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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

- Leviticus

by Editor - William Robertson Nicoll


"And the Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tent of meeting."- Leviticus 1:1

PERHAPS no book in the Bible presents to the ordinary reader so many and peculiar difficulties as the book of Leviticus. Even of those who devoutly believe, as they were taught in their childhood, that, like all the other books contained in the Holy Scriptures, it is to be received throughout with unquestioning faith as the very Word of God, a large number will frankly own in a discouraged way that this is with them merely a matter of belief, which their personal experience in reading the book has for the most part failed to sustain; and that for them so to see through symbol and ritual as to get much spiritual profit from such reading has been quite impossible.

A larger class, while by no means denying or doubting the original Divine authority of this book, yet suppose that the elaborate ritual of the Levitical law, with its multiplied, minute prescriptions regarding matters religious and secular, since the Mosaic dispensation has now long passed away, neither has nor can have any living relation to present day questions of Christian belief and practice; and so, under this impression, they very naturally trouble themselves little with a book which, if they are right, can now only be of special interest to the religious antiquarian.

Others, again, while sharing this feeling, also confess to a great difficulty which they feel in believing that many of the commands of this law can ever have been really given by inspiration from God. The extreme severity of some of the laws, and what seems to them to be the arbitrary and even puerile character of other prescriptions, appear to them to be irreconcilable, in the one case, with the mercy, in the other, with the dignity and majesty, of the Divine Being.

With a smaller, but, it is to be feared, an increasing number, this feeling, either of indifference or of doubt, regarding the book of Leviticus, is further strengthened by their knowledge of the fact that in our day its Mosaic origin and inspired authority are strenuously denied by a large number of eminent scholars, upon grounds which they claim to be strictly scientific. And if such Christians do not know enough to decide for themselves on its merits the question thus raised, they at least know enough to have a very uncomfortable doubt whether an intelligent Christian has any longer a right to regard the book as in any true sense the Word of God; and - what is still more serious-they feel that the question is of such a nature that it is impossible for anyone who is not a specialist in Hebrew and the higher criticism to reach any well-grounded and settled conviction, one way or the other, on the subject. Such persons, of course, have little to do with this book. If the Word of God is indeed there, it cannot reach them.

With such mental conditions so widely prevailing, some words regarding the origin, authority, purpose, and use of this book of Leviticus seem to be a necessary preliminary to its profitable exposition.


As to the origin and authority of this book, the first verse presents a very formal and explicit statement: "The Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto him." These words evidently contain by necessary implication two affirmations: first, that the legislation which immediately follows is of Mosaic origin: "The Lord spake unto Moses"; and secondly, that it was not the product merely of the mind of Moses, but came to him, in the first instance, as a revelation from Jehovah: "Jehovah spake unto Moses." And although it is quite true that the words in this first verse strictly refer only to that section of the book which immediately follows, yet, inasmuch as the same or a like formula is used repeatedly before successive sections, -in all, no less than fifty-six times in the twenty-seven chapters, -these words may with perfect fairness be regarded as expressing a claim respecting these two points, which covers the entire book.

We must not, indeed, put more into these words than is truly there. They simply and only declare the Mosaic origin and the inspired authority of the legislation which the book contains. They say nothing as to whether or not Moses wrote every word of this book himself; or whether the Spirit of God directed and inspired other persons, in Moses’ time or afterward, to commit this Mosaic law to writing. They give us no hint as to when the various sections which make up the book were combined into their present literary form, whether by Moses himself, as is the traditional view, or by men of God in a later day. As to these and other matters of secondary importance which might be named, the book records no statement. The words used in the text, and similar expressions used elsewhere, simply and only declare the legislation to be of Mosaic origin and of inspired authority. Only, be it observed, so much as this they do affirm in the most direct and uncompromising manner.

It is of great importance to note all this: for in the heat of theological discussion the issue is too often misapprehended on both sides. The real question, and, as everyone knows, the burning Biblical question of the day, is precisely this, whether the claim this book contains, thus exactly defined, is true or false.

A certain school of critics, comprising many of the greatest learning, and of undoubted honesty of intention, assures the Church and the world that a strictly scientific criticism compels one to the conclusion that this claim, even as thus sharply limited and defined, is, to use plain words, not true; that an enlightened scholarship must acknowledge that Moses had little or nothing to do with what we find in this book; that, in fact, it did not originate till nearly a thousand years later, when, after the Babylonian captivity, certain Jewish priests, desirous of magnifying their authority with the people, fell on the happy expedient of writing this book of Leviticus, together with certain other parts of the Pentateuch, and then, to give the work a prestige and authority which on its own merits or over their own names it could not have had, delivered it to their countrymen as nearly a thousand years old, the work of their great lawgiver. And, strangest of all, they not only did this, but were so successful in imposing this forgery upon the whole nation that history records not even an expressed suspicion of a single person, until modern times, of its non-Mosaic origin; that is, they succeeded in persuading the whole people of Israel that a law which they had themselves just promulgated had been in existence among them for nearly ten centuries, the very work of Moses, when, in reality, it was quite a new thing.

Astonishing and even incredible as all this may seem to the uninitiated, substantially this theory is held by many of the Biblical scholars of our day as presenting the essential facts of the case; and the discovery of these supposed facts we are called upon to admire as one of the chief literary triumphs of modern critical scholarship!

Now the average Christian, whether minister or layman, though intelligent enough in ordinary matters of human knowledge, or even a well-educated man, is not, and cannot be, a specialist in Hebrew and in the higher criticism. What is he then to do when such a theory is presented to him as endorsed by scholars of the highest ability and the most extensive learning? Must we, then, all learn Hebrew and study this higher criticism before we can be permitted to have any well-justified and decided opinion whether this book, this law of Leviticus, be the Word of God or a forgery? We think not. There are certain considerations, quite level to the understanding of everyone; certain facts, which are accepted as such by the most eminent scholars, which ought to be quite sufficient for the maintenance and the abundant confirmation of our faith in this book of Leviticus as the very Word of God to Moses.

In the first place, it is to be observed that if any theory which denies the Mosaic origin and the inspired authority of this book be true, then the fifty-six assertions of such origin and authority which the book contains are unqualifiedly false. Further, however any may seek to disguise the issue with words, if in fact this Levitical ritual and code of laws came into existence only after the Babylonian captivity and in the way suggested, then the book of Leviticus can by no possibility be the Word of God in any sense, but is a forgery and a fraud. Surely this needs no demonstration. "The Lord spake unto Moses," reads, for instance, this first verse; "The Lord did not speak these things unto Moses," answer these critics; "they were invented by certain unscrupulous priests centuries afterwards." Such is the unavoidable issue.

Now who shall arbitrate in these matters? who shall settle these questions for the great multitude of believers who know nothing of Hebrew criticism, and who, although they may not well understand much that is in this book, have yet hitherto accepted it with reverent faith as being what it professes to be, the very Word of God through Moses? To whom, indeed, can we refer such a question as this for decision but to Jesus Christ of Nazareth, our Lord and Saviour, confessed of all believers to be in verity the only-begotten Son of God from the bosom of the Father? For He declared that "the Father showed unto Him," the Son, "all things that He Himself did"; He will therefore be sure to know the truth of this matter, sure to know the Word of His Father from the word of man, if He will but speak.

And He has spoken on this matter, He, the Son of God. What was the common belief of the Jews in the time of our Lord as to the Mosaic origin and Divine authority of this book, as of all the Pentateuch, everyone knows. Not a living man disputes the statement made by a recent writer on this subject, that "previous to the Christian era, there are no traces of a second opinion" on this question; the book "was universally ascribed to Moses." Now, that Jesus Christ shared and repeatedly endorsed this belief of His contemporaries should be perfectly clear to any ordinary reader of the Gospels.

The facts as to His testimony, in brief, are these. As to the Pentateuch in general, He called it {Luke 24:44} "the law of Moses"; and, as regards its authority, He declared it to be such that "till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all be fulfilled". {; Matthew 5:18} Could this be truly said of this book of Leviticus, which is undoubtedly included in this term, "the law," if it were not the Word of God, but a forgery, so that its fifty-six affirmations of its Mosaic origin and inspired authority were false? Again, Christ declared that Moses in his "writings" wrote of Him, -a statement, which, it should be observed, imputes to Moses foreknowledge, and therefore supernatural inspiration; and further said that faith in Himself was so connected with faith in Moses, that if the Jews had believed Moses, they would have also believed Him. {John 5:46-47} Is it conceivable that Christ should have spoken thus, if the "writings" referred to had been forgeries?

But not only did our Lord thus endorse the Pentateuch in general, but also, on several occasions, the Mosaic origin and inspired authority of Leviticus in particular. Thus, when He healed the lepers {Matthew 8:4} He sent them to the priests on the ground that Moses had commanded this in such cases. But such a command is found only in this book of Leviticus. {; Leviticus 14:3-10} Again, in justifying His disciples for plucking the ears of corn on the Sabbath day, He adduces the example of David, who ate the shew bread when he was a hungered, "which was not lawful for him to eat, but only for the priests"; {Matthew 12:4} thus referring to a law which is only found in Leviticus. {; Leviticus 24:9} But the citation was only pertinent on the assumption that He regarded the prohibition of the shew bread as having the same inspired authority as the obligation of the Sabbath. In John 7:32, again, He refers to Moses as having renewed the ordinance of circumcision, which at the first had been given to Abraham; and, as usual, assumes the Divine authority of the command as thus given. But this renewal of the ordinance of circumcision is recorded only in Leviticus. {; Leviticus 12:3} Yet once more, rebuking the Pharisees for their ingenious justification of the hard-hearted neglect of parents by undutiful children, He reminds them that Moses had said that he who cursed father or mother should be put to death; a law which is only found in the so-called priest code, Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9. Further, He is so far from merely assuming the truth of the Jewish opinion for the sake of an argument, that He formally declares this law, equally with the fifth commandment, to be "a commandment of God," which they by their tradition had made void. {; Matthew 14:3-6}

One would suppose that it had been impossible to avoid the inference from all this, that our Lord believed, and intended to be understood as teaching, that the law of Leviticus was, in a true sense, of Mosaic origin, and of inspired, and therefore infallible, authority.

We are in no way concerned, indeed, - is it essential to the argument, - to press this testimony of Christ as proving more than the very least which the words fairly imply. For instance, nothing in His words, as we read them, any more than in the language of Leviticus itself, excludes the supposition that in the preparation of the law, Moses, like the Apostle Paul, may have had co-labourers or amanuenses, such as Aaron, Eleazar, Joshua, or others, whose several parts of the work might then have been issued under his endorsement and authority; so that Christ’s testimony is in no wise irreconcilable with the fact of differences of style, or with the evidence of different documents, if any think that they discover this, in the book.

We are willing to go further, and add that in the testimony of our Lord we find nothing which declares against the possibility of one or more redactions or revisions of the laws of Leviticus in post-Mosaic times, by one or more inspired men; as, e.g., by Ezra, described {Ezra 7:6} as "a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given"; to whom also ancient Jewish tradition attributes the final settlement of the Old Testament canon down to his time. Hence no words of Christ touch the question as to when the book of Leviticus received its present form, in respect of the order of its chapters, sections, and verses. This is a matter of quite secondary importance, and may be settled any way without prejudice to the Mosaic origin and authority of the laws it contains.

Neither, in the last place, do the words of our Lord, carefully weighed, of necessity exclude even the possibility that such persons, acting under Divine direction and inspiration, may have first reduced some parts of the law given by Moses to writing; or even, as an extreme supposition, may have entered here and there, under the unerring guidance of the Holy Ghost, prescriptions which, although new as to the letter, were none the less truly Mosaic, in that by necessary implication they were logically involved in the original code.

We do not indeed here argue either for or against any of these suppositions, which were apart from the scope of the present work. We are only concerned here to remark that Christ has not incontrovertibly settled these questions. These things may be true or not true; the decision of such matters properly belongs to the literary critics. But decide them as one will, it will still remain true that the law is "the law of Moses," given by revelation from God.

So much as this, however, is certain. Whatsoever modifications may conceivably have passed upon the text, all work of this kind was done, as all agree, long before the time of our Lord; and the text to which He refers as of Mosaic origin and of inspired authority, was therefore essentially the text of Leviticus as we have it today. We are thus compelled to insist that whatever modifications may have been made in the original Levitical law, they cannot have been, according to the testimony of our Lord, such as in any way conflicted with His affirmation of its Mosaic origin and its inspired authority. They can thus, at the very utmost, only have been, as suggested, in the way of legitimate logical development and application to successive circumstances, of the Levitical law as originally given to Moses; and that, too, under the administration of a priesthood endowed with the possession of the Urim and Thummim, so as to give such official deliverances, whenever required, the sanction of inerrant Divine authority, binding on the conscience as from God. Here, at least, surely, Christ by His testimony has placed an immovable limitation upon the speculations of the critics.

And yet there are those who admit the facts as to Christ’s testimony, and nevertheless claim that without any prejudice to the absolute truthfulness of our Lord, we may suppose that in speaking as He did, with regard to the law of Leviticus, He merely conformed to the common usage of the Jews, without intending thereby to endorse their opinion; any more than, when, conforming to the ordinary mode of speech, He spoke of the sun as rising and setting, He meant thereby to be understood as endorsing the common opinion of men of that time that the sun actually passed round the earth every twenty-four hours. To which it is enough to reply that this illustration, which has so often been used in this argument, is not relevant to the case before us. For not only did our Lord use language which implied the truth of the Jewish belief regarding the origin and authority of the Mosaic law, but He formally teaches it; and-what is of still more moment-He rests the obligation of certain duties upon the fact that this law of Leviticus was a revelation from God to Moses for the children of Israel. But if the supposed facts, upon which He bases His argument in such cases, are, in reality, not facts, then His argument becomes null and void. How, for instance, is it possible to explain away the words in which He appeals to one of the laws of Exodus and Leviticus {Matthew 15:3-6} as being not a Jewish opinion, but, instead, in explicit contrast with the traditions of the Rabbis, "a commandment of God"? Was this expression merely "an accommodation" to the mistaken notions of the Jews? If so, then what becomes of His argument?

Others, again, feeling the force of this, and yet sincerely and earnestly desiring to maintain above possible impeachment the perfect truthfulness of Christ, still assuming that the Jews were mistaken, and admitting that, it so, our Lord must have shared their error, take another line of argument. They remind us of what, however mysterious, cannot be denied, that our Lord, in virtue of His incarnation, came under certain limitations in knowledge; and then urge that without any prejudice to His character we may suppose that, not only with regard to the time of His advent and kingdom, {Matthew 24:36} but also with respect to the authorship and the Divine authority of this book of Leviticus, He may have shared in the ignorance and error of His countrymen.

But, surely, the fact of Christ’s limitation in knowledge cannot be pressed so far as the argument of such requires, without by logical necessity nullifying Christ’s mission and authority as a religious teacher. For it is certain that according to His own word, and the universal belief of Christians, the supreme object of Christ’s mission was to reveal unto men through His life and teachings, and especially through His death upon the cross, the Father; and it is certain that He claimed to have, in order to this end, perfect knowledge of the Father. But how could this most essential claim of His be justified, and how could He be competent to give unto men a perfect and inerrant knowledge of the Father, if the ignorance of His humiliation was so great that He was unable to distinguish from His Father’s Word a book which, by the hypothesis, was not the Word of the Father, but an ingenious and successful forgery of certain crafty postexilian priests?

It is thus certain that Jesus must have known whether the Pentateuch, and, in particular, this book of Leviticus, was the Word of God or not; certain also that, if the Word of God, it could not have been a forgery; and equally certain that Jesus could not have intended in what He said on this subject to accommodate His speech to a common error of the people, without thereby endorsing their belief. It thus follows that critics of the radical school referred to are directly at issue with the testimony of Christ regarding this book. It is of immense consequence that Christians should see this issue clearly. While Jesus taught in various ways that Leviticus contains a law given by revelation from God to Moses, these teach that it is a priestly forgery of the days after Ezra. Both cannot be right; and if the latter are in the right, then-we speak with all possible deliberation and reverence-Jesus Christ was mistaken, and was therefore unable even to tell us with inerrant certainty whether this or that is the Word of God or not. But if this is so, then how can we escape the final inference that His claim to have a perfect knowledge of the Father must have been an error; His claim to be the incarnate Son of God, therefore, a false pretension, and Christianity, a delusion, so that mankind has in Him no Saviour?

But against so fatal a conclusion stands the great established fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; whereby He was with power declared to be the Son of God, so that we may know that His word on this, as on all subjects where He has spoken, settles controversy, and is a sufficient ground of faith; while it imposes upon all speculations of men, literary or philosophical, eternal and irremovable limitations. Let no one think that the case, as regards the issue at stake, has been above stated too strongly. One could not well go beyond the often cited words of Kuenen on this subject: "We must either cast aside as worthless our dearly bought scientific method, or we must forever cease to acknowledge the authority of the New Testament in the domain of the exegesis of the Old." With good reason does another scholar exclaim at these words, "The Master must not be heard as a witness! We treat our criminals with more respect." So then stands the question this day which this first verse of Leviticus brings before us: In which have we more confidence? in literary critics, like a Kuenen or Wellhausen, or in Jesus Christ? Which is the more likely to know with certainty whether the law of Leviticus is a revelation from God or not?

The devout Christian, who through the grace of the crucified and risen Lord "of whom Moses, in the law, and the prophets did write," and who has "tasted the good word of God," will not long hesitate for an answer. He will not indeed, if wise, timidly or fanatically decry all literary investigation of the Scriptures; but he will insist that the critic shall ever hold his reason in reverent subjection to the Lord Jesus on all points where the Lord has spoken, Such everywhere will heartily endorse and rejoice in those admirable words of the late venerable Professor Delitzsch; words which stand almost as of his last solemn testament:-"The theology of glory, which prides itself upon being its own highest authority, bewitches even those who had seemed proof against its enchantments; and the theology of the Cross, which holds Divine folly to be wiser than men, is regarded as an unscientific lagging behind the steps of progress But the faith which I professed in my first sermons, remains mine today, undiminished in strength, and immeasurably higher than all earthly knowledge. Even if in many Biblical questions I have to oppose the traditional opinion, certainly my opposition rests on this side of the gulf, on the side of the theology of the Cross, of grace, of miracles! By this banner let us stand; folding ourselves in it, let us die!" To which truly noble words every true Christian may well say, Amen!

We then stand without fear with Jesus Christ in our view of the origin and authority of the book of Leviticus.


Before proceeding to the exposition of this book, a few words need to be said regarding its occasion and plan, and its object and present use.

The opening words of the book, "And the Lord said," connect it in the closest manner with the preceding book of Exodus, at the contents of which we have therefore to glance for a moment. The kingdom of God, rejected by corporate humanity in the founding of the Babylonian world power, but continuing on earth in a few still loyal souls in the line of Abraham and his seed, at last, according to promise, had been formally and visibly reestablished on earth at Mount Sinai. The fundamental law of the kingdom, contained in the ten commandments and certain applications of the same, had been delivered in what is called the Book of the Covenant, amid thunders and lightnings, at the holy mount. Israel had solemnly entered into covenant with God on this basis, saying, "All these things will we do and be obedient," and the covenant had been sealed by the solemn sprinkling of blood.

This being done, Jehovah now issued commandment for the building of the tabernacle or "tent of meeting," where He might manifest His glory and from time to time communicate His will to Israel. As mediators between Him and the people, the priesthood was appointed, their vestments and duties prescribed. All this having been done as ordered, the tent of meeting covering the interior tabernacle was set up; the Shekinah cloud covered it, and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle, -the manifested presence of the King of Israel!

Out of the tent of meeting, from this excellent glory, Jehovah now called unto Moses, and delivered the law as we have it in the first seven chapters of the book of Leviticus. To the law of offerings succeeds (chapters 8-10) an account of the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priestly office, and their formal public assumption of their functions, with an account of the very awful sanction which was given to the preceding law, by the death of Nadab and Abihu before the Lord, for offering as He had not commanded them.

The next section of the book contains the law concerning the clean and the unclean, under the several heads of food (chapter 11), birth defilement (chapter 12), leprosy (chapters 13, 14), and unclean issues (chapter 15); and closes (chapter 16) with the ordinance of the great day of atonement, in which the high priest alone, presenting the blood of a sin offering in the Holy of Holies, was to make atonement once a year for the sins of the whole nation.

The third section of the book contains the law of holiness, first, for the people (chapters 17-20), and then the special laws for the priests (chapters 21, 22). These are followed, first (chapter 23), by the order for the feasts of the Lord, or appointed times of public holy convocation; then (chapter 24), by a historical incident designed to show that the law, as given, must, in several respects noted, be applied in all its strictness no less to the alien than to the native-born Israelite; and finally (chapter 25), by the remarkable ordinances concerning the sabbatic year, and the culmination of the sabbatic system of the law in the year of jubilee.

As a conclusion to the whole, the legislation thus given is now sealed (chapter 26) with promises from God of blessing to the nation if they will keep this law, and threats of unsparing vengeance against the people and the land, if they forsake His commandments and break the covenant, though still with a promise of mercy when, having thus transgressed, they shall at any time repent. The book then closes with a supplemental chapter on voluntary vows and dues (chapter 27).


What now was the purpose of Leviticus? In general, as regards Israel, it was given to direct them how they might live as a holy nation in fellowship with God. The keynote of the book is "Holiness to Jehovah." More particularly, the object of the book was to furnish for the theocracy set up in Israel a code of law which should secure their physical, moral, and spiritual well being. But the establishment of the theocracy in Israel was itself only a means to an end; namely, to make Israel a blessing to all nations, in mediating to the Gentiles the redemption of God. Hence: the Levitical laws were all intended and adapted to train and prepare the nation for this special historic mission to which God had chosen them.

To this end, it was absolutely necessary, first of all, that Israel should be kept separate from the heathen nations. To effect and maintain this separation, these laws of Leviticus were admirably adapted. They are of such a character that obedience to them, even in a very imperfect way, has made the nation to this day to be, in a manner and degree perfectly unique, isolated and separate from all the peoples in the midst of whom they dwell.

The law of Leviticus was intended to effect this preparation of Israel for its world mission, not only in an external manner, but also in an internal way; namely, by revealing in and to Israel the real character of God, and in particular His unapproachable holiness. For if Israel is to teach the nations the way of holiness, in which alone they can be blessed, the chosen nation must itself first be taught holiness by the Holy One. A lesson here for every one of us! The revelation of the holiness of God was made, first of all, in the sacrificial system. The great lesson which it must have kept before the most obtuse conscience was this, that "without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin"; that God therefore must be the Most Holy, and sin against Him no trifle. It was made, again, in the precepts of the law. If in some instances these seem to tolerate evils which we should have expected that a holy God would at once have swept away, this is explained by our Matthew 19:8 by the fact that some things were of necessity ordained in view of the hardness of men’s hearts; while, on the other hand it is certainly quite plain that the laws of Leviticus constantly held before the Israelite the absolute holiness of God as the only standard of perfection.

The holiness of God was further revealed by the severity of the penalties which were attached to these Levitical laws. Men often call these harsh, forgetting that we are certain to underestimate the criminality of sin; forgetting that God must, in any case, have rights over human life which no earthly ruler can have. But no one will deny that this very severity of the law was fitted to impress the Israelite, as nothing else could, with God’s absolute intolerance of sin and impurity, and make him feel that he could not trifle with God, and hope to sin with impunity.

And yet we must not forget that the law was adapted no less to reveal the other side of the Divine holiness; that "the Lord God is merciful and gracious, and of great kindness." For if the law of Leviticus proclaims that "without shedding of blood there is no remission," with equal clearness it proclaims that with shedding of blood there can be remission of sin to every believing penitent.

And this leads to the observation that this law was further adapted to the training of Israel for its world mission, in that to every thoughtful man it must have suggested a secret of redeeming mercy yet to be revealed. Every such one must have often said in his heart that it was "not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin"; and that as a substitute for human life, when forfeited by sin, more precious blood than this must be required; even though he might not have been able to imagine whence God should provide such a Lamb for an offering. And so it was that the law was fitted, in the highest degree, to prepare Israel for the reception of Him to whom all these sacrifices pointed, the High Priest greater than Aaron, the Lamb of God which should "take away the sins of the world," in whose person and work Israel’s mission should at last receive its fullest realisation.

But the law of Leviticus was not only intended to prepare Israel for the Messiah by thus awakening a sense of sin and need, it was so ordered as to be in many ways directly typical and prophetic of Christ and His great redemption, in its future historical development. Modern rationalism, indeed, denies this; but it is none the less a fact. According to the Apostle, {John 5:46} our Lord declared that Moses wrote of Him; and according to Luke, {; Luke 24:27} when He expounded unto the two walking to Emmaus "the things concerning Himself," He began His exposition with "Moses" and (Luke 24:44) repeated what He had before His resurrection taught them, that all things "which were written in the law of Moses" concerning Him, must be fulfilled. And in full accord with the teaching of the Master taught also His disciples. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, especially, argues from this postulate throughout, and also explicitly affirms the typical character of the ordinances of this book; declaring, for example, that the Levitical priests in the tabernacle service served "that which is a copy of the heavenly things"; {; Hebrews 8:5} that the blood with which "the copies of the things in the heavens" were cleansed, prefigured "better sacrifices than these," even the one offering of Him who "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself"; {Hebrews 9:2-6} and that the holy times and sabbatic seasons of the law were "a shadow of the things to come." The fact is familiar, and one need not multiply illustrations. Many, no doubt, in the interpretation of these types, have broken loose from the principles indicated in the New Testament, and given free rein to an unbridled fancy. But this only warns us that we the more carefully take heed to follow the intimations of the New Testament, and beware of mistaking our own imaginings for the teachings of the Holy Ghost. Such interpretations may bring typology into disrepute, but they cannot nullify it as a fact which must be recognised in any attempt to open up the meaning of the book.

Neither is the reality of this typical correspondence between the Levitical ritual and order and New Testament facts set aside, even though it is admitted that we cannot believe that Israel generally could have seen all in it which the New Testament declares to be there. For the very same New Testament which declares the typical correspondence, no less explicitly tells us this very thing: that many things predicted and prefigured in the Old Testament, concerning the sufferings and glory of Christ, were not understood by the very prophets through whom they were anciently made. {1 Peter 1:10-12} We have then carefully to distinguish in our interpretation between the immediate historical intention of the Levitical ordinances, for the people of that time, and their typical intention and meaning; but we are not to imagine with some that to prove the one is to disprove the other.


This very naturally brings us to the answer to the frequent question: Of what use can the book of Leviticus be to believers now? We answer, first, that it is to us, just as much as to ancient Israel, a revelation of the character of God. It is even a clearer revelation of God’s character to us than to them; for Christ has come as the Fulfiller, and thus the Interpreter, of the law. And God has not changed. He is still exactly what He was when He called to Moses out of the tent of meeting or spoke to him at Mount Sinai. He is just as holy as then; just as intolerant of sin as then; just as merciful to the penitent sinner who presents in faith the appointed blood of atonement, as He was then.

More particularly, Leviticus is of use to us now, as holding forth, in a singularly vivid manner, the fundamental conditions of true religion. The Levitical priesthood and sacrifices are no more, but the spiritual truth they represented abides and must abide forever: namely, that there is for sinful man no citizenship in the kingdom of God apart from a High Priest and Mediator with a propitiatory sacrifice for sin. These are days when many, who would yet be called Christians, belittle atonement, and deny the necessity of the shedding of substitutionary blood for our salvation. Such would reduce, if it were possible, the whole sacrificial ritual of Leviticus to a symbolic self offering of the worshipper to God. But against this stands the constant testimony of our Lord and His apostles, that it is only through the shedding of blood not his own that man can have remission of sin.

But Leviticus presents not only a ritual, but also a body of civil law for the theocracy. Hence it comes that the book is of use for today, as suggesting principles which should guide human legislators who would rule according to the mind of God. Not, indeed, that the laws in their detail should be adopted in our modern states; but it is certain that the principles which underlie those laws are eternal. Social and governmental questions have come to the front in our time as never before. The question of the relation of the civil government to religion, the question of the rights of labour and of capital, of land holding, that which by a suggestive euphemism we call "the social evil," with its related subjects of marriage and divorce, -all these are claiming attention as never before. There is not one of these questions on which the legislation of Leviticus does not cast a flood of light, into which our modern lawmakers would do well to come and walk.

For nothing can be more certain than this; that if God has indeed once stood to a commonwealth in the relation of King and political Head, we shall be sure to discover in His theocratic law upon what principles infinite righteousness, wisdom, and goodness would deal with these matters. We shall thus find in Leviticus that the law which it contains, from beginning to end, stands in contradiction to that modern democratic secularism, which would exclude religion from government and order all national affairs without reference to the being and government of God; and, by placing the law of sacrifice at the beginning of the book, it suggests distinctly enough that the maintenance of right relation to God is fundamental to good government.

The severity of many of the laws is also instructive in this connection. The trend of public opinion in many communities is against capital punishment, as barbarous and inhuman. We are startled to observe the place which this has in the Levitical law: which exhibits a severity far removed indeed from the unrighteous and undiscriminating severity of the earlier English law, but no less so from the more undiscriminating leniency which has taken its place, especially as regards those crimes in which large numbers of people are inclined to indulge.

No less instructive to modern lawmakers and political economists is the bearing of the Levitical legislation on the social question, the relations of rich and poor, of employer and employed. It is a legislation which, with admirable impartiality, keeps the poor man and the rich man equally in view; a body of law which, if strictly carried out, would have made in Israel either a plutocracy or a proletariat alike impossible. All these things will be illustrated in the course of exposition. Enough has been said to show that those among us who are sorely perplexed as to what government should do, at what it should aim in these matters, may gain help by studying the mind of Divine wisdom concerning these questions, as set forth in the theocratic law of Leviticus.

Further, Leviticus is of use to us now as a revelation of Christ. This follows from what has been already said concerning the typical character of the law. The book is thus a treasury of divinely-chosen illustrations as to the way of a sinner’s salvation through the priestly work of the Son of God, and as to his present and future position and dignity as a redeemed man.

Finally, and for this same reason, Leviticus is still of use to us as embodying in type and figure prophecies of things yet to come, pertaining to Messiah’s kingdom. We must not imagine with some that because many of its types are long ago fulfilled, therefore all have been fulfilled. Many, according to the hints of the New Testament, await their fulfilment in a bright day that is coming. Some, for instance, of the feasts of the Lord have been fulfilled; as passover, and the feast of Pentecost. But how about the day of atonement for the sin of corporate Israel? We have seen the type of the day of atonement fulfilled in the entering into heaven of our great High Priest; but in the type He came out again to bless the people: has that been fulfilled? Has He yet proclaimed absolution of sin to guilty Israel? How, again, about the feast of trumpets, and that of the ingathering at full harvest? How about the Sabbatic year, and that most consummate type of all, the year of jubilee? History records nothing which could be held a fulfilment of any of these; and thus Leviticus bids us look forward to a glorious future yet to come, when the great redemption shall at last be accomplished, and "Holiness to Jehovah" shall, as Zechariah puts it, {Zechariah 14:20} be written even "on the bells of the horses."

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