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Here we shall vary a little from our usual procedure by taking these Lev. 6 and Lev. 7 together. Most of the commentaries we have studied also follow this plan which is logically dictated by the content. Lev. 6 is actually concluded in Lev. 7, and the short summary at the end of Lev. 7 is the conclusion of this whole section of Leviticus (Lev. 1--7) in which the following sacrifices are presented:
1. Instructions regarding the burnt-offering (Lev. 1).
2. Instructions regarding the meal-offering (Lev. 2).
3. Instructions regarding the peace-offering (Lev. 3).
4. Instructions regarding the sin-offering (Lev. 4:1--5:13).
5. Instructions regarding the trespass-offering (Lev. 5:14--6:7).
6. Supplementary priestly regulations (Lev. 6:8--7:38).
The illogical divisions of chapters (as is also the case with verses) is quite apparent in the above outline. Dummelow pointed out that our "chapter divisions are a late invention, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries."F1
And swear to a lie
(Leviticus 6:3), hath sworn falsely ... (Leviticus 6:5), in the day of his being found guilty ... (Leviticus 6:5). All of these expressions appear to indicate a situation in some kind of court procedure. The person here was under oath and was found guilty, indicating a contestant in some kind of disputed case. The sins in view here were not unwitting or inadvertent sins, but deliberate attempts to defraud. It is of the very greatest interest that sins against a neighbor in such a manner were also sins against God Himself. On that account, two kinds of penalties were incurred:
(1) there was the restoration of unlawfully-acquired property to its rightful owner, along with an additional twenty percent value, and
(2) there was the required offering of a valuable ram to God, through the priests, as the basis of atonement and forgiveness from God because of the sin against Him.
The instructions for this offering were marked by the solemn formula "And Jehovah spake unto Moses, etc."; and the reason for this seems to be that of stressing the great truth so firmly stated here that "sins against a neighbor are also sins against God." This truth had long been known to the Hebrews, as evidenced in the words of Joseph to the wife of Potiphar, "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9).
Such unsupported assertions as that of Clements, declaring that, "At the time these rules were written down, Israel's sacrificial altar was situated at the Temple in Jerusalem,"F2 should be rejected. There are no hard facts of any kind that support such a notion! This section of Leviticus, as we have frequently pointed out, shows every internal evidence of having been written down either by Moses himself, or at his direction and under his supervision.
Some of the infractions against sacred law that are mentioned here may not be exactly clear to modern readers. Sins regarding "deposits" or "bargains," for example, came about in a culture quite different from ours. The "deposit" refers to any property entrusted to the care of a neighbor during the absence of the owner (such things as banks were unknown). If the one thus accepting a deposit, slaughtered it, used it for his own benefit, or sold it, and then refused to make it good, such a sin was covered by the instructions here.
In previous legislation it had been appointed that, in case of doubt arising as to what had become of property delivered to another to keep, there should be "an oath of the Lord" between them both, that the latter "hath not put his hand unto his neighbor's goods" (Exodus 22:11).F3
In regard to the sins committed in "bargains," these were committed in all cases of fraud or misrepresentation on the part of either party in the bargain. Of particular interest is that of concealing or failing to restore to the owner anything found. This would usually have been a straying animal. It was the law of God that finders of other people's property were required to return it to the owner. The same principles enunciated here are still retained in the laws of all civilized nations. In our own society today, one finding a bag of money, for example, would have great difficulty in many instances of knowing who the owner actually was, and people who are conscious of their duty in such cases sometimes advertise in newspapers regarding articles "found."
The rules for the trespass-offering were also followed "in the cleansing of a leper (Leviticus 14:12) and in the vows of the Nazarite (Numbers 6:12)."F4 All of the instructions of this first paragraph of Lev. 6 are connected with the regulations in Lev. 5, of which they form a part. A new section pertaining particularly to the duties of priests is given next.
"The main concern of this paragraph is that the fire on the altar of burnt-offerings should never go out."F5 This instruction is repeated three times (Leviticus 6:9,12,13). "Marvels were related concerning this. It came forth from God's presence (Leviticus 9:24), and it burned continuously for 116 years; and yet the thin copper sheathing of the altar never melted."F6 The phenomenon of a perpetual light or perpetual fire has been observed repeatedly historically. The Romans had a perpetual fire in the temple of the Vestal Virgins. In America, a perpetual light has burned in Atlanta for over a century. And today, there is a continuous Peace Light on the Gettysburg battlefield. What was the purpose of this? Several reasons have been advanced.
Unger thought it was intended to represent "Christ's ceaseless presence in the heavenly sanctuary,"F7 a thought which appears also in the New Testament. "He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). Calvin thought it was to make certain that the offerings would always be burnt with "heavenly fire," since it was originally kindled by God.F8 Keil thought that it represented the "uninterrupted worship of God."F9 Wenham thought it might have indicated "the constant need of atonement" by the people.F10 Cate believed that it was a symbol of "uninterrupted worship."F11 There is no reason, really, to exclude any of these reasons.
This paragraph begins the final division of this first section of Leviticus. The topic is special instructions for the priests, and, beginning here, we have regulations pertaining to each one of the offerings already enumerated in the previous chapters. Each topic is introduced by the words, "this is the law of" (Lev. 6:9,14,25, etc.). "Each of the laws already discussed is now dealt with from this angle."F12 The law of the burnt-offering (Lev. 1) is the topic in this first paragraph.
In addition to the edict that the altar fire was never to go out, the other principal instruction regarding the burnt-offering concerned the disposal of the ashes. Significantly, the priest charged with that duty could not wear his sacred vestments outside the tabernacle court, but had to change his clothes. One meaning of this must be that true holiness pertained only to that structure identified with the presence of God within it.
Another significant instruction here is seen in the specific mention of the linen breeches which "he shall put upon his flesh," that is, "cover his private parts." Ritual nakedness was a prominent part of the worship of ancient pagan priests, a fact evident today in the Metropolitan Opera's presentations of the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi. The male dancers before the goddess in the pagan temple illustrate this perfectly, although with some accommodation to modern taste. The repetition of God's law in this instance shows the importance attached to the observance of it.
References to the burnt-offering here pertain to the daily sacrifices, "consisting of two lambs offered one in the morning at sunrise, the other in the evening when the day began to decline."F13 See Exo. 29:38; Num. 28:3. The officiating priests laid the pieces of the sacrifice upon the altar in such a manner as to expedite keeping the fire going continually.
There is a weight of typical importance in the designation of where the meal-offering was to be eaten. Those O.T. priests were typical of all Christians today. The meal-offering "in the portion burned on the fire, speaks of the death of Christ; and the portion eaten by the priests looks forward to feeding spiritually upon Christ as the bread."F14 A vital suggestion of the Lord's Supper is in the passage. And just as those priests did not eat the bread outside the tabernacle, the Lord's Supper is an institution pertaining to the kingdom of God (the church), and in the kingdom, not outside of it.
In broken pieces
(Leviticus 6:21) is of uncertain translation. Wenham suggested you shall crumble it as the possible meaning;F15 and Bamberger suggested baked slices as an alternative.F16
The morning and evening sacrifice of the High Priest's offering corresponds, in a sense, to the morning and evening sacrifices for all Israel, and one of the reasons for this lay in the need to remind the High Priest that he, no less than the whole nation, continually needed the forgiveness of God.
These instructions cover about the same ground as Lev. 4, with the exception of the provision for any blood that goes astray. Since it is the blood that sanctifies, it must not be spilled on objects not commanded to be sprinkled with it; and if it should happen accidentally, it must be washed off if possible; and in cases (as in that of the earthen vessel) where stains could not be removed, the vessel had to be destroyed.
Among the prohibitions here was that forbidding a priest to eat of any sin-offering brought by himself, or for the whole congregation of Israel, as upon the Day of Atonement, etc.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.