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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 17

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-16


This chapter finds its natural place here as the supplement of all that has gone before. The first part of the book contains the institution or regulation of the sacrificial system (chapters 1-7). This chapter, therefore, which gives injunctions as to the place where all sacrifices are to be offered, might well, as Knobel has remarked, have taken its place as Leviticus 8:1-36. The second part contains the institution of the hereditary priesthood (chapters 8-10). This chapter, therefore, which forbids for the future all offering of sacrifices in the open fields, and commands that they shall be brought "unto the priest, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation," would still more fitly find its place after Leviticus 10:1-20. But the first two sections of the third part (chapters 11-16) contain the laws and rules respecting cleansing from ceremonial defilement, and this cleansing is to be mainly effected by the means of sacrifice. Therefore the rule as to the place where sacrifice shall be offered is most naturally given here, where it is found (Leviticus 17:1-16), forming a close not only to Parts I and II, but also to the two sections of Part III, which contain the regulations as to purification by sacrifice. It is altogether a mistake to make a Second Book begin with Leviticus 17:1-16, as is clone by Lange and Keil.

The first injunction contained in the chapter (Leviticus 17:2-7) is very generally understood to mean that while the Israelites lived in the wilderness, all animals fit for sacrifices which were slain for food should be so far regarded as sacrifices that they should be brought to the door of the tabernacle and slain in the court, an offering of the blood and fat being made to the Lord. Thus the ordinary slaughtering of domestic animals, it is said, became sanctified, and the dignity of life made clear: God is the Lord of life; he gave it, and it must not be taken away unless the blood, which is the vehicle of life, be offered to him by being presented sacrificially on his altar, or, where this is not possible, as in the case of wild animals, by being reverently covered with earth. Such a rule as this respecting the slaughtering of domestic animals, difficult to carry out in any case, would become impossible to obey after the camp had been expanded into a nation, and it is therefore supposed that it is by anticipation repealed in Deuteronomy 12:15, while the regulations as to restricting the offering of sacrifice to the court of the temple, and as to pouring blood on the earth, are there emphatically enforced. This view of the text is erroneous, and must be rejected. The injunction dues not refer to the ordinary slaughter of domestic animals for food, but only to sacrifices. Hitherto it had been the right and the duty of the head of each family to offer sacrifice for his household, and this he did wherever he thought proper, according to the ancient patriarchal practice, and most naturally in the open fields. This duty and liberty is now abolished. The Aaronic priesthood has superseded the older priestly system, and henceforth every sacrifice is to be offered in the court of the tabernacle, and by the hand of Aaron's sons. The change was most momentous, but it could not but be made after the consecration of Aaron and his sons for an hereditary priesthood. A second reason for the change being made was the immediate danger to which a rude and superstitious people was exposed, of offering the parts which they were bound to set aside for the altar of God to some other deity, if God's priests and altar were not at hand. The imaginations of the Israelites, corrupted by their stay in Egypt, peopled the fields with beings answering to the Pan and the satyrs of the Greeks; and to these the sacred portions of the animals slaughtered elsewhere than at the tabernacle were offered.

Leviticus 17:3

What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat. The use of the word killeth, instead of sacrificeth, is one of the chief causes of the error referred to above, which represents this command as applying to the slaughter of domestic animals. But it is always permissible to use a generic in place of a specific term, and its use proves nothing. Probably the sacred writer uses it as a less sacred term, and therefore more suitable to sacrifices offered to the spirits of the fields and woods. If ordinary slaughtering were meant, there is no reason why pigeons and turtle-doves should not be added to the ox, or lamb, or goat. That every ox, or lamb, or goat, to be killed in the camp, or … out of the camp, for the food of more than 600,000 men, should be brought to so confined a space as the court of the tabernacle for slaughter, where the animals for the daily, weekly, annual, and innumerable private sacrifices were also killed, appears almost credible in itself. How would the drivers have made their way into it? and what would have soon been the state of the court? It is true that animal food was not the staple sustenance of the Israelites in the wilderness; but not unfrequently, after a successful war or raid, there must have been a vast number of cattle killed for feasting or reserved for subsequent eating.

Leviticus 17:4

In case a man offers a sacrifice elsewhere than at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,… blood shall be imputed unto that man; that is, it shall no longer be regarded as a sacrifice at all, but an unjustifiable shedding of blood, for which he is to be cut off from among his people, that is, excommunicated.

Leviticus 17:5

To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices. This passage tells us the purpose of the previous command: it is to prevent sacrifices being sacrificed (the word is twice used in the original) in the open field, or anywhere else than in the court of the tabernacle. It follows that the command refers to sacrifice, not to mere slaughtering. Clark, taking the opposite view of the command, is obliged to change the translation, sacrifices which they offer in the open field, into "beasts for slaughter which they now slaughter in the open field" ('Speaker's Commentary'); but he has no authority for doing so. Zabach means always, in the Pentateuch, to slay in sacrifice. These field sacrifices, when offered to the Lord in the proper place and with the proper ceremonies, would become peace offerings unto the Lord.

Leviticus 17:6

The priest, that is, the Levitical priest, is henceforth to sprinkle the blood upon the altar of the Lord … and burn the fat for a sweet savour, which were the two parts of the sacrifice which were essentially priestly in their character. The old priestly function of the head of the family is disallowed.

Leviticus 17:7

And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. The word rightly translated devils means, literally, shaggy goats (see 2 Chronicles 11:15; Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14; where the word occurs). It is generally supposed that the Israelites borrowed their worship of the goat-like spirits of the woods and fields from Egypt. That goat-worship prevailed there in a very foul shape we know (Herod; 2:42), but sacrifices in the open fields are rather a Persian habit (Herod; 1:132). Pan-worship, however, was common to most if not to all agricultural nations. The injunction which follows, This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations, which cannot be confined to the last few words or verses, shows that the command of Leviticus 17:3 refers to sacrifices, not to ordinary slaughtering. Had slaughtering been meant, the statute could not have been intended to be more than temporary in its obligation. The importance attributed to the regulation is further shown by the declaration previously made, that whoever transgressed it should be cut off from among his people, or excommunicated. In fact, it makes an era in the history of the chosen people. The old patriarchal priesthood having ceased, and the Aaronic priesthood substituted for it, the tabernacle is appointed to serve as a religious centre to the race. Whenever, from this time onwards, sacrifices were offered, without offense, elsewhere than in the court of the tabernacle or temple, as by Samuel (see 1 Samuel 13:8), and by Elijah (1 Kings 18:32), it was done by the direct order or dispensation of God.

Leviticus 17:8, Leviticus 17:9

So essential is the regulation to the maintenance of the Israelitish polity, that it is extended to the strangers which sojourn among them, not confined to those who were of the house of Israel; and the penalty of excommunication is appointed for both classes alike in case of disobedience. It may be noticed that this verse assumes that burnt offerings and peace offerings are offered by the strangers that sojourn among them, as well as by the Israelites by race.

Leviticus 17:10, Leviticus 17:11

The appointment made just above, that the blood of all animals slain in sacrifice should be offered to the Lord on his altar in the court of the tabernacle, leads naturally to a reiteration of the prohibition of the eating of blood, and a statement of the reason of that prohibition. "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat," was given as a command to Noah (Genesis 9:4). It has already been repeated twice in the Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26), and it is still again found in Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16; Deuteronomy 15:23. The present is the locus classicus which explains the earnestness with which the rule is enforced. It begins with an extension of the obligation from the Israelites to the sojourners among them, and with a solemn declaration that, in case of transgression, God will take into his own bands the punishment of the offenders; not only is he to be cut off or excommunicated by political or ecclesiastical authority, but God himself will set his face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people, by death, or such means as he chooses to adopt. Then follows the reason for the prohibition. For the life of the flesh is in the blood. The blood may not be eaten because it is the vehicle of life, literally, the soul of the flesh, that is, it is the seat of the animal life of the body. "It is the fountain of life," says Harvey; "the first to live, the last to die, and the primary seat of the animal soul; it lives and is nourished of itself, and by no other part of the human body." In consequence of possessing this character, it is to be reserved, to make an atonement for your souls upon the altar; for thus only blood became qualified for the purpose of atonement. The clause, for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul, should be translated, for the blood maketh atonement by means of the soul, i.e; by means of the life which it contains. It is because the blood is the vehicle of the animal's life, and represents that life, that it serves to cover, or make atonement for, the soul of the offerer of the sacrifice, who presents it instead of his own life.

Leviticus 17:12

This verse emphatically restates that the atoning power of the blood, as being the seat of life, is the reason that the eating of it is forbidden, and the same statement is repeated in a different connexion in Leviticus 17:14.

Leviticus 17:13, Leviticus 17:14

Negatively, it has been ordered that blood shall not be eaten; positively, that it is to be offered to God. But there may be cases where the latter command cannot be caused out, as when animals are killed in hunting. On such occasions the man who kills the animal, whether he be an Israelite or a sojourner, is to pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust, regarding it as a sacred thing.

Leviticus 17:15, Leviticus 17:16

There is still another possible case. The blood of an animal may not have been shed, or not shed in such a way as to make it flow abundantly, as when the animal has died a natural death, or been killed by wild beasts. In this case, as the blood still remains in the body, the flesh may not be eaten without defilement. The defilement may be cleansed by the unclean man washing his clothes and bathing, but if he neglect to do this, he shall bear his iniquity, that is, undergo the consequence of his transgression, which he would not have undergone had he been ceremonially cleansed (cf. Exodus 22:30; Exo 11:1-10 :39; Deuteronomy 14:21). The prohibition of the eating of blood was continued by the Council of Jerusalem, but the observance of the regulation was no longer commanded as a duty binding on all men, but as a concession to Jewish feelings, enabling Jewish and Gentile converts to live together in comfort (see 1 Samuel 14:32; Eze 33:1-33 :35; Acts 15:20).


Leviticus 17:1-9

Sacrifice is not in itself enough;

there must be uniformity in the manner in which it is offered, and identity of place in which it is made. The seven first chapters of the Book of Leviticus have given a minute statement of the ceremonies which are always to be unfailingly observed. Incidentally, it had been taught in these chapters that the place of sacrifice was the court of the tabernacle, but now every other place of sacrifice is stringently forbidden.

I. THE TABERNACLE AND AFTERWARDS THE TEMPLE WERE THE CENTRE OF THE JEWISH CHURCH, AND THEREFORE OF THE JEWISH STATE. Every community which is to be permanent must have a central idea, and that idea must be embodied in some formula, or still better in some institution. The tabernacle or the temple was such an institution to the Jew. It summed up in itself, and was the symbol to the Jew of all that he valued. It was the rallying point of the nation, the thing that each citizen was willing to live for and die for, whatever other differences might divide him from his fellows. This gave a strength and unity to the different tribes, which would otherwise have probably all fallen apart, and though it was not strong enough to prevent the great schism, Jeroboam's plan of supplying its place by an unreal substitute showed its force; it survived the destruction of the material temple by Nebuchadnezzar, preserved the exiled fragments of the nation during the Captivity, and inspired courage to return to Jerusalem and rebuild what they had lost. Nay, even now its memory keeps together the scattered members of a dispersed nation, and forms them into one people.

II. THE TABERNACLE OR TEMPLE WAS THE EFFECTIVE SIGN OF UNITY TO THE JEWS BECAUSE IT CONTAINED THE ARK. The ark was the visible symbol of the presence of God among his chosen people. Therefore the hearts of the people went out towards the sanctuary with adoration and love. Therefore all the sacrificial rites had to be performed before the door of the sanctuary, not only while they lived in the wilderness, but when they were settled in Canaan. The journeys up to Jerusalem at the three great festivals intensified their love for the temple, and made them feel their union and communion with one another and with God. Nor did the institution of synagogues throughout the land interfere with this feeling, as the worship conducted in them was recognized as being of an inferior description to that which could be celebrated at the temple alone. The temple was, in the estimation of the Jew, the local abiding-place of God upon earth. Even when the ark and the mercy-seat were gone, it retained this character above every other spot.

III. THE IDEA OF A LOCAL PRESENCE OF GOD IN ANY GIVEN PLACE ON EARTH IS ABOLISHED. "Believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.… the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:21-24). "For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my Name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my Name, and a pure offering: for my Name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 1:11). There is no local or material centre to the Christian Church; no one city holy because it contains the temple; no one temple holy because it contains the visible presence of God; no one high priest on earth holy because alone privileged to enter into that presence. The spiritual has superseded the material.

IV. THE UNITY OF THE CHRISTIAN BODY IS TO BE OTHERWISE MAINTAINED. Its unity is commanded and prayed for by Christ: "Holy Father, keep through thine own Name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are." "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us:… that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one" (John 17:11, John 17:20-23). And it is enjoined by the apostle, "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). So far and at such times as Judaical and materializing views have prevailed in the Church, attempts have been made to preserve this unity in the Jewish manner, by making an earthly head of the Church, round which the members might gather.


1. The common possession of the" one Spirit " (Ephesians 4:4), who unites all the members by the internal cohesion of unanimity and love.

2. The common possession of the "one Lord" (Ephesians 4:5), the invisible Head of the body, from whom there flows down into the members a life shared by all alike.

3. The common possession of the "one God and Father of all" (Ephesians 4:6), whose Fatherhood makes us all brethren.

4. The common possession of" one faith" (Ephesians 4:5), "once (for all) delivered to the saints" (Jud Leviticus 1:3).

5. The common possession of" one hope" (Ephesians 4:4) of eternal life.

6. The common possession of "one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5), by which we were made members of the "one body" (Ephesians 4:4).

7. The common possession of the other sacrament appointed to continue "till he come" (1 Corinthians 11:26).

8. The common possession of the ministry instituted "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:… that we may grow up into him in all things, which is the bead, even Christ" (Ephesians 4:12-15).

VI. THE NATIONALITY AND INDEPENDENCE OF CHURCHES NOT INCOMPATIBLE WITH CATHOLIC UNITY. if there were one visible head of the Church on earth, or one divinely constituted earthly centre of Christendom, there could be no such thing as an independent or a National Church. But this conception of the Church Catholic, partly Judaical, partly feudal, is wholly false. The possession of the above-named qualifications makes a particular Church partaker in Catholic unity, the ideal Christian Church consisting of a federal union of such Churches in union and communion one with another, agreeing in their belief, but not necessarily uniform in their ceremonies and rites (Art. 34).

Leviticus 17:10-13

The eating of blood is strictly prohibited;

Therefore our Lord's words must have sounded so much the more strange in the ears of the Jews, when he said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you" (John 6:53). The reason why blood may not be eaten is that the life of the flesh is its blood (Leviticus 17:11). Eating the blood was the same thing as eating the life of the animal. Therefore his Jewish auditors would understand our Lord to mean by the words, "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:54), that whoso became a partaker of his life, would thereby become a possessor of eternal life, and, possessing that, would share in its privileges—resurrection and immortality (see Wordsworth, ad loc.) There is an eating and drinking of Christ's flesh and blood, that is, a partaking of his life and Spirit, which may be accomplished without any outward act whatever; but no doubt a special method of performing this mysterious act was instituted when "Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:27, Matthew 26:28). It may well be questioned whether a Church which forbids its members to drink of that cup does not shut them out from a full partaking of the life of Christ, so far as that blessing is imparted by that ordinance.


Leviticus 17:1-16

Grace before meat.

Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31. From the perfect atonement God provides, we are invited next to turn to the morality he requires. And no better beginning can be made than the acknowledgment of God in connection with our food. The beautiful way the Lord secured his own recognition as the bountiful Giver was by enacting that blood, since it is the means used in atonement, must be devoted to no meaner use. Hence it was to be carefully put away, either by the priest at the tabernacle, or by the huntsman in the dust of the wilderness, and the animal used as a peace offering before God (1 Corinthians 10:5). What we have consequently in this chapter is the religious use of food, or, as we have put it, "Grace before meat." In this connection let us observe—

I. THAT GOD HAS IMPLANTED SOME MEMENTO OF HIMSELF IN ALL OUR FOOD. Vegetable as well as animal life, of which we are reminded at every meal, is the sign manual of the living God. It is worse than stupidity not to recognize in the food we eat the gifts of his bounteous hand. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). Why personify nature into a giver as a mere subterfuge for gross ingratitude? The Divine hand is behind the whole, and an honest heart can see it and will bless it as the source of all!

II. GOD REMINDS US AT EVERY MEAL OF ATONEMENT AS THE PRELIMINARY TO PEACE AND FELLOWSHIP, For all our food once thrilled with organic life. There is literally the sacrifice of life, vegetable and animal, in every meal. Vegetarians sacrifice microscopic life, after all their efforts to sacrifice nothing but vegetable life. Thus our race is reminded of the first principle of atonement, every time we sit down at the table which a bounteous providence has spread. In fact, it is our own fault if every feast be not in a certain sense sacramental. The Supper of the New Testament, as well as the Passover of the Old, embodies the sacrifice of life in order to the support of man. It is on this principle that the world is constituted. If, then, we listened to the voice of Nature as we ought to do, we would hear her calling in every feast for the grateful recognition of that principle in atonement to which we have referred. Peace and communion arc really based in the order of nature upon the sacrifice of life. "Vicarious sacrifice" is a principle of vast range, and the atonement of Jesus is but a single application of it.


It is evident that God contemplated hunting as something which might be enjoyed religiously. The blood of the animal was to be carefully covered with dust in the hunting-field. Such a recognition of God may be carried into all legitimate enjoyment. As Charles Lamb suggests saying grace before entering upon new books, as something more fitting than a formal grace before gluttony, let us by all means carry the good custom into everything. We may develop our muscular powers in a religious spirit. Let us have religion in bodily exercise, religion in our social enjoyments, religion in business, religion in politics, religion in all things. "Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." We should recognize a "muscular Christianity," and a mercantile Christianity, and a Christianity "which doth not behave itself unseemly" in society; in a word, the adaptability of the religious spirit to all lawful relations. The sooner we recognize and realize this, the better.—R.M.E.


Leviticus 17:1-16

Statutes concerning blood.

The sacredness of blood is everywhere marked in Scripture. The chapter before us contains some of the more important statutes concerning it.


1. It must be brought to the door of the tabernacle.

(1) This requisition does not apply to animals ordinarily killed for food (comp. Deuteronomy 12:15, Deuteronomy 12:21).

(2) It applies to the blood of sacrifices.

(a) To the blood of those offered at the door of the tabernacle. As a matter of course, the bleed of such sacrifices would be sprinkled and poured out at the altar.

(b) To the blood of those also offered outside the camp (Leviticus 17:3, Leviticus 17:5). Sacrifices were formerly offered wherever the providence of God might indicate (Genesis 12:8; Job 1:5). God still reserved to himself the right to sanction the offering of sacrifices where he pleased (see Judges 6:26; Judges 13:19; 1Sa 7:9; 2 Samuel 24:18; 1 Kings 18:23). Without such sanction, the altar of the tabernacle is the one place appointed for the shedding of sacrificial blood.

(3) Public worship is encouraged by this law (Hebrews 10:25).

2. The penalty of disobedience is excision.

(1) The statute was enacted to prevent idolatry. Sacrificing elsewhere, they might be tempted to sacrifice to devils (Leviticus 17:7). The heathen thought the spirit of their god resided in his idol; such spirits are here called "devils." All idolatry is from Satan, and is devilish (1 Corinthians 10:20). The word (לשעידים) here translated "devils" is elsewhere rendered "goats." Perhaps the idols in which these spirits of devils were supposed to reside were of the goat-like form. Goats were worshipped in Egypt, and probably also in Canaan.

(2) Blood is imputed to him that sheds blood in sacrifice elsewhere than at the altar of the tabernacle (Leviticus 17:4). To bring the blood to the door of the tabernacle taught the worshipper to discern Christ, through whose blood we enter heaven. To miss this lesson was to degenerate into abominable and fatal idolatry (see Isaiah 66:3). This law applied to proselytes as well as to native Israelites (Leviticus 17:8, Leviticus 17:9). There is but one way to God for the Jew and Greek (Romans 3:30). "He that believeth not shall be damned" (see Leviticus 17:4).


1. Blood as food is absolutely forbidden.

(1) The prohibition is among the Noachian precepts. He who reserved the tree of knowledge of good and evil in his grant of vegetables to man for food, reserved blood in his grant of animals (Genesis 9:4, Genesis 9:5). Being a Noachian precept, this law is obligatory upon the human family at large.

(2) The prohibition of blood was formally incorporated into the Levitical code (see Leviticus 17:10; also Le Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26; Deuteronomy 12:25). The abrogation of the Levitical Law, however, does not repeal the Noachian precept. Unless, therefore, it can be shown that the Noachian precept is abrogated, it is still unlawful both to Jew and Gentile to eat blood.

(3) So far from being repealed, this precept is re-enforced under the gospel (Acts 15:28, Acts 15:29). This "burden" our Lord still lays upon the Churches, even after the destruction of Jerusalem (see Revelation 2:14-24). The significance of this term "burden" must not be overlooked (comp. Acts 15:28 with Revelation 2:24).

2. Two reasons for the prohibition are assigned. These are:

(1) That "the life of the flesh is in the blood." This is philosophically true. Cut a nerve, you paralyze a member, but it lives; cut off the blood, the member mortifies. Blood flows to a wound, becomes vascular there, knits the living parts, and it heals. The vitality of the blood is seen in its power of maintaining its temperature against the extremes of heat and cold. The lesson of this reason is to teach us the value of life. Hence in connection with the Noachian precept prohibiting the eating of blood, we have also the law guarding the life of man by the penalty of death to the murderer.

(2) That "it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul" (Leviticus 17:11). That should not be treated as a common thing which is the principle of atonement, and the type of the precious blood of Christ.

(3) For these reasons also things strangled are forbidden, things which died alone, or were torn; things not so killed as to let the blood properly flow from them. Thus the slaying of every animal used for food in the sacrificial way would remind the eater of the necessity of sacrifice for sin (see 1 Corinthians 10:31).

3. The penalty here also is excision

(1) If things strangled were eaten, the transgressor became unclean (see 1 Samuel 14:32, 1 Samuel 14:33). He must wash his clothes, for his profession hath been polluted. He must wash his flesh, for his person is defiled. If he neglect this repentance and purification, he shall bear his iniquity; he is obnoxious to excision (Leviticus 17:16; Le Leviticus 5:17; Numbers 9:13).

(2) What, then, can be said for a Church which professes literally to drink the blood of Christ in the cup of the Mass? Is not that Church thereby guilty of outraging the law of all the dispensations? It would evade this impeachment by impudently authorizing the eating of blood. But no impudence can evade the penalty: "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require." Does not this plainly say that God will require the blood of the life of the blood-eater .9 David abhors the practice of the Syrians, who made libations of blood to their gods, and prophetically denounces and rejects our antichristian idolaters (see Psalms 16:4). Drunk as she is with the blood of the saints and the martyrs of Jesus, God will give her blood to drink, for she is worthy.—J.A.M.


Leviticus 17:1-7

One place of sacrifice.

It is of the essence of law to be impartial. Its precepts apply to all without distinction. "Aaron and his sons and all the children of Israel" are here included in the scope of the Divine commands. Let none deem himself too humble or too exalted to incur displeasure by infraction of the Law.

I. We see that A LAWFUL ACTION MAY BE UNLAWFULLY PERFORMED. A wrong time or place may vitiate a deed otherwise permissible. Animals were given to man as food, and to slaughter and eat them was not in itself sin, but after the issue of this prohibition it became sin to do so without presenting them at the tabernacle. "Blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood." So the homicide justifiable in war becomes murder, and the intercourse of matrimony fornication, and the "word spoken in season" a casting of pearls before swine, by reason of impropriety of person or season.

II. THE PEOPLE OF GOD MUST EXPECT RESTRICTIONS TO BE PLACED UPON THEIR LIBERTY. The nations may follow their own devices and desires, the chosen people are under a covenant to obey the commands of the Legislator. They are assured that his wisdom and kindness will prevent the adoption of unnecessary and inequitable prohibitions. For all his precepts there are the best possible reasons, and therefore obedience is cheerfully rendered. Note the noble reply which Milton puts into the mouth of the seraph Abdiel, to the taunts of Satan ('Paradise Lost,' book 6:170-181). Whilst the Israelites were in the wilderness, and the tabernacle abode in the midst of the camp, no hardship was involved in attending to this injunction, and it restrained them from evil practices, disciplining them against the time that they should enter the land of promise and have the injunction removed. Besides, animal food was scarce in the wilderness, as we learn from the complaints of the people.

III. TO RECOGNIZE GOD IN OUR COMMON ACTIONS AND ENJOYMENTS HALLOWS LIFEMAKES IT A RELIGIOUS SERVICE. The slain animal is consecrated as a peace offering, its blood being sprinkled on the altar, the fat burnt for a "sweet savour unto the Lord," and the remainder partaken of with gratitude and joy. God is honoured and man profited. Alas! that so many can continually receive God's mercies without acknowledgment, no blessing invoked, and no emotion of holy gladness sweetening the repast! The Christian ideal is to do all in the Name of Jesus and to the glory of God.

IV. TO REFUSE TO GOD HIS RIGHTS IS TO COMMIT IDOLATRY. The Israelites were certain to turn the slaughter of an animal into a festival, and the question was, to whom should the feast be dedicated? Homage to the demons of the field could not be sanctioned, it was a breach at once of the first and seventh commandments. It is frequently forgotten that a neutral attitude in respect of God is impossible; we are either on his side or against him. Intellectualism, materialism, scientificism, agnosticism, it matters not by what name our rejection of the claims of religion is covered, it really designates the setting up of an idol upon the throne of the heart, and we adore the enemy of God.

V. THE PROBATIONARY CHARACTER OF MANY OF GOD'S REQUIREMENTS IS HERE MADE VISIBLE. In Deuteronomy 12:1-32 the precept of the text is repealed as relating to the settled condition of life in Palestine, when it would manifestly be difficult to comply with the law. By that period the precept had served its purpose in training the Israelites to abstain from evil practices, and to honour Jehovah with all their substance. And we today have our wilderness system of probation and training, many rules designed to meeten us for the society of just men made perfect. The injunction of the text pointed to the transitory nature of the Law as a whole. It has been abrogated by the gospel, the dispensation of promise, the land of liberty and rest. Yet, as in their residence in Palestine, the Israelites continued to observe the spirit of the repealed Law, so do we, under the gospel, retain the principles that underlay the Mosaic legislation. To acknowledge God in every meal and mercy, to hallow the secular and to promote it to the sacred, this, as it is the object of Christian endeavour, is the spirit of the command we have been considering in Leviticus. And equally so, the principles and spirit of our Christian earthly life will be recognizable in the higher worship and service of heaven. The accident changes, the essence alters not.—S.R.A.


Leviticus 17:1-7

Features of Christian service.

It is open to question whether the prohibition (Leviticus 17:3, Leviticus 17:4) extends to all animals killed for feed, or only to those slain in sacrifice. The former view is, in my judgment, the correct one; for

(1) the instruction is explicit enough (Leviticus 17:3, Leviticus 17:4), and without qualification;

(2) the limitation is afterwards allowed in consideration of the change of circumstance (Deuteronomy 12:20, Deuteronomy 12:21); and

(3) the difficulty in the case is less on consideration than it at first appears. It is objected that this would be a burdensome prohibition; but

(a) it only lasted (see above) while they were in the camp, near to one another, and all near to the tabernacle; and

(b) much less flesh was eaten there and then than is eaten here and now. A more largely vegetable diet would probably be wholesome for us; it was undoubtedly so in the desert of Arabia. When we more carefully consider this precept, we see its beneficent character; we perceive—

I. A FATAL EVIL, FROM WHICH IT WAS DESIGNED TO SAVE THEM. The practices of Egypt clung to them; among these was demon-worship (Leviticus 17:7). They had gone after those demons, and offered sacrifices to them. If any animal might be killed anywhere for food, and the blood of it might not be eaten (Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26), there would be a strong temptation to the superstitious to pour it out in sacrifice to those demons of whose malignant interposition they were afraid. This temptation must, at all cost, be guarded against. It would introduce or foster that idolatrous usage from which it was the supreme object of all these statutes to keep Israel free. And if no animal might be slain save at the tabernacle door, there would be no danger of this disastrous lapse into Egyptian superstition.

II. THE GOOD IT WAS DESIGNED TO DO THEM. It would confer a threefold boon upon them.

1. It would bring them often to the tabernacle, and so to the near presence and worship of God; it would multiply their sacrifices (Leviticus 17:5, Leviticus 17:6).

2. It would lead them to associate their material blessings with the Divine hand; presenting them unto the Lord, they could not fail to be reminded that they were his gifts.

3. It would help them to look on Jehovah as their Divine Friend. These became peace offerings (Leviticus 17:5), and the essential thought of such offering was human fellowship with God.

We detect here some useful suggestions as to the true character of Christian service.

1. We must not make our Christian worship too deprecatory in its character. There is something painfully and dangerously like demon-worship in the devotion of some men; they seldom rise above the deprecatory in their thought, as if God were a being so stern and so reluctant to forgive that his people should spend all their devotional breath in deprecating his wrath. Surely to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ we should bring, beside this, our adoration, praise, gratitude, trust, love, consecration, etc.

2. We must learn to connect daily blessings with the Divine hand. We should, in thought though not in act, bring everything we have to "the door of the tabernacle," trace each good thing we enjoy to the generous Giver of all, to his heart of love as well as to his hand of bounty.

3. We should bless God for revealing himself to us as our Divine Friend, in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has taught us to think and feel that we are the friends and guests of God (John 15:14, John 15:15; John 14:23; Revelation 3:20).—C.

Leviticus 17:10-16

Atoning death.

We have here a repetition of a law which had already been twice delivered (Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:23-26). Its full and formal restatement is very significant, and this the more because of the emphatic utterance of Divine displeasure in the event of disobedience. "I will even set my face against that soul … and will cut him off," etc. (Leviticus 17:10). Obviously, the highest importance was attached by God to the observance of this injunction not to eat "any manner of blood." We regard—

I. THE PRIMARY SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS LAW. This is clearly indicated in Leviticus 17:11 and Leviticus 17:12. We shall understand it if we consider the subject thus:

1. Happy and harmonious relations between Jehovah and his people were maintained by continual sacrifices at his altar.

2. In these sacrifices the life of the slain animal was accepted by God as an atonement for the forfeited life of the human transgressor.

3. But the blood of the animal was regarded as the seat and source of its life. When its blood was shed its life was taken, and the shed blood was sprinkled before the vail or poured on the altar (Leviticus 2:6, Leviticus 2:7), as standing for the life which had been offered by man, and been accepted by God. "The blood of bulls and of goats," therefore, however insufficient of itself for the high purpose of atonement for human sin, was yet the outward and visible means which the Holy One of Israel was pleased to appoint for reconciliation between himself and his people. Therefore it was to be held sacred; the idea of it must not be vulgarized, as it would inevitably be if blood were used as common food at ordinary meals. Its sanctity must be carefully fenced. Men must associate with it, in their minds, nothing but the forfeited life, the atonement, with which it was so closely connected. All their domestic and social customs (Leviticus 17:13, Leviticus 17:15, Leviticus 17:16) must be so ordered that the blood of animals, anywhere and anywise slain, should speak of those sacrifices at the altar in which the erring souls of men sought and found the mercy and the favour of their God.

II. ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO OURSELVES. It suggests to us the truth that, as the disciples of Jesus Christ, we also should count very sacred in our esteem the thought of atoning blood.

1. For we, too, are redeemed by "precious blood" (see 1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 1:19; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:12-14; Revelation 5:9). It may not have been needful that, in the literal sense, the blood of the Son of man should flow, but it was needful that his life, of which the blood is the source and the symbol, should be laid down.

2. Our Lord has given us a permanent institution, the object of which is to keep before our minds the shedding of his blood for our sins (Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:26).

3. By their words, he and his apostles laid the greatest stress on his atoning death as the source of our life and hope (John 12:32; John 6:53; Luke 24:46, Luke 24:47; Hebrews 9:14; 1 John 1:7, etc.).

4. His atoning death was the object of our soul's trust when we entered our Christian course, and will be at the hour when we shall complete it.

5. It is the will of Christ that we should keep it continually in view throughout our life. It is our wisdom as well as our duty so to do, inasmuch as the contemplation of his death for our sins will minister

(1) to our humility;

(2) to our gratitude;

(3) to a consecrated life of cheerful obedience and submission.—C.


Leviticus 17:1-9

Sanctity of animal life.

All God's people commanded to observe restrictions as to the shedding of blood. Door of the tabernacle connected with the sphere of common life; thus religion and its duty threw sacredness over all things.


1. Appointed by God (see Genesis 1:26 and Psalms 8:1-9).

2. Limited in its extent, by necessity, humanity of feeling, provision for the higher purposes of human life.

3. Capable of being blended with the Law of the sanctuary. We should afford all creatures dependent on us, as much as possible our own sabbath of bodily rest. We should make it a religious duty to protect them from injury and suffering. In so far as we use them for food, an offering of them should not be to the god of sensuality, but to him whose Law requires temperance, self-restraint, and reverence for the lower nature, that it may support the higher. All with thanksgiving.

II. POWER OF LIFE AND DEATH IS IN AND FROM GOD. As entrusted to man, whether over the lower animals or over his fellows, it is a power to be exercised as in the sight of God and at the door of his house.

1. Shedding of blood a solemn responsibility. In common life, lest we be guilty of cruelty and destruction of a true and valuable element in the world's welfare. In execution of law, lest we give to that which represents the Divine will the appearance of injustice and wantonness. Even in healthy sport, care must be taken lest there be an overbalance of the mind towards shedding of blood or disregard of suffering. In all questions of difficulty, bring the matter to the door of the tabernacle.

2. The sacredness of blood points to atonement. The devoted and slaughtered animal was received back again as a Divine gift for the use of the offerer, thus lifting up death into life. Sacrifice is not God's delight in death, but his promise of salvation. The sanctity attached to the blood of victims prepared the way to the higher sanctity attached to the blood of Christ. The Old and New Testaments explain one another.

III. PRESERVATION FROM IDOLATRY AND FALSE WORSHIP IN THE POSITIVE REGULATIONS OF THE LAW. Mistake of supposing that mere negative religion will purify men from corruption. Against the worship of devils we are never sate except as we are engaged in the worship of the true God.—R.

Leviticus 17:10-16

Leviticus 17:11, "The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul."


1. The preciousness of life. The blood is the seat of life.

2. The exchange of the altar, blood for life, a lower for a higher, requires a supplementary value, which is represented by the altar itself.

3. The law proclaimed at the first against the shedding of blood taken up into the higher law of redemption; righteousness becoming at the altar of God the refuge of man.

II. ATONEMENT FOR THE SOUL PROVIDED BY DIVINE LOVE. "I have given it you to make an atonement."

1. All atonement must proceed from Divine love, otherwise it will be heathenish as effecting a change in God. Christ is set forth a propitiation.

2. Atonement is made, i.e; by being offered, the blood shed at the tabernacle door, offered upon the altar. Thus the sacrifice is a revelation and consecration of the bond of union in the covenant relation between God and man.

3. The blood, while representing the life, also represents the obedience active and passive of Christ, which was both a rendering up to God of a perfect humanity, and an exaltation of the Law in the sufferings and death of Calvary; the old man crucified, the new man glorified.

4. All human merit is excluded: "I have given it you." No amount of sacrifice would be of any avail except it be according to the will of God. We give back to him of his own. Hence the difference between the Jewish sacrifices and those of pagan nations, and between the morality which is founded on the sacrifice of Christ, and that which proceeds from mere self-will or an unjustifiable and false exaltation of human nature as it is. He that is not clean as God makes him clean shall "bear his iniquity." Necessity of insisting on this doctrine of atonement in the present day. Falsehood as to humanity, in the way of all true progress. Those who boast are not those who make sacrifices to elevate man. "Survival of the fittest" a cruel remedy for the world's miseries. Christ's doctrine is elevation of the lowest. Atonement for your souls is the beginning of all true life.—R.


Leviticus 17:11

The sanctity of the atoning blood.

No act was more strongly denounced than that of eating any manner of blood. The man guilty of that deed, whether an Israelite or a stranger sojourning in the land, was threatened with the displeasure of God and severest penalty. It seemed to partake of the nature of a ceremonial rather than a moral offense, yet it must be remembered that violations of ritual become moral transgressions when they are committed against the known will of the recognized Legislator. This is especially the case when, as here, the Lawgiver condescends to explain the reason upon which the prohibition is founded. Such explanation ought to secure intelligent observance of the enactment. And that enactment was but the reissue of the former decree that gave animals to man for food, but annexed a prohibition against tasting the blood (Genesis 9:4).

I. The fact stated, that THE SHEDDING OF BLOOD CONSTITUTES AS ATONEMENT. Illustrated by the numerous sacrifices of the patriarchs, and the provisions of the Law that sacrifices should form a part of all national and individual festivals, as well as of all offerings to wipe away inadvertent transgression. See it in the sprinkling of the book and vessels and people at the ratification of the covenant. It is confirmed by the well-nigh universal practice of heathen nations, and is proved by direct Scripture statements in the Old and New Testaments. "Without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22). It typified, therefore, the offering of Jesus Christ, whose blood redeems us "from our vain manner of life" (1 Peter 1:18). "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." This Mosaic way of speaking is ingrained in the apostles, showing how they regarded the death of Jesus as the fulfilment of the types of the Law.

II. The truth implied that THE CHIEF VIRTUE OF BLOOD AS AN ATONEMENT IS DERIVED FROM GOD'S APPOINTMENT. "I have given it unto you" indicates that the blood of animals had no intrinsic efficacy to atone for sin. And the same truth is shadowed forth in the words, "upon the altar." There was no difference in itself between blood ordinarily spilt and that presented before God, but the presentation constituted the difference. To sprinkle the blood upon the altar was to bring it emblematically into the very presence of the Deity. "God set forth" Christ Jesus "to be a propitiation, through faith, by his blood."

III. The reason afforded for the selection of BLOOD, that it IS THE VEHICLE OF LIFE. Physiology, and especially recent investigations with the microscope, confirm the dictum of Scripture, that "the blood is the life." It nourishes and sustains the whole physical frame; if it deteriorate in quality the body weakens, if it diminish in quantity power is lessened.

1. By such an atonement God is recognized as Lord of life and of all its consequences. He gave and takes away, to him alone should life be offered. Thus the sanctity of life was enforced. Man was not to feast upon that which was God's prerogative; blood must be poured upon the ground like water, thus returning to the earth.

2. The enormity of sin is represented, as enacting the utmost for an atonement that can be rendered. "Life is the most cherished of possessions, since man is powerless to create or to restore it." The crowning proof of Christ's compassion was that he gave "his life"a ransom for the many, and the gift revealed the awfulness of sin to require such a redemption.

3. It represents the substitution of one life for another, death being the sentence pronounced upon the sinner. "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin" was Isaiah's prediction of the sacrifice of Christ. It may be observed that the word in the text translated "soul" and "life" is the same, corresponding to the use made of the equivalent Greek word in Matthew 16:25, Matthew 16:26. That but for the death of Jesus Christ we must have been subject to eternal death, is the plain import of many passages in the Word of God.

IV. THE FUTURE ADVENT TYPIFIED OF ONE WHO SHOULD BY HIS OFFERING: FULFIL ALL THE CONDITIONS OF A PERFECT ATONEMENT. Every Israelite might not perceive in the insufficiency of his sacrifices a prediction of the Lamb of God, but there it was portrayed visibly enough. An innocent, holy, human victim, a voluntary offering, being himself the Lawgiver, and by incarnation subjecting himself to the Law, making adequate acknowledgment of the righteousness of God and of the ill deserts of God's rebellious sinful children, revealing to man at once the loving heart of God and the hatefulness of sin which had estranged man from his Father in heaven, by his death exhibiting the length to which sin will go, and the willingness of Divine holiness and love to submit to extreme degradation and anguish in order that the curse might be removed and man's heart won,—this is the atonement of truest efficacy, a mighty moral power with God and man. This is the death that gives life to the world, the blood that cries out, not for vengeance, but for mercy, that sanctifies not merely to the purifying of the flesh, but to the purging of the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. And the shedding of the blood of Christ was the signal for release from the ceremonies and restrictions imposed by the Mosaic Law. The prohibition of the text had served its purpose.

CONCLUSION. With what rejoicing should we approach our altar, the cross of Christ (Hebrews 13:10)! And what guilt we incur if we slight the blood of Christ as little available for salvation, or, though professing to believe, yet by conduct show that we count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing!—S.R.A.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Leviticus 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/leviticus-17.html. 1897.
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