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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 1

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



In the unfolding of the Divine purposes Abraham has been isolated from his polytheistic kindred, and called to sojourn in the Land of Promise. His seed have been cast into the furnace of Egypt, and, by centuries of oppression, have been fused into a homogeneous mass now ready to be poured into the divinely prepared mould for the formation of a nationality unique and wonderful. Through a highway miraculously thrown up they have been led forth from Egypt to the foot of Sinai. Here, amid the display of all that is terrific in the elements, they have received two revelations the holiness of Jehovah and the expression of his will, in the most sublime and comprehensive code of moral laws that had ever been given to man. The purpose of both these revelations is to sanctify and elevate the nation. Both convince of sin. The Divine purity is a mirror wherein man may discover his moral defilements. The decalogue, by clearly drawing a fiery boundary between right and wrong by quickening the conscience and thrusting upon the unwilling soul a sense of guilt for its evil deeds, under the government of a holy God is now extorting the despairing cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The imperative demand of the hour through all that multitudinous host is a purgatory for their sins. For the law has entered disclosing their abounding offences. Romans 5:10. That purgatory the merciful Lawgiver now prepares. An expiatory quality is now clearly developed in one of the familiar sacrifices, and others wholly propitiatory are to be instituted. The law drives the guilty to the blood.


(1.) It will be observed that in each of these burnt offerings there are very minute directions given respecting the manner of proceeding, but in the last two the most important item, the atonement, is omitted. Hence our inference that only the first was distinctly expiatory seems to be legitimate. But this involves the following difficulty: Only the most costly offering availed for the forgiveness of sins, and hence the poor man is left unforgiven. This compromises the Divine character, implying that he is a respecter of the persons of the rich. This cannot be admitted for a moment. The only other explanation is, that the expiatory character of the last two is to be inferred from the first, or, that burnt offerings from Abel down to Moses were always understood to be expiatory. For an extended discussion see Introduction, (2.)

(2.) The private whole burnt offering was offered on the following occasions: 1.) At the consecration of priests, (Leviticus 8:18; Leviticus 9:12.) 2.) At the purification of women, (Leviticus 12:6-8.) 3.) At the cleansing of lepers, (Leviticus 14:19.) 4.) At the removal of other ceremonial uncleanness, (Leviticus 15:15; Leviticus 15:30.) 5.) At an inadvertent breach of the Nazarite’s vow, or at its end. Numbers 6:11; Numbers 6:14 and Acts 21:26. Free will burnt offerings were accepted by God on any solemn occasion. The public occasions were: 1.) The daily morning and evening sacrifice of a lamb. 2.) The same, doubled, on the Sabbath, so that sixteen lambs were offered each week in the regular service. 3.) At the new moons, the three great festivals, the great day of atonement, and the feast of trumpets; generally two bullocks, a ram, and seven lambs. The entire number of animals required for all these public burnt offerings was more than a thousand annually.

Verse 1

1. Lord The Hebrew for “Lord” is Jehovah, a name recently disclosed in its fulness of significance. See note on Exodus 3:11, and Concluding Note of the same chapter. We shall use it instead of the more indefinite, generic appellative Lord.

Called… out The calling is as if with an audible voice. See note on Numbers 1:1. This is the sixth and last time this word is used in the Hebrew to indicate the method of communicating the Divine will to Moses, beginning at the burning bush. These important occasions are Exodus 3:4; Exodus 19:3; Exodus 19:20; Exodus 24:16; Exodus 34:6. The next and only person to whom God “called out” is the boy Samuel. 1 Samuel 3:4.

Tabernacle of the congregation Or, tent of meeting. Primarily, where Jehovah met Moses, and secondarily, where Moses met the Israelites. The word “congregation” in the Authorized Version misleads by conveying the impression that the chief use of the tabernacle was to contain the assembled people, like a modern church edifice. The Israelites, except the priests, were not allowed to enter. They could come only to the door of the holy place, the court of the priests. See the description of the newly erected tabernacle, Exodus 25-27. We cannot agree with Murphy that the tabernacle referred to here is the tent which Moses pitched without the camp afar off, probably on the slope of Mount Sinai, and called by the same name, “the tent of meeting.” The message now given to Moses is the first which ever resounded from the Divine Oracle within the tabernacle. Till now the glory of the Lord had so filled it that Moses was not able to enter. Exodus 40:35.

Verse 2

2. If any man Not any Israelite merely. Numbers 15:14. Here we may discover an early provision for admitting heathen to the worship of Jehovah as proselytes of the gate. When the temple was built there was a court of the Gentiles into which they might bring their offerings.

Bring an offering Or, korban. A generic term for any oblation, bloody or bloodless. See Introduction, (3.) The objection may arise that it is illogical to describe offerings before the consecration of the priests. Written constitutions always describe the duties of their officers before their election and inauguration. Despite the assertions of irreverent and superficial critics, the subject-matter of this book is arranged with consummate skill. The practice of bringing offerings to Jehovah is here tacitly assumed. The method of speaking of the offerings in the first three chapters, as if well known, so different from those described in Leviticus 4-7 , is one of the grounds of our discriminating between them as traditional and law-created. For the general character of the former see Introduction, (2.) In the presence of the overshadowing polytheism of Egypt, the Hebrew sacrifices had probably been omitted or infrequent and secret, lest the religious feelings of the Egyptians should be offended by taking the life of animals sacred to them. Exodus 8:26.

Unto the Lord In the East a superior can be appropriately approached only by an introductory offering, or offering of access. Hence it would be exceedingly derogatory to the majesty of Jehovah, in the estimation of the people, to permit a breach of this immemorial usage. “None shall appear before me empty,” (Exodus xxiii, 15,) is a law of Jewish worship which, in spirit if not in form, St. Paul carried over into Christianity. 1 Corinthians 16:2.

Of the cattle B’hemah is a collective term for beasts as opposed to men. Keil takes the liberty of disregarding the disjunctive accent equal to a period in English, and translates it, “If any man brings an offering of cattle unto the Lord.” This is doubtless the meaning.

Of the herd The neat herd, or kine. Tame animals, in distinction from wild ones, and clean animals in distinction from unclean, were chosen. They were to be clean because He to whom they were offered is holy, and because some portion of all offerings, except the burnt offering and the sin offering of a priest and of the congregation, was to be eaten by the priest or the offerer.

Of the flock The small cattle, sheep or goats.

Verse 3

3. Burnt sacrifice The ‘olah is so called because it ascends to heaven in the consuming flames. It should always be translated whole burnt offering. It is a holocaust, because the sacrifice was entirely consumed. It symbolizes the devotement of the entire man soul, body, and spirit to the service of God. Perfect love to him is more than all whole burnt offerings. Mark 12:33. As fire purifies what it does not consume, it typifies the Sanctifier consuming inward sin and cleansing the indestructible essence of the soul. See notes on Matthew 3:11 and Acts 2:3.

Every sacrifice was in part a burnt offering, because Jehovah’s special portion was consumed by fire, the symbol of his presence. For the occasions on which it was presented see Concluding Note, (2.)

Without blemish Tamim, perfect. Defective sacrificial animals are described in chap. Leviticus 22:20-24, as the blind, broken, maimed, scabbed, having wens, or scurvy, parts lacking or superfluous; also the castrated, spoken of as cut, crushed, bruised, or broken. An animal was an imperfect offering under eight days old. Exodus 22:30. What a sermon is this, preached morning and evening through the centuries, on the sinlessness of Jesus Christ, “the Lamb without blemish and without spot!” 1 Peter 1:19.

Of his own voluntary will Of his own free choice: “not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loveth” a willing offering.

At the door of the tabernacle This precise spot is designated in order to prevent any secret idolatrous rites under the mask of the prescribed ritual. The prohibition of all other places for sacrifice was also a strong safeguard of the national unity. Another altar was a political secession. Joshua 22:11-34.

Before the Lord That is, to Jehovah. The rendering in the Authorized Version is sustained by some scholars. It is true that all burnt offerings, being chiefly self-dedicatory, must be purely voluntary. But the Hebrew is the same here as in Exodus 28:38, and Leviticus 22:20-21, and is correctly rendered in the Authorized Version. But in Leviticus 19:5; Leviticus 22:19; Leviticus 22:29, the word is rendered “own will,” as it is here.

Verse 4

4. Put his hand upon the head Or, press his hand, etc. The symbolism of this act is differently interpreted. But most writers are agreed that as the hand is the organ of transmission, the notion of communication is especially manifest in consecration or blessing. But in the burnt offering what is transmitted? Nothing, says Bahr; it is only “a renunciation of one’s own.” Hoffman asserts that it signifies the power of the offerer over the life of his victim. With Baumgarten and Kurtz we accept the idea of the transmission of the feelings of the man to the animal. As expiation, in Leviticus 1:4, is expressly declared to be one function of the burnt offering, we conclude that guilt is symbolically transferred in the imposition of the hand formally and solemnly dedicating the victim to Jehovah as the substitute of the sinner.

To make atonement The Hebrew word caphar signifies primarily to cover over, to conceal sin, and hence to expiate, to forgive it. The word atonement occurs only once in the New Testament, (Romans 5:11,) and there signifies a change produced in our relation to God, a reconciliation, without indicating its nature or manner. But in the Old Testament it signifies an expiation a propitiation in the New Testament sense. Rom 3:25 ; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10. It includes the satisfaction of the law by suffering the penalty, and the conciliation of the Lawgiver by obedience to his precepts. For the character of the Old Testament forgiveness, see Introduction, (7.)

For him These words, occurring twice, strongly suggest the vicarious work of the great Redeemer, who was made a curse for us. Galatians 2:20; Galatians 3:13.

Verse 5

5. Shall kill After the most searching scrutiny by the priest, if the animal was pronounced perfect, the offerer killed it, except when it was presented in behalf of the whole congregation; then it was killed by the high priest. Chap. Leviticus 16:15.

The bullock Literally, the son of a bull. The term ox is often used in a broad sense as describing sacrificial victims of the bovine genus, but in the narrow sense of modern parlance it is an improper term, since the ox is not a perfect male. See note on Leviticus 1:3.

Before the Lord Since Jehovah had deigned to take up his abode between the cherubim above the mercy seat in the holy of holies, the whole tabernacle, recently illumined with his glory, was filled with his special presence. Hence before the open door of the holy place, the court of the priests, was before the Lord.

The priests, Aaron’s sons They had been designated (Exodus xxix) but not yet consecrated. Chap. 8.

Sprinkle the blood Brought from the door of the tabernacle to the altar, it is to be copiously spilled upon the ground round about, upon the altar’s walls, and probably upon its top. The verb sprinkle here used is different from that employed to express the scattering of drops with the finger or hyssop. As no instrument for sprinkling is here specified, and as the same verb is used when all the blood of an ox, as here, and all the blood of a sheep, Leviticus 1:11, are to be thus treated, we infer that the manner was by waving the basin and spilling the blood. For the ceremonial office of the blood see Introduction, (6.)

Verse 6

6. He shall flay It was the work of the offerer to kill, skin, and cut up the victim.

Verse 7

7. Put fire upon the altar So long as the altar was stationary the fire was never to go out. See note on Leviticus 6:13. When the altar was transported, the fire was probably carried in a censer and put on the altar in its new location. See note on Numbers 4:16.

Lay the wood Such a ritual could not be executed in the dessert of Sahara. Wood still abounds in the Sinaitic Peninsula, and charcoal has for centuries been the chief article of export.

In order The sacrifice was to be made with decency and deliberation.

Verse 8

8. Shall lay the parts The victim was to be cut in pieces to facilitate the burning. Since the whole burnt offering symbolizes complete self-consecration, the pieces may typify that dedication of self in detail, which eminent saints assure us insures the more perfect work of the fire Divine in the person of the Sanctifier. “Yield… your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” See note on Romans 6:13.

Verse 9

9. His inwards The intestines, because they contained impurities, could not be burned until they had first been cleansed. According to Maimonides the ablution was three times repeated. Thus there is strikingly set forth that inward holiness required by God of all his people, and the provision made for its attainment in the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. “I will put my law in their inwards, and write it in their hearts.” Jeremiah 31:33. “Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” Hebrews 10:22.

And his legs The lower parts, below the knees, having contracted defilements in walking, were unfit to lay upon the altar until cleansed. “Lord, not my feet only.” Peter.

All on the altar Of most of the other offerings a portion might be given to the Lord in the persons of his priests, and a part might be given back to the offerer to share with his friends, (Leviticus 7:15;) but the burnt offering must all lie upon the altar till the fire has changed it into an odour of sweet smell, and wafted it, on the curling smoke, to heaven. The spiritual import of this self-dedicatory sacrifice is obvious. If we would obtain a thorough and pervasive holiness through all our collective powers and parts, we must, without mental reservation, surrender ourselves entirely unto the God of peace till, through the Holy Ghost, he sanctifies us wholly. Rom 12:1 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

An offering made by fire The term ishsheh is generic of every kind of sacrifice by fire, and once even where no fire is used except for baking. Leviticus 24:7; Leviticus 24:9.

A sweet savour unto the Lord The anthropomorphism so clearly implied here is scarcely to be avoided. It is impossible for us to form a conception of pure spirit. Hence our ideas naturally clothe themselves in material forms, and we think of Jehovah as a man whose nostrils are regaled with the delicious odours diffused through the air. Stripped of its impressive imagery, and expressed in the cold phrase of modern philosophy, the Orientalism becomes this: God receives with delight every true act of worship.

Verses 10-11

10, 11. Offering… of the flocks The burnt offering of a sheep or goat differed from that of the herd in these particulars: The sheep was to be killed on the side of the altar northward, for reasons not assigned: the impressive ceremony of laying the hand upon the head of the victim is absent; and also the declaration that it shall be accepted for an atonement. Hence we infer that either this offering, as well as that which follows, was not expiatory, or that the peculiar nature of the burnt offering was well understood. See Concluding Note, (1.)

Verse 14

14. Offering… of fowls In a descending scale Jehovah adjusts his requirements to the ability of the offerer, from a bull to a pigeon.

Turtledoves These are first spoken of as appropriate for sacrifice in Genesis 15:9, where Abram is commanded to offer one, together with a young pigeon, in addition to larger sacrifices. The admission of a pair of turtledoves for a burnt offering is a step of condescension lower than the concession of the young pigeons, since the former are not property, not being domesticated. For the practicability of the sacrifice of the turtledove in the wilderness see Introduction, (4.) For a few months in winter this bird was absent from Palestine seeking a warmer climate. Hence “the voice of the turtle in the land” (Song of Solomon 2:12) was the grateful sign of spring. Thus the poor could bring their tame pigeons, and the poorest, with a little effort, might capture and offer to the Lord a pair of turtledoves, an offering eminently appropriate on account of their imagined fidelity and devotion to each other, which might be taken as symbolizing devotion to God.

Young pigeons These are too well known to require description. This offering was always possible. See Introduction, (4.)

Verse 15

15. Wring off his head Rather, pinch it off and lay it on the altar. The blood was then to be pressed out at the side of the altar.

Verse 16

16. Crop with his feathers The Hebrew may be so rendered, but in the estimation of the best scholars it does not here signify feathers, but filth in the crop and connected viscera.

Place of the ashes Rather, fat-ashes. The indestructible portions of the offering were to be taken from the altar and placed on the east side till they were removed without the camp. Chap.

Leviticus 6:11.

Verse 17

17. Cleave it with the wings The breast bone was to be split and the body laid open, so that there would be a wing on each side; but the halves were not to be completely separated from each other.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/leviticus-1.html. 1874-1909.
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