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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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 Chapter 21
Chapter 23
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This chapter concludes the long Third Section of Leviticus that began back with Lev. 11. The general subject of this part of Leviticus is, "Uncleanness and Its Putting Away."F1 This final chapter of the section deals with laws of cleanness for the priests, the regulations on who may eat the things most holy, and holy, and various regulations of the sacrifices required for cleansing, the required perfection in sacrifices, the animals that may or may not be offered, and other special laws. Lofthouse provided the following paragraph summaries for his chapter:F2

Lev. 22:1-9: Priestly laws relative to temporary uncleanness; animals killed by other animals, or which died naturally, forbidden.

Lev. 22:10-16: Rules for priests' families and who may eat of the dues; hired servants and guests forbidden to eat; slaves allowed to eat; rule on the childless widow; penalty upon those who ate unlawfully.

Lev. 22:17-25: Conditions to be satisfied in the offerings for certain sacrifices; priests responsible for examining animals thus offered; malformations allowed in some offerings, denied in others; castrated animals unfit for any type of sacrifice.

Lev. 22:26-33: Rules directed to all Israel; age at which animals could be offered; animal and its offspring not to be offered on same day; necessity of observing all the rules in offering sacrifices; emphasis upon the holiness of all the people.

Verses 1-9
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, that they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel, which they hallow unto me, and that they profane not my holy name: I am Jehovah. Say unto them, Whosoever he be of all your seed throughout your generations, that approacheth unto the holy things, which the children of Israel hallow unto Jehovah, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from before me: I am Jehovah. What man soever of the seed of Aaron is a leper, or hath an issue; he shall not eat of the holy things, until he be clean. And whoso toucheth anything that is unclean by the dead, or a man whose seed goeth from him; or whosoever toucheth any creeping thing, whereby he may be made unclean, or a man of whom he may take uncleanness, whatsoever uncleanness he hath; the soul that toucheth any such shall be unclean until the even, and shall not eat of the holy things, unless he bathe his flesh in water. And when the sun is down, he shall be clean; and afterward he shall eat of the holy things, because it is his bread. That which dieth of itself, or is torn of beasts, he shall not eat, to defile himself therewith: I am Jehovah. They shall therefore keep my charge, lest they bear sin for it, and die therein, if they profane it: I am Jehovah who sanctifieth them.

The motivation for strict obedience of these commandments is simply the oft-repeated, "I am Jehovah" (Leviticus 22:1,2,8,9). The teaching is that even the consecrated priests while suffering uncleanness from: (1) diseases; (2) discharges; (3) contact with dead men or animals, were NOT allowed to eat of the holy food or to perform any of their customary sacred duties UNTIL their ceremonial cleansing had occurred, which ceremony included bathing and waiting until the beginning of a new day at sunset. The prospect of a leper's recovery which was allowed in Lev. 22:4 shows that "leprosy," as used in Leviticus, included less serious skin diseases than true leprosy.

Separate themselves from…
(Leviticus 22:2). This expression is misleading, and is better rendered: `Be scrupulous about' handling the sacred items of the tabernacle.F3 The Septuagint (LXX) has give heed to; and Gordon followed the New English Bible: Be careful in the handling ofF4 the sacred articles of divine service.

Shall be cut off from before me…
(Leviticus 22:3). Clements gave the meaning of this as, banishment from the priesthood for any infringement of this rule.F5 In a nutshell, this paragraph simply means that even the priests otherwise qualified, but ceremonially unclean, could not eat of the holy food until the cause of their uncleanness ceased and ceremonial cleansing had taken place.

Verses 10-16
There shall no stranger eat of the holy thing: a sojourner of the priest's, or a hired servant, shall not eat of the holy thing. But if a priest buy any soul, the purchase of his money, he shall eat of it; and such as are born in his house, they shall eat of his bread. And if a priest's daughter be married unto a stranger, she shall not eat of the heave-offering of the holy things. But if a priest's daughter be a widow, or divorced, and have no child, and be returned unto her father's house, as in her youth, she shall eat of her father's bread: but there shall no stranger eat thereof. And if a man eat of the holy thing unwittingly, then he shall put the fifth part thereof unto it, and shall give unto the priest the holy thing. And they shall not profane the holy things of the children of Israel, which they offer unto Jehovah, and [so] cause them to bear the iniquity that bringeth guilt, when they eat their holy things: for I am Jehovah who sanctifieth them.

The holy thing. the holy things ..…
As used in this passage, these words are a Hebrew idiom for the sacred food designed in the laws of sacrifice for the upkeep of the priesthood. Throughout Leviticus, we have observed repeatedly that certain portions of specific sacrifices were the property of the priests to supply food and other necessities.

Stranger. sojourner ... hired servant ..…
(Leviticus 22:10). In a general sense, this meant anyone who was not of the priestly line, but an exception was made in the case of a slave bought by the priest's money, also, under certain circumstances, in the case of a childless widow or divorcee returned to her father's house.

Provision was also made in these verses for one who unknowingly ate the forbidden food. The sin required the return of the amount eaten plus a penalty of twenty percent (Leviticus 22:14). "Of course, the reference is to a non-priest."F6

And they shall not profane…
(Leviticus 22:15). Orlinsky gave the meaning as, The priests must not allow ... by giving the holy things as food for laymen.F7

Verses 17-25
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel, and say unto them, Whosoever he be of the house of Israel, or of the sojourners in Israel, that offereth his oblation, whether it be any of their vows, or any of their freewill-offerings, which they offer unto Jehovah for a burnt-offering; that ye may be accepted, [ye shall offer] a male without blemish, of the bullocks, of the sheep, or of the goats. But whatsoever hath a blemish, that shall ye not offer: for it shall not be acceptable for you. And whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace-offerings unto Jehovah to accomplish a vow, or for a freewill-offering, of the herd or of the flock, it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein. Blind, or broken, or maimed, or having a wen, or scurvy, or scabbed, ye shall not offer these unto Jehovah, nor make an offering by fire of them upon the altar unto Jehovah. Either a bullock or a lamb that hath anything superfluous or lacking in his parts, that mayest thou offer for a freewill-offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted. That which hath its stones bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut, ye shall not offer unto Jehovah; neither shall ye do [thus] in your land. Neither from the hand of a foreigner shall ye offer the bread of your God of any of these; because their corruption is in them, there is a blemish in them: they shall not be accepted for you.

The emphasis throughout Leviticus is upon perfection, an emphasis that seems to be carried to the very limits of insistence, and it becomes clearer and clearer as these long chapters have unraveled that the big message in this entire Third Book of Moses is geared precisely to this Divine requirement of perfection in anything that God will accept. (See further on this at the end of the chapter.)

Having a wen…
(Leviticus 22:22) is explained as having an ulcer; and, Anything superfluous or lacking in his parts (Leviticus 22:23) has these variations in ancient manuscripts: Any limb overgrown or stunted, or having cropped ears or tail.F8

Or cut…
(Leviticus 22:24) is a reference to castration, a practice absolutely forbidden to the Jews. Stones bruised, crushed, or broken, or cut (Leviticus 22:24) are, The four ways in which this mutilation was generally done.F9

Notice that the animals with "superfluous or lacking parts" (Leviticus 22:23) were suitable for freewill-offerings, but not for the fulfillment of a vow. This may have been due to the fact that a vow would have given an offering the same status as a debt. Debts could not be paid with inferior animals.

Neither shall ye do thus in your land…
(Leviticus 22:24) leaves open, unnecessarily, the antecedent of `thus' (is it `ye shall not offer unto the Lord?)', in Orlinsky's opinion. He rendered the passage, Ye shall have no such practices.F10

Verses 26-33
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, When a bullock, or a sheep, or a goat, is brought forth, then it shall be seven days under the dam; and from the eighth day and thenceforth it shall be accepted for the oblation of an offering made by fire unto Jehovah. And whether it be cow or ewe, ye shall not kill it and its young both in one day. And when ye sacrifice a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto Jehovah, ye shall sacrifice it that ye may be accepted. On the same day it shall be eaten; ye shall leave none of it until the morning: I am Jehovah. Therefore shall ye keep my commandments, and do them: I am Jehovah. And ye shall not profane my holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am Jehovah who halloweth you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am Jehovah.

Note the reiteration of "I am Jehovah" in each of the last four verses. This paragraph gives further instructions regarding the sacrifices.

An alleged `contradiction' is sometimes claimed with reference to Lev. 22:30, where the sacrifice was commanded to be eaten "on the same day"; whereas, in Lev. 19:6, two days were allowed for eating it.F11 The explanation is simple enough. The rules for the priests were MORE STRICT than those for all the people, and it was "the congregation of Israel" (Leviticus 19:2) who were allowed two days, but here "Aaron and his sons," the priests, were the principal persons addressed (Leviticus 22:17).

Ye shall not kill it and its young both in one day…
There appears to be built into this law a sentimental respect for all the creation of God. Other possible reasons are:

(1) "During the young creature's first week of existence, it had not arrived at the perfection of its individual and separate life."F12

(2) "The refusal to permit the offering of a cow or a ewe and its young on the same day may be in opposition to a Canaanite ritual in which this was practiced."F13 The custom of boiling a kid in its mother's milk, mentioned earlier, was also forbidden, and it seems certain that God's reason for prohibiting that lay in the fact that it was a prominent pagan rite. This may be another example of the same thing.

(3) Dummelow thought that, "This prohibition probably rests, on humanitarian grounds. The Mosaic law enjoins kindness to animals."F14

(4) Jamieson wrote that there lay back of this law, "A feeling of humanity and tenderness for the dam (mother), as well as the purpose of securing the sacrifices from all appearance of unfeeling cruelty."F15 Such varied comments indicate how intrigued the human mind is by this prohibition.


The typical meaning of these chapters with their constant reiteration of "it shall be perfect," thunders the message from God that nothing short of absolute perfection can be pleasing to God. And, from this, it must be inferred that only those who are perfect in the ultimate sense shall at last share the presence and fellowship of God in heaven. Did not Jesus our Lord make it a part of the Magna Carta of our holy religion? "Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Our version (the ASV) blundered in softening this from the imperative of the KJV, "Be ye therefore perfect." This is not a prophecy of what we shall be, but an order for us to "be perfect." Many versions and translations have likewise diminished the impact of this by rendering the Greek word of our N.T. as "full grown," "mature," "complete," "finished," etc. But as Vine expressed it, in the passage in Matt. 5:48, where people are commanded to "be perfect," the word is used "carrying the idea of goodness without reference to maturity."F16 Note that people are to be perfect in the SAME sense that God is perfect.

There is an extensive theology connected with this, and we can only summarize it here. First, the absolute and holy perfection required by God is simply not achievable by human beings. How then shall anyone ever receive the inheritance of the saints in light? The answer is found in Col. 1:28,29 where Paul speaks of presenting every man "PERFECT IN CHRIST." Ah, there is the SECRET of eternal life. Christ indeed was perfect, and is perfect. Those who are baptized into him, having confessed him, and having denied themselves, are thus united with Christ. And they are in Christ, and, in a sense, are Christ, being a portion of his spiritual body, and thus attaining "in him" the required holiness and perfection without which no man shall see God (Hebrews 12:14). No one shall ever be saved as John Doe, for all who will ever be saved shall be saved "as Christ." (See the full discussion of this in my commentary on Eph. 1:4.)

Footnotes for Leviticus 22
1: F. Meyrick, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. v.
2: W. F. Lofthouse, Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Leviticus (London: T.C. and E.C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 209.
3: Harry M. Orlinsky, Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 218.
4: Robert P. Gordon, New Layman's Bible Commentary, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 231.
5: Ronald E. Clements, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 58.
6: Robert O. Coleman, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Old Testament, Leviticus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), p. 102.
7: Harry M. Orlinsky, op. cit., p. 218.
8: Cross-Reference Bible, edited by Harold E. Monser (New York: The Cross-Reference Bible Company, 1910), p. 223.
9: Robert O. Coleman, op. cit., p. 102.
10: Harry M. Orlinsky, op. cit., p. 218.
11: Ronald E. Clements, op. cit., p. 59.
12: F. Meyrick, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 329.
13: Ronald E. Clements, op. cit., p. 59.
14: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 98.
15: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), p. 90.
16: W. E. Vine, Vine's Greek Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1940), p. 174.

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 22". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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