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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Leviticus 17

THE SACREDNESS OF BLOOD.

Since blood is the only means of atonement, it becomes important to impress upon the Hebrew mind not only the sacredness of the blood of the victims slain in sacrifice, but of the shed blood of all beasts and birds. Hence, when the sacrificial animals are slain for food, they must be killed at the door of the tabernacle, (Leviticus 17:1-6.) Sacrifices to demons are forbidden, (Leviticus 17:7-9,) and all blood eating, (Leviticus 17:10-16.)

CONCLUDING NOTE. VICARIOUS ATONEMENT.

Bahr regards Leviticus 17:11 as the key to the whole theory of the Jewish sacrifices. His comment thereon, covering fifteen pages of his great work, embraces the following chief points: that the central point of the sacrifice is not the killing of the animal, but the procedure with the blood; that the end of the sacrifice was expiation or atonement; that it is Jehovah from whom the atonement proceeds; (“ I have given it;”) and that it is for man; (“for your souls;”) and that the blood makes an atonement because the soul is in the blood; that the atoning power does not reside in the material blood, but in the soul that is in the blood bannephesh “by means of the soul.” There is a substitution of the soul of the animal for the soul of man; yet only a symbolical substitution. The sacrifice has also a sacramental character, so far as blood is the means, ordained of God, of bringing the soul of man into connexion with himself.

Winer says, that “the parallelism of the soul of the animal with the souls of the persons who offered it is assuredly not without significancy.” Tholuck thus proves that the expiatory sacrifices of the Old Testament were in their nature vicarious: 1.) The idea has prevailed in all nations. 2.) Among the Jews the death of men was considered vicarious; (2 Samuel 12:15, etc.; Isaiah 53:4-5; especially Daniel 9:24-27;) allied to this is substitution by means of animals. 3.) The ritual favours this view; only in the expiatory sacrifices is the animal rendered unclean and its remains burned without the camp, because “it is a sin offering.” Exodus 29:14.

Verses 1-3

THE PLACE OF SLAYING DOMESTIC ANIMALS FOR FOOD, Leviticus 17:1-6.

3. In the camp In addition to the ceremonial, there were doubtless sanitary grounds for the requirement that all slaughter in the camp be in one place, where there was doubtless some way of disposing of the blood without endangering the public health. See Introduction, (6.) The private slaughter of domestic animals was doubtless forbidden as a safeguard against the propensity to idol offerings, which the people brought with them out of Egypt. The suggestion has weight, that since the herds were scanty, the requirement to bring animals for slaughter to the tabernacle was also designed to act as a check against too great a reduction of their number. Only the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half of Manasseh seem to have had what might be called large herds. Numbers 32:0. There can be little doubt, that during the forty years in the wilderness oxen and sheep were rarely used as food, whence it was flesh that Israel so greatly lusted after.

Out of the camp The inconvenience of this requirement, when Israel was widely scattered in the wilderness for pasturage, is greatly mitigated by the fact that they were miraculously fed with manna. Their disgust for this, and clamour for animal food, (Numbers 11:6,) indicates that they rarely slew any animal of their flocks for food. But when the manna had ceased, and the tabernacle was fixed in one place, this prohibition was repealed in advance by Moses, (Deuteronomy 12:13-15,) so far as animals intended for food are concerned, and the people were permitted to kill and eat in all their gates.

Verse 4

4. An offering unto the Lord The blood and fat were sacrificially treated, but nothing is said respecting the priest’s portion which was allotted in peace offerings. There was also the same priestly inspection.

Modern Jews eat no meat which has not the seal of the rabbi certifying that the animal was without blemish. Herein again is a sanitary safeguard.

Blood shall be imputed This is explained by the following words: He hath shed blood. He is classified with those who have wickedly shed human blood, and are guilty of murder.

Cut off He shall be punished with death, without defining the manner. Thus the Seventy and the Vulgate. The punishment is never exile, as is supposed by J.D. Michaelis.

Verse 5

5. Sacrifices which they offer Animals which Israel would have slain for food in the open field, that is, outside the enclosed space of the court of the tabernacle, are required to be slain as peace offerings, in the manner prescribed in Leviticus 3:0, and Leviticus 7:11-34, though the limitation of the time of eating was probably removed, nor is it certain that the priest’s portion, the heave offering, was demanded.

Verse 6

6. Burn the fat See Leviticus 3:3; Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:23; Leviticus 7:25, notes.

Sweet savour Leviticus 1:9, note.

Verse 7

7. Devils The Hebrew seirim, literally, the shaggy ones, or goats, has a wonderful variety of renderings in the Authorized Version. See Leviticus 23:19, note. The Vulgate renders it daemones, and Luther “field devils;” the Seventy, τοις ματαιοις , usually translated idols; but Schleusner here renders it demons, the Revised Version, “devils.” These were supposed by the Egyptians to inhabit the desert. The Israelites had brought this superstition out of Egypt, where goats were worshipped as gods, particularly Pan, the impersonation of the male principle in nature, under the name of Mendes. From these arose the innumerable herd of satyrs, fauns, and dryads which figure so largely in Grecian and Roman mythology.

Gone a whoring This strong metaphor for the practice of idolatry expresses Jehovah’s abhorrence of polytheistic rites celebrated by his people. As Jehovah by his covenant had married Israel, their worship of other gods was like the infidelities of a wife. Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 3:14; James 4:4-5, R.V. But since most of the ancient idolatries were grossly licentious, the term whoring may be used in a sense not altogether figurative. See Numbers 14:33, note.

A statute forever Since there was a repeal of the laws relating to the place of killing animals for food, (see Leviticus 17:4, note,) the unchangeable statute must relate to the worship of demons and false gods. No command is more scrupulously kept by the Jews of to-day. The first sentence taught to every Hebrew child is the Shema Israel, “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah thy God is one God.” This safeguard against polytheism rings out in all their synagogues whenever the scroll of the law is taken from its sacred depository, every reading being prefaced by this loud proclamation.

Verse 8

8. Strangers… sacrifice For the religious privileges and obligations of strangers, see Leviticus 1:2; Leviticus 23:22, notes. The Israelites were expressly forbidden to offer burnt offerings in every place, but only “in the place which the Lord shall choose,” in order to preserve the unity of the ritual and of the nation, and to exclude idolatry. To build a rival altar was to erect a rival throne. See Joshua 22:10-12. It was reasonable that resident strangers should be subjected to a law which concerned the life of the state. No sacrifice can be offered except at the door of the tabernacle, and this can be erected only in the place selected by Jehovah; (Deuteronomy 12:5-14;) it follows that, since Mount Moriah was the last place chosen for the “house of sacrifice,” (2 Chronicles 7:12,) the Jews, ever since their exclusion from this sacred spot, have been destitute of all lawful burnt offerings, sin offerings, and days of atonement. This wretched disability has induced a few of them to bow to Jesus Christ. To the sin-burdened Jew this is the weakest point in his religion.

Verse 10

10. I will even set my face against This form of words indicates that the extermination of the blood eater will not be by imperfect human judicatories, but by the direct intervention of Jehovah cutting off the offender, as if guilty of a most heinous crime. See Leviticus 7:26, note.

Verse 11

11. The life… in the blood Literally, “the nephesh (soul) of the flesh.” The soul has a double sphere of life. It is both animus, the subject of all the activities of knowing, feeling, and willing, and anima, the principle of animal life vitalizing the blood and operating in nutrition and respiration. In 1628 Dr. Harvey discovered the vitality of the blood, for the circulation of the blood results from a living principle inhering in it. This wonderful discovery of anatomical science had been standing as an open secret in the Mosaic writings three thousand years, overlooked by science in her pride and disbelief of revelation. This is more surprising when we read Solomon’s beautiful announcement of the same truth in Ecclesiastes 12:6. The Bible, when rightly understood, never contradicts science.

I have given it… for your souls Jehovah has not only devised the scheme of an atonement, but he gives the blood which is demanded to perfect this scheme. He not only saves through sacrifice, but he affords the victim. “Behold the Lamb of God” the Lamb which God requires, and which he accepts, himself provides. The atonement originates with the Father. John 3:16. He is not, as some blasphemously portray him, an inexorable Shylock demanding his pound of flesh. The blood which he demands he gives. How widely different the divine scheme from human attempts at propitiation, in which the god to be appeased is to be bought off by costly sacrifices. God provides his own means of propitiation, so that all boasting is excluded, for we are saved by grace through faith in the one God-given, atoning sacrifice. “The death of Christ,” says Delitzsch, “was a conscious act of loving free-will, the central act of his own self-sacrifice, the solution of the enigma, ‘I have given it,’ in which the saints of the Old Testament had to rest their implicit faith.”

Atonement for the soul All the versions, except the Revised Version, have missed the great truth revealed in the Hebrew, “it is the blood that maketh atonement BY REASON OF THE LIFE.” ב is plainly an instrumental preposition, and not to be rendered αντι , instead of, as the Seventy, nor pro, for, as the Vulgate, nor fur, as Luther. See extensive discussion in the Introduction, (6.) Men are redeemed from death only by the price of a life. Jesus gave his life a ransom for the world. Says Kalisch, “It is impossible to doubt that the doctrine of vicarious sacrifice was entertained by the Hebrews… The animal dies to symbolize the death deserved by the offerer on account of his sins.” The apparent discrepancy between this verse and Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 10:11, is removed when, with Outram, we regard the blood as a “condition of pardon,” and with Ebrard and Alford, “not the instrument of complete vicarious propitiation, but an exhibition of the postulate of such propitiation.” See concluding note.

Verse 12

12. Neither shall any stranger… eat blood So ingrained into the Hebrew conscience did this prohibition become that it was as imperative as any precept of the moral law. It was as impossible for even the first Christian Council to conceive of piety in a Gentile convert who ate blood, as in one guilty of fornication. Acts 15:29.

Verse 13

13. Pour out the blood… and cover This prescribes the manner of killing clean wild beasts and birds. Their blood must be treated as something sacred, lest the blood of atonement on their altars might come to be regarded as a common thing. The covering with dust is omitted in the outline in Deuteronomy 12:24. Even should the bird be killed by a blow or a shot, it would be unclean unless its throat was immediately cut.

Verse 15

15. Died of itself Hebrew, carcass. The ground of this requirement, that one ignorantly eating such flesh should ceremonially cleanse himself, is that he has eaten blood corrupting in the flesh. The wilful eater of carrion would probably be cut off with the blood-eater.

Bathe himself in water Hebrew, wash with water; the Seventy, υδατι , with water, as in Luke 3:16, “I baptize you υδατι ;” also Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16. A heavy burden, indeed, and one utterly impossible in many instances to be borne, would be the requirement to bathe or immerse the entire person in water; but in any desert where men can live they can find sufficient water with which ceremonially to wash themselves. The same words are correctly translated “wash with water” in Leviticus 22:6.

Verse 16

16. He shall bear his iniquity The punishment shall be visited. The same words, in the original, in Exodus 34:7, and Leviticus 10:17, (see note,) signify to bear away or expiate iniquity. See Numbers 9:13, note. A voluntary neglect of purification from an involuntary fault is not a trifle but an iniquity. The great sin of Gospel-hardened sinners is their neglect to wash away their sins and inherited depravity in the precious blood of Jesus Christ. 4 .) Substitution may be inferred from Leviticus 17:14. Leviticus 17:5.) Also from Deuteronomy 21:1-9, where the guilt of an unknown slayer is chargeable upon the whole people, and by washing the hands is transferred to the sacrifice. 6.) The noun kopher, ransom, cognate with the verb kipper, expiate, includes the idea of substitution. 7.) The symbol of the scapegoat is a visible manifestation of the taking away of guilt by means of the expiation. Jewish tradition is very full and positive on this point. The standing rule is, that there can be no expiation except by blood.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 17". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/leviticus-17.html. 1874-1909.