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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Leviticus 1

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. I.

Of the burnt-offerings of the herd, of the flocks, and of the fowls; and in what manner each were to be offered.

Before Christ 1490.


Verse 1

Leviticus 1:1. And the Lord called unto Moses The particle ו vau, here rendered and, might with as much propriety be rendered then. See Exodus 40:34. It serves, however, to shew how closely this book is connected with the former; as well as to signify to us, that God, having now taken possession of the house made for him, delivered from thence his instructions to his servant Moses. The Jews divide their laws into sections, of which this, according to them, is the 24th: and this method for a code of law, is, I think, greatly preferable to that of a division into books, chapters, and verses. The reader is desired to take notice, that, as many things occur in this and the following books of the Pentateuch, which have been fully explained in our notes on the preceding, we shall not take up room by referring to them; but shall in general leave them for the future to the reader's own recollection.


Verse 2

Leviticus 1:2. If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord Some have supposed, that this if implies a permission, and not a command; whereas the particle כי ki should either be rendered who or when: "the man who shall bring an "offering;" or, "when any man shall bring an offering." (See Noldius on the word, 19 and 22.) The Chaldee and Vulgate render it by who; the Samaritan and Syriac by when. The word קרבן karban, here rendered an offering, comes from a verb signifying to draw near or bring; and therefore imports, without distinction, any gift brought to the house, altar, or priests of the Lord. Animals universally accounted clean were those only permitted to be offered to JEHOVAH no ravenous beasts, or birds of prey, were ever admitted: upon which Bishop Kidder very pleasingly observes, "What more useful than a bullock? More profitable than a sheep or goat? More simple and harmless than a dove? And, if the observation of Philo be true, that the offerer was to be like his oblation; then are innocence and industry, usefulness and simplicity, recommended by this institution to the worshippers of the true God."

REFLECTIONS.—God having taught the first man, after his fall, the necessity of atonement for sin by sacrifice, we find it faithfully transmitted to his posterity; and when the true religion was lost in idolatry, the sacrifices still remained. When God therefore took a people to himself, he both taught them the use of sacrifices, and directed them in the choice of such as were most significant of the one great sacrifice, which in the fulness of time was to be offered. The thunders of Sinai ushered in that law which only gave the knowledge of sin: but now, when sacrifices for sin are enjoined, God speaks in milder accents from the mercy-seat. The law is a voice of terror; the gospel, of grace and love.


Verse 3

Leviticus 1:3. If his offering be a burnt-sacrifice of the herd The burnt sacrifice, as being the principal, is mentioned first: it was wholly consumed upon the altar, and therefore usually called an holocaust by the Greeks. There were four other sorts of sacrifices, meat-offerings, peace-offerings, sin-offerings, and trespass-offerings, mentioned in the subsequent chapters. The burnt-offering was the most important: it was made unto God every day by the children of Israel; Numbers 28:3 and typified Christ's offering up his whole self to make atonement: wherefore it is said to make atonement, and procure reconciliation, Leviticus 1:4 not upon its own account, but by faith in the blood of Christ. It represented, morally, the entire and unreserved devotion of the offerer. See Romans 12:1. For a full view of the doctrine of sacrifices, we refer to Dr. Outram's treatise De Sacrificiis; and for the qualifications of this sacrifice, a male without blemish, see note on Exodus 12:5. It is evident from the two foregoing books, that sacrifices were not now first instituted. What we render, he shall offer it of his own voluntary will, Houbigant renders, ut faciat sibi eum placabilem, that he may render the Lord placable to him, which is agreeable to the LXX, and other ancient versions.


Verse 4

Leviticus 1:4. He shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering See note on Exodus 29:10 and Leviticus 16:21. The same custom in sacrificing was common in Egypt. The offerer, [in this holy sacrifice,] says one, hereby testified, that he acknowledged himself worthy of death; that he laid his sins upon his sacrifice; that he trusted in Christ for the expiation of them; and that he devoted himself to God. And the phrase following plainly proves, that it was to be understood in this sense: it shall be accepted, for, or, instead of him; to make an atonement or expiation (not through its own merit, but as typical of the great sacrifice) for him. Burnt-offerings were for atonement or remission of sins in general; Job 1:5; Job 42:8. For sins of ignorance there was a special sacrifice and sin-offering; see the 4th chapter of this book.


Verse 5

Leviticus 1:5. And the priests—shall bring the blood This blood, as Le Clerc observes, was to be offered by the priest alone, and served to remind the person who brought the victim, that he was in a sinful state, and so not worthy to have access to God, but through a mediator; and a mediator, be it noted, offering the blood of the sacrifice. The heathens had the same custom: they received the blood of the sacrifices in vessels prepared for that purpose, and then offered it to their deities by pouring it upon the altar. The reader will find, in Homer's Iliad, a very accurate account of their manner of sacrifice; which was evidently borrowed from the ceremonials of the true religion before, the coming of the great Antitype.


Verse 6

Leviticus 1:6. And he shall flay the burnt-offering He, that is, the offerer, as it is generally thought. Abrabenel asserts, that the owner of the sacrifice laid his hands upon it, killed, flayed, cut it up, and washed the entrails; and then the priest received the blood in a vessel, sprinkled it, put fire on the altar, laid the wood upon the fire, and placed the pieces of the sacrifices upon the wood.


Verse 9

Leviticus 1:9. His inwards and his legs By the inwards, Le Clerc and others understand the whole carcase; all that was under the skin, as viscera sometimes signifies in the Latin. The washing of these parts is allowed to denote that universal purity which was in Christ, the great Antitype of all the sacrifices, and which is required in all true worshippers; see Hebrews 10:22.

REFLECTIONS.—The sacrifice, if of the herd, must be a male without blemish. God requires and deserves that we should offer him our best. The blind and lame offerings are not a sacrifice, but an abomination. The oblation must be voluntary. That alone is acceptable obedience which flows from love as its principle. He must come with it to the door of the tabernacle as one unworthy to enter, yet desiring to draw near to God. He must lay his hand on the head of the beast, intimating his acknowledgment of his deserving that death by reason of sin, to which this bullock was devoted, and also his faith in the acceptance of the sacrifice in his stead. The beast was then to be slain, and his blood sprinkled by the priests upon the altar, as typical of the death of the great sacrifice who bore our sins, and of his atoning blood which is sprinkled on the guilty conscience. The whole then, properly divided and cleansed, must be burnt with fire, as a sweet savour to the Lord. And thus Jesus on the cross offered up himself to be consumed by the fierce wrath of God, a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour by which peace and reconciliation are obtained for the sinner, and his person and services become acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.


Verse 16

Leviticus 1:16. He shall pluck away his crop with his feathers Every thing in these sacrifices points cut to us the necessity of moral purity in all our offerings and approaches to God; while it is pleasing to observe that the heart, and not the sacrifice, is the gift most acceptable to the Lord. The humble dove, which alone the poor man was able to offer, is spoken of as acceptably, Leviticus 1:17 as the more costly sacrifices from the herds or the flocks: where there is a willing mind, the offering is always accepted according to what a man hath; 2 Corinthians 8:12. The widow in the gospel is a striking example of this truth: how comfortable to the poor! Mark 12:43.

The learned reader will remark a manifest opposition to the customs of the Egyptians in several of these rites respecting the burnt-offering.

Note; 1. All are in the same condemnation, and need the same atonement. 2. Christ Jesus is alike the Saviour of high and low, rich and poor. 3. In all our services God requires that we should offer as he hath blessed us. He that has much must give much; he that has little should cheerfully give of that little. 4. God regards not so much the expensiveness of the gift as the faith and love of the offerer. A pigeon with these is better than the stalled ox without them.

Dissertation on Sacrifices.

Sacrificing is a religious action, in which a creature devoted to God was, in a solemn manner, destroyed in his presence for sacred ends; and it was a mode of worship which obtained in the most early ages of the world. It may not only be traced up to the famous aera, when the law was given from Mount Sinai, but to the ancient patriarchs who commonly practised it. How many altars were built by Abraham, and his grandson Jacob? Melchizedec was a priest of the most high God. Job offered sacrifices both for his children and for his friends; and God smelled a savour of rest, when Noah sacrificed clean beasts and birds upon the altar which he built to the Lord. But why do I mention these venerable personages as the most ancient practisers of sacrificial worship, when it may be more than conjectured that Adam himself did use it. Can we think, when Abel offered to the Lord the firstlings of his flock, that his father had not instructed him to testify in this manner his fear of the Lord? And what shall we say of the coats of skins which the Lord made for our first parents, or directed them to make? The beasts, to which they belonged, cannot, so soon after the creation, be supposed to have died of age; they therefore must have been slain. But how natural is it to suppose that they were slain in sacrifice, rather than for any other use? To be short then, sacrifices seem clearly to have been as ancient as the promise about the Seed of the woman, who was to have his heel bruised while he bruised the serpent's head.

The antiquity of sacrifices being granted, let us now inquire by whose authority they were first enjoined; and it will be certainly found, that as their date is ancient their original is divine. That God prescribed them to his chosen people, is not disputed; for a considerable portion of the sacred volume is occupied in describing the various laws by which this species of worship should be adjusted. But what shall we think of the sacrifices which were offered by the patriarchs before the law? Were they acts of will-worship? Did they contrive this mode of adoration themselves? Did the light of nature dictate, that the Deity could be delighted with slaying and burning a harmless brute, or otherwise destroying creatures which were inanimate? No: neither did the light of nature dictate them, nor blind superstition, but the sovereign will and positive command of God is their original warrant. Suppose we read of the practice before we read of the precept, still from the former we may fairly infer the latter; for such eminent saints would never have adventured to express their devotion in so strange a manner, if they had not been required to do so by the declared will of God. Indeed, without such a persuasion, they could not have offered in faith; and we are assured by an authority too great to be controverted, that the first man whose sacrifice is expressly mentioned in Scripture, offered through faith a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, of which the Deity was pleased to testify his acceptance by some distinguishing marks of regard. Now, let us even suppose that these primitive believers might have been so presumptuous as to invent, or practise, without the command of God, such bloody rites; it can never be admitted that God, who has upon all occasions testified his displeasure against the inventions of men in his worship, would have smiled upon such self-devised modes of adoration. Instead of testifying of their gifts, and accepting their burnt-offerings, would he not rather have upbraided them, as in the words of that well-known reproof, "Who hath required this at your hands?" On the whole, then, it is easy to see that sacrifices were not offered without the command of God. And it is more than probable, that the precept and the practice are of equal age; that these holy rites were commanded immediately after the re-admission of our first parents into the Divine favour, upon the back of their apostacy; that the universal custom of sacrificing was received by tradition from the first man; and that, after the true design of the institution was lost among the degenerate nations, the ceremony itself was still preserved.

The custom then was ancient, was divine; and, surely, it was for some important end that God would command, and the best of men practise it, for the space of four thousand years. What could move the eternal Majesty to require, for so long a time, that sacrifices should be an essential part of his worship? Was there any real excellency in these actions which might render them pleasing to God for their own sake? Were they to be put on a superior or equal footing with acts of moral service? Not at all. Himself declares in the most positive manner, even in the age of sacrifices, that "to offer thanksgiving, and pay their vows, to do justly, and love mercy," were actions far preferable to loading his altar with the most costly oblations; that though men had been ever so punctual in this kind of worship, they were not thereby entitled to the character of saints, whatever course of action they steered in their other deportment towards God or their fellow-creatures. Yea, so far were sacrifices from being able to recommend the persons of wicked sinners to God, that, on the contrary, their sins, when resolutely persisted in, rendered not only their persons, but their sacrifices, detestable to him. He loathed, he despised, he abhorred, his soul was weary to bear them. That they did really atone for ceremonial guilt, or sanctify to the purifying of the flesh, may indeed be allowed; but that they could really atone for moral guilt, purge the conscience from dead works, or be acceptable to the Divine Majesty for their own sake, is denied by Scripture, reason, and even by the sacrifices themselves.—It is denied by Scripture.—For in the prophet Micah, rivers of oil, and thousands of rams, are denied to be an adequate propitiation. And this need not be wondered at; for what is still more, the first-born, we are assured in the same place, would not be accepted for transgression, nor the fruit of the body for the sin of the soul.—It is denied by reason.—For reason herself being judge, where would be the justice of punishing a harmless beast for the sins of its owner? What proportion between the sin of a man and the sufferings of a brute? Can the Majesty of heaven, indeed, be prevailed on to lay aside his just anger for such a puny satisfaction? Then, Sinai, thy thunders are vanished into smoke, and there was no occasion to publish, with such solemnity and terror, to the trembling Israelites, that fiery law whose curses may be so easily avoided.—But let us ask even the sacrificers themselves, they will confess their insufficiency to expiate moral guilt; for there were many sins which were not to be purged by the means of sacrifice or offering. Let David bear witness, who says to God, concerning his complicated crime of adultery and deliberate murder, "thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt-offering." Psalms 51:16.

Was it then impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin, notwithstanding the antiquity and divine origin of the custom of offering sacrifices? Having removed the false end of their institution, let us examine into their real intention; and we shall have a particular eye to the offerings under the economy of Moses. And here it will not, I think, be contradicted, if we affirm that sundry circumstances in the law of sacrifices might be intended to convey moral instructions. For instance, that the brutish qualities of the sacrificed beasts might signify the vices or lusts which we ought to mortify for the honour of God; or that the virtuous qualities of the victims, suppose meekness, patience, and the like, might denote those graces and virtues which the worshipper of God should cultivate in his own heart. It must not be denied, that the ancient ceremonial worship might be a figure of that reasonable service which is ever due to the Supreme Being in all the different states of the rational creature. But though these and other considerations may have their proper weight and place, we have not yet found the adequate reason of these mysterious institutions. In thy bloody death, O Jesus, we see the great Antitype of these legal oblations! Most certainly they were public acknowledgments of guilt, and professions of faith in the grand Propitiation, which they believed should appear in the end of the world. Tell us, thou sweet singer of Israel, who he is that shall do for us what the law could not do! In the 40th Psalm, David, speaking not of himself, but of a far more glorious person, has these most emphatical words: "Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire: burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come——to do thy will, O my God." It was not Christ who came to imitate the sacrifices, but the sacrifices were ordained to prefigure him. They were the shadow of future good things, but the body is of Christ. When Christ was first revealed the sacrifices seem to have been practised, and when he died they ceased to be offered. The temple heard his dying groan, and rent its vail in presence of the priesthood as they offered the evening sacrifice. From this time forth shall your offices be vacated, ye legal priests! Ye beasts of the field, no more shall ye smoke as victims on God's altar, for the merciful High-Priest has now given HIMSELF an offering and a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour unto God! Now, if with the prediction of his death they began, and ended with the accomplishment, what can be more plain than the relation between them as the shadow and the substance? Set this relation aside, and it is impossible to vindicate, with any effect, the original appointment of sacrifices, or to account for their abolition after they were enjoined. Should any be contentious in this point, we have an entire book in the Canon of the New Testament, in which the professed argument is the resemblance of the Old-Testament sacrifices to the true propitiation. Let us here glance at some of the most obvious parallels only between the sacrifices of Moses and the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.

And, first we may take notice of the qualities of the sacrificed creatures, especially of the animal kind. It was not left as a matter of indifference, and wholly in the option of God's peculiar people, with what victims they should stain his altars.—They were to be clean creatures according to the law, fit to be eaten for the support of human life, and to be one with the offerer in some sense by their aptitude for digestion into the substance of his body. This was an evident memorial of the sanctity of the great Propitiation, and that he should be a partaker of the same flesh and blood with those for whom he should die; for it was requisite, that both he that sanctifieth, and they that are sanctified, should be all of one.—The integrity and perfection which God required in the bodies of these beasts may easily be accommodated to the glorious Antitype, who would have been wholly incapacitated by any the smallest blemish from the discharge of his priestly function. For though it became the typical notion of the Jews to have a high-priest involved in the same guilt of actual transgression with his brethren, who was therefore to offer first for his own sin, before he presumed to offer for the errors of the people; yet "such an High-Priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separated from sinners." Hebrews 7:26.—They were, further, to be valuable and beloved creatures, as lambs which are for cloathing, and goats which are the price of the field; and he that offered them was put to cost and damage, as indeed, in the first ages of mankind, the riches of the most opulent possessor consisted chiefly in flocks and herds. What forbids us to think here of Jesus Christ, the darling of his Father, and precious to them that believe? O the invaluable treasure of blood which was paid for the redemption of the soul! In comparison thereof, what is silver and gold, and all corruptible things? Ransack the bowels of the mountains for all the glowing gems formed there in dark retirement: when compared to the precious blood of the Lamb, they are poor and beggarly acquisitions, and converted into pebble-stones fit to be trampled under foot.—Moreover, there were to be, in the destined victims, some amiable qualities resembling moral virtues. They were not permitted to sacrifice the stupid ass, or the sordid swine, though tame creatures; far less were the fierce inhabitants of the forest, as wolves, bears, lions, to come upon God's altar. But the sacrifices in which he delighted were the gentle dove, the patient and laborious ox, the meek lamb, and the sheep which is dumb before the shearer and the butcher. Who sees not in these characters the very picture of the meek, lowly, patient, and uncomplaining Saviour of the world, who opened not his mouth when he was led as a lamb to the slaughter? A circumstance this, which, next to the dignity of his Person, contributed to the value of his satisfactory death.—It is also worthy of notice, that of all these beasts the first-born was most acceptable, and according to the law all such were holy to the Lord. Was not this a prelude that he, whom God would give to expiate our transgressions, should be the first-born among many brethren, whom they should honour as the excellency of dignity, and to whom they should owe their deliverance from death, and their title to the inheritance? I shall only further hint, that the legal sacrifices were chargeable, more or less, to all who presented them: but the real and better sacrifice costs us nothing; for we may buy it without money and without price.

From the qualities of the victims, let us go on to the sacred rites of oblation, and we shall find something in our great sacrifice corresponding to them all. When the creature, which was to surrender its life for its owner, was pitched upon, it was brought to the priest, and solemnly placed before the Lord. But our Lord Jesus was not brought by others, like the irrational animal; no, he voluntarily presented himself before God, when his time was fully come. Fully apprised of what was to be done to him, he set his face to go up to Jerusalem, and patiently expected in the melancholy garden the coming of the traitor and his band of armed men, to whom he was to deliver himself.—The sacred animal being placed before the Lord was rendered ceremonially guilty, by the imposition of hands upon its head, and by confessing over it the sins of the offerer. It was the Lord himself that laid on HIM the iniquities of us all. O Jesus, it is our guilt alone which could justify the Judge of all the earth in taking pleasure to bruise thee! And this, doubtless, was one great reason why he opened not his mouth, while the Roman governor wondered at his silence. It was this consideration which fortified his mind at the approach of his inconceivably bitter agonies, and held-in his mouth as with a bridle, when these astonishing words dropped from his lips, "Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say?"—In the next place, the blood of the innocent animal, now made guilty by imputation, was shed, was poured out, and sprinkled around; for "without shedding of blood was no remission" of sin. Hebrews 9:22. Talk not, ye Roman Catholics, of an unbloody sacrifice of expiation! That it is the blood which makes atonement for the soul, is asserted by the God of Israel himself, who expressly assigns this as the reason of the strict prohibition given to his ancient people, "No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourns among you." Leviticus 17:11-12. It is easy to see how this prefigured the Son of God, who poured out his soul unto death, and whose blood cleanses from all sin—The pulling off the skin from the butchered animals, dividing their bodies, and burning them with fire, are certainly intended to denote the exquisite torments he was to endure, when the assembly of the wicked inclosed him, and his heart was melted in the midst of his bowels like wax before the fire.—The towering of the smoke to heaven, which was sometimes perfumed with burning incense, signified how acceptable the sacrifice of Christ should be to God, and of what sweet-smelling savour.—In the time of offering, prayers were also offered up. And we know, that in the days of his flesh he offered up prayers, tears, and strong cries to him that was able to save him from death.—The blowing of trumpets, and praising God, in the time of the holy rites, with music vocal and instrumental, which was often practised, may, no doubt, put us in mind of that praise which waiteth for God in Zion, on account of his purging away our transgression by himself, which otherwise would have prevailed for ever against us.—The carrying the blood of the victims into the holy place, the figure of the heavenly sanctuary, corresponds to the intercession of our High-Priest within the vail, where he appears as a lamb that has been slain.

When the holy rites were finished, atonement was made. The guilt of the offerer was abolished when his victim was destroyed: the anger of God was in some manner appeased, and he gave signs of reconciliation. But, as we shewed before, it was not in these ceremonial actions to atone for any moral guilt, except in a typical way. But he whom God has set forth for a propitiation has, in the most proper sense, fully expiated the sins of all his faithful people who have lived or shall live. In his atonement the believers of ancient and latter times have rejoiced, as the sole foundation of their hope. And nations yet unborn shall be justified by him from all things from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses.

The fire which came down from heaven, and consumed the sacrifices, might it not be considered as an emblem of that fierce burning wrath which preyed upon the soul of the incarnate Son of God? Or was it an emblem of the Holy Spirit, through whom he offered up himself, and who is stiled the Spirit of burning? Or else the fire might signify that fervent love to God and man which many waters could not quench. It was love which wrought his death: by this holy and pure flame was our atoning sacrifice reduced, as it were, to ashes.

The altar, what was it? His cross, say some. Nay, it was rather his Divine Nature, which like the altar supported, and like the altar sanctified, his holy humanity, which alone was destroyed. This the cross can scarcely be said to do, which was but the instrument of man's cruelty, and a despicable piece of timber, which neither sanctified the body which it carried, nor received sanctification from it. Where, then, are they who address it with divine honours, and pay even to its picture that homage which is due to him alone, who expired in agonies on that shameful tree?

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Leviticus 1:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/leviticus-1.html. 1801-1803.

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Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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