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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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LEVITICUS 1

PART ONE, REGARDING SACRIFICE (Lev. 1--7)

This introductory chapter sets the theme for all of Leviticus, which is concerned chiefly with the liturgical system of the Hebrew religion, together with the methods, materials, and occasions of its employment and functions. The first section of Leviticus (Lev. 1--7) is devoted to the institution of sacrifices, the burnt-offering, the meal-offering, the peace-offering, the sin-offering, and the guilt-offering being discussed in order, all of this first chapter dealing with the sacrifice of the burnt-offering.

Even some of those scholars who seek to late-date portions of Leviticus freely admit that it certainly contains much "very ancient"F1 material, and that, in its great essentials, it is a "divine revelation.F2 Our own view is that, in its entirety, the Book of Leviticus is from God, through Moses the great Lawgiver of Israel.

The question of the Mosaic authorship of Leviticus may not be properly raised with regard to this book. All that we have already written regarding Genesis and Exodus also properly applies here, for Leviticus is in no sense a separate book, being merely the third division of Moses' One Book, the Pentateuch. "There is nothing in it to separate it in respect to authenticity from either Exodus which precedes it, or Numbers which follows it."F3 Critics seeking a later date sometimes seize upon Lev. 18:28 where God mentioned the expulsion of the peoples of Canaan, claiming that this proves Leviticus was written long after the Exodus. This is due solely to a misunderstanding of what the passage actually says. God, in that verse, spoke of the expulsion of the Canaanites in relation to the time when God would expel the Israelites themselves.

Furthermore, the past perfect tenses here, as so frequently in prophetic revelations, are most certainly a reference to what was already regarded as done in the mind of God, because it was an action already determined on and in the process of being immediately executed. See a full discussion of this by Meyrick in the reference above.

(See the Introduction for discussion of some of these questions.)


 
Verses 1, 2
And Jehovah called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When any man of you offereth an oblation unto Jehovah, ye shall offer your oblation of the cattle, [even] of the herd and of the flock.

And Jehovah called unto Moses…
This is the correct order of the Hebrew words in this passage, the connective and indicating that Leviticus continues the narrative at the end of Exodus.F4 This coordinate conjunction joins all the books of the Pentateuch, showing that they are a SINGLE book by a SINGLE author -- Moses!

Out of the tent of meeting…
Some think that this is a reference to that special tent in which, for awhile, God communed with Moses, but we agree with Bamberger that, according to the usage of this same expression in Lev. 1:3, Before the Lord plainly means in the Tent, in front of the inner Shrine.F5

An oblation…
This word means any grateful or solemn offering. It comes from a technical Hebrew word that is identical with Korban,F6 and has the meaning of something brought near to the altar. This is the same word that Jesus spoke of in Mark 7:11.

Ye shall offer. of the cattle ... of the herd and of the flock ..…
The last phrases here are restrictive with regard to the kinds of cattle that could be offered. The word cattle is an inclusive term that refers not only to flocks and herds, but to many unsuitable animals such as horses, camels, asses, swine, etc. The reference to herd and flock shows the kinds of cattle that were suitable.

CONCERNING SACRIFICE

There are many opinions relative to how the institution of sacrifice began. Dummelow supposed that it came about from natural human instinct,F7 but Richard Collins appears to be absolutely correct in his affirmation that, "There is nothing whatever in human nature" that could have invented or suggested sacrifice as the institution appears in the Holy Scriptures.F8 It is our deep conviction of a lifetime that the institution of sacrifice was revealed by Almighty God in the gates of Paradise and that Cain and Abel were divinely instructed regarding the manner, material, and occasion of their offerings. We find no other way to understand the Biblical precept that Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice "by faith." The near certainty that the sacrifice commanded was a lamb appears in the Sacred Word that the Lamb was slain from the "foundation of the world." Noah offered sacrifices upon coming down out of the ark. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all offered sacrifices. To separate their actions from God's revelation and commandment appears to us an impossibility.

Furthermore, God's specific instructions given here with regard to sacrifices points up the contrast between paganism that surrounded Israel and the worship of the one true God. The animals that Israel was commanded to offer were those worshipped by many of the pagans, and other animals held suitable for sacrifice by the pagans were proscribed in the worship of God.

The sacrifices of the O.T. were not merely allowed by God, but were commanded. They were therefore necessary and important. First, in the aggregate, they bore witness to the central fact of revelation that "without the shedding of blood" there can be no forgiveness of sins. Secondly, they were in many particulars (especially in the case of the paschal lamb) typical of the ultimate Sacrifice on Calvary. Christ was the lamb slain from the foundation of the world! And he is depicted in Revelation as a Lamb, having been slain, on the very throne of God Himself!

What a misunderstanding it is, therefore, that some have presumptuously sought to downgrade the whole institution of sacrifice. Certain sayings of the prophets in Amos 5:22ff; Jer. 7:22; 1 Sam. 15:22,23; Isa. 1:11-13; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:6-8, etc., have been grossly misinterpreted, resulting in the false conclusion that, "The pre-exilic prophets rejected all formal worship and called for a religion of ethical conduct only."F9 However, every one of the passages cited is nothing more than a protest against the substitution of ritual for morality. The whole teaching of the Bible attests the necessity, importance, and divine origin of the institution of sacrifice. (See my comments on all of the passages cited from the minor prophets.)


 
Verses 3, 4
If his oblation be a burnt-offering of the herd, he shall offer it a male without blemish: he shall offer it at the door of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before Jehovah. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

Burnt offering…
In some ways, this was the most important of all the sacrifices. First it could be offered by men of any race or nation,F10 being distinguished in this from all other Jewish sacrifices. Also, it was an essential element in the extremely important ritual of the Day of Atonement, which is indeed suggested by the terminology here. Thus, right here at the threshold of God's instructions to Israel was a witness to the worldwide purpose of his divine grace that included all nations. The great difference in the burnt-offering was that it was wholly consumed by fire, except the skin which was a prerequisite of the priests. Other sacrifices were, in part, eaten by the priests. The Hebrew word for burnt-offering is [~`olah]; it is related to the word holocaust. A very high degree of sanctityF11 pertained to the burnt-offering.

A male without blemish…
This is not for the purpose of indicating any superiority of the male over the female, but was due to the typical intent of conforming to the fact that the world's Redeemer would be a MALE without blemish.

Offer it at the door of the tent of meeting…
This symbolized the intention of the worshipper in presenting himself as submissive to the Law of God. Paul's reference in Rom. 12:1 reflects the intention here.

He shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering…
Despite hand being used in the singular, The Talmud inferred from Lev. 16:21, that both the worshipper's hands should be imposed upon the sacrifice.F12 Adam Clarke listed the implications of this as follows:

(1) the worshipper acknowledged the sacrifice as his own;

(2) he offered it as an atonement for his sins;

(3) he thus admitted his own worthiness of death due to sin;

(4) he entreated God to accept the life of the sacrifice as a substitution for his own life.F13

It shall be accepted for him to make an atonement for him…
Four synonyms for atonement are propitiation, expiation, reconciliation, and satisfaction. Of all these, propitiation is to be preferred, because, This word conveys the idea both of the pacification of wrath, and of the covering of transgression.F14 The first of these meanings is absent from the other synonyms. A fuller discussion of the atonement will be given in Lev. 16. It would be erroneous here to understand atonement in any absolute sense. The actual atonement for mankind would never be achieved until the Son of God suffered on the Cross. Therefore, Meyrick was correct in the view that, It is not the sin of the sinner, but the sinner himself who is covered in the type of atonement visible here.F15 Only Jesus Christ our Lord took away the sin of the world. Of course, these sacrifices were a type of the ultimate atonement which appeared in the death of Christ.


 
Verses 5-9
And he shall kill the bullock before Jehovah: and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall present the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is at the door of the tent of meeting. And he shall flay the burnt-offering, and cut it into its pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay wood in order upon the fire; and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall lay the pieces, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: but its inwards and its legs shall he wash with water: and the priest shall burn the whole on the altar, for a burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Jehovah.

A number of things in the procedure here were to be done by the worshipper himself, and these are in addition to his bringing it, laying his hands upon it, and presenting it at the door of the tent of meeting. Note, however, that the priests were to put on the fire and the wood. Bamberger called this a "discrepancy" from Lev. 9:24, where it is said the fire came "from heaven." This is merely another of the feeble pseudocons that critics love to find in the Bible. It is inherent in every line of the Leviticus narrative that the fire had to be rekindled, rekindled and rekindled continually by the priests; and, as Gordon stated it, "The fire was not allowed to go out, but must often have smoldered."F16

Shall burn the whole on the altar…
Meyrick informs us that the Hebrew here carries the meaning of: the whole substance is made to ascend unto the Lord;F17 and Orlinsky rendered the passage as turn ... into smoke.F18 This, of course, is scientifically accurate. Smoke is actually the substance in another form of that which is burned. Thus, the offering literally ascended.


 
Verses 10-13
And if his oblation be of the flock, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt-offering; he shall offer it a male without blemish. And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before Jehovah: and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall sprinkle its blood upon the altar round about. And he shall cut it into its pieces, with its head and its fat; and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: but the inwards and the legs shall he wash with water; and the priest shall offer the whole, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Jehovah.

This whole paragraph is repetitive, stating simply that the same procedure followed for the bullock was also to be followed in case the offering was a sheep or a goat.

The significance of the whole burnt-offering was very great. In this type of sacrifice, the worshipper kept back nothing for himself. Neither he nor his friends used or enjoyed any part of it. It belonged wholly to God. The meaning of this lay in such an acknowledgment of God's total authority. It was also an act of submission and a pledge of obedience.

The specific manner of doing all of this is amazing, even such a thing as the northward direction from the altar being designated as the place where the sacrifice was to be slain! All such particular directions have the utility of teaching that only God is capable of revealing the manner in which He must be approached in worship. Can it be any less true today?

Of a sweet savor unto Jehovah…
This is an anthropomorphism in which what pleases men is understood also as pleasing to God. The same expression is found in this chapter three times -- Lev. 1:9,13,17. This figure also appears in the N.T. as well. Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell (Ephesians 5:2). In appealing to a metaphor found so often in the O.T., Paul likewise taught the typical significance of all these things as being foreshadowings of the great spiritual realities destined to appear in the fullness of time in the spiritual kingdom of the Son of God.


 
Verses 14-17
And if his oblation to Jehovah be a burnt-offering of birds, then he shall offer his oblation of turtle-doves, or of young pigeons. And the priest shall bring it unto the altar, and wring off its head, and burn it on the altar; and the blood thereof shall be drained out on the side of the altar; and he shall take away its crop with the filth thereof, and cast it beside the altar on the east part, in the place of the ashes: and he shall rend it by the wings thereof, [but] shall not divide it asunder; and the priest shall burn it upon the altar, upon the wood that is upon the fire: it is a burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Jehovah.

These instructions also follow the general pattern laid down with reference to the greater offering of the bullock, or of the sheep or goats, the variations being merely accommodation to the smaller size of the offering. Notice the close correspondence between these instructions and those God gave to Abraham in Gen. 15:10, just another indication, of many, indicating that in the entire Pentateuch, we are dealing not with several books but with one!

Without doubt, the provision here for an oblation of birds was also an accommodation to the poverty of some who would not have been able to bring a sheep or bullock. As Unger noted, "Whether he brought much or little, in God's sight it was acceptable if brought in faith, in dependence on divine grace."F19

Even in the matter of the smaller offering allowed for the poor, not just any kind of bird would do. Pigeons and doves were allowed; birds of prey or eaters of carrion were disallowed. Note the appropriateness of the dove, for example:

(1) it suggests sorrowing and innocence;

(2) it is monogamous, mating only once;

(3) in all ages, it has been the symbol of peace;

(4) it is a messenger, as when the dove brought back the green leaf to Noah;

(5) the carrier pigeon is still used as a messenger;

(6) naturalists tell us that the dove has no gall, anciently understood as a source of bitterness and contention.F20

(7) In time, the Holy Spirit himself would descend upon the Lord of glory in a dove-like form!

In this connection, it should also be remembered that when Joseph and Mary observed the ceremonies of purification in the Jewish Temple for the purification of Mary, they brought the humble oblation of the poor (Luke 2:24). Were all of these regulations merely rules conceived of and laid down by the priests? No. They are called specifically "The Law of the Lord" in that passage in Luke just cited.

On Lev. 1:14, it is appropriate to mention the denial expressed by Clements to the effect that the instructions regarding doves and pigeons "could not" have originated with Moses, because "these birds were not available in the wilderness."F21 Such a fanciful objection ignores the almost universal appearance of these birds all over the earth. Noah even had doves on the ark! Like every other unbelieving denial of God's Word, this one also carries within it its own refutation. Significantly, Clements did not tell us where he got that information regarding the scarcity of doves in the wilderness! Maybe it was his own imagination?

Or of young pigeons…
(Leviticus 1:14). The literal meaning of this phrase is sons of pigeons,F22 which does not necessarily refer to the age of the birds. In fact, Orlinsky stated that in this passage the reference is to indicate merely the speciesF23 rather than the age of the birds.

Some of the Jewish comments on these verses are amazing. Rabbi Rashi, for example, stated that the divine instructions given in Lev. 1:16, to cast away the bird's crop and not to use it as part of the offering was due to the fact that, "birds feed on what is stolen"!F24 It appears to us that the conception of birds "stealing" anything is incorrect. The Bible says, "Your heavenly Father feedeth them" (Matthew 6:26), and it can hardly be allowed that God feeds them with "stolen goods"! The word "filth" appearing in this context is the explanation of why the crop was not offered.


Footnotes for Leviticus 1
1: Theodore H. Robinson, Twentieth Century Bible Commentary (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1955), p. 142.
2: G. Henton Davies, 20th Century Bible Commentary (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1955), p. 142.
3: F. Meyriek, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. vii.
4: Bernard J. Bamberger, The Torah, a Modern Commentary (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1979), p. 10.
5: Ibid.
6: W. F. Lofthouse, Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Leviticus (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 197.
7: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 87.
8: Richard Collins, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. viii.
9: As evaluated by Bernard J. Bamberger, op. cit., p. 5.
10: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), p. 432.
11: Bernard J. Bamberger, op. cit., p. 9.
12: Ibid., p. 14.
13: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1 (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), p. 507.
14: William Wilson, Wilson's Old Testament Word Studies (McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company), p. 24.
15: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 3.
16: Robert P. Gordon, New Layman's Bible Commentary, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 216.
17: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 3.
18: Harry M. Orlinsky, Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 205.
19: Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, Reprint, 1981), p. 151.
20: C. Gordon Brownville, Symbols of the Holy Spirit (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1945), p. 19.
21: Ronald E. Clements, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 18.
22: Robert P. Gordon, op. cit., p. 217.
23: Harry M. Orlinsky, op. cit., p. 205.
24: Rabbi Rashi, Wellsprings of Torah, Leviticus (New York: The Judaic Press, 1969), p. 200.

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 1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=le&chapter=001>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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