positive, not a moral law; that is, it depended for its authority primarily on the explicit ordinance of God, instead of the intuition of the natural conscience. Hence it was certain that it would only be kept in so far as man retained a vivid consciousness of the Divine personality and moral authority. Moreover, as all history has shown, the law of the sabbath rest from labour constantly comes into conflict with man’s love of gain and eager haste to make money. It is a life picture, true for men of every generation, when Amos {Amos 8:5} brings before us the Israelites of his day as saying, in their insatiate worldly greed, "When will the sabbath be gone, that we may set forth wheat?" As regards the selection of the second commandment, one can easily see that Israel’s loyalty, surrounded as they were on every side with idolaters, was to be tested with peculiar severity on this point, whether they would indeed worship the living God alone and without the intervention of idols.

The circumstances, as regards the peace offering, were different; but the same principle of choice can be discovered in this also. For among all the various ordinances of sacrificial worship there was none in which the requisitions of the law were more likely to be neglected; partly because these were the most frequent of all offerings, and also because the Israelite would often be tempted, through a short-sighted economy and worldly thriftiness, to use the meat of the peace offering for food, if any remained until the third day, instead of burning it, in such case, as the Lord commanded. Hence the reminder of the law on this subject, teaching that he who will be holy must not seek to save at the expense of obedience to the holy God.

The second section of this chapter (Leviticus 19:9-18) consists of five groups, each of five precepts, all relating to duties which the law of holiness requires from man to man, and each of them closing with the characteristic and impressive refrain, "I am the Lord."

The first of these pentads (Leviticus 19:9-10) requires habitual care for the poor: we read, "Thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger."

The law covers the three chief products of their agriculture: the grain, the product of the vine, and the fruit of the trees, -largely olive trees, which were often planted in the vineyard. So often as God blessed them with the harvest, they were to remember the poor, and also "the stranger," who according to the law could have a legal claim to no land in Israel. Apart from the benefit to the poor, one can readily see what an admirable discipline against man’s natural selfishness, and in loyalty to God, this regulation, faithfully observed, must have been. Behind these commands lies the principle, elsewhere explicitly expressed, {Leviticus 25:23} that the land which the Israelite tilled was not his own, but the Lord’s; and it is as the Owner of the land that He thus charges them that as His tenants they shall not regard themselves as entitled to everything that the land produces, but bear in mind that He intends a portion of every acre of each Israelite to be reserved for the poor. And so the labourer in the harvest field was continually reminded that in his husbandry he was merely God’s steward, bound to apply the product of the land, the use of which was given him, in such a way as should please the Lord.

If the law is not in force as to the letter, let us not forget that it is of full validity as to its spirit. God is still the God of the poor and needy; and we are still every one, as truly as the Hebrew in those days, the stewards of God. And the poor we have with us always; perhaps never more than in these days, in which so great masses of helpless humanity are crowded together in our immense cities, did the cry of the poor and needy so ascend to heaven. And that the Apostles, acting under Divine direction, and abolishing the letter of the theocratic law, yet steadily maintained the spirit and intention of that law in care for the poor, is testified with abundant fulness in the New Testament. One of the first fruits of Pentecost in the lives of believers was just this, that "all that believed had all things common," {Acts 2:44-45} so that, going even beyond the letter of the old law, "they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need," And the one only charge which the Apostles at Jerusalem gave unto Paul is reported by him in these words: {; Galatians 2:10} "Only they would that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do." Let the believer then remember this who has plenty: the corners of his fields are to be kept for the poor, and the gleanings of his vineyards; and let the believer also take the peculiar comfort from this law, if he is poor, that God, his heavenly Father, has a kindly care, not merely for his spiritual wants, but also for his temporal necessities.

The second pentad (Leviticus 19:11-12) in the letter refers to three of the ten commandments, but is really concerned, primarily, with stealing and defrauding; for the lying and false swearing is here regarded only as commonly connected with theft and fraud, because often necessary to secure the result of a man’s plunder. The pentad is in this form: "Ye shall not steal; neither shall ye deal falsely, nor lie one to another. And ye shall not swear by My name falsely, so that thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord!"

Close upon stinginess and the careless greed which neglects the poor, with eager grasping after the last grape on the vine, follows the active effort to get, not only the uttermost that might by any stretch of charity be regarded as our own, but also to get something more that belongs to our neighbour. There is thus a very close connection in thought, as well as in position, in these two groups of precepts. And the sequence of thought in this group suggests what is, indeed, markedly true of stealing, but also of other sins. sin rarely goes alone; one sin, by almost a necessity, leads straight on to another sin. He who steals, or deals falsely in regard to anything committed to his trust, will most naturally be led on at once to lie about it; and when his lie is challenged, as it is likely to be, he is impelled by a fatal pressure to go yet further, and fortify his lie, and consummate his sin, by appealing by an oath to the Holy God, as witness to the truth of his lie. Thus, the sin which in the beginning is directed only toward a fellowman, too often causes one to sin immediately against God, in profanation of the name of the God of truth, by calling on Him as witness to a lie! Of this tendency of sin, stealing is a single illustration; but let us ever remember that it is a law of all sin that sin ever begets more sin.

This second group has dealt with injury to the neighbour in the way of guile and fraud; the third pentad (Leviticus 19:13-14), progressing further, speaks of wrong committed in ways of oppression and violence. "Thou shalt not oppress thy neighbour, nor rob him: the wages of a hired servant shall not abide with thee all night until the morning. Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but thou shalt fear thy God: I am the Lord!" In these commands, again it is still the helpless and defenceless in whose behalf the Lord is speaking. The words regard a man as having it in his power to press hard upon his neighbour; as when an employer, seeing that a man must needs have work at any price, takes advantage of his need to employ him at less than fair wages; or as when he who holds a mortgage against his neighbour, seeing an opportunity to possess himself of a field or an estate for a trifle, by pressing his technical legal rights, strips his poor debtor needlessly. No end of illustrations, evidently, could be given out of our modern life. Man’s nature is the same now as in the days of Moses. But all dealings of this kind, whether then or now, the law of holiness sternly prohibits.

So also with the injunction concerning the retention of wages after it is due. I have not fulfilled the law of love toward the man or woman whom I employ merely by paying fair wages; I must also pay promptly. The Deuteronomic law repeats the command, and, with a peculiar touch of sympathetic tenderness, adds the reason: {Leviticus 24:15} "for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it." I must therefore give the labourer his wages "in his day." A sin this is, of the rich especially, and, most of all, of rich corporations, with which the sense of personal responsibility to God is too often reduced to a minimum. Yet it is often, no doubt, committed through sheer thoughtlessness. Men who are themselves blessed with such abundance that they are not seriously incommoded by a delay in receiving some small sum, too often forget how a great part of the poor live, as the saying is, "from hand to mouth," so that the failure to get what is due to them at the exact time appointed is frequently a sore trial; and, moreover, by forcing them to buy on credit instead of for cash, of necessity increases the expense of their living, and so really robs them of that which is their own.

The thought is still of care for the helpless, in the words concerning the deaf and the blind, which, of course, are of perpetual force, and, in the principle involved, reach indefinitely beyond these single illustrations. We are not to take advantage of any man’s helplessness, and, especially, of such disabilities as he cannot help, to wrong him. Even the common conscience of men recognises this as both wicked and mean; and this verdict of conscience is here emphasised by the reminder "I am the Lord," - suggesting that the labourer who reaps the fields, yea, the blind also and the deaf, are His creatures; and that He, the merciful and just One, will not disown the relation, but will plead their cause.

Each of these groups of precepts has kept the poor and the needy in a special way, though not exclusively, before the conscience. And yet no man is to imagine that therefore God will be partial toward the poor, and that hence, although one may not wrong the poor, one may wrong the rich with impunity. Many of our modern social reformers, in their zeal for the betterment of the poor, seem to imagine that because a poor man has rights which are too frequently ignored by the rich, and thus often suffers grievous wrongs, therefore a rich man has no rights which the poor man is bound to respect. The next pentad of precepts therefore guards against any such false inference from God’s special concern for the poor, and reminds us that the absolute righteousness of the Holy One requires that the rights of the rich be observed no less than the rights of the poor, those of the employer no less than those of the employed. It deals especially with this matter as it comes up in questions requiring legal adjudication. We read (Leviticus 19:15-16), "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the Lord!"

A plain warning lies here for an increasing class of reformers in our day, who loudly express their special concern for the poor, but who in their zeal for social reform and the diminishing of poverty are forgetful of righteousness and equity. It applies, for instance, to all who would affirm and teach with Marx that "capital is robbery"; or who, not yet quite ready for so plain and candid words, yet would, in any way, in order to right the wrongs of the poor, advocate legislation involving practical confiscation of the estates of the rich.

In close connection with the foregoing, the next precept forbids, not precisely "tale bearing," but "slander," as the word is elsewhere rendered, even in the Revised Version. In the court of judgment, slander is not to be uttered nor listened to. The clause which follows is obscure; but means either, "Thou shalt not, by such slanderous testimony, seek in the court of judgment thy neighbour’s life," which best suits the parallelism; or, perhaps, as the Talmud and most modern Jewish versions interpret, "Thou shalt not stand silent by, when thy neighbour’s life is in danger in the court of judgment, and thy testimony might save him." And then again comes in the customary refrain, reminding the Israelite that in every court, noting every act of judgment, and listening to every witness, is a judge unseen, omniscient, absolutely righteous, under whose final review, for confirmation or reversal, shall come all earthly decisions: "I," who thus speak, "am the Lord!"

The fifth and last pentad (Leviticus 19:17-18) fitly closes the series, by its five precepts, of which, three, reaching behind all such outward acts as are required or forbidden in the foregoing, deal with the state of the heart toward our neighbour which the law of holiness requires, as the soul and the root of all righteousness. It closes with the familiar words, so simple that all can understand them, so comprehensive that in obedience to them is comprehended all morality and righteousness toward man: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." The verses read, "Thou shall not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear sin because of him. Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children oil thy people, but thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord!"

Most instructive it is to find it suggested by this order, as the best evidence of the absence of hate, and the truest expression of love to our neighbour, that when we see him doing wrong we shall rebuke him. The Apostle Paul has enjoined upon Christians the same duty, indicating also the spirit in which it is to be performed: {Galatians 6:1} "Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Thus, if we will be holy, it is not to be a matter of no concern to us that our neighbour does wrong, even though that wrong do not directly affect our personal well being. Instead of this, we are to remember that if we rebuke him not, we ourselves "bear sin, because of him"; that is, we ourselves, in a degree, become guilty with him, because of that wrong doing of his which we sought not in any way to hinder. But although, on the one hand, I am to rebuke the wrongdoer, even when his wrong does not touch me personally, yet, the law adds, I am not to take into my own hands the avenging of wrongs, even when myself injured; neither am I to be envious and grudge any neighbour the good he may have; no, not though he be an ill-doer and deserve it not; but be he friend or foe, well-doer or ill-doer, I must love him as myself.

What an admirable epitome of the whole law of righteousness! a Mosaic anticipation of the very spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. Evidently, the same mind speaks in both alike; the law the same, the object and aim of the law the same, both in Leviticus and in the Gospel. In this law we hear: "Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy"; in the Sermon on the Mount: "Ye shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

The third division of this chapter (Leviticus 19:19-32) opens with a general charge to obedience: "Ye shall keep My statutes"; very possibly, because several of the commands which immediately follow might seem in themselves of little consequence, and so be lightly disobeyed. The law of Leviticus 19:19 prohibits raising hybrid animals, as, for example, mules; the next command apparently refers to the chance, through sowing a field with mingled seed, of giving rise to hybrid forms in the vegetable kingdom. The last command in this verse is obscure both in meaning and intention. It reads (R.V), "Neither shall there come upon thee a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together." Most probably the reference is to different materials, interwoven in the yarn of which the dress was made; but a difficulty still remains in the fact that such admixture was ordered in the garments of the priests. Perhaps the best explanation is that of Josephus, that the law here was only intended for the laity; which, as no question of intrinsic morality was involved, might easily have been. But when we inquire as to the reason of these prohibitions, and especially of this last one, it must be confessed that it is hard for us now to speak with confidence. Most probable it appears that they were intended for an educational purpose, to cultivate in the mind of the people the sentiment of reverence for the order established in nature by God. For what the world calls the order of nature is really an order appointed by God, as the infinitely wise and perfect One; hence, as nature is thus a manifestation of God, the Hebrew was forbidden to seek to bring about that which is not according to nature, unnatural corn mixtures; and from this point of view, the last of the three precepts appears to be a symbolic reminder of the same duty, namely, reverence for the order of nature, as being an order determined by God.

The law which is laid down in Leviticus 19:20-22, regarding the sin of connection with a bondwoman betrothed to a husband, apparently refers to such a case as is mentioned in Exodus 21:7-8, where the bond maid is betrothed to her master, while yet, because of her condition of bondage, the marriage has not been consummated. For the same sin in the case of a free woman, where both were proved guilty, for each of them the punishment was death. {; Deuteronomy 22:23-24} In this case, because the woman’s position, inasmuch as she was not free, was rather that of a concubine than of a full wife, the lighter penalty of scourging is ordered for both of the guilty persons. Also, since this was a case of trespass as well, in which the rights of the master to whom she was espoused were involved, a guilt offering was in addition required, as the condition of pardon.

It will be said, and truly, that by this law slavery and concubinage are to a certain extent recognised by the law; and upon this fact has been raised an objection bearing on the holiness of the law giver, and, by consequence, on the Divine origin and inspiration of the law. Is it conceivable that the holy God should have given a law for the regulation of two so evil institutions? The answer has been furnished us, in principle, by our Lord, {Matthew 19:8} in that which He said concerning the analogous case of the law of Moses touching divorce; which law, He tells us, although not according to the perfect ideal of right, was yet given "because of the hardness of men’s hearts." That is, although it was not the best law ideally, it was the best practically, in view of the low moral tone of the people to whom it was given. Precisely so it was in this case. Abstractly, one might say that the case was in nothing different from the case of a free woman, mentioned Deuteronomy 22:23-24, for which death was the appointed punishment; but practically, in a community where slavery and concubinage were long-settled institutions, and the moral standard was still low, the cases were not parallel. A law which would carry with it the moral support of the people in the one case, and which it would thus be possible to carry into effect, would not be in like manner supported and carried into effect in the other; so that the result of greater strictness in theory would, in actual practice, be the removal thereby of all restriction on license. On the other hand, by thus appointing herein a penalty for both the guilty parties such as the public conscience would approve, God taught the Hebrews the fundamental lesson that a slave girl is not regarded by God as a mere chattel; and that if, because of the hardness of their hearts, concubinage was tolerated for a time, still the slave girl must not be treated as a thing, but as a person, and indiscriminate license could not be permitted. And thus, it is of greatest moment to observe, a principle was introduced into the legislation, which in its ultimate logical application would require and effect-as in due time it has-the total abolition of the institution of slavery wherever the authority of the living God is truly recognised.

The principle of the Divine government which is here illustrated is one of exceeding practical importance as a model for us. We live in an age when, everywhere in Christendom, the cry is "Reform"; and there are many who think that if once it be proved that a thing is wrong, it follows by necessary consequence that the immediate and unqualified legal prohibition of that wrong, under such penalty as the wrong may deserve, is the only thing that any Christian man has a right to think of. And yet, according to the principle illustrated in this legislation, this conclusion in such cases can by no means be taken for granted. That is not always the best law practically which is the best law abstractly. That law is the best which shall be most effective in diminishing a given evil, under the existing moral condition of the community; and it is often a matter of such exceeding difficulty to determine what legislation against admitted sins and evils may be the most productive of good in a community whose moral sense is dull concerning them, that it is not strange that the best of men are often found to differ. Remembering this, we may well commend the duty of a more charitable judgment, in such cases, than one often hears from such radical reformers, who seem to imagine that in order to remove an evil all that is necessary is to pass a law at once and forever prohibiting it; and who therefore hold up to obloquy all who doubt as to the wisdom and duty of so doing, as the enemies of truth and of righteousness. Moses, acting under direct instruction from the God of supreme wisdom and of perfect holiness, was far wiser than such well-meaning but sadly mistaken social reformers, who would fain be wiser than God.

Next follows a law (Leviticus 19:23-25) directing that when any fruit tree is planted, the Israelite shall not eat of its fruit for the first three years; that the fruit of the fourth year shall be wholly consecrated to the Lord, "for giving praise unto Jehovah"; and that only after that, in the fifth year of its bearing, shall the husbandman himself first eat of its fruit.

The explanation of this peculiar regulation is to be found in a special application of the principle which rules throughout the law; that the first fruit, whether the firstborn of man or beast, or the first fruits of the field, shall always be consecrated unto God. But in this case the application of the principle is modified by the familiar fact that the fruit of a young tree, for the first few years of its bearing, is apt to be imperfect; it is not yet sufficiently grown to yield its best possible product. Because of this, in those years it could not be given to the Lord, for He must never be served with any but the best of everything; and thus until the fruit should reach its best, so as to be worthy of presentation to the Lord, the Israelite was meanwhile debarred from using it. During these three years the trees are said to be "as uncircumcised"; i.e., they were to be regarded as in a condition analogous to that of the child who has not yet been consecrated, by the act of circumcision, to the Lord. In the fourth year, however, the trees were regarded as having now so grown as to yield fruit in perfection; hence, the principle of the consecration of the first fruit now applies, and all the fourth year’s product is given to the Lord, as an offering of thankful praise to Him whose power in nature is the secret of all growth, fruitfulness, and increase. The last words of this law, "that it may yield unto you its increase." evidently refer to all that precedes. Israel is to obey this law, using nothing till first consecrated to the Lord, in order to a blessing in these very gifts of God.

The moral teaching of this law, when it is thus read in the light of the general principle of the consecration of the first fruits, is very plain. It teaches, as in all analogous cases, that God is always to be served before ourselves; and that not grudgingly, as if an irksome tax were to be paid to the Majesty of heaven, but in the spirit of thanksgiving and praise to Him, as the Giver of "every good and perfect gift." It further instructs us in this particular instance, that the people of God are to recognise this as being true even of all those good things which come to us under the forms of products of nature.

The lesson is not an easy one for faith; for the constant tendency, never stronger than in our own time, is to substitute "Nature" for the God of nature, as if nature were a power in itself and apart from God, immanent in all nature, the present and efficient energy in all her manifold operations. Very fittingly, thus, do we find here again (Leviticus 19:25) the sanction affixed to this law, "I am the Lord your God!" Jehovah, your God who redeemed you, who therefore am worthy of all thanksgiving and praise! Jehovah, your God in covenant, who gives the fruitful seasons! filling your hearts with joy and gladness! Jehovah, your God, who as the Lord of Nature, and the Power in nature, am abundantly able to fulfil the promise affixed to this command!

The next six commands are evidently grouped together as referring to various distinctively heathenish customs, from which Israel, as a people holy to the Lord, was to abstain. The prohibition of blood (Leviticus 19:26) is repeated again, not, as has been said, in a stronger form than before, but probably, because the eating of blood was connected with certain heathenish ceremonies, both among the Shemitic tribes and others. The next two precepts (Leviticus 19:26) prohibit every kind of divination and augury; practices notoriously common with the heathen everywhere, in ancient and in modern times. The two precepts which follow, forbidding certain fashions of trimming the hair and beard, may appear trivial to many, but they will not seem so to anyone who will remember how common among heathen peoples has been the custom, as in those days among the Arabs, and in our time among the Hindoos to trim the hair or beard in a particular way, in order thus visibly to mark a person as of a certain religion, or as a worshipper of a certain god. The command means that the Israelite was not only to worship God alone, but he was not to adopt a fashion in dress which, because commonly associated with idolatry, might thus misrepresent his real position as a worshipper of the only living and true God.

"Cutting the flesh for the dead" (Leviticus 19:28) has been very widely practised by heathen peoples in all ages. Such immoderate and unseemly expressions of grief were prohibited to the Israelite, as unworthy of a people who were in a blessed covenant relation with the God of life and of death. Rather, recognising that death is of God’s ordination, he was to accept in patience and humility the stroke of God’s hand; not, indeed, without sorrow, but yet in meekness and quietness of spirit, trusting in the God of life. The thought is only a less clear expression of the New Testament word {; 1 Thessalonians 4:13} that the believer "sorrow not, even as the rest, which have no hope." Also, probably, in this prohibition, as certainly in the next (Leviticus 19:28), it is suggested that as the Israelite was to be distinguished from the heathen by full consecration, not only of the soul, but also of the body, to the Lord, he was by that fact inhibited from marring or defacing in any way the integrity of his body.

In general, we may say, then, that the central thought which binds this group of precepts together, is the obligation, not merely to abstain from everything directly idolatrous, but also from all such customs as are, in fact, rooted in or closely associated with idolatry. On the same principle, the Christian is to beware of all fashions and practices, even though they may be in themselves indifferent, which yet, as a matter of fact, are specially characteristic of the worldly and ungodly element in society. The principle assumed in these prohibitions thus imposes upon all who would be holy to the Lord, in all ages, a firm restriction. The thoughtless desire of many, at any risk, to be "in the fashion," must be unwaveringly denied. The reason which is so often given by professing Christians for indulgence in such cases, that "all the world does so," may often be the strongest possible reason for declining to follow the fashion. No servant of God should ever be seen in any part of the livery of Satan’s servants. That God does not think these "little things" always of trifling consequence, we are reminded by the repetition here, for the tenth time in this chapter, of the words, "I am the Lord!"

Next (Leviticus 19:29) follows the prohibition of the horrible custom, still practised among heathen peoples, of the prostitution of a daughter by a parent. It is here enforced by the consideration of the public weal: "lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness." Assuredly, that a land in which such harlotry as this, in which all the most sacred relations of life are trampled in the mire, would be nothing less than a land full of wickedness, is so evident as to require no comment.

Herewith now begins the fourth and last division of this chapter (Leviticus 19:30-37), with a repetition of the injunction to keep the Sabbaths of the Lord, and reverence His sanctuary. The emphasis on this command, shown by its repetition in this chapter, and the very prominent place which it occupies both in the law and the prophets, certainly suggest that in the mind of God, reverence for the Sabbath and for the place where God is worshipped, has much to do with the promotion of holiness of life, and the maintenance of a high degree of domestic and social morality. Nor is it difficult to see why this should be so. For however the day of holy rest may be kept, and the place of Divine worship be regarded with only an outward reverence by many, yet the fact cannot be disputed, that the observance of a weekly sabbatic rest from ordinary secular occupations, and the maintenance of a spirit of reverence for sacred places or for sacred times, has, and must have, a certain and most happy tendency to keep the God of the Sabbath and the God of the sanctuary before the mind of men, and thus imposes an effective check upon unrestrained godlessness and reckless excesses of iniquity. The diverse condition of things in various parts of modern Christendom, as related to the more or less careful observance of the weekly religious rest, is full of both instruction and warning to any candid mind upon this subject. There is no restraint on immorality like the frequent remembrance of God and the spirit of reverence for Him.

Leviticus 19:31 prohibits all inquiring of them that "have familiar spirits," and of "wizards," who pretend to make revelations through the help of supernatural powers. According to 1 Samuel 28:7-11, and Isaiah 8:19, the "familiar spirit" is a supposed spirit of a dead man, from whom one professes to be able to give communications to the living. This pretended commerce with the spirits of the dead has been common enough in heathenism always, and it is not strange to find it mentioned here, when Israel was to be in so intimate relations with heathen peoples. But it is truly most extraordinary that in Christian lands, as especially in the United States of America, and that in the full light, religious and intellectual, of the last half of the nineteenth century, such a prohibition should be fully as pertinent as in Israel! For no words could more precisely describe the pretensions of the so-called modern spiritualism, which within the last half century has led away hundreds of thousands of deluded souls, and those, in many cases, not from the ignorant and degraded, but from circles which boast of more than average culture and intellectual enlightenment. And inasmuch as experience sadly shows that even those who profess to be disciples of Christ are in danger of being led away by our modern wizards and traffickers with familiar spirits, it is by no means unnecessary to observe that there is not the slightest reason to believe that this which was rigidly forbidden by God in the fifteenth century B.C.., can now be well pleasing to Him in the nineteenth century A.D. And those who have most carefully watched the moral developments of this latter-day delusion, will most appreciate the added phrase which speaks of this as "defiling" a man.

Leviticus 19:32 enjoins reverence for the aged, and closely connects it with the fear of God. "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and thou shalt fear thy God: I am the Lord."

A virtue this is which-it must be with shame confessed-although often displayed in an illustrious manner among the heathen, in many parts of Christendom has sadly decayed. In many lands one only needs to travel in any crowded conveyance to observe how far it is from the thoughts of many of the young "to rise up before the hoary head. and honour the face of the old man." So manifest are the facts that ore bears from competent and thoughtful observers of the tendencies of our times no lamentation more frequently than just this, for the concurrent decay of reverence for the aged and reverence for God. No more beautiful remarks on these words have we found than the words quoted by Dr. H. Bonar, commenting on this verse: "Lo the shadow of eternity! for one cometh who is almost in eternity already. His head and his beard, white as snow, indicate his speedy appearance before the Ancient of Days, the hair of whose head is as pure wool."

In this last command is also, no doubt, contained the thought of the comparative weakness and physical infirmity of the aged, which is thus commended in a special way to our tender regard. And thus this sentiment of kindly sympathy for all who are subject to any kind of disability naturally prepares the way for the injunction (Leviticus 19:33-34) to regard "the stranger" in the midst of Israel, who was debarred from holding land, and from many privileges, with special feelings of goodwill. "If a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not do him wrong. The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the homeborn among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."

The Israelite was not to misinterpret, then, the restrictions which the theocratic law imposed upon such. These might be no doubt necessary for a moral reason; but, nevertheless, no man was to argue that the law justified him in dealing hardly with aliens. So far from this, the Israelite was to regard the stranger with the same kindly feelings as if he were one of his own people. And it is most instructive to observe that this particular case is made the occasion of repeating that most perfect and comprehensive law of universal love, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself"; and this the more they. were to do that they too had been "strangers in the land of Egypt."

Last of all the injunctions in this chapter (Leviticus 19:35-36) comes the command to absolute righteousness in the administration of justice, and in all matters of buying and selling; followed (Leviticus 19:37) by a concluding charge to obedience, thus: "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt. And ye shall observe all My statutes, and all My judgments, and do them: I am the Lord."

The ephah is named here, of course, as a standard of dry measure, and the hin as a standard of liquid measure. These commandments are illustrated in a graphic way by the parallel passage in Deuteronomy 25:13-14, which reads: "Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small"; i.e., one set for use in buying, and another set for use in selling. This charge is there enforced by the same promise to honesty in trade which is annexed to the fifth commandment, namely, length of days; and, furthermore, by the declaration that all who thus cheat in trade "are an abomination unto the Lord."

How much Israel needed this law all their history has shown. In the days of Amos it was a part of his charge against the ten tribes, {Amos 8:5} for which the Lord declares that He will "make the land to tremble, and everyone in it to mourn," that they "make the ephah small, and the shekel great," and "deal falsely with balances of deceit." So also Micah, a little later, represents the Lord as calling Judah to account for supposing that God, the Holy One, can be satisfied with burnt offerings and guilt offerings; indignantly asking, {; Micah 6:10-11} "Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable?"

But it is not Israel alone which has needed, and still needs, to hear iterated this command, for the sin is found in every people, even in every city, one might say in every town, in Christendom; and-we have to say it-often with men who make a certain profession of regard for religion. All such, however religious in certain ways, have special need to remember that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord"; and that holiness is now exactly what it was-when the Levitical law was given out. As, on the one side, it is inspired by reverence and fear toward God, so, on the other hand, it requires love to the neighbour as to one’s self, and such conduct as that will secure. It is of no account, therefore, to keep the Sabbath-in a way - and reverence-outwardly-the sanctuary, and then on the weekday water milk, adulterate medicines, sugars, and other foods, slip the yardstick in measuring, tip the balance in weighing, and buy with one weight or measure and sell with another, "water" stocks and gamble in "margins," as the manner of many is. God hates, and even honest atheists despise, religion of this kind. Strange notions, truly, of religion have men who have not yet discovered that it has to do with just such commonplace, everyday matters as these, and have never yet understood how certain it is that a religion which is only used on Sundays has no holiness in it; and therefore, when the day comes, as it is coming, that shall try every man’s work as by fire, it will, in the fierce heat of Jehovah’s judgment, be shrivelled into ashes as a spider’s web in a flame, and the man and his work shall perish together.

And herewith this chapter closes. Such is the law of holiness! Obligatory, let us not forget, in the spirit of all its requirements, today, unchanged and unchangeable, because the Holy God, whose law it is, is Himself unchangeable. Man may be sinful, and because of sin be weak; but there is not a hint of compromise with sin, on this account, by any abatement of its claims. At every step of life this law confronts us. Whether we be in the House of God, in acts of worship, it challenges us there; or in the field, at our work, it commands us there; in social intercourse with our fellow men, in our business in bank or shop, with our friends or with strangers and aliens, at home or abroad, we are never out of the reach of its requirements. We can no more escape from under its authority than from under the overarching heaven! What sobering thoughts are these for sinners! What self-humiliation should this law cause us, when we think what we are! what intensity of aspiration, when we think of what the Holy One would have us be, holy like Himself!

The closing words above given (Leviticus 19:37) assert the authority of the Law giver, and, by their reminder of the great deliverance from Egypt, appeal, as a motive to faithful and holy obedience, to the purest sentiment of grateful love for undeserved and distinguishing mercy. And this is only the Old Testament form of a New Testament argument. For we read, concerning our deliverance from a worse than Egyptian bondage: {; 1 Peter 1:15-19} "Like as He which called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on Him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to each man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear: knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, as silver or gold but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ."

Verses 5-8


Leviticus 3:1-17; Leviticus 7:11-34; Leviticus 19:5-8; Leviticus 22:21-25

IN chapter 3 is given, though not with completeness, the law of the peace offering. The alternative rendering of this term, "thank offering" (marg. R.V), precisely expresses only one variety of the peace offering; and while it is probably impossible to find any one word that shall express in a satisfactory way the whole conception of this offering, it is not easy to find one better than the familiar term which the Revisers have happily retained. As will be made clear in the. sequel, it was the main object of this offering, as consisting of a sacrifice terminating in a festive sacrificial meal, to express the conception of friendship, peace, and fellowship with God as secured by the shedding of atoning blood.

Like the burnt offering and the meal offering, the peace offering had come down from the times before Moses. We read of it, though not explicitly named, in Genesis 31:54, on the occasion of the covenant between Jacob and Laban, wherein they jointly took God as witness of their covenant of friendship; and, again, in Exodus 18:12, where "Jethro took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God; and Aaron came and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God." Nor was this form of sacrifice, any more than the burnt offering, confined to the line of Abraham’s seed. Indeed, scarcely any religious custom has from the most remote antiquity been more universally observed than this of a sacrifice essentially connected with a sacrificial meal. An instance of the heathen form of this sacrifice is even given in the Pentateuch, where we are {; Exodus 32:6} how the people, having made the golden calf, worshipped it with peace offerings, and "sat down to eat and to drink" at the sacrificial meal which was inseparable from the peace offering; while in 1 Corinthians 10:1-33, Paul refers to like sacrificial feasts as common among the idolaters of Corinth.

It hardly needs to be again remarked that there is nothing in such facts as these to trouble the faith of the Christian, any more than in the general prevalence of worship and of prayer among heathen nations. Rather, in all these cases alike, are we to see the expression on the part of man of a sense of need and want, especially, in this case, of friendship and fellowship with God; and, seeing that the conception of a sacrifice culminating in a feast was, in truth, most happily adapted to symbolise this idea, surely it were nothing strange that God should base the ordinances of His own worship upon such universal conceptions and customs, correcting in them only, as we shall see, what might directly or indirectly misrepresent truth. Where an alphabet, so to speak, is thus already found existing, whether in letters or in symbols, why should the Lord communicate a new and unfamiliar symbolism, which, because new and unfamiliar, would have been, for that reason, far less likely to be understood?

The plan of chapter 3 is very simple; and there is little in its phraseology requiring explanation. Prescriptions are given for the offering of peace offerings, first, from the herd (Leviticus 3:1-5); then, from the flock, whether of the sheep (Leviticus 3:6-11) or of the goats (Leviticus 3:12-16). After each of these three sections it is formally declared of each offering that it is "a sweet savour," "an offering made by fire," or "the food of the offering made by fire unto the Lord." The chapter then closes with a prohibition, specially occasioned by the directions for this sacrifice, of all use by Israel of fat or blood as food.

The regulations relating to the selection of the victim for the offering differ from those for the burnt offering in allowing a greater liberty of choice. A female was permitted, as well as a male; though recorded instances of the observance of the peace offering indicate that the male was even here preferred when obtainable. The offering of a dove or a pigeon is not, however, mentioned as permissible, as in the case of the burnt offering. But this is no exception to the rule of greater liberty of choice, since these were excluded by the object of the offering as a sacrificial meal, for which, obviously, a small bird would be insufficient. Ordinarily, the victim must be without blemish; and yet, even in this matter, a larger liberty was allowed {Leviticus 22:23} in the case of those which were termed "freewill offerings," where it was permitted to offer even a bullock or a lamb which might have "some part superfluous or lacking." The latitude of choice thus allowed finds its sufficient explanation in the fact that while the idea of representation and expiation had a place in the peace offering as in all bloody offerings, yet this was subordinate to the chief intent of the sacrifice, which was to represent the victim as food given by God to Israel in the sacrificial meal. It is to be observed that only such defects are therefore allowed in the victim as could not possibly affect its value as food. And so even already, in these regulations as to the selection of the victim, we have a hint that we have now to do with a type, in which the dominant thought is not so much Christ, the Holy Victim, our representative, as Christ the Lamb of God, the food of the soul, through participation in which we have fellowship with God.

As before remarked, the ritual acts in the bloody sacrifices are, in all, six, each of which, in the peace offering, has its proper place. Of these, the first four, namely, the presentation, the laying on of the hand, the killing of the victim, and the sprinkling of the blood, are precisely the same as in the burnt offering, and have the same symbolic and typical significance. In both the burnt offering and the peace offering, the innocent victim typified the Lamb of God, presented by the sinner in the act of faith to God as an atonement for sin through substitutionary death: and the sprinkling of the blood upon the altar signifies in this, as in the other, the application of that blood Godward by the Divine Priest acting in our behalf, and thereby procuring for us remission of sin, redemption through the blood of the slain Lamb.

In the other two ceremonies, namely, the burning and the sacrificial meal, the peace offering stands in strong contrast with the burnt offering. In the burnt offering all was burned upon the altar; in the peace offering all the fat, and that only. The detailed directions which are given in the case of each class of victims are intended simply to direct the selection of those parts of the animal in which the fat is chiefly found. They are precisely the same for each, except in the case of the sheep. With regard to such a victim, the particular is added, according to King James’s version, "the whole rump"; but the Revisers have with abundant reason corrected this translation, giving it correctly as "the fat tail entire." The change is an instructive one, as it points to the idea which determined this selection of all the fat for the offering by fire. For the reference is to a special breed of sheep which is still found in Palestine, Arabia, and North Africa. With these, the tail grows to an immense size, sometimes weighing fifteen pounds or more, and consists almost entirely of a rich substance, in character between fat and marrow. By the Orientals in the regions where this variety of sheep is found it is still esteemed as the most valuable part of the animal for food. And thus, just as in the meal offering the Israelite was required to bring out of all his grain the best, and of his meal the finest, so in the peace offering he is required to bring the fat, and in the case of the sheep this fat tail, as the best and richest parts, to be burnt upon the altar to Jehovah. And the burning, as in the whole burnt sacrifice, was, so to speak, the visible Divine appropriation of that which was placed upon the altar, the best of the offering, as appointed to be "the food of God." If the symbolism, at first thought, perplex any, we have but to remember how frequently in Scripture "fat" and "fatness" are used as the symbol of that which is richest and best; as, e.g., where the Psalmist says, "They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house"; and Isaiah, "Come unto Me, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." Thus when, in the peace offering, of which the larger part was intended for food, it is ordered that the fat should be given to God in the fire of the altar, the same lesson is taught as in the meal offering, namely, God is ever to be served first and with the best that we have. "All the fat is the Lord’s."

In the burnt offering, the burning ended the ceremonial: in the nature of the case, since all was to be burnt, the object of the sacrifice was attained when the burning was completed. But in the case of the peace offering, to the burning of the fat upon the altar now followed the culminating act of the ritual, in the eating of the sacrifice. In this, however, we must distinguish from the eating by the offerer and his household, the eating by the priests; of which only the first-named properly belonged to the ceremonial of the sacrifice. The assignment of certain parts of the sacrifice to he eaten by the priests has the same meaning as in the meal offering. These portions were regarded in the law as given, not by the offerer, but by God, to His servants the priests; that they might eat them, not as a ceremonial act, but as their appointed sustenance from His table whom they served. To this we shall return in a subsequent chapter, and therefore need not dwell upon it here.

This eating of the sacrifice by the priests has thus not yet taken us beyond the conception of the meal offering, with a part of which they, in like manner, by God’s arrangement, were fed. Quite different, however, is the sacrificial eating by the offerer which follows. He had brought the appointed victim; it had been slain in his behalf; the blood had been sprinkled for atonement on the altar; the fat had been taken off and burned upon the altar; the thigh and breast had been given back by God to the officiating priest; and now, last of all, the offerer himself receives back from God, as it were, the remainder of the flesh of the victim, that he himself might eat it before Jehovah. The chapter before us gives no directions as to this sacrificial eating; these are given in Deuteronomy 12:6-7; Deuteronomy 12:17-18, to which passage, in order to the full understanding of that which is most distinctive in the peace offering, we must refer. In the two verses last named, we have a regulation which covers, not only the peace offerings, but with them all other sacrificial eatings, thus: "Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of the oil, or the firstlings of thy herd, or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy free will offerings, nor the heave offering of thy hand: but thou shalt eat them before the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, thou and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man servant, and thy maid servant, and the Levite that is within thy gates; and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God in all that thou puttest thy hand unto."

In these directions are three particulars; the offerings were to be eaten, by the offerer, not at his own home, but before Jehovah at the central sanctuary; he was to include in this sacrificial feast all the members of his family, and any Levite that might be stopping with him; and he was to make the feast an occasion of holy joy before the Lord in the labour of his hands. What was now the special significance of all this? As this was the special characteristic of the peace offering, the answer to this question will point us to its true significance, both for Israel in the first place, and then for us as well, as a type of Him who was to come.

It is not hard to perceive the significance of a feast as a symbol. It is a natural and suitable expression of friendship and fellowship. He who gives the feast thereby shows to the guests his friendship toward them, in inviting them to partake of the food of his house. And if, in any case, there has been an interruption or breach of friendship, such an invitation to a feast, and association in it of the formerly alienated parties, is a declaration on the part of him who gives the feast, as also of those who accept his invitation, that the breach is healed, and that where there was enmity, is now peace.

So natural is this symbolism that, as above remarked, it has been a custom very widely spread among heathen peoples to observe sacrificial feasts, very like to this peace offering of the Hebrews, wherein a victim is first offered to some deity, and its flesh then eaten by the offerer and his friends. Of such sacrificial feasts we read in ancient Babylonia and Assyria, in Persia, and, in modern times, among the Arabs, Hindoos, and Chinese, and various native races of the American continent: always having the same symbolic intent and meaning-namely, an expression of desire after friendship and intercommunion with the deity thus worshipped. The existence of this custom in Old Testament days is recognised in Isaiah 65:11 (R.V), where God charges the idolatrous Israelites with preparing "a table for the god Fortune," and filling up "mingled wine unto (the goddess) Destiny"-certain Babylonian deities; and in the New Testament, as already remarked, the Apostle Paul refers to the same custom among the idolatrous Greeks of Corinth.

And because this symbolic meaning of a feast is as suitable and natural as it is universal, we find that in the symbolism of Holy Scripture, eating and drinking, and especially the feast, has been appropriated by the Holy Spirit to express precisely the same ideas of reconciliation, friendship, and intercommunion between the giver of the feast and the guest, as in all the great heathen religions. We meet this thought, for instance, in Psalms 23:5: "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies"; Psalms 36:8, where it is said of God’s people: "They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house"; and again, in the grand prophecy in Isaiah 25:1-12, of the final redemption of all the long-estranged nations, we read that when God shall destroy in Mount Zion "the veil that is spread over all nations, and swallow up death forever," then "the Lord of hosts shall make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined." And in the New Testament, the symbolism is taken up again, and used repeatedly by our Lord, as, for example, in the parables of the Great Supper {; Luke 14:15-24} and the Prodigal Son, {Luke 15:23} the Marriage of the King’s Son, {; Matthew 22:1-14} concerning the blessings of redemption; and also in that ordinance of the Holy Supper which He has appointed to be a continual reminder of our relation to Himself, and means for the communication of His grace, through our symbolic eating therein of the flesh of the slain Lamb of God.

Thus, nothing in the Levitical symbolism is better certified to us than the meaning of the feast of the peace offering. Employing a symbol already familiar to the world for centuries, God ordained this eating of the peace offering in Israel, to be the symbolic expression of peace and fellowship with Himself. In Israel it was to be eaten "before the Lord," and, as well it might be, "with rejoicing."

But, just at this point, the question has been raised: How are we to conceive of the sacrificial feast of the peace offering? Was it a feast offered and presented by the Israelite to God, or a feast given by God to the Israelite? In other words, in this feast, who was represented as host, and who as guest? Among other nations than the Hebrews, it was the thought in such cases that the feast was given by the worshipper to his god. This is well illustrated by an Assyrian inscription of Esarhaddon, who, in describing his palace at Nineveh, says: "I filled with beauties the great palace of my empire, and I called it ‘the Palace which rivals the World.’ Ashur, Ishtar of Nineveh, and the gods of Assyria, all of them, I feasted within it. Victims, precious and beautiful, I sacrificed before them, and I caused them to receive my gifts."

But here we come upon one of the most striking and instructive contrasts between the heathen conception of the sacrificial feast and the same symbolism as used in Leviticus and other Scripture. In the heathen sacrificial feasts, it is man who feasts God; in the peace offering of Leviticus, it is God who feasts man. Some have indeed denied that this is the conception of the peace offering, but most strangely. It is true that the offerer, in the first instance, had brought the victim; but it seems to be forgotten by such, that prior to the feasting he had already given the victim to God, to be offered in expiation for sin. From that time the victim was no longer, any part of it, his own property, but God’s. God having received the offering, now directs what use shall be made of it; a part shall be burned upon the altar; another part He gives to the priests, His servants; with the remaining part He now feasts the worshipper.

And as if to make this clearer yet, while Esar-haddon, for example, gives his feast to the gods, not in their temples, but in his own palace, as himself the host and giver of the feast, the Israelite, on the contrary, -that he might not, like the heathen, complacently imagine himself to be feasting God, -is directed to eat the peace offering, not at his own house, but at God’s house. In this way God was set forth as the host, the One who gave the feast, to whose house the Israelite was invited, at whose table he was to eat.

Profoundly suggestive and instructive is this contrast between the heathen custom in this offering, and the Levitical ordinance. For do we not strike here one of the deepest points of contrast between all of man’s religion and the Gospel of God? Man’s idea always is, until taught better by God, "I will be religious and make God my friend, by doing something, giving something for God." God, on the contrary, teaches us in this symbolism, as in all Scripture, the exact reverse; that we become truly religious by taking, first of all, with thankfulness and joy, what He has provided for us. A breach of friendship between man and God is often implied in the heathen rituals, as in the ritual of Leviticus; as also, in both, a desire for its removal, and renewed fellowship with God. But in the former, man ever seeks to attain to this intercommunion of friendship by something that he himself will do for God. He will feast God, and thus God shall be well pleased. But God’s way is the opposite! The sacrificial feast at which man shall have fellowship with God is provided not by man for God, but by God for man, and is to be eaten, not in our house, but spiritually partaken in the presence of the invisible God.

We can now perceive the teaching of the peace offering for Israel. In Israel, as among all the nations, was the inborn craving after fellowship and friendship with God. The ritual of the peace offering taught him how it was to be obtained, and how communion might be realised. The first thing was for him to bring and present a divinely-appointed victim; and then, the laying of the hand upon his head with confession of sin; then, the slaying of the victim, the sprinkling of its blood, and the offering of its choicest parts to God in the altar fire. Till all this was done, till in symbol expiation had been thus made for the Israelite’s sin, there could be no feast which should speak of friendship and fellowship with God. But this being first done, God now, in token of His free forgiveness and restoration to favour, invites the Israelite to a joyful feast in His own house.

What a beautiful symbol! Who can fail to appreciate its meaning when once pointed out? Let us imagine that through some fault of ours a dear friend has become estranged; we used to eat and drink at his house, but there has been none of that now for a long time. We are troubled, and perhaps seek out one who is our friend’s friend and also our friend, to whose kindly interest we entrust our case, to reconcile to us the one we have offended. He has gone to mediate; we anxiously await his return; but or ever he has come back again, comes an invitation from him who was estranged, just in the old loving way, asking that we will eat with him at his house. Any one of us would understand this; we should be sure at once that the mediator had healed the breach, that we were forgiven, and were welcome as of old to all that our friend’s friendship had to give.

But God is the good Friend whom we have estranged; and the Lord Jesus, His beloved Son, and our own Friend as well, is the Mediator; and He has healed the breach; having made expiation for our sin in offering His own body as a sacrifice, He has ascended into heaven, there to appear in the presence of God for us; He has not yet returned. But meantime the message comes down from Him to all who are hungering after peace with God: "The feast is made; and ye all are invited; come! all things are now ready!" And this is the message of the Gospel. It is the peace offering translated into words. Can we hesitate to accept the invitation? Or, if we have sent in our acceptance, do we need to be told, as in Deuteronomy, that we are to eat "with rejoicing."

And now we may well observe another circumstance of profound typical significance. When the Israelite came to God’s house to eat before Jehovah, he was fed there with the flesh of the slain victim. The flesh of that very victim whose blood had been given for him on the altar, now becomes his food to sustain the life thus redeemed. Whether the Israelite saw into the full meaning of this, we may easily doubt; but it leads us on now to consider, in the clearer light of the New Testament, the deepest significance of the peace offering and its ritual, as typical of our Lord and our relation to Him.

That the victim of the peace offering, as of all the bloody offerings, was intended to typify Christ, and that the death of that victim, in the peace offering, as in all the bloody offerings, foreshadowed the death of Christ for our sins, -this needs no further proof. And so, again, as the burning of the whole burnt offering represented Christ as accepted for us in virtue of His perfect consecration to the Father, so the peace offering, in that the fat is burned, represents Christ as accepted for us, in that He gave to God in our behalf the very best He had to offer. For in that incomparable sacrifice we are to think not only of the completeness of Christ’s consecration for us, but also of the supreme excellence of that which He offered unto God for us. All that was best in Him, reason, affection, and will, as well as the members of His holy body, -nay, the Godhead as well as the Manhood, in the holy mystery of the Trinity and the Incarnation, He offered for us unto the Father.

This, however, has taken us as yet but little beyond the meaning of the burnt offering. The closing act of the ritual, the sacrificial eating, however, reaches in its typical significance far beyond this or any of the bloody offerings.

First, in that he who had laid his hand upon the victim, and for whom the blood had been sprinkled, is now invited by God to feast in His house, upon food given by himself, the food of the sacrifice, which is called in the ritual "the bread of God." the eating of the peace offering symbolically teaches us that if we have indeed presented the Lamb of God as our peace, not only has the Priest sprinkled for us the blood, so that our sin is pardoned, but, in token of friendship now restored, God invites the penitent believer to sit down at His own table, -in a word, to joyful fellowship with Himself! Which means, if our weak faith but take it in, that the Almighty and Most Holy God now invites us to fellowship in all the riches of His Godhead; places all that He has at the service of the believing sinner, redeemed by the blood of the slain Lamb. The prodigal has returned; the Father will now feast him with the best that He has. Fellowship with God through reconciliation by the blood of the slain Lamb, -this then is the first thing shadowed forth in this part of the ritual of the peace offering. It is a sufficiently wonderful thought, but there is truth yet more wonderful veiled under this symbolism.

For when we ask, what then was the bread or food of God of which He invited him to partake who brought the peace offering, and learn that it was the flesh of the slain victim; here we meet a thought which goes far beyond atonement by the shedding of blood. The same victim whose blood was shed and sprinkled in atonement for sin is now given by God to be the redeemed Israelite’s food, by which his life shall be sustained! Surely we cannot mistake the meaning of this. For the victim of the altar and the food of the table are one and the same. Even so He who offered Himself for our sins on Calvary, is now given by God to be the food of the believer; who now thus lives by "eating the flesh" of the slain Lamb of God. Does this imagery, at first thought, seem strange and unnatural? So did it also seem strange to the Jews, when in reply to our Lord’s teaching they wonderingly asked, {John 6:52} "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" And yet so Christ and when He had first declared Himself to the Jews as the Antitype of the manna, the true Bread sent down from heaven, He then went on to say, in words which far transcended the meaning of that type, {; John 6:51} "The bread which I wilt give is My flesh, for the life of the world." How the light begins now to flash back from the Gospel to the Levitical law, and from this, again, back to the Gospel! In the one we read, "Ye shall eat the flesh of your peace offerings before the Lord with joy"; in the other, the word of the Lord Jesus concerning Himself: {John 6:33; John 6:55; John 6:57} "The bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven, and giveth life unto the world My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he that eateth Me, he also shall live because of Me." And now the Shekinah light of the ancient tent of meeting begins to illumine even the sacramental table, and as we listen to the words of Jesus, "Take, eat! this is My body which was broken for you," we are reminded of the feast of the peace offerings. The Israel of God is to be fed with the flesh of the sacrificed Lamb which became their peace.

Let us hold fast then to this deepest thought of the peace offering, a truth too little understood even by many true believers. The very Christ who died for our sins, if we have by faith accepted His atonement and have been for His sake forgiven, is now given us by God for the sustenance of our purchased life. Let us make use of Him, daily feeding upon Him, that so we may live and grow unto the life eternal!

But there is yet one thought more concerning this matter, which the peace offering, as far as was possible, shadowed forth. Although Christ becomes the bread of God for us only through His offering of Himself first for our sins, as our atonement, yet this is something quite distinct from atonement. Christ became our sacrifice once for all; the atonement is wholly a fact of the past. But Christ is now still, and will ever continue to be unto all His people, the bread or food of God, by eating whom they live. He was the propitiation, as the slain victim; but, in virtue of that, He is now become the flesh of the peace offering. Hence He must be this, not as dead, but as living, in the present resurrection life of His glorified humanity. Here evidently is a fact which could not be directly symbolised in the peace offering without a miracle ever repeated. For Israel ate of the victim, not as living, but as dead. It could not be otherwise. And yet there is a regulation of the ritual {Leviticus 7:15-18; Leviticus 19:6; Leviticus 19:7} which suggests this phase of truth as clearly as possible without a miracle. It was ordered that none of the flesh of the peace offering should be allowed to remain beyond the third day; if any then was left uneaten, it was to be burned with fire. The reason for this lies upon the surface. It was doubtless that there might be no possible beginning of decay; and thus it was secured that the flesh of the victim with which God fed the accepted Israelite should be the flesh of a victim that was not to see corruption. But does not this at once remind us how it was written of the Antitype, "Thou wilt not suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption"? while, moreover, the extreme limit of time allowed further reminds us how it was precisely on the third day that Christ rose from the dead in the incorruptible life of the resurrection, that so He might through all time continue to be the living bread of His people.

And thus this special regulation points us not indistinctly toward the New Testament truth that Christ is now unto us the bread of God, not merely as the One who died, but as the One who, living again, was not allowed to see corruption. For so the Apostle argues, {Romans 5:11} that "being justified by faith," and so having "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," our peace offering, having been thus "reconciled by His death, we shall now be saved by His life." And thus, as we appropriate Christ crucified as our atonement, so by a like faith we are to appropriate Christ risen as our life, to be for us as the flesh of the peace offering, our nourishment and strength by which we live.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Leviticus 19". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/leviticus-19.html.
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