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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

- Leviticus

by Daniel Whedon


Intended for Popular Use








Copyright, 1891, by HUNT & EATON, NEW YORK.



ANOTHER volume of the Commentary projected by Dr. Daniel D. Whedon is now presented to Christian readers. With the publication of one more volume, which is nearly ready for the press, the entire series will be completed, furnishing a rare and comprehensive commentary on all the books of the Bible. We say “rare,” because in addition to the scholarly work of the eminent writer and projector of the whole, who wrote all the notes of the New Testament, those of one epistle only excepted, it will have been carried to a conclusion by critics and scholars scarcely less qualified than himself for so great a task. We say “comprehensive,” because the work has been executed carefully, patiently, with due reference to the results of scientific and historic criticism, and with a manifest loyalty on the part of every writer to the soundest exegetical requirements and necessities.

In respect to the volume herewith issued some general observations are as much in order as any remarks we may make on the particular books composing it, or on the final results of the contributing commentators. The reader will observe, that while in all its features the volume is appropriately orthodox or evangelical it is in no studied sense a reflection of denominational teaching or conviction. The art of the commentator is to avoid the bias of education, the prejudice of creed, and the being unduly influenced by the current opinion of truth. It is his duty, faithfully and thoroughly, by comparing Scripture with Scripture, by transporting himself so far as is possible to the period of the ancient writer, and reproducing the age and circumstances under which he wrote, and by availing himself of the best philological, psychological, scientific, and historic methods of interpretation, to discover the intended purpose, first of the book itself, and then of its particular paragraphs and sections, giving in conclusion and without hesitancy or doubt the mind of God so far as the book is per se an organ of the revelation of a particular truth, plan, or result. Nor in this labour can the commentator hope to succeed without the antecedent and ever-abiding influence of the Holy Spirit, who always illuminates the students of the divine word, and guides seekers of knowledge into truth. Finally, to understand the sacred book, it is not necessary that the commentator should advocate or reflect the tenets of any school of theology or be governed by a denominational bias; but it is necessary that he accept the Christian faith, aiming in his interpretation to exhibit its foundations and corroborate and strengthen the defences of our holy religion.

It is with unqualified pleasure that we record that the writers of this volume establish their claim as true commentators by an originality of research, an independence of thought and expression, an accurate knowledge of the language and times of the books, and such a profound study and application of exegetical and historical canons and principles, and a devout and spiritual apprehension of the truths involved in the books, as to enrich those who follow them to their conclusion. No student or scholar will have occasion to complain of scholarly defect, or a theological bias, or an unhistorical spirit in these writers.

It is gratifying to note that literary interest in the three books of this volume has revived, owing in part to the rationalistic criticisms of the age which more or less involve their Mosaic authorship, and also in part to the fundamental value of the contents of the books themselves. In a general sense the Pentateuchal books have been regarded as histories, written in a barren and unattractive style, with almost total reference to institutions and customs that have passed away, or in which modern culture can no longer take any interest. Slowly and effectually this view is being exchanged for a conception that not only divests the three books of their supremely historical character, but invests them with a new meaning, linking them to the Christian system by a bond that cannot be broken. Leviticus is not strictly historical that is, a narrative of events but the record of a system of religion which, typical in its wholeness, passed over in fulfilled form into the Christian dispensation, which borrows some of the finest illustrations of its purpose from the old and obsolete religion. Studying Leviticus from this view-point, it glows with a meaning not heretofore given it, and passes out of the domain of history into the realm of religion. Dr. Steele has made this fact so manifest that we need not add another word respecting it.

Equally relieved of its cold historical form is the book of Numbers, which under the transforming power of the commentator is made to epitomize national and religious legislation, and to assume a distinctively religious spirit. The book itself relates largely to the statutes and ordinances of Israel enacted during the journey in the wilderness, and is written in the terse, statutory form of a legal composer. Adverse criticism has sought to disparage its Mosaic authorship, and especially has condemned the numerical statements of the book; but Dr. Steele, while frankly admitting some knotty problems, solves so many of them as to leave the remainder powerless for evil.

Deuteronomy is in some respects a second edition of the Pentateuchal legislation and history, with recapitulations and additions such as might be expected in a late account of the marvellous wanderings, achievements, and developments of the Hebrews. Dr. Lindsay recognises the historical element of the book, and appropriately points out its fitness in the last Mosaic period of Israel. He, too, traces rationalistic criticism respecting this book to its source, and vindicates from other Scriptures the historic belief of its Mosaic authorship.

The aim of the commentators is first to ascertain the contents of the books; second, their meaning, historical or otherwise; third, their value; and fourth, the critical objections to their Mosaic origin. The reader will conclude that, whether this fourfold purpose is always patent or somewhat obscure, it is in final result achieved.

It is not claimed that Dr. Steele and Dr. Lindsay have fully discussed the critical questions of the age which the books suggest, nor have they repelled every critical objection that has been raised to their historic authorship. To have gone elaborately into this department would have trespassed their design, controverted their instructions, and burdened the volume with arguments which its readers would neither crave nor appropriate. In their “Introductions” they have stated such questions as are properly within their range, and given them such attention as their work required. It should be remembered that rationalistic criticism is essentially modern, and undertakes to apply modern rules to ancient documents, without an appreciation of the historic spirit of such documents, and is, therefore, largely irrelevant and harmful. Wisely have these commentators avoided discussing the unscrupulous attacks upon these books, choosing rather to show their historic place in literature and their vital and enduring relations to religion.

It may finally be observed, that, taking up this volume without a preconception as to how ancient history should have been written, as to how the sacrificial system should have been instituted, and as to how the legal code of the Hebrews should have been formed, it will prove to the reader most instructive on all these points, opening to his retrospection a larger view of early Hebrew history, and intensifying his reverence for that Providence which, giving Moses to the world, only supplanted him by the advent of the divine Teacher himself.

1891. J.W.M.



Name, Character, and Author.

(1.) The third book of the Pentateuch was denominated by the Jews the Vayikra, from the initial word, “And he called out.” Since the Seventy translated it into Greek it has been known in all the European languages by the name of LEVITICUS, from the prominent part in the sacrificial ritual performed by the sacerdotal tribe of Levi. But since the term Leviticus suggests the Levites, who are mentioned but once in the entire book, and then incidentally and proleptically, (Leviticus 25:32-33,) in relation to the redemption of houses, we think that the Seventy applied a misnomer to this book. The Talmud, with less brevity but more truth, calls it, The Law of the Priests, and also, The Book of the Law of Offerings. It is the rubric of that minute and burdensome system of sacrifices which Jehovah, in his wisdom, devised for the spiritual culture of the Hebrews, and for prefiguring “Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” The only historical portion is that relating to the consecration of Aaron and his sons, their first offering of sacrifice, the judicial death of Aaron’s two elder sons, Nadab and Abihu, (chap. Leviticus 8:1 to Leviticus 10:7,) and the arrest and execution of a blasphemer. Leviticus 24:10-23. The space of time covered by this book is one month. For our data compare Exodus 40:17 with Numbers 1:1. The cursory reader discovers no orderly arrangement of topics, but the patient student discovers deep underlying principles which give system and symmetry to the contents of the book. In addition to its great value in the interpretation of the New Testament, wholly written by persons of Jewish faith, and in elucidating their conception of Christian doctrine, especially the atonement, and of the exegesis of the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is a repository of Jewish antiquities. It is, moreover, a book deeply interesting to scientists, as containing the earliest classifications of zoology and ornithology, and a minute diagnosis of the dreadful scourge of the leprosy. The commingling of facts and laws of which the events are the occasion, as in the Book of Numbers, strongly confirms the genuineness of the book and the authenticity of its statements. See Introduction to Numbers.

The Mosaic authorship of Leviticus has been less questioned by modern critics than any other book of the Law. The Documentists, while finding, or fancying they find, evidences of the composite character of the book, are candid enough to admit that the principal part bears the stamp of the Mosaic age. Says Bleek, a strong advocate of the documentary theory: “As regards the union of different laws, and short collections of laws in our book of Leviticus, De Wette made out ( Einleitung, first to fourth editions) that after Genesis and Exodus were composed, the various parts of Leviticus were added, generally by different compilers. This supposition, however, according to what has gone before, is quite inadmissible, and has been tacitly retracted even by De Wette himself in the fifth and sixth editions.” This recoil of the great German critic from the extremes of daring and unfounded assumptions against the Mosaic origin of the Levitical laws is a sufficient answer to the flippant assertion of England’s arithmetical bishop: “Thus the whole of Leviticus appears to be of later origin, composed either during or after the captivity, some of the laws apparently by Ezekiel, and other portions probably by fellow-priests of the same age, who were anxious to establish a stricter ritual in Israel.” The last clause of this sentence suggests its answer. Puritan laws can be originated and enforced only in a Puritan age. The era of Moses was the Puritan age in the history of the Hebrews. The era of Ezekiel, by the admission of Colenso, was a degenerate age; and yet the prophet-priest and his associated forgers succeeded in interpolating into the fundamental constitution of their nation, out of their own fertile imaginations, the whole book of Leviticus! Of a declaration so absurd we cannot, with Horace, say, “ Credat Judaeus,” for no true Jew, much less can any true Christian, so stultify himself as to give his assent to a statement so extraordinary. It involves a miracle greater than those believed by Jew or Christian. Rationalism always has been more credulous than orthodoxy.

Pre-Sinaitic Sacrifices.

(2.) In approaching the great sacrificial book of the Bible, it becomes necessary to survey, and briefly discuss, the sacrifices offered before the institutions of that legal code of ritualism contained in Leviticus. From Abel to Moses altars were built and victims flamed sending heavenward their “savour of sweet smell.” As the decalogue thundered forth from the summit of Sinai was not the first revelation of the moral law, so the Levitical system set up at the base of Horeb was not the first exposition of access to God by sacrifice. As the Hebrews went forth from Egypt with the moral law written on their hearts to receive it engraven upon stone, so they entered the wilderness with the vague feeling that their God was to be approached by oblations to receive in that wilderness a minute and elaborate code of sacrificial laws to be executed by a divinely-appointed priesthood. The nature of the patriarchal sacrifices is still a question among theologians. Orthodox polemics generally deem it incumbent on them to demonstrate the expiatory character of these sacrifices, while the rationalistic school quite unanimously deny this as an unwarrantable assumption. Several evangelical writers take the same view. To neither party is there scriptural ground for dogmatism, for the sacred oracles are silent respecting the origin and nature of the early sacrificial offerings. Hence they go beyond the sacred record, who, in their zeal for orthodoxy, inform us that Cain’s sacrifice was rejected because there was no blood in it, betokening his need of the death of another as a satisfaction for his sin, while Abel’s was accepted because it had that vital element, rendering it pleasing to his Creator. Sacred history not only contains no such declaration, but it plainly intimates another cause for the difference between the two offerings. God expostulates with the wrathful fratricide, and explicitly declares that the imperfection of his offering lies in the moral state of the offerer: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” In Hebrews 11:4 the writer declares that Abel’s acceptableness was because of his faith, leaving us to infer that the lack of this element was the radical defect in Cain’s oblation. If the patriarchal sacrifices were instituted by the Creator, it is reasonable to suppose that they were not positive and arbitrary requirements, with no hint of the reasons on which they were grounded man’s dependence on omnipotent power and his exposure to offended justice. This revealed reason would involve the element of propitiation. But if sacrifices were the natural outgrowth of man’s religious nature the expression of his deepest spiritual necessities they must have had some reference to sin, the saddest fact in his consciousness. In either case, whether they were ordained of God or were spontaneous with man, the notion of expiation would not have been entirely absent. At the same time it is reasonable to suppose that this idea was not distinct and prominent in the minds of the patriarchs, because the holiness of God had not yet been emphatically disclosed that bright background on which the grim deformities of sin are portrayed. To the patriarchs God always turned the benignant and merciful side of his nature. He talks with Abraham as a friend, putting him quite at ease in his presence, and his wife laughs with incredulity while hearing the words of promise from the Lord’s lips. There is no inspiration of painful awe, no putting off the sandals to stand upon ground sanctified by the tread of the most holy Jehovah. From Adam to Moses there is no specific revelation of the holiness of the Supreme One. We look in vain in the book of Genesis, the record of patriarchal life, for the words holy and holiness as descriptive of the Divine character. The hour for the revelation of this attribute did not arrive till the exiled Moses, at Horeb, turned aside from his flock to “see this great sight,” the bush burning yet not consumed. Exodus 3:3. The footsteps of the inquisitive Hebrew shepherd are suddenly arrested by the awful words, “Draw not nigh hither!” A new aspect of Jehovah’s nature is from this hour to be unfolded with ever-increasing splendour: “I am holy.” Sin having now, for the first time since the fall, its proper measure, becomes, by contrast, “exceeding sinful,” and needs to be purged from the conscience by blood distinctly expiatory.

We arrive at the same conclusion when we trace the history of man through the period in which he had only that internal sense of right and wrong called the unwritten law; which, indeed, constitutes him a subject of God’s moral government, and renders him amenable to the penalties of violated law, but is without that vivid apprehension of guilt which overwhelms his soul when that law, still legible within, takes on the form of an objective code written in stone by the finger of God amid the quakings of burning Horeb. Now, as never before, he regards himself as a sinner. “The law entered, that the offence might abound.” Romans 5:20. Now he needs relief from conscious guilt by a method of expiation bearing the unmistakable signature of his offended God. His forgiveness must be as authentically announced as his guilt has been glaringly demonstrated. Hence the provision for the typical purgation of the conscience is the logical sequence of the decalogue. Sinai has rendered the institution of the sin offering a necessity for the peace and salvation of the penitent sinner.

Our conclusion, therefore, respecting the ante-Mosaic sacrifices, is, that they were the medium of intercourse with God adapted to the expression of the religious feelings of the offerer. Hence they were chiefly eucharistic, but not entirely destitute of the expiatory element. This conclusion is confirmed by an examination of the occasions on which the patriarchs built their altars and offered their victims. If any feeling was predominant in the bosom of Noah when, beside the vacant ark, he reared his altar and laid thereon oblations “of every clean beast,” (Genesis 8:20,) it was one of gratitude to that mercy which had made his family the sole survivors of a drowned world. In the smoke of that great sacrifice curling up toward heaven, Ararat witnessed a thank offering rather than a sin offering, though the heart of the offerer may not have been destitute of a sense of unworthiness and sinfulness. For it is reasonable to suppose that Noah intended the effect which his sacrifice actually produced in the mind of God. That effect was clearly piacular. “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake.” Genesis 8:21. Abraham offered his first victim, as we interpret the altar-building, (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:18, 25,) not when some unusual sense of sinfulness was felt, but when he had received for his seed the promise of Canaan. But when he is twice convicted of prevarication first to Pharaoh and then to Abimelech through the faltering of his faith in the protecting power of Providence, we search in vain for the sacrifices offered in atonement for these sins. The same is true of Isaac’s similar offence against the truth. Genesis 26:7-11. In that critical hour in Jacob’s history when he retired alone by the Jabbok, the very fact that he was destined on the morrow to meet his injured brother must have brought vividly to his memory that act of fraud by which he had so deeply wronged him. Yet no altar was built, no victims from his numerous flocks were selected to expiate his sin. Not till the hairy Esau had returned to the shaggy fastnesses of Mount Seir did Jacob build an altar to the El-Elohe-Israel. Genesis 33:20.

The argument of Richard Watson, ( Institutes, vol. ii, p. 171,) from the ante-Mosaic distinction of clean and unclean animals, does not demonstrate the expiatory character of the early sacrifices. The argument derived from the prohibition of eating blood because it is the life of the animal, (Genesis 9:4,) together with Job’s reference in his burnt offering to the sin of his children, (Job 1:5,) renders it probable, but by no means conclusive, that the patriarchs distinctly apprehended the necessity of a vicarious atonement for sin. But we cannot, on the ground of these inferences, announce it as a positive truth; nor can we, with Keil, assert that “we never meet with any allusion to expiation in the pre-Mosaic sacrifices of the Old Testament:” for while there is no undisputed instance of forgiveness through sacrifice, there may be an allusion to expiation in the circumstances just cited.

Offerings Described and Classified.

(3.) In the Levitical ritual there are various offerings prescribed, each expressed by its appropriate term. In addition there are general terms including all offerings. Of the latter are the קרבנ , korban, from a verb signifying to approach. As no inferior could approach a superior to ask a favour or to do obeisance without a gift in his hand, this gift of access was called korban. It includes all offerings, bloody and bloodless; all altar and non-altar oblations. For the abuse of this term by an ungrateful son, shirking the support of his parents, see note on Matthew 15:5.

Another term, general in its primary use but specific afterwards, is the מנחה , mincha, from an old verb signifying to give. Originally it was used to express any gift, from man to man (Genesis 32:13) or man to God. Its specific meaning, especially when joined with korban, is meat offering, or food offering; in the Mosaic law, always bloodless.

The זבח , zebach, from the verb to slaughter animals, especially in sacrifice, always signifies a bleeding victim; the blood being the central and essential idea. By prefixing a letter to the same word the term altar was made, signifying, primarily, “killing place.” It is natural to connect the notion of expiation with this offering.

The term אשׁשׁה , ishsheh, is also generic, including all fire-made offerings, and once the show bread, (fire baked.) Leviticus 24:7. It is used also to signify every kind of sacrifice and offering.

The special terms for sacrifices are the following:

The עולה , olah, the whole burnt offering, in Greek generally ολοκαυτωμα , holocaust, derives its name from going up, first upon the altar, and then to heaven in the smoke. It was always bloody, the entire animal, except the sprinkled blood, being consumed by the fire.

The שׁלם , shelem, is the peace offering, or thank offering. It is frequently joined with zebach, and then literally signifies a victim of requitals, or a slain offering of peace. It was always bloody.

The חשׂאת , chattath, is the sin offering. It is a law-created and bloody sacrifice to relieve the conscience from a sense of guilt. Its primary meaning is sin, αμαρτια . Its secondary signification is sin offering. 2 Corinthians 5:21. In the prophets it is used to signify punishment.

The אשׁם , asham, is the trespass offering, law-created for particular faults or sins enumerated in the law. Gesenius says that the precise point of difference between the last two has hitherto been sought in vain. The Septuagint translates it by πλημμελεια , a false note in music, faultiness. Like the sin offering, it required the slaughter of a victim.

The נסךְ , nesek, is the drink offering, always connected with the meat offering or the peace offering, and with the confirmation of covenants.

With respect to their origin, sacrifices may be classified thus:

TRADITIONAL. LAW-CREATED. Burnt offerings. Sin offerings. Meat offerings. Trespass offerings. Peace offerings. With respect to the material of the offerings, they are thus classified:

ANIMAL. VEGETABLE. Burnt offerings. Meat or Food offerings for the altar Peace offerings. Incense and Meat or Food offerings in the holy place Sin offerings. Trespass offerings. Wine of the drink offering. As expressing the feelings of the offerer, the sacrifices fall into the following classes:

FOR THE RELIEF OF THE CONSCIENCE Sin offering. FROM A SENSE OF GUILT Trespass offering. Burnt offering.* SELF-CONSECRATION Burnt offering. THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION. Peace offering. Meat offering INTERCESSION Incense. [* Post-Mosaic and probably ante-Mosaic.] In addition to these general sacrifices, others of a personal and special character were required in peculiar circumstances, such as for vows fulfilled, for purification from ceremonial uncleanness, for consecration to the priesthood, and for the healed leper. These, being too divergent in their nature to be grouped together and described in general terms, will be treated of in the commentary. The heave, wave, thank, and free-will offerings are subordinate to the principal sacrifices.

An inspection of the first three chapters will convince the reader that the altar sacrifices therein described are spoken of as already well known to the Hebrews. The three which we have called traditional were all probably known to the patriarchs. We find no record of offerings made by the Israelites in Egypt. The request of Moses to Pharaoh for permission to go out of the land to offer sacrifice without giving offence to the religious scruples of the Egyptians (Exodus 8:26) seems to imply, that, except in a furtive way, animal sacrifices had not been offered by Israel in Egypt. But the recollection of them had been cherished. Hence we call these “traditional” in distinction from the two “law-created” sacrifices the sin and trespass offerings.

The Sacrificial Animals.

(4.) No small proof of the Divine origin of this sacrificial system is found in the kinds of animals prescribed for the altar. They were domestic, with the exception of the turtle dove, which may be styled semi-domestic. This requirement involves two important elements of sacrifice: that of property, and of affection. Wild animals are unappropriated. No man claims them as his peculiar possession. Hence Jehovah did not appoint for his altar even such wild animals as he pronounced clean. In the Orient there was a familiarity with his flock on the part of the shepherd-owner which amounted to tenderness and love. He individualized his flock and called each sheep by name. See notes on John 10:0. In the case of poor men the flock was often folded beneath the same tent or roof with his children, and the lambs were family pets. Nathan, in his reproof of David, spake of no unusual circumstance when he described the little ewe lamb which grew up with the children of the poor man, eating of his own meat, and drinking of his own cup, lying in his bosom, and which was unto him as a daughter. 2 Samuel 12:3. Hence when a Hebrew led a lamb or a kid to the tabernacle or the temple, he laid more than its money value upon the altar: the affections of his heart and of his family gave to the lamb a multiplied value in the eyes of Jehovah. We who are familiar only with the customs of western nations think of an animal given to sacrifice as one taken at random from a drove of ten thousand grazing on the pasturage of the wilderness, or on the hills of Bashan. Again, the animal must be clean, and hence all the more valuable to the owner, because it was the means of life next in value to life itself. No swine’s blood could atone for sin or be a thank offering pleasing to Jehovah, although the proud and polished Athenians crowding the Pnyx to legislate for the Demos would enter upon no business until pigs’ blood had lustrated the place.

None but clean herbivorous and graminivorous animals were acceptable to Jehovah. These symbolize innocency of heart, a quality required in all acceptable worship; while the carnivorous animals, living by destroying the lives of other animals, and fitly representing the spirit of fraud, robbery, and oppression among men, were appropriately forbidden for sacrifice. Another reason for this prohibition was, that no portion of an unclean animal could be appropriated to the priest; nor could the offering be bestowed upon the offerer, to be eaten by him and his friends, as in the peace offering. Moreover, the animals prescribed for the altar are prophetic of the future occupation of the people. Until the sacrifice of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world they will always be a pastoral and agricultural nation. Though living on the seacoast, they will never, so long as their ritual retains its significance, abandon the fields and become sailors. Though the great lines of traffic from Egypt and Greece pass through Canaan to Arabia and India, the Israelites will never, while residents of their own land, become a mercantile nation. Though Tyre, and Sidon, and Damascus, close upon their borders, may enrich themselves by manufactures, the religion of the Hebrew will give an agricultural cast to the nation so long as it continues to slaughter bullocks, sheep, and goats on Mount Moriah. The census of modern nations among which Jews are scattered, shows that scarcely one is engaged in tilling the soil or in the care of flocks, Since there is no need of sacrificial animals to prefigure the Lamb of God, the tastes of the whole nation have been changed from bucolies to banking and brokerage, from olive-yards to pack-peddling, throughout the world. How curious, and yet cogent, this incidental proof that the Jew now needs no other sacrifice for sin than that made on Calvary.

The turtle-dove, prescribed for the offering of the poor man, is found in amazing numbers wherever the palm-tree flourishes, every tree being a home for two or three pairs of these elegant, semi-domestic birds. A recent traveller testifies that he has frequently, in a palm-grove, brought down ten braces or more without moving from his post. We adduce this witness to answer the objection that this requirement for sacrifice could not be met by the Israelites in the wilderness. The pigeon is to this day domesticated in the East in enormous numbers. They are kept in dovecots in all the towns and hamlets of Palestine. Before King Solomon imported gallinaceous fowls from India, they were probably the only domestic poultry known to the Hebrews. The only difficulty is in the supply of pigeons in the wilderness. It has been asserted that there was no such supply unless we suppose that the Israelites fled from Egypt with dove-cages in their hands. There is nothing absurd in this supposition. The declaration of Moses, “there shall not a hoof be left behind,” is only another expression for the assurance that all their property should be brought with them out of Egypt. Exodus 10:26. The doves were the property of the poor as much as the herds and flocks were the wealth of the affluent.

Order of the Sacrifices.

(5.) At the first view there seems to be no prescribed order in which these different kinds of oblations are to be offered to Jehovah. There is a prevalent, yet erroneous, idea that this was left wholly to the option or caprice of the worshipper. But a more careful inspection discloses two key-texts which open the question of the order. The first is found in Leviticus 5:6-7, where the law directs that the poor man may bring two fowls instead of a lamb or a kid; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering. The priest is explicitly directed to offer the sin offering first, and then the burnt offering. The second key-text is still more valuable, inasmuch as it opens to us the order of the three classes of offerings. It is found in chap. 8 the order of offerings at the consecration of Aaron and his sons; the sin offering, the whole burnt offering, and the ram of consecration, which answers to the peace offering. In other words, the conscience of the offerer was first to be ceremonially purged from sin to render him acceptable to God before he could dedicate his entire being to him. After this the self-consecratory burnt offering is in order; then the peace offering or the meat offering may be presented, as a medium of communion with Jehovah, who gives the largest part of the peace offering back to be eaten by the offerer and his friends in a joyful sacrificial feast. The beautiful correspondence of these offerings, in this order, to justification, sanctification, the communion of the Holy Ghost, and the communion of saints, will be pointed out in the notes.

It is remarkable that both these key-texts should have escaped the keen eye of Keil, who says that these laws “contain no rules respecting the order in which they were to follow one another, when two or more sacrifices were offered together.”

The Ceremonial Function of the Blood.

(6.) The most cursory reader of this book must be impressed with the prominence that is given to the shedding of blood, and to the vast amount of blood which must have been poured out in the service of the tabernacle and temple, making them perpetually reek with streams of gore, like a slaughter-house whose floor is ever crimsoned by the ceaseless work of death.

The directions for the treatment of the blood are very minute and often repeated. It was the centre of the whole system of sacrificial rites. There must be some deep significance in this stream of blood flowing ever fresh through all the Hebrew worship. It is found in Leviticus 17:11, correctly translated, “For the life ( נפשׁ , nephesh) 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 by means of the life. ( בנפשׁ , banephesh.) In Genesis 2:7, we find that the immaterial principle breathed by Jehovah Elohim into the nostrils of the dust-made statue, constituting it a living soul, is this nephesh. Here we find the importance attached to the blood. The blood is the nephesh, and the human soul is the nephesh. The substitutional atonement, nephesh for nephesh, irrational soul for rational soul, is inevitable in the scheme of human redemption. In the treatment of the blood it was required to be sprinkled or spilled from the vessel, and cast abroad around the altar, to be scattered in drops by means of a bunch of hyssop, to be smeared with the finger upon the horns of the altar, not, as one fancifully suggests, because the horns were the highest part of the altar, and nearest to heaven, but because it was the refuge of the accidental man-slayer (Exodus 21:14,) and in clinging to the horns he must lay hold of blood. 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28. Finally, the remainder was to be poured out at the base of the great altar, from which, in the temple of Solomon, there were sewers to conduct it away into the brook Kedron. There must have been something like this in the tabernacle in the wilderness, since, in addition to the sacrifices, every animal slain for food in or near the camp was to be slain at the door of the tabernacle.

The emphatic and reiterated prohibition of eating blood is expressly founded on the declaration that it is the nephesh, or animal soul. Leviticus 17:10-11. So deeply was this interdict engraven on the heart of the Jews, that even the first Christian council in Jerusalem classify it with the violation of the law of purity contained in the seventh commandment. Acts 15:29.

Temporal and Spiritual Benefits of Sacrifices.

(7.) We propound a question of more than ordinary interest when we inquire into the precise benefit which accrued to the devout Hebrew from his faithful observance of the law of offerings. The answer to this inquiry will elucidate the important question of the nature and extent of the blessing promised to the believer in Jesus Christ, who presents him to the Father as his great sin offering. The moral delinquencies of man are of two kinds offences against society, which are called crimes, and are punishable with temporal penalties, and offences purely spiritual, or sins, which await the fires of the judgment day. The Levitical law added, also, ceremonial offences or impurities. Under the theocracy this distinction is in a measure lost, the different kinds of offences being blended together and treated as sins. The first benefit to the sincere offerer was exemption from the temporal punishment of death. Yet all crimes could not be so expiated as to escape judicial death. Offences which disorganize and destroy society murder, adultery, and cursing of parents, and sins especially offensive to God, as profanation of his holy day and blasphemy of his holy name were beyond the efficacy of the sacrifices as to their power to screen the guilty from physical death. But minor offences usually punished by the civil magistrate if freely confessed with all possible restitution, together with ceremonial impurities, found an exemption from death in the blood sprinkled on the altar. But what did those blood sprinklings and those blazing altars do for guilty souls? Did they relieve the burdened conscience, effecting exactly such a change as penitent believers in Christ now experience in the pardon of their sins and the witness of the Spirit of adoption? There are several answers. First, that there was to the sincere Hebrew the same subjective phenomena as now attend justification by faith; the same conscious relief; and the same joy in the assurance of reconciliation: not flowing from the blood of the victim, but from the blood of its great Antitype appropriated by an anticipatory faith. But the insuperable objection to this is, that there is not in the Pentateuch the first hint of the Lamb of God, the reality of which the victim bleeding on the Hebrew altar is but the shadow. Hence there is no ground laid for faith to build upon in any objective revelation of the Sacrifice to be offered on Calvary.

The second view seems to be endorsed by Origen, Theodoret, Erasmus, and Luther, in their explanation of the term ‘ Ιλαστηριον , in Romans 3:25. It is, that there was in the blood of animals slain in sacrifice by Divine appointment an inherent efficacy to take away the sins of the devout offerer, without any apprehension by faith of the Heaven-appointed Victim yet to pour out his blood. “As the lid of the ark of the covenant, when sprinkled with blood, imparted to the Israelite a firm confidence of the forgiveness of his sins, in like manner the Saviour, and especially his death, is the security for our redemption to which we may believingly look.” To the same conclusion Bonar comes. “The sin passes away; it is an instantaneous, complete, perpetual pardon.”


The third view is based on the explicit statements of Divine inspiration. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews reiterates, in various phrases, the declaration that the blood of bulls and of goats cannot take away sins. Hebrews 10:4. Between this assertion and the assurance given by Jehovah that “the priest shall make atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him,” (Leviticus 6:7,) we have a seeming contradiction, of which the best explanation is afforded by St. Paul, who, in explaining the ‘ Ιλαστηριον , is very careful to say that “Christ Jesus is set forth to be ‘the propitiation,’ ‘the mercy seat,’ through faith in his blood, to declare his (God’s) righteousness for the passing over ( παρεσιν , the pretermission) of sins that are past (in ages gone) through the forbearance of God.” The doctrine of St. Paul is, that the atoning death of Jesus justifies God, by removing his seeming low estimate of sin, or indifference towards it, in passing over and forbearing to punish the sins of penitent, blood-offering Hebrews in past ages. See on Romans 3:25, also Alford and Bengel. The latter says, that “pretermission, (forgiveness,) in the Old Testament, had respect to transgressions until ( απολυτρωσις ) redemption of them was accomplished in the death of Christ. Hebrews 9:15. The object of pretermission are sins; the object of forbearance are sinners.” Says Alford, “Where sins are continually called to mind, there, clearly, the conscience is not clear from them. Very similar is the assertion of Ebrard, when speaking of the blood of bulls as incapable of taking away sins: ‘It was shed, not as the instrument of complete vicarious propitiation, but as an exhibition of the postulate [assumed need] of vicarious propitiation.’” How far this pretermission of sins applies to pious pagans is a question beyond the range of our present inquiry. See on Acts 17:30. Respecting the emotional experience attending sacrificial forgiveness as thus explained, we have no explicit statements in the Scriptures. But from such expressions as the testimony that his ways “pleased God,” given to Enoch, (Hebrews 11:5;) “blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,” (Psalms 32:1;) “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him,” (Psalms 25:14;) and from the joy that rings out its hallelujahs through the Psalms, we infer that the Holy Spirit, though not yet doing his official work as the Paraclete, the Spirit of adoption, was by his essential presence assuring obedient Israelites of the gracious forbearance of Jehovah towards them in passing over their sins. This implies that the sacrifices were not offered as a dead opus operatum, or mechanical and soulless performance, but with that devout and penitent state of heart which alone can appropriate spiritual good. When this was absent the “vain oblations” of apostate Israel became “an abomination” (Isaiah 1:11-15) to Jehovah, and he proclaims to the sinning nation, “I desired mercy (philanthropy and justice) and not (mere) sacrifice.” Hosea 6:6. This leads us to consider:

The Spiritual Import of the Sacrifices.

(8.) We must not conclude our introductory remarks without calling attention to the vital point the central idea of the book its spiritual meaning. “That so elaborate a ritual looked beyond itself we cannot doubt. It was a prophecy of things to come; a shadow whereof the substance was Christ and his kingdom. We may not always be able to say what the exact relation is between the type and the antitype. Of many things we may be sure that they belonged only to the nation to whom they were given, containing no prophetic significance, but serving as witnesses and signs to them of God’s covenant of grace. We may hesitate to pronounce with Jerome, that ‘every sacrifice, nay, almost every syllable the garments of Aaron and the whole Levitical system breathe of heavenly mysteries;’ but we cannot read the Epistle to the Hebrews and not acknowledge that the Levitical priests ‘served the pattern and type of heavenly things’ that the sacrifices of the law pointed to and found their interpretation in the LAMB OF GOD that the ordinances of outward purification signified the truer inward cleansing of the heart and conscience from dead works, to serve the living God. One idea, moreover, penetrates the whole of this vast and burdensome ceremonial, and gives it a real glory, even apart from any prophetic significance. HOLINESS is its end. Holiness is its character. The tabernacle is holy the vessels are holy the offerings are most holy unto Jehovah the garments of the priests are holy. All who approach Him whose name is ‘Holy,’ whether priests who minister to him or people who worship before him, must themselves be holy. It would seem as if, amid the camp and dwellings of Israel, was ever to be heard an echo of that solemn strain which fills the courts above, where the seraphim cry one to another, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY.” Perowne.

Arrangement and Divisions.

(9.) The order of subjects has been much criticised by those who deem themselves competent to sit in judgment even upon the style in which God should speak to men. Dr. Kalisch, with the double vail of Judaism and Rationalism before his eyes, amplifies on the “illogical arrangement” of Leviticus. It is not marvellous that a series of types should seem confused and chaotic to one who is stone-blind to the great Antitype which explains and harmonizes them all. On the other hand, Bertheau sees a regularity and exactness in the arrangement of topics which it is difficult for us to discover. His “seven groups of the laws of Moses,” each containing a greater or less number of decalogues, proceeds in some cases upon assumptions so arbitrary that we have not thought it wise to adopt it. The chief difficulty in the grouping of subjects arises from the commingling of rules of life relating to morals with those relating to mere ceremonial requirements, the Hebrew mind never having made that sharp discrimination between the ethical and the ritual which the Christian has been trained to make. Acts 15:20; Acts 15:29. The division of the book into two parts adopted by Keil and Murphy, the first relating to the expiation of guilt and the second to the sanctification of the life, we have adopted, only making the division at the end of chap. x instead of chap. xvi, since the intervening chapters bear more or less directly upon sanctity of life, especially in the conception of the Hebrews. Even the day of atonement, described in chap. xvi, was not for the removal of conscious guilt at the initiation of the spiritual life, but for those “errors” ( αγνοηματων ,) “of the people,” (Hebrews 9:7,) which are incidental to the most advanced stages of holy living on the earth, making appropriate the daily prayer, “Forgive us our debts.”


Part I. Propitiation, chapters 1-10.

SECTION I. Ritual of the Altar, chapters 1-7.

Introductory, Leviticus 1:1-17. The Meat Offering, Leviticus 2:1-16. The Peace Offering, Leviticus 3:1-17. Ordinary Sins of Inadvertence, Leviticus 4:1-2. Sin of a Priest, Leviticus 4:3-12. Sin of the Congregation, Leviticus 4:13-21. Sin of a Prince, Leviticus 4:22-26. Sin of a Private Person, Leviticus 4:27-35. The Trespass Offering: Sin Against Justice Concealing Testimony, Leviticus 5:1. Involuntary Violation of Ceremonial Purity, Leviticus 5:2-3. Inadvertency in Oaths, Leviticus 5:4-5. Trespass Offering Therefor, Leviticus 5:6-13. Defects in Holy Things, Leviticus 5:14-19. Wilful Fraud, Leviticus 6:1-7. Ordinances Appertaining to the Priests, Leviticus 6:8-30. Additional Laws of the Trespass Offering, Leviticus 7:1-10. Laws of the Peace Offering, Leviticus 7:11-21. The Fat and Blood Forbidden to be Eaten, Leviticus 7:22-30. Portion of the Priests, Leviticus 7:11-34. Summary of Preceding Laws, Leviticus 7:35-38.

SECTION II. Consecration of the Aaronic Priesthood First Service Judicial Death of Nadab and Abihu, chapters 8-10.

The Investment and Unction, Leviticus 8:1-36. Aaron’s First Offering and Blessing, Leviticus 9:1-7. Aaron’s Personal Offerings, Leviticus 9:8-14. The Offerings for Israel, Leviticus 9:15-21. The Benediction and the Consuming Fire from Jehovah, Leviticus 9:22-24. Nadab and Abihu Slain by Jehovah, Leviticus 10:1-7. The Priests Forbidden Wine and Strong Drink, Leviticus 10:8-11. Eating the Most Holy Things, Leviticus 10:12-20.

Part II. Holiness, Rules for Sanctity of Life, chapters 11-27.

SECTION I. External Purity, chapters 11-15.

Purity and Impurity in Animals: Concerning Beasts, Leviticus 11:1-8. Concerning Fishes, Leviticus 11:9-12. Concerning Fowls, Leviticus 11:13-19. Concerning Winged Insects, Leviticus 11:20-25. Concerning Larger Animals, Leviticus 11:26-28. Purity and Impurity in Persons, Leviticus 12:1-8. The Leper, Leviticus 13:1-59. The Ceremonial Cleansing of the Leper, Leviticus 14:1-32. Signs of Leprosy in a House, Leviticus 14:33-45. The Cleansing of a House Suspected of Leprosy, Leviticus 14:46-57. Physical Sanctification: Treatment of Issues, Leviticus 15:1-18. The Uncleanness of Women in their Issues, Leviticus 15:19-33.

SECTION II. Ceremonial Purity, chapters 16-27.

The Day of Atonement: Occasion of the Institution, Leviticus 16:1-2. Outline of the Ceremonial, Leviticus 16:3-10. Detailed Description of Certain Rites, Leviticus 16:11-28. General Rules respecting the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16:29-34. The Sacredness of Blood, Leviticus 17:1-16. Holiness in Social Life: The Vices of Egypt and Canaan Prohibited, Leviticus 18:1-5. Prohibition of Incestuous Marriages, Leviticus 18:6-18. Unnatural Lusts Prohibited, Leviticus 18:19-30. Holiness Towards God and Righteousness Towards Men, Leviticus 19:1-37. Punishments, Leviticus 20:1-27. Holiness in the Priests: The Priests’ Mourning for the Dead, Leviticus 21:1-6. Holiness in Family Relations, Leviticus 21:7-15. Personal Disabilities for the Priesthood, Leviticus 21:17-24. Reverence for Holy Things, Leviticus 22:1-16. Acceptable Sacrifices, Leviticus 22:17-28. Miscellaneous Precepts Reiterated, Leviticus 22:29-33. Holiness in Days Festivals Instituted; The Feasts of the Lord, Leviticus 23:1-8. The Sheaf of Firstfruits, Leviticus 23:9-14. The Feast of Pentecost, Leviticus 23:15-21. The Law of Charity, Leviticus 23:22. The Feast of Trumpets, Leviticus 23:23-25. Day of Expiations, Leviticus 23:26-32. The Feast of Ingathering, Leviticus 23:33-44. Purity in Oil and Showbread; Holiness of the Divine Name, and Sacredness of Human Life; The Illumination of the Tabernacle, Leviticus 24:1-4. Ordinance of the Showbread, Leviticus 24:5-9. The Blasphemer Stoned, Leviticus 24:10-23. The Law of Retaliation, Leviticus 24:17-23. Holiness Applied to Years: The Sabbatical Year, Leviticus 25:1-7. The Year of Jubilee, Leviticus 25:8-55. Rules for the Sale of Land, Leviticus 25:14-17. Additional Legislation respecting the Sabbatical Year, Leviticus 25:18-22. The Redemption of Land, Leviticus 25:23-28. The Redemption of Houses, Leviticus 25:29-34. Mercy to the Poor Enjoined, Leviticus 25:35-43. Non-Hebrew Servants, Leviticus 25:44-46. The Hebrew Servant and the Foreign Master, Leviticus 25:47-55. Promises and Threatenings as Sanctions of the Law and Motives to Holiness. Idolatry, the Sabbath, and the Sanctuary, Leviticus 26:1-2. Blessings Promised to Obedience, Leviticus 26:3-13. Threatenings Against Disobedience, Leviticus 26:14-39. Mercy After Judgments Israel not Utterly Destroyed, Leviticus 26:40-46. Holiness in Promises Vows: Persons the Objects of Vows, Leviticus 27:2-8. Animals Vowed, Leviticus 27:9-13. Houses and Fields Vowed, Leviticus 27:14-25. Firstlings and Unclean Beasts, Leviticus 27:26-27. Things Under the Ban and Tithes, Leviticus 27:28-34.



Expiatory Sacrifices, constituting the Relief of the Guilty Conscience, and the Bond between Jehovah and Israel. Chaps. 1 to 10.




The Israelites were chosen out of the midst of an idolatrous world to receive monotheism when all the nations of the earth had lapsed into polytheism. They were elected to conserve not only the doctrine of one God, but the doctrine of his spirituality and holiness, and to maintain a religion of the highest purity inseparably linked with a perfect morality. For this purpose, in the first stages of their religious development they received not a revelation of the moral attributes of God in the abstract, but in the concrete, enshrined in symbols and ceremonies, whereby the knowledge of God might be safely kept till the time of its manifestation in a purer and more heavenly form in the dispensation of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The peculiarity of the Hebrews did not consist in intellectual culture after the style of the Greeks, nor in the administration of civil law like the Romans, but their distinguishing characteristic was religion. Hence their frequent festivals, their constant sacrifices, their scrupulous purifications were impressive object-lessons, teaching the Divine unity and holiness. Their wars, their heroes, and their poetry had a sacred flavour, and their national code was full of the details of public worship. Every thing in their social and family life was connected with their religion, which had not been evolved out of the Hebrew consciousness but was revealed from heaven. Their ordinary employments were suggestive of the truths thus revealed, because they were at every point touched by divinely appointed and significant ceremonies. Nor was this religious cult, like those of the Gentile world, a mysterious creed in the sole possession of a sacerdotal class, but it was the common heritage of the learned and the ignorant. It was neither a recondite philosophy which might not be communicated to the masses, nor a weak superstition sneered at by the higher classes while controlling the lower. The religion of Moses, utterly destitute of any aristocratic element, was for the use and benefit of all the poorest peasant and the wisest rabbin.

The one object of worship focalized the thoughts of the entire nation upon Jehovah. Their feelings were not dissipated and distracted by a fantastic mythology, where a multitude of gods with contradictory attributes claim the attention of the devout mind. There was in Mosaism no impassable gulf between morality and religion, which among other nations is the bottomless abyss of all impurity. The will and approval of Jehovah were the motive to virtue, and incentive and support of holiness wherever there was a faith in his word which raised men above their natural weakness, and gave the saints of the Old Testament, as well as of the New, victory over the world. Hence the Hebrew race occupies an entirely unique place in the history of religion. Inferior to their near neighbours, the Phoenicians, in commerce and worldly refinement, excelled by the Greeks in art and philosophy, and by the Romans and other nations in bravery, the sons of Abraham tower above them all in religious ideas, institutions, expectations, and, above all, in a self-consciousness which can only be the fruit of boundless arrogance or of exalted privilege, betokening a supernatural call to religious leadership. Notwithstanding all that Moses has in common with all other ancient founders of religion, his personality, his institutions, and his character would remain absolutely inexplicable, unless he had been the bearer of a special DIVINE REVELATION. The Book of Leviticus, whose sole aim is the inculcation of holiness, could not have been evolved from hearts prone to sin. Like begets like.

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