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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Leviticus 17





The children of Israel are commanded to offer all their sacrifices at the tabernacle: the eating of blood is prohibited; as also of that which dieth of itself, or is torn by beasts.

Before Christ 1490.

Verse 3

Leviticus 17:3. What man soever there be of the house of Israel, &c.— This law forbids any beast to be slain for domestic use, unless the blood be poured or sprinkled upon the altar; lest, if they should be slain out of the camp, and the blood poured on the ground, it should give room for idolatry, the Gentiles often sacrificing to their gods after this manner: therefore this law was only temporary; neither did it oblige the children of Israel any longer than while they were travelling through the desart; for being newly come out of Egypt, they had hardly put off the idolatrous customs which they had imbibed there. This is the opinion of the judicious Spencer, and Dr. Cudworth also is of the same mind: "for all the while," says he, (in his Treatise on the Sacrament) "the Jews were in the wilderness, they were to eat no meat at all at their private tables, but that whereof they had first sacrificed to God at the tabernacle; which command was afterwards dispensed with when they came into the land, and their dwellings were become remote from their tabernacle." See Deuteronomy 12:20-21. Instead whereof, Houbigant observes, three set times in the year were appointed for all the males to come and sacrifice. Among other reasons, Houbigant remarks, that the words blood shall be imputed unto that man, he hath shed blood, (Leviticus 17:4.) prove the interpretation given. For the law would not condemn him as guilty of shedding blood who should slay an animal designed for God: but if they, who slew an animal without the tabernacle, were desirous to sacrifice to strange gods, they were guilty of idolatry, and not of shedding blood only. Therefore the law does not provide that the children of Israel should slay at the door of the tabernacle the animals designed to be offered to God, but that no animals at all, of the kinds immediately mentioned, should be slain in any other place; at the same time appointing, that their fat should be burnt upon the altar, lest they should be offered to false gods if it was allowed to slay the animals in any other place than under the inspection of the priests. And the law itself plainly discovers its own design, thus directing in the 7th verse, they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils. The intention of the lawgiver is the best rule to discover the spirit of the law; but we see plainly that the intention of the lawgiver was here to prevent the Israelites from the worship of devils. This law concerned the Israelites only while they dwelt in camps; necessity abrogated it when they inhabited cities. In this view the penalty of death, enjoined for this offence, Leviticus 17:4 is obviously most just and reasonable, as well as agreeable to the whole tenor of the law against idolatry; and consequently their observation is of no use, who would read, the blood (i.e. of the animal) shall be counted to that man, he having shed it: as if the man was not to be adjudged as a murderer, but only as a transgressor of the law.

Verse 6

Leviticus 17:6. The priest shall sprinkle the blood, &c.— The Zabii, that they might get into friendship and fellowship with their daemons, used to receive the blood of their beasts which were slain into some vessel or little trench, and to sit about it, and eat the flesh; imagining that the blood was the food of the daemons; that they were at the same table with them; and that by this rite they contracted familiarity and friendship with them.

Verse 7

Leviticus 17:7. They shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils The original word here rendered devils, is שׂעירים serim, which properly signifies goats, from their rough and shaggy hair: and it is well known, that some of the most ancient idolaters worshipped their false deities under the shape of a goat, which, in particular, was the living image of Mendes, the Egyptian Pan; and was the most ancient idol of the Egyptians. There can be no question, therefore, that the Israelites derived this idolatry from them; and though, perhaps, it would have been better to have rendered the original word, where it occurs, goats, yet, as the goats were symbols of idolatrous powers, they may in that sense, with propriety enough, be called devils: for it is the father of lies who is the author of idolatry, and whom the pagans adored without knowing it. Every school-boy knows the veneration which the heathen world in general paid to Pan; who, according to the Orphic philosophy, was a symbol of the universe, or of universal nature. But for the fullest satisfaction on this subject, I refer the reader to Jablonski's Pantheon, B. ii. c. 7. where he will find a learned and accurate discussion of every thing which respects that vile god of the Egyptians.

Leviticus 17:8-9. Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers, &c.— Not only the Israelites, as above, in Leviticus 17:3-4 but also strangers, are obliged by a law different from that before given: for here animals to be offered in sacrifice are treated of; such as it was needful to prevent from being offered to false gods in a clandestine manner without the camp, either by Israelites or strangers. Therefore it is decreed, that strangers should not be permitted to sacrifice without the tabernacle; not even to their gods, though without the camp, to prevent the contagion of such practices. In like manner, the Israelites were not to sacrifice without the court of the tabernacle, though to the true God; lest, under that pretext, they should conceal their idolatry. It is strange, says Houbigant, that interpreters have not seen that this law is different from that in Leviticus 17:3-4 and that animals destined for sacrifice are here meant; when the words burnt-offering and sacrifice so clearly determine it.

REFLECTIONS.—Before the erection of the tabernacle, the Israelites had liberty to sacrifice where they chose; and this had opened the door to abominable idolatries. To prevent this spiritual adultery for the future, God having now espoused them to himself, and set up his abode among them, they are commanded to kill all their sacrifices at the door of the tabernacle, and no where else. Note; 1. As there is no access to, or acceptance with God, but through Jesus Christ, all our services must be brought to him to be presented before the Lord. 2. We should endeavour, as far as possible, consistently with mutual love, to maintain unity of worship; our unhappy variances are much to be lamented: while we are praying for their healing, let us endeavour to be drawing nearer to each other in love, which will be the readiest way to unite us, that with one mouth, as well as one heart, we may glorify God.

Verse 11

Leviticus 17:11. For the life of the flesh is in the blood In Genesis 9:4 the eating of blood is forbidden. Dr. James upon his plan observes, that it was prohibited for reasons of health, as blood is extremely subject to an alcaline putrefaction, and the juices formed from it are highly alcalescent, and subject to putrefy. For the same reason all animals whatever, killed without being suffered to bleed sufficiently, are improper food. It is well known to common observers, that the more succulent and juicy the flesh of animals is, the more subject it is to putrefaction. But, besides these reasons of health, another is assigned in the text for the prohibition of blood; which is considered not only as the seat of life, (being that to the body which oil is to the lamp,) but also as the appointed means of atonement; as the ransom for the forfeited lives of sinful men. It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul; and this, says Dr. Beaumont, as typifying his blood, who is so often spoken of in the New Testament as the grand atonement for human transgressions, and as cleansing from all sin; Hebrews 10:19. 1 John 1:7. Some have supposed, that another design of the prohibition might be, to raise in the minds of the Israelites an abhorrence of the practice of some idolaters, who drank the blood of the victim as it came reeking from the wound; and that, not only of animal, but, shocking to think! of human sacrifices. And further it may be observed, that blood was by the heathens employed to various superstitious purposes. The magicians, in their inchantments, constantly used it; for ghosts were supposed to be extremely fond of blood, as we learn from a variety of passages in heathen authors: in particular, when Homer describes Ulysses descending to the infernal regions to consult the ghost of Tiresias, he is represented as standing by a trench full of blood, with his sword drawn in his hand, to keep off the ghosts from meddling with him; when Tiresias appearing, says to him, "retire from the trench, and sheath thy poniard, that I may drink the blood, and disclose to thee the hidden truths of futurity." See the 11th Book of the Odyssey, and Mr. Pope's notes, at the beginning.

For it is the blood that maketh an atonement Spencer paraphrases, this verse thus, "whereas the blood is the life and soul of animals, I have appointed it for the price of your souls, and for most holy use. I have separated it to make an expiation for your sins: therefore honour it with a religious abstinence from it; and do not serve that upon your tables, which I have reserved sacred to my altar. It is not suited to the dignity thereof that you should put the blood to vulgar use, to which you owe my forgiveness, and your own lives; that you should nourish, as it were, your own bodies with the life and safety of your souls." It is the blood that maketh atonement: the blood of the sacrifice, says Clarke, sacramentally and typically, and of Christ really.

Verse 15

Leviticus 17:15. And every soul that eateth that which died of itself See Exodus 22:31. Dr. James observes upon the 13th, and this 15th verse, that, if an animal has been heated by hunting, there seems a further reason to let it bleed, in order to lessen that tendency to putrefaction which it acquires by exercise and heat; and that animals, which die of themselves, are unwholesome, both as they do not bleed, and as their juices are generally in an actual state of putrefaction, or near it, before they die.

Verse 16

Leviticus 17:16. But if he wash them not Note; If our iniquity be not taken away by the washing of regeneration, it will be a burden which we can never bear ourselves, but which must sink us into eternal perdition.


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Leviticus 17:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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Monday, January 20th, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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