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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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LEVITICUS 17

According to some interpreters, there begins here an independent section of Leviticus entitled the Holiness Code, but this view should be rejected. The first part of Leviticus details the various types of sacrifices, and the rules laid down in this section, beginning here, have a definite relationship to all sacrifices mentioned earlier. The second part of Leviticus concerns the establishment of the hereditary priesthood, and these rules pertain directly to the respect that all Israel, even strangers, must give to that priesthood. The third portion of Leviticus outlines the specific sacrifices required for various types of ceremonial defilement, and this section lays down additional rules as to where the sacrifices must be offered. It therefore exhibits a most intimate connection with all the preceding chapters of Leviticus. Therefore, "It is altogether a mistake to make a Second Book begin with Lev. 17, as is done by Lang and Keil."F1

The designation of this and subsequent chapters as the Holiness Code, "destroys the close connection between Lev. 16 and Lev. 17, with the manual of sacrifices in Lev. 1--7. Lev. 17 belongs to what precedes ... it is a climactic supplement or conclusion to the first part of Leviticus."F2

It is true, of course, that a requirement of holiness is stressed here and in subsequent chapters. Unger cited Lev. 19:2, "Ye shall be holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy," as the "dominant note of this and following chapters."F3 "The phrase, `I am the Lord,' occurs nearly fifty times in Lev. 17--26, and not at all in the remainder of Leviticus."F4

This and the remaining chapters of Leviticus stress the manner of life that was supposed to characterize the Jew that he might be not only acceptable to the Lord but also DIFFERENT from the heathens with whom he was surrounded. However, holiness of life must not be viewed as a special code incorporated into God's law at some later time, but as an integral part of what was ever and always a part of God's law for His people. "Follow after peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see God" (Heb. 12:14, KJV). The solemn ceremonial of the Day of Atonement had just been commanded, but the forgiveness of the sinner's sins must be followed by a life consistent with that forgiveness. How appropriately, therefore, do the commandments of this section fit into the overall message of Leviticus.


 
Verses 1-7
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, and unto his sons, and unto all the children of Israel, and say unto them: This is the thing which Jehovah hath commanded, saying, What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it without the camp, and hath not brought it unto the door of the tent of meeting, to offer it as an oblation unto Jehovah before the tabernacle of Jehovah: blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people: To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they sacrifice in the open field, even that they may bring them unto Jehovah, unto the door of the tent of meeting, unto the priest, and sacrifice them for sacrifices of peace-offerings unto Jehovah. And the priest shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar of Jehovah at the door of the tent of meeting, and burn the fat for a sweet savor unto Jehovah. And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the he-goats, after which they play the harlot. This shall be a statute forever unto them throughout their generations.

Note that the regulations mentioned here came directly from God Himself. These rules were not initiated at some later period by "the priests." This passage forbids any notion of a later point of origin for these rules in the Jewish priesthood, because it is the period of the Jewish journeyings in the vicinity of Sinai which is inherent in the mention of "the camp" (Leviticus 17:3). It is inconceivable that priests of some later time would have used such terminology!

A statute forever throughout their generations…
(Leviticus 17:7). As a matter of fact, God Himself changed the regulation given here just before Israel entered into the possession of Canaan (Deuteronomy 12:15).

The principal thing forbidden here was the slaughter of any animal (of the type suitable for sacrifice) anywhere except "before the tent of meeting." There are several discernible purposes in this restriction:

(1) It safeguarded the prohibition against eating the blood or the fat, requiring these to be offered to God.

(2) It forbade the practice of idolatry, a form of pagan worship "the Jews had learned in Egypt,"F5 in which orgiastic rites were a part.

(3) Also, it strengthened the authority and dignity of the priesthood.

He-goats…
This word is variously rendered as devils (KJV), goat demons (Good News Bible), and satyrs (RSV). The Greek god, Pan, was the most famous of the goat-gods. The temptation of the Israelites to lapse into such paganism was effectively removed by making it illegal for them to slay an animal anywhere except before Jehovah. The nature of the worship that accompanied such pagan offerings is evident in Lev. 17:7, where play the harlot is mentioned. The Douay version renders it bluntly as commit fornication.

What man soever there be…
The regulation here was binding, not merely upon Israelites, but also upon the stranger that might have dwelt among them. The children of God must never yield to the unhallowed customs of their guests.F6

Cut off from among his people…
(Leviticus 17:4). The word from which this comes means to `root out,' `to maim,' or `destroy.' It is not certain whether it meant the death penalty or excommunication.F7 He hath shed blood (Leviticus 17:4) seems to indicate the type of blood guiltiness that required the capital penalty.


 
Verses 8, 9
And thou shalt say unto them, Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that offereth a burnt-offering or sacrifice, and bringeth it not unto the door of the tent of meeting, to sacrifice it unto Jehovah; that man shall be cut off from his people.

The function of these two verses is merely that of extending the law to include non-Israelites, of whom there were many. There simply was not to be allowed any sacrifices whatever among the Israelites, whether by themselves or others, except those that were made unto Jehovah and according to the sacred laws governing such sacrifices.


 
Verses 10-13
And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that eateth any manner of blood, I will set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, who taketh in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten; he shall pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.

"The reason for Israel's avoidance of eating blood is set out here more fully than anywhere else in the O.T."F8 It is clearly the religious significance of blood as being the device by which God procured atonement for sinners, not only under the O.T., but under the N.T. as well, that lay back of the prohibition. It should be remembered that this prohibition PRECEDED the Law of Moses (Genesis 9:4-6), and also that it was not relaxed even under the liberty and freedom of the New Covenant (Acts 15:20). The fact that a great many Christian people are not aware of this, coupled with the light esteem that some have for Divine regulations, makes it appropriate to explore the reasons back of this remarkable commandment a little more fully.

ON EATING BLOOD

Right here in this short paragraph lies the basis for the Jews' insistence upon eating only that which is "kosher," even to this day. The reasons for God's requirement in this particular are easy to see.

(1) It created and cultivated in the people of Israel a reverence and respect for their sacrifices, many of which required the shedding of blood.

(2) It was a perpetual reminder to them of the means of forgiveness and salvation. Even under the law, "Without the shedding of blood, there was no remission of sins" (Hebrews 9:22).

(3) It was designed to direct their attention to the Holy One, even Christ, who in the fullness of time would make an atonement for the sins of all people by the shedding of his blood.

(4) It was to provide a wall of separation between the Israel of God and the pagan world of unbelievers whose sacrifices included the eating, even the drinking, of blood.

(5) Also, "By refraining from eating flesh with blood in it, a man is honoring life."F9

Invariably, the loss of the blood is loss of the life, and it appears here that by the prohibition of eating blood God inculcated a respect for all life. Life is indeed a unique gift from God, and the sacredness of life is recognized and honored by this Divine regulation.

In the light of this, God intended that every man, upon seeing the blood of an animal, even slain for his food, should behold a reminder of the cost at which he himself had been cleansed. It was not a light thing in those ages for a man to "despise the blood." Therefore, mankind was instructed to honor it, even the blood of an animal, because that animal's blood was typical of the blood of Christ himself, the only means of human redemption.

Note, in the verses above, that all blood was considered sacred. Even the blood of a creature unfit for sacrifice was to be covered with dust, as a symbol of the inherent respect due to all blood. Even under the current dispensation of the grace of God, the ultimate sin is that of despising the blood of Christ:

"A man that set at naught Moses' law died without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:28-29).


 
Verses 14-16
For as to the life of all flesh, the blood thereof is [all one] with the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh; for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off. And every soul that eateth that which dieth of itself, or that which is torn of beasts, whether he be home-born or a sojourner, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even: then shall he be clean. But if he wash them not, nor bathe his flesh, then he shall bear his iniquity.

There are four short paragraphs in this chapter, but there are only two topics:

(1) the prohibition against offering sacrifices anywhere except at the tabernacle, and

(2) the law against eating blood.

Paragraphs 2 and 4 are merely extensions, in each case, of paragraphs 1 and 3. This paragraph relates to the subject of eating blood and is an extension of the regulation to include the prohibition against eating animals from which, due to the manner of their death, their blood had not been properly drained. Even the blood of those creatures not suitable for sacrifice was not to be poured out thoughtlessly, but was to be covered with dust to protect it from the voracity of other animals and to demonstrate the respect of the hunter for the sacredness of life.

Back in Lev. 17:10, the Lord said, "I will set my face against the soul that eateth blood," and the full meaning of such a declaration could be much more terrible than men may suppose. The full authority of God Himself underlies the restrictions give here, for the prohibition against eating blood was in no sense whatever a casual thing. The prohibition first appeared in Gen. 9:4. It has already been given twice in Leviticus (Lev. 3:17; 7:26), and it appeared again in Lev. 19:26, and also in Deut. 12:16, and in Deut. 15:23. Even a seventh time the prohibition will appear even in the New Covenant (Acts 15:20).

The near-universal connection of eating blood with the gross paganism of antiquity is frequently mentioned. Jamieson observed that, "It was customary with heathen sportsmen, when they killed any game or venison, to pour out the blood as a libation to the god of the chase."F10 Thus, in this, we have another example of God's strict concern to wean the children of Israel away from the pagan superstitions of their day. There were doubtless some of these which are not fully clear to people now, which may account for the fact that some of God's regulations for them might seem strange or surprising to us. However, in this matter of eating blood, it must be allowed that something far more important than separation from pagan practices is inherent in it.

Commentators have often taken the view that "now, men may eat blood." Meyrick, for example, stated that the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) continued the prohibition, "But the observance of the regulation was no longer commanded as a duty binding on all men, but as a concession to Jewish feelings, enabling Jewish and Gentile converts to live together in comfort."F11 There is also the possible explanation of that prohibition in Acts as being merely incidental to the prohibition of idolatry, and that the mention of eating blood was a mere description of the idolatry, the idolatry itself being the thing forbidden. Nevertheless, we cannot find any satisfaction with such explanations. The seven-fold prohibition occurring in all three dispensations of God's grace in both the O.T. and N.T., coupled with the Jewish respect for this law which is still honored in every country on earth, certainly favors the validity of the prohibition even today. If it was necessary for the church in Acts 15 to honor this rule to avoid offense to Jews who might be converted (as suggested by Meyrick), is it no less important to do so now for exactly the same reason?

Fables of all kinds have been constructed from God's instructions in this chapter, and one of them found in the Jewish Midrash is:

"When Cain slew his brother Abel and left the body lying on the ground unburied, the birds and animals came, dug a hole in the ground, and buried Abel in it. For this reason they were deemed deserving of having their blood covered with earth if they should meet a violent death!"F12

This shows how men have tried to rationalize God's command regarding blood, but the reason does not lie in such fabrications. The Jewish mind, especially, despite their acceptance of the ordinance even yet, does not seem to be able to make sense out of it. Orlinsky, for example, said, "The traditional words, `It is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life,' is hardly intelligible."F13 Of course, it is simply the symbolical meaning of shed blood as a memorial or reminder of the blood of Christ that endows the prohibition with sacred meaning.


Footnotes for Leviticus 17
1: F. Meyrick, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 261.
2: Oswald T. Allis, New Bible Commentary, Revised, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 157.
3: Merrfil F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 167.
4: Robert L. Cate, Teacher's Bible Commentary, Leviticus (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 89.
5: Oswald T. Allis, op. cit., p. 156.
6: W. Harvey Jellie, Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, Leviticus, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 219.
7: Robert O. Coleman, Wycliff Bible Commentary, Leviticus, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), p. 98.
8: Ronald E. Clements, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 48.
9: Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 245.
10: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), p. 85.
11: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 262.
11: Alexander Zusia Friedman, Wellsprings of Torah, Vol. 1 (New York: The Judaic Press, 1969).
13: Harry M. Orlinsky, Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 216.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Leviticus 17". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=le&chapter=017>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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