The Bible Educator

Edited by the Rev. E. H. Plumptree, M.A.,

The Pentateuch.


By The Very Rev. E. Payne Smith, D.D., Dean of Canterbury.

LEVITICUS, the name of the third book of the Pentateuch, is properly an adjective, and was given to it because this section of the Law is almost entirely occupied with the rules and regulations which the Levites were to observe in the service of the sanctuary. But similar matter is found both in Exodus and Numbers, and it does not appear that these three books were originally divided from one another. Certainly the Hebrew name, "And he called," taken as usual from the opening words, properly belongs only to the twenty-fourth section of the fifty-four into which the Jews divide the whole Pentateuch, and which consists of Lev. i. - vi. 7.

As usual the book is extremely desultory in its arrangement; in some instances laws are repeated; in others those upon the same subject are separated by extraneous matter. We seem, in short, to have them as Moses from time to time enacted and published them in the wilderness. But while there is little doubt that the sacrificial and ritual observances of the Jews were the especial work of This great lawgiver, yet it would be a mistake to suppose that they were entirely new. The Jews had received a sacrificial system from the patriarchs, and in Goshen had some sort of constitution both la civil and religious matters. There are reasons for supposing that the Feast of Tabernacles was thus not a recent institution, but an old observance of the people. But Moses remodelled everything, and adapted it to the new state of things which was to be established in Palestine, and also under the spirit of prophecy made the ritual of the tabernacle rich in types of the sacrifice of our Lord.

From the time of Abraham the Israelites had been a people in covenant with God; and circumcision was the outward and visible sign of that covenant, answering to baptism with us. This rite apparently had been strictly observed in Egypt (Josh. v. 5), but most strangely Moses in Midian had neglected to circumcise his own sons (Exod. iv. 24 — 26), nor was circumcision practised in the wilderness (Josh. v. 2 - 5). Yet upon it all the rest depended; for the sacrificial system supposed the worshipper to be already in covenant with God, and was his appointed means of approach to him.

The first great division of sacrifices is into (1) those of animals, and (2) those of meat and drink for the altar in the court, and of meat and incense for the holy place within the tabernacle. The latter is the minchah, or " unbloody offering," referred to so strikingly in Mai. i. 11, as that which under the Gospel is to become universal in the Church, to the exclusion of animal sacrifices. Of these, besides special offerings, such as the paschal lamb, the red heifer, and the scape-goat. there are three chief classes — namely, those in which the bodies were entirely burnt; sin-offerings, which were only partly burnt, while the rest was given to the priests; and peace-offerings, in which the flesh of the victim was divided between the altar, the priest, and the sacrificer. Such a sacrifice was in its main aspect a feast.

The animals offered in sacrifice wore strictly confined to those five kinds which Abraham had offered (Gen. XV. 9). Probably they were the only animals which, in those days, were both regarded as clean and were domesticated. Oxen, sheep, and goats were man's earliest friends, and of birds the domestic fowl, originally a native of India, was probably unknown in Palestine until the time of Solomon, while the dove and pigeon were reared in cotes in very early days. Great care was taken in the selection of the animals, which were to be entirely free from blemish, and, with one special exception— the bullock of seven years old offered by Gideon — were not to exceed the age of three years, the limit also of Abraham's sacrifice. When brought to the altar the victim was carefully examined by the priest, and if pronounced perfect was bound to the north side, and the person who offered it having first pressed his hands upon its head, himself then slew it, though apparently he might appoint a priest as his deputy. The priest then took the blood, and sprinkled it round about the altar, or rather poured it out of the bowl into a channel formed round the rim of the altar, while the sacrificer was engaged in flaying the carcase and cutting it into pieces.

Thus far the rites wore the same in all cases; but in the sin-offerings the priest had to take some of the blood with his finger, and touch with it the horns of the altar, while the rest was poured out at its base. If the sin-offering was for the whole congregation, or for the high priest, some of the blood was also brought within the sanctuary, and the priest sprinkled it with his finger seven times before the vail, and put some of it upon the horns of the altar of incense. No doubt there was some means contrived to permit the blood to drain away from the altar; not perhaps in the wilderness, where sacrifices wore very rare (,Amos v. 25), but afterwards in Palestine. In Jerusalem we are told that a drain conveyed the blood from the altar to the brook Cedron.

Burning a whole victim must have been a difficult process, but apparently it was resorted to only in the more solemn sacrifices. Such a sacrifice was called 'olah, "an ascending," because the odour of the victim went up with the smoke; occasionally, however, it is called kalil, " whole, complete," and we are then probably to understand that the burning was continued till the whole was actually consumed. In all cases the victim was cut in pieces, which were first sprinkled with salt, and then arranged upon the pile of wood 'in order," i.e., the hind-quarters were placed lowermost; then the entrails and viscera, carefully washed, and the fat; next the fore-quarters, and finally the head at the top.

In the case of sin and peace offerings the only parts burnt were the kidneys with the fat round them and the fat covering or contained in the intestines. The Jews carefully distinguished this internal fat, called cheler, from the fat upon the carcase itself. The latter was to he eaten, but in no case whatsoever might the cheler be eaten. It is the part which with us goes to the tallow-chandler, though we eat the kidneys and the suet round them. In the case of sheep the fat tail was also to be burnt (Lev. iii. 9).

In most sacrifices a very considerable portion of the victim was the perquisite of the priests. Of the burnt-offerings, the flesh being entirely consumed upon the altar, the hides alone remained their property. Of the sin and trespass offerings the whole of the carcase seems to have been given them, but as the flesh was considered "most holy," it was to be reverently eaten within the precincts of the tabernacle (Lev. vi. 2.5, 261. Of the peace-offerings, the brisket and right shoulder were the priests' share, and might be taken home for the use of their families. The rest belonged to the sacrificer, who with it feasted his family and friends. Two curious rites were observed in dedicating those portions of the victim reserved for pious uses. The shoulder, which belonged to the priest who had performed the sacrifice, was heaved, i.e., was lifted up, apparently once only, before the Lord; while the breast, which was for the common use of all the priests, was waved, i.e., was moved to and fro, several tunes. Both these symbolical actions represented the setting of anything apart for the service of Jehovah. Thus the offerings for the building of the tabernacle, the gold, silver, fine linen, jewels, &.C., were heaved (Exod. xxv. 2, marg.); while the silver and bronze were waved (xxxv. 22). A meat and drink offering, consisting of flour, oil, and wine, accompanied every burnt-offering and peace-offering, but not the sin-offerings. A small portion of each was consumed upon the altar, and the rest belonged to the priest.

Most of the sacrifices were voluntary and occasional offerings, but some were of a national character. Thus every morning and evening a lamb of a year old, i.e., a full-grown sheep, was burnt upon the altar with its appropriate meat-offerings. By this burnt-offering was symbolized the daily consecration of the nation to Jehovah; while the mincliahs, or meat-offerings, were partly eucharistic, being the sanctification of man's food to his use by the offering of a portion of it to God; and further, as the offerings were not of food in its natural state, Init prepared by human labour, they also signified that all our works are due to God, and should be consecrated to his service.

Though both the bloody and unbloody sacrifices were known from the earliest times (Gen. iv. 3, 4), yet it was Moses who first arranged them systematically. He too brought out the mystical significance of the blood. In Abel's sacrifice it is the fat which is especially mentioned; and burnt-offerings, consisting probably in the main in burning the fat of the victim, were the usual mode of worship with the patriarchs. Sin-offerings seem to have been entirely unknown till the Law, but we have an instauce of peace-offerings in the sacrifices slain by Jacob, which were followed by a feast, at which the flesh of the victims formed the choicest portion of the repast (Gen. xxxi. 54).

The idea of the peace-offering is plainly that of a reconciliation. Just as Jacob's sacrifices consumed in friendly union showed that he and Laban were friends, so the sacrifice partly burnt upon the altar, partly eaten by the priests, but chiefly consumed at a feast by the sacrificer and his friends, signified that he was. in covenant and amity with God. But such a sacrifice in its full signification could be offered only by one whoso conscience was at peace. Like the Lord's Supper with us, it was the token of acceptance. The worshipper can sit at the table of the King only when he is acknowledged to be his true and leal follower.

Very different was the idea of the sin-offering. It spoke of a conscience ill at ease, and brooding over the breach between itself and God. Naturally, therefore, it was the creation of the law; for " by the law is the knowledge of sin " (Rom. iii. 20). And apparently it was only to be offered by a penitent. A sinner who persisted in his sin was " cut off from among the people " (Numb. xv. 30); there was no way of access to God provided for him. But sin-offerings were for those who were in communion with God, but were temporarily under his displeasure. They were to be offered, therefore, either for offences committed through ignorance or inadvertence, or for offences followed by repentance.

But the burnt-offering was the one ancient form of sacrifice, of which the rest were but modifications. In them, too, a part was reverently consumed by fire upon the altar, but in it the whole victim was offered to God. Its name, however, 'olah, " an ascending," shows that its main idea was not so much that of the destruction of the victim, on the head of which the offerer had pressed his hands, as the entire dedication of the believer — body, soul, and spirit — to God. He was to mount upwards to God, to surrender himself to him, and endeavour to do his will. And it was this devotion of the soul to God, of the creature to the Creator, which made the burnt-offering a " sweet savour " to Him. Man rising above the earth and mounting heavenwards is, in all ages, the fulfilling of our heavenly Father's will, and was the lesson of this the earliest form of sacrifice.

And this form of sacrifice seems to have been common to all branches of the Semitic race. When Jethro visited his son-in-law, he offered burnt-offerings and also peace-offerings; for these latter must have been the sacrifice at which Jethro feasted Aaron and all the elders of Israel (Exod. xviii. 12). In retaining these Moses was working upon the old lines; but it was left to him to reveal the significance of the blood. Till his time no special importance seems to have been attached to it. It is in the Lcvitical Law that its spiritual meaning is fully developed. Its mystical meaning hath been pointed out long before when Noah was forbidden to eat it, as being the life, that is, the physical means by which animal life is supported. As such it represented the higher element in man. On the one side was his flesh and bones, the material and earthly components of his being; on the other was the blood, which animated them and carried to them that whereby they wore maintained in existence. Withdraw the blood, and they fell back by an inevitable decay to that dust out of which they had been taken. The blood, then, was the symbol of the immaterial, of that which lives by itself, and is indestructible and immortal. In short, it was the soul, and in the Hebrew the word used to Noah literally signifies the soul. " Flesh with the soul thereof, which is the blood thereof, ye shall not eat" (Gen. ix. 4). And so again, " For as to the soul of all flesh, its blood is for its soul " (Lev. xvii. 1-1). In all cases, therefore, it was holy, and might never be eaten, for it was God's. As the symbol of the immaterial and immortal, it was sacred to Him who is immaterial and immortal.

It was in the passover that Moses first brought cut its typical meaning. In many ways this sacrifice stood apart from the rest of the Levitical institutions; for each head of a family was himself the priest, who not only was to slay the victim, but even to sprinkle the blood upon the lintels (Exod. xii. 7). No part, too, of this sacrifice was burnt, but the whole was eaten by the people. The blood alone was God's part, and was offered to him as a propitiation for the first-born. Sprinkled with it, the house was protected from the inroads of the destroying angel. And so the blood of our Lord is the propitiation for the souls of men. By death he offered his soul as a sacrifice to God, and so made atonement for our sins. And the lamb was not to be burnt, but eaten; it was not to be consumed by fire, but to be the food and nourishment of the sacrificer; and thus it symbolised the Christian's duty of feeding spiritually upon Christ; and the Passover became the type first of Christ's death, and then of the rite whereby that death is showed forth — the Supper of the Lord.

In the sin-offerings the person of the sacrificer was touched with the blood, while some of it was put upon the horns of the altar, or sprinkled before the vail, and the rest poured out at the base of the altar. All these ceremonies were now, and symbolised the sanctification of the offerer. God had accepted the blood of the victim, and the person of the offerer, touched by God's own portion, was now God's, dedicated to him and sanctified to his service. A real union between God and man was clearly signified in the altar and vail being dyed by the same blood by which the man also was dyed. The blood poured out at the base of the altar was merely the overplus, and probably had no mystical signification.

In all other sacrifices — burnt- offerings, peace-offerings, trespass-offerings — the blood was not sprinkled, as rendered in our version (e.g. Lev. xvii. 6), but was dashed upon the altar. Sprinkling was all but entirely confined to the sin-offerings, and was done either with the finger or with a branch of hyssop; but the verb is quite different from that used with respect to all other offerings. In them the blood was caught in a large basin or bowl, called mizrak, "the pourer,'' out of which it was east upon the altar. Its spiritual significance plainly was that the real inward life or soul of the offering was due to God, and must be devoted entirely to him. It was no partial offering, but the entire consecration of all that was best in man to his Creator.

It remains to say a few words about the scape-goat and the red heifer. The former was one of the ceremonies of the great Day of Atonement. Clad then in garments of spotless white, the high priest thrice entered within the vail, being permitted to do so only on that one day of the year. The first time he carried incense; the second, the blood of the priest's sin-offering; the third, the blood of one of two goats, which together formed a sin-offering for the nation. For in this, as in the case of the two birds offered upon the healing of a leper, the Symbolism was not completed by the death of the victim, and thus two animals wore selected similar in size and colour, one of which, chosen by lot to live, took up the meaning upon the death of the other, and carried it forward to the end. In the Hebrew this goat, rendered in our version " the scapegoat," literally is "the goat for Azazel." In the revised version the words are rendered thus: " Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one for the Lord (i.e.. Jehovah), the other lot for Azazel. . . The goat on which the lot fell for Azazel. shall be set alive before the Lord to make atonement for him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness" (Lev. xvi. 8, 10). What is the exact meaning of Azazel, a word which occurs only here, is most uncertain. Some think it means " the goat dismissed," others that it is a name for the wilderness, and others that of an evil demon. This probably is the right notion, as it was an ordinary opinion of the Jews that the wilderness was the abode of evil spirits (Isa. xiii. 21). Of the meaning of the sacrifice there is no doubt. One goat, chosen by lot, was sacrificed as a sin-offering for the nation, whoso sins were then carried far away into the desolate wilderness, back to him who is the author of sin. In no more complete manner could the absolute removal of sin be typified. The victim, restored as it were to life by the substitution of another in its place, carries away all the guilt of the people into regions remote from all human ken.

Remembering that the two goats were but one sacrifice, the typical representation of our Saviour's death is most clear. He needed indeed no sin-offering first, as Aaron (Lev. xvi. C; Heb. vii. 27), but was himself the nation's one perfect offering for sin, carried by himself as the true High Priest within the vail, and there presented before God. And no sooner has he entered than the vail is rent from the top to the bottom, to show that access to the Deity is now open to every believer, without any further priest or sacrifice. Finally having made the one perfect atonement, and reconciled God and man, he entirely removes man's guilt, and throws it back upon him who first tempted man to sin. As a symbol of man's joy at deliverance, and also of the glorification of Christ's human nature which followed upon his humiliation (Phil. ii. 9), the high priest now laid aside his garments of white, and put on the golden garments that were for " glory and beauty."

Lastly, in the sacrifice of the red heifer the purifying effects of the atonement were set forth. It was instituted after the plague which smote the multitude for their share in the sin of Korah, and probably was connected with lustrations for the cleansing of the camp and people, not merely from ceremonial defilements, but for sanitary purposes. The impression it made upon men's minds is shown by its forming the subject of the second Sura of the Koran, where it occupies many pages. A red heifer, perhaps because man, Adam, was formed from the adamah, or red ground, was taken outside the camp, and there entirely burnt. Its ashes were then carefully gathered, and laid up, to be used afterwards in all rites for purification from ceremonial defilement. So we read in Hebrews (xiii. 11, 12) our Lord suffered without the gate, on the outside of Jerusalem — suffered, that is. separately from his people, that they might be sanctified from the guilt of sin by his blood.

The prophetic teaching of these sacrifices was often, no doubt, veiled from the worshippers; but they showed them at all events their need of one to come between them and God, of one who, as both priest and victim, could enter into the holy place, and intercede for them with God. And besides there was their plain teaching. The offerer, himself stained by sin, was to sacrifice to God an innocent and unblemished victim, and by the contrast was humbled for sin, and a deeper sense of guilt was brought home to him, seeing that for his fault the innocent must die. Next there was the mounting upwards of the victim to God, leaving this vain world behind, and so shelving what is man's real duty, and his best hope. Finally there was the teaching that the soul is God's. That which is man's true and better life, the immaterial as opposed to his material part, is consecrated to Him who is the true author of man's life; and thus man was taught, even if it were but dimly, that he has in him something godlike and divine, and could not therefore have been created merely for a temporary and earthbound existence.