Leviticus 1 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Leviticus 1
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers









I. Name and Signification.—The name Leviticus, by which the third book is called, is taken from the Greek Version (LXX) of the Old Testament. It properly denotes the Levitical book, or the volume treating on Levitical matters. In Hebrew it is called the Book Vayikra” or simply “Vayikra,” from the word with which it commences, and which denotes and he called. It is by this name that the Book is always quoted in Jewish writings. In the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament, Leviticus is not only always a book by itself marked off from the rest both at the beginning and at the end by the space of four vacant lines, but like the other four books of the Pentateuch it begins a new column, whilst the other books of the Old Testament, though having the same vacant space to separate them from each other, do not begin at the top of a new column.

II. Division.—In accordance with the practice which obtained from time immemorial, the Book is divided, both in the most ancient MSS. and in the earliest printed editions of the Hebrew Scriptures, into the following ten sections: —


Leviticus 1:1 to Leviticus 5:19.


Leviticus 6:1 to Leviticus 8:36.


Leviticus 9:1 to Leviticus 11:47.


Leviticus 12:1 to Leviticus 13:59.


Leviticus 14:1 to Leviticus 15:33.


Leviticus 16:1 to Leviticus 18:30.


Leviticus 19:1 to Leviticus 20:27.


Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 24:23.


Leviticus 25:1 to Leviticus 26:2.


Leviticus 26:3 to Leviticus 27:34.

These are ten of the fifty-four sections into which the whole Pentateuch is divided in order to furnish a lesson for each Sabbath of those years which, according to Jewish chronology, have fifty-four Sabbaths, so that the whole Law of Moses should be read through once every year. This division and the reading through of the Law in the manner here indicated are observed by the Jews to this day, and it is to these weekly lessons, in conjunction with portions from the Prophets, that reference is made in the New Testament (Acts 13:15, &c.). Besides this division, which is designed for the weekly lessons, the Book of Leviticus is also divided into twenty-three larger sections, which correspond more nearly to our modern chapters, and which are as follows:—


Leviticus 1:1 to Leviticus 3:17.


Leviticus 4:1 to Leviticus 6:11.


Leviticus 6:12 to Leviticus 7:38.


Leviticus 8:1 to Leviticus 10:7.


Leviticus 10:8-20.


Leviticus 11:1-47.


Leviticus 12:1 to Leviticus 13:28.


Leviticus 13:29-59.


Leviticus 14:1-32.


Leviticus 14:33-57.


Leviticus 15:1-24.


Leviticus 15:25 to Leviticus 16:34


Leviticus 17:1-16.


Leviticus 18:1-30.


Leviticus 19:1-22.


Leviticus 19:23 to Leviticus 20:27.


Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 22:16.


Leviticus 22:17 to Leviticus 23:14.


Leviticus 23:15 to Leviticus 25:13.


Leviticus 25:14-38.


Leviticus 25:39 to Leviticus 26:2.


Leviticus 26:3-46.


Leviticus 27:1-34.

These sections are called Sedarim,, and are indicated in all the correct manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures.[114]

[114] See Ginsburg, The Massorah, Vol. 2, Letter Samech, § 77, p. 330.

There is a third division, or rather subdivision, of this Book, which consists of 98 smaller sections or paragraphs, 52 of which are open sections and 46 closed sections. These minor sections are so minutely indicated by a vacant space, either at the beginning or end of the line, and are so sacredly guarded that a manuscript of the Pentateuch in which one of the open sections has, by mistake, been made into a closed section, or vice versa, is ritually illegal.[115]

[115] For a complete list of these sections see Ginsburg, The Massorah, Vol. 2, Letter Pè, § 407, p. 482.

III. Design and Contents.—The design of the Book has been aptly described as “the spiritual statute-book of Israel as the congregation of God.” By the laws therein enacted, God designed to train Israel as His peculiar people, to keep them from defilements, and to sanctify them for holy fellowship with their covenant Jehovah, who has deigned to erect His sanctuary in their midst. To effect this purpose enactments are in the first place laid down to regulate the access of the Israelites to the Divine Being, as follows: The sacrifices which obtained from time immemorial are more minutely defined and systematised (Lev 1:1 to Lev 7:38); the priesthood whose duty it is to offer up these sacrifices are consecrated and installed (Leviticus 8:1 to Leviticus 10:20); the uncleanness of animals (Leviticus 11:1-47), and the impurities of men (Leviticus 12:1 to Leviticus 15:33), which cause defilement and debar access to God, are described; and, finally, the Day of Atonement is instituted, which is to expiate at the end of every year the neglect of any of the above-named regulations (Leviticus 16:1-34), thus appropriately concluding the enactments which are designed to fit God’s people for fellowship with Him. This group of laws is followed by sundry enactments which have for their object the holiness of the people in their every-day life, in their domestic relations, and in their! intercourse with one another (Leviticus 17:1 to Leviticus 20:27); the holiness of the priesthood, and their purity in their sacred ministrations (Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 22:33); the sanctification of the festivals (Leviticus 23:1 to Leviticus 24:12) and of the whole land (Leviticus 25:1 to Leviticus 26:2); with directions about collateral questions arising from this part of legislation. The logical sequence of these different regulations, however, is not always apparent.

IV. Authorship.—As I do not believe that the Book of Leviticus, in its present form, was written by Moses, and as it is against the plan of this commentary to enter at this place into a discussion on this question, which has nothing whatever to do with the inspiration of the Book, I thought that I should best serve the student of Holy Writ by showing him how the laws here enacted were administered during the second Temple. I have therefore endeavoured to depict the Temple service in the time of Christ as conducted according to the laws laid down in the Book before us.

V. Literature.—The most important aids are (1) the Septuagint, an English translation of which has been published by Bagster. (2) The two Chaldee versions of the Pentateuch, one under the name of Onkelos, and the other under the name of Jonathan b. Uzziel, both of which have been translated into English, but not altogether satisfactorily, by Etheridge (Longman, 1865). The latter of the two is especially important, since, though in its present form it is a late compilation, it embodies the ancient development of the Mosaic Law as administered during the second Temple. (3) The Midrach Rabboth, which is a traditional explanation of the Mosaic Law, containing many expositions which obtained in the time of Christ, A German translation of this work by Dr. Wünsche has been published at Leipzig. Modern commentaries are too well known to require description.



THE name Leviticus, that is, the Levitical book, as this portion of the Pentateuch is called in our Bibles, is taken from the Greek (LXX.) Version of the Old Testament, where it is so called because it treats of the sacrificial ordinances and the services performed by the Levites.

And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,
(1) And the Lord called . . . and spake.—Rather, And he called unto Moses, and the Lord spake, &c. (See Leviticus 8:15.) At the end of the previous book we are told that when the tent of meeting was completed, the Lord showed His approbation of it by covering the outside of the edifice with a heaven-sent cloud, and by filling the inside with His glory (Exodus 40:34-38). He therefore, who had filled the sanctuary with his glory now “called unto Moses,” thus indicating by “And he called,” which are one word in the original, the intimate connection between the two books. The ancient Jewish synagogue already pointed out the fact that this unusual phrase, “And he called unto Moses,” is used as an introductory formula on the three different occasions when the Lord made a special communication to this great law-giver. Thus when the Lord first communicated to Moses that He was about to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, “He called unto him” from the burning bush (Exodus 3:4). When the Lord was about to give to Moses the Ten Commandments for the people of Israel, “He called unto him” from the top of Sinai (Exodus 19:3; Exodus 19:20); and now when the Lord is about to give to His chosen people, through His servant Moses, the laws by which their Divine worship is to be regulated, “He called unto him” from the tent of meeting (Leviticus 1:1).

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.
(2) Speak unto the children of Israel.—The directions for the different sacrifices specified in Leviticus 1:2; Leviticus 3:17, are not in the first instance communicated to the priests who should teach them to the people, but are directly addressed to the people themselves.

Ye shall bring your offering . . . —Or, from the cattle ye shall bring your offering, from the oxen and from the flock, that is, if the offering be of quadrupeds in contradistinction to the “fowl” mentioned in Leviticus 1:14, they are to be of oxen and small cattle (tzön), i.e., sheep and goats.

If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.
(3) If his offering be a burnt sacrifice.—Having stated what is meant by animals, the directions now treat upon the different kinds of the offerings them-selves. First in order comes the burnt offering, which is divided into burnt offering from the beeves (Leviticus 1:3-9), and burnt offering from the flock (Leviticus 1:10-13). The ox takes precedence because it is the more costly and more important sacrifice. It had to be without disease or blemish of any kind. To offer a defective sacrifice was an insult and a deception. Hence the exclamation of the prophet, “cursed be the deceiver which hath in his flock a male and voweth and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing” (i.e., an animal with a blemish), Malachi 1:14. The offerer is to bring the animal to the entrance of the tent of meeting, as it should be rendered, that is, to the front of the Tabernacle where the brazen altar stood (Exodus 40:6).

Of his own voluntary will.—The whole passage is better rendered, at the entrance of the tent of meeting shall he offer it, that he may be accepted before the Lord. (Comp. Exodus 28:38; Leviticus 19:5; Leviticus 22:19-20; Leviticus 22:29; Leviticus 23:11.) This meaning is unmistakably set forth in Leviticus 22:19-21, where it is explicitly declared, “ye shall offer for your acceptance a male without blemish of the beeves, of the sheep or of the goats, but whatsoever hath a blemish that ye shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable for you.” It is to be remarked that the phrase “for your acceptance,” or “acceptable for you,” is only used in connection with burnt offerings and peace offerings, but never with sin offerings.

And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
(4) And he shall put his hand.—Or, lay his hand, as the same phrase is rendered in Leviticus 3:2-3; Leviticus 3:17, &c. The laying on of hands by the offerer on the victim was enjoined not only in the case of burnt offerings, but also in peace offerings (Leviticus 3:2; Leviticus 3:7; Leviticus 3:13; Leviticus 8:22, &c.) and in sin offerings (Leviticus 4:4; Leviticus 4:15; Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 4:29; Leviticus 4:33; Leviticus 8:14, &c.). The offerer indicated thereby both the surrender of his ownership of the victim, and the transfer to it of’ the feelings by which he was influenced in performing this act of dedication to the Lord. From the practice which obtained during the second Temple, we know that the offerer himself laid both his hands between the two horns of the animal whilst alive, and that no proxy could do it. If several offered one sacrifice, each one laid his hand separately on the victim, confessing his sins and saying, “I have sinned, I have committed iniquity, I have transgressed and I have done this and this, but I repent before Thee, and this is my atonement.”

Accepted for him.—That is, his offer will be acceptable before the Lord, when the offerer thus complies with the prescribed sacrificial regulations. (Comp. Leviticus 1:3.)

To make atonement for him.—As the imposition of hands, confession, repentance, and prayer accompanied this sacrifice, and, moreover, as these acts secure for the offerer acceptance with God, hence expiatory virtue is here and elsewhere ascribed to this burnt offering (Leviticus 14:20; Leviticus 16:24; Micah 6:6; Job 1:5; Job 42:8), which belongs more especially to sin and trespass offerings (Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 4:26; Leviticus 4:31; Leviticus 4:35; Leviticus 5:16; Leviticus 5:18; Leviticus 7:7, &c.).

And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
(5) And he shall kill the bullock.—The sacrificer himself slaughtered the victim on the north side of the altar, by cutting its throat, while a priest or an assistant held a bowl under the neck to receive the blood.

Before the Lord.—That is, before the door of the tent of meeting (comp. Leviticus 1:11). The two phrases constantly interchange in the directions about the sacrifices. (Comp. Leviticus 3:2; Leviticus 3:8; Leviticus 3:12; Leviticus 4:4; Leviticus 4:15; Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 6:18, &c.)

The priests, Aaron’s sons.—Better, the sons of Aaron, the priests, as the Authorised Version renders this phrase in Numbers 10:8. Besides the passage in Joshua 21:19, this phrase only occurs six times, once in Numbers, where it is properly rendered, and five times in this book, where it is translated three times “the priests Aaron’s sons” (Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 1:8; Leviticus 1:11), and twice “Aaron’s sons the priests” (Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 3:2). (See Leviticus 21:1.)

And sprinkle.—Better, throw the blood. The priestly functions, which began with the catching of the blood in the bowl, are now to continue also in this instance. The priest threw the blood upon the walls of the altar in two portions. He first stepped to the north-eastern corner, and from that corner diffused the blood on the northern and eastern walls; he then placed himself at the south-western corner, whence he diffused the second portion of the blood on the south and western walls. The rest of the blood he poured out at the Southern side of the altar, which was furnished with two holes; these holes communicated with a drain which conducted the blood into the Kedron.

By the door of the tabernacle.—Better, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. (See Leviticus 1:3.)

And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces.
(6) And he shall flay.—After the priest threw the blood on the walls of the altar, the sacrificer himself had to skin and cut up the sacrifice into its natural limbs (comp. Leviticus 1:12; Leviticus 8:20; Exodus 29:17), as head, breast, legs, &c., and not mangle it. The skin was the perquisite of the officiating priest (Leviticus 8).

And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire:
(7) And the sons of Aaron.—The priests are to put the fire upon the altar, because they offered the sacrifice upon the altar. This applies to the first burnt offering which was offered upon the newly-erected altar, since afterwards the fire was always burning, and was never allowed to go out (Leviticus 6:13).

And lay the wood.—No other fuel but wood was allowed for the altar, and no one was allowed to bring it from his own house, but it had to be the wood of the congregation. (Comp. Nehemiah 10:34; Nehemiah 13:31.) It had to be of the best kind; worm-eaten wood or timber from pulled-down buildings was not allowed.

And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar:
(8) Shall lay the parts.—Better, shall lay the pieces in order, as in Leviticus 1:12. The word here rendered by parts is the same which is more properly translated pieces in Leviticus 1:6. Here again the priests are not to lay the pieces upon the altar anyhow, but are to arrange them systematically. In consequence of the order expressed in this verse, the rule obtained during the second Temple that the parts of the victim should as much as possible be arranged in the same order which they occupied in the animal when alive.

But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
(9) But his inwards.—Before, however, the cut-up victim was thus arranged to be burnt, the stomach, the bowels, and the feet had to be thoroughly cleansed. In the time of the second Temple, the washing had to be repeated three times before the ablution was deemed complete.

And the priest shall burn.—The word here used is not the one generally used to denote consuming by fire, but it originally signifies to make a fume or vapour by incense. It is used in connection with all sacrifices (Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:9; Leviticus 3:5; Leviticus 3:11; Leviticus 4:10; Leviticus 4:19; Leviticus 6:8; Leviticus 7:5, &c.) and the idea intended to be conveyed thereby is, that man upon earth fitly brought his gift to God in heaven, by causing the odour emitted from the burning sacrifice to ascend in a sweet-smelling savour to heaven.

And if his offering be of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice; he shall bring it a male without blemish.
(10) Of the flocks.—Bullocks of course could only be offered by the wealthy. Hence the law now provides for those who could not afford so costly a sacrifice. They are to bring a lamb of the first year, which was the ordinary burnt offering in the time of Christ, and not a goat. The directions given with regard to the burnt offering from bullocks, equally apply to the burnt offering from the flock (Leviticus 1:10-13). They are therefore not repeated.

And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall sprinkle his blood round about upon the altar.
(11) On the side of the altar northward.—As the place for the refuse was on the east side (see Leviticus 1:16), as the laver stood on the west side, and as the ascent to the altar was on the south side, the north side was the most convenient for slaughtering the victims. This also applies to the sin and trespass offerings (Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 4:29; Leviticus 4:33; Leviticus 6:25; Leviticus 7:2; Leviticus 14:13, &c.).

And he shall cut it into his pieces, with his head and his fat: and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar:
(12) With his head and his fat.—That is, “he shall cut it into its pieces, and sever or cut off its head and its fat.” By a figure of speech not uncommon in Hebrew, one verb is connected with two substantives, though it only applies to one of the two, and a kindred verb has to be supplied for the second substantive to obtain the proper sense.

But he shall wash the inwards and the legs with water: and the priest shall bring it all, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the LORD be of fowls, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves, or of young pigeons.
(14) Be of fowls.—The fowls here are in contrast to the cattle in Leviticus 1:2. And as the quadrupeds there are immediately defined to consist of bullocks, sheep and goats, so the generic term winged creature is here restricted to the dove and pigeon. It will thus be seen that five different kinds are allowed for the burnt offering, viz., the bullock, lamb, goat, dove and pigeon, the same that Abram was commanded to offer (Genesis 15:9).

Of turtledoves.—Though in the case of the burnt offering, as well as of the sin offering, pigeons were permitted to those who were too poor to offer quadrupeds, yet in certain other cases birds were prescribed for all irrespective of their circumstances. Not only did turtledoves regularly come in large flocks (Song of Solomon 2:11-12; Jeremiah 8:7) into Palestine at certain periods, but owing to these sacrifices the Jews have always kept dove-cots and reared pigeons (2 Kings 6:25; Isaiah 60:8; Joseph. Wars, v. 4, 4). To supply the demand for them, dealers in these birds sat about with them in cages on stalls in the Temple court (Matthew 21:2; John 11:16, &c.).

And the priest shall bring it unto the altar, and wring off his head, and burn it on the altar; and the blood thereof shall be wrung out at the side of the altar:
(15) And the priest.—It was probably out of consideration for the feelings of the poor offerer, and to increase the importance of the otherwise small offering, that the priest himself brought the victim to the altar and slew it instead of the worshipper performing these acts, as in the case of quadrupeds. The imposition of hands upon the victim was dispensed with, both because the bird was too small for this ceremony, and because the offerer brought it in his hands to the place of sacrifice, thus conveying by this act the idea involved in the imposition of hands.

And wring off his head.—When the bird is handed to him, the priest is not to use any knife, but is to nip off its head with his nails, throw the severed head on the altar fire, and thus cause it to ascend in the sweet smelling savour. As the small quantity of blood could not be caught in a bowl, and would not suffice for throwing it or pouring it on the four walls, as was the case in the offering of quadrupeds, he pressed it out from the headless body, and let it run on the walls.

And he shall pluck away his crop with his feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east part, by the place of the ashes:
(16) His crop with his feathers.—Just as in the case of quadrupeds the skin was flayed off the victim before it was put on the altar fire, so the feathers were removed from the bird before its body was placed on the altar. This is the natural sense which is to be expected from the context, since it can hardly be imagined that the victims would be burnt with the feathers, and thus cause an intolerable smell. The rendering, however, given in the margin, “with the filth thereof,” is now adopted by the greater number of expositors. As the two words filth and feathers resemble each other in Hebrew, it is probable that one of them has dropped out of the text. The maw, therefore, with its contents, as well as the feathers, were removed to the eastern side of the altar, where the ashes from the altar were thrown (Leviticus 6:3).

And he shall cleave it with 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 sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
(17) And he shall cleave it with the wings thereof.—Before placing it on the altar fire the priest made an incision in the wings, without, however, separating them wholly from the body, thus corresponding in some degree to the limbing of the quadruped. (See Leviticus 1:6.)

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