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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Leviticus Chapter 4

Leviticus 4:1

lev 4:1

The Expiatory Sacrifices. - The sacrifices treated of in ch. 1-3 are introduced by their names, as though already known, for the purpose of giving them a legal sanction. But in ch. 4 and 5 sacrifices are appointed for different offences, which receive their names for the first time from the objects to which they apply, i.e., from the sin, or the trespass, or debt to be expiated by them: viz., חטּאת sin, i.e., sin-offering (Lev 4:3, Lev 4:8, Lev 4:14, Lev 4:19, etc.), and אשׁם debt, i.e., debt-offering (Lev 5:15-16, Lev 5:19); - a clear proof that the sin and debt-offerings were introduced at the same time as the Mosaic law. The laws which follow are distinguished from the preceding ones by the new introductory formula in Lev 4:1-2, which is repeated in Lev 5:14. This repetition proves that Lev 4:2-5:13 treats of the sin-offerings, and Lev 5:14-19 of the trespass-offerings; and this is confirmed by the substance of the two series of laws.

Leviticus 4:2

lev 4:2

The Sin-Offerings. - The ritual prescribed for these differed, with regard to the animals sacrificed, the sprinkling of the blood, and the course adopted with the flesh, according to the position which the person presenting them happened to occupy in the kingdom of God. The classification of persons was as follows: (1) the anointed priest (Lev 4:2-12); (2) the whole congregation of Israel (Lev 5:13 -21); (3) the prince (vv. 22-26); (4) the common people (v. 27- Lev 5:13). In the case of the last, regard was also paid to their circumstances; so that the sin-offerings could be regulated according to the ability of the offerer, especially for the lighter forms of sin (Lev 5:1-13).

Lev 4:2

"If a soul sin in wandering from any (מכּל in a partitive sense) of the commandments of Jehovah, which ought not to be done, and do any one of them" (מאחת with מן partitive, cf. Lev 4:13, Lev 4:22, Lev 4:27, lit., anything of one). This sentence, which stands at the head of the laws for the sin-offerings, shows that the sin-offerings did not relate to sin or sinfulness in general, but to particular manifestations of sin, to certain distinct actions performed by individuals, or by the whole congregation. The distinguishing characteristic of the sin is expressed by the term בּשׁגגה (in error). No sins but those committed בּשׁגגה could be expiated by sin-offerings; whilst those committed with a high hand were to be punished by the extermination of the sinner (Num 15:27-31). שׁגגה, from שׁגג = שׁגה to wander or go wrong, signifies mistake, error, oversight. But sinning "in error" is not merely sinning through ignorance (Lev 4:13, Lev 4:22, Lev 4:27, Lev 5:18), hurry, want of consideration, or carelessness (Lev 5:1, Lev 5:4, Lev 5:15), but also sinning unintentionally (Num 35:11, Num 35:15, Num 35:22-23); hence all such sins as spring from the weakness of flesh and blood, as distinguished from sins committed with a high (elevated) hand, or in haughty, defiant rebellion against God and His commandments.

Leviticus 4:3

lev 4:3

The sin of the high priest. - The high priest is here called the "anointed priest" (Lev 4:3, Lev 4:5, Lev 4:16, Lev 6:15) on account of the completeness of the anointing with which he was consecrated to his office (Lev 8:12); in other places he is called the great (or high) priest (Lev 21:10; Num 35:25, etc.), and by later writers הראשׁ כּהן, the priest the head, or head priest (Kg2 25:18; Ch2 19:11). If he sinned העם לאשׁמת, "to the sinning of the nation," i.e., in his official position as representative of the nation before the Lord, and not merely in his own personal relation to God, he was to offer for a sin-offering because of his sin an ox without blemish, the largest of all the sacrificial animals, because he filled the highest post in Israel.

Lev 4:4-7

The presentation, laying on of hands, and slaughtering, were the same as in the case of the other sacrifices (Lev 1:3-5). The first peculiarity occurs in connection with the blood (Lev 4:5-7). The anointed priest was to take (a part) of the blood and carry it into the tabernacle, and having dipped his finger in it, to sprinkle some of it seven times before Jehovah "in the face of the vail of the Holy" (Exo 26:31), i.e., in the direction towards the curtain; after that, he was to put (נתן) some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of incense, and then to pour out the great mass of the blood, of which only a small portion had been used for sprinkling and smearing upon the horns of the altar, at the bottom of the altar of burnt-offering. A sevenfold sprinkling "in the face of the vail" also took place in connection with the sin-offering for the whole congregation, as well as with the ox and he-goat which the high priest offered as sin-offerings on the day of atonement for himself, the priesthood, and the congregation, when the blood was sprinkled seven times before (לפני) the capporeth (Lev 16:14), and seven times upon the horns of the altar (Lev 16:18-19). So too the blood of the red cow, that was slaughtered as a sin-offering outside the camp, was sprinkled seven times in the direction towards the tabernacle (Num 19:4). The sevenfold sprinkling at the feast of atonement had respect to the purification of the sanctuary from the blemishes caused by the sins of the people, with which they had been defiled in the course of the year (see at ch. 16), and did not take place till after the blood had been sprinkled once "against (? upon) the capporeth in front" for the expiation of the sin of the priesthood and people, and the horns of the altar had been smeared with the blood (Lev 16:14, Lev 16:18); whereas in the sin-offerings mentioned in this chapter, the sevenfold sprinkling preceded the application of the blood to the horns of the altar. This difference in the order of succession of the two manipulations with the blood leads to the conclusion, that in the case before us the sevenfold sprinkling had a different signification from that which it had on the day atonement, and served as a preliminary and introduction to the expiation. The blood also was not sprinkled upon the altar of the holy place, but only before Jehovah, against the curtain behind which Jehovah was enthroned, that is to say, only into the neighbourhood of the gracious presence of God; and this act was repeated seven times, that in the number seven, as the stamp of the covenant, the covenant relation, which sin had loosened, might be restored. It was not till after this had been done, that the expiatory blood of the sacrifice was put upon the horns of the altar, - not merely sprinkled or swung against the wall of the altar, but smeared upon the horns of the altar; not, however, that the blood might thereby be brought more prominently before the eyes of God, or lifted up into His more immediate presence, as Hoffmann and Knobel suppose, but because the significance of the altar, as the scene of the manifestation of the divine grace and salvation, culminated in the horns, as the symbols of power and might. In the case of the sin-offerings for the high priest and the congregation, the altar upon which this took place was not the altar of burnt-offering in the court, but the altar of incense in the holy place; because both the anointed priest, by virtue of his calling and consecration as the mediator between the nation and the Lord, and the whole congregation, by virtue of its election as a kingdom of priests (Exo 19:6), were to maintain communion with the covenant God in the holy place, the front division of the dwelling-place of Jehovah, and were thus received into a closer relation of fellowship with Jehovah than the individual members of the nation, for whom the court with its altar was the divinely appointed place of communion with the covenant God. The remainder of the blood, which had not been used in the act of expiation, was poured out at the bottom of the altar of burnt-offering, as the holy place to which all the sacrificial blood was to be brought, that it might be received into the earth.

Lev 4:8-10

The priest was to lift off "all the fat" from the sacrificial animal, i.e., the same fat portions as in the peace-offering (Lev 3:3-4, כּל־חלב is the subject to יוּרם in Lev 3:10), and burn it upon the altar of burnt-offering.

Lev 4:11-12

The skin of the bullock, and all the flesh, together with the head and the shank and the entrails (Lev 1:9) and the foeces, in fact the whole bullock, was to be carried out by him (the sacrificing priest) to a clean place before the camp, to which the ashes of the sacrifices were carried from the ash-heap (Lev 1:16), and there burnt on the wood with fire. (On the construction of Lev 4:11 and Lev 4:12 see Ges. 145, 2).

The different course, adopted with the blood and flesh of the sin-offerings, from that prescribed in the ritual of the other sacrifices, was founded upon the special signification of these offerings. As they were presented to effect the expiation of sins, the offerer transferred the consciousness of sin and the desire for forgiveness to the head of the animal that had been brought in his stead, by the laying on of his hand; and after this the animal was slaughtered, and suffered death for him as the wages of sin. But as sin is not wiped out by the death of the sinner, unless it be forgiven by the grace of God, so devoting to death an animal laden with sin rendered neither a real nor symbolical satisfaction or payment for sin, by which the guilt of it could be wiped away; but the death which it endured in the sinner's stead represented merely the fruit and effect of sin. To cover the sinner from the holiness of God because of his sin, some of the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled seven times before Jehovah in the holy place; and the covenant fellowship, which had been endangered, was thereby restored. After this, however, the soul, which was covered in the sacrificial blood, was given up to the grace of God that prevailed in the altar, by means of the sprinkling of the blood upon the horns of the altar of incense, that it might receive the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, and the full enjoyment of the blessings of the covenant be ensured to it once more. But the sin, that had been laid upon the animal of the sin-offering, lay upon it still. The next thing done, therefore, was to burn the fat portions of its inside upon the altar of burnt-offering. Now, if the flesh of the victim represented the body of the offerer as the organ of his soul, the fat portions inside the body, together with the kidneys, which were regarded as the seat of the tenderest and deepest emotions, can only have set forth the better part or inmost kernel of the man, the ἔσω ἄνθρωπος (Rom 7:22; Eph 3:16). By burning the fat portions upon the altar, the better part of human nature was given up in symbol to the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit of God, that it might be purified from the dross of sin, and ascend in its glorified essence to heaven, for a sweet savour unto the Lord (Lev 4:31). The flesh of the sin-offering, however, or "the whole bullock," was then burned in a clean place outside the camp, though not merely that it might be thereby destroyed in a clean way, like the flesh provided for the sacrificial meals, which had not been consumed at the time fixed by the law (Lev 7:17; Lev 8:32; Lev 19:6; Exo 12:10; Exo 29:34), or the flesh of the sacrifices, which had been defiled by contact with unclean objects (Lev 7:19); for if the disposal of the flesh formed an integral part of the sacrificial ceremony in the case of all the other sacrifices, and if, in the case of the sin-offerings, the blood of which was not brought into the interior of the sanctuary, the priests were to eat the flesh in a holy place, and that not "as a portion assigned to them by God as an honourable payment," but, according to the express declaration of Moses, "to bear and take away (לשׂאת) the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them" (Lev 10:17), the burning of the flesh of the sin-offerings, i.e., of the animal itself, the blood of which was not brought into the holy place, cannot have been without significance, or simply the means adopted to dispose of it in a fitting manner, but must also have formed one factor in the ceremony of expiation. The burning outside the camp was rendered necessary, because the sacrifice had respect to the expiation of the priesthood, and the flesh or body of the bullock, which had been made חטּאת by the laying on of the hand, could not be eaten by the priests as the body of sin, that by the holiness of their official character they might bear and expiate the sin imputed to the sacrifice (see at Lev 10:17). In this case it was necessary that it should be given up to the effect of sin, viz., to death or destruction by fire, and that outside the camp; in other words, outside the kingdom of God, from which everything dead was removed. But, inasmuch as it was sacrificial flesh, and therefore most holy by virtue of its destination; in order that it might not be made an abomination, it was not to be burned in an unclean place, where carrion and other abominations were thrown (Lev 14:40, Lev 14:45), but in the clean place, outside the camp, to which the ashes of the altar of burnt-offering were removed, as being the earthly sediment and remains of the sacrifices that had ascended to God in the purifying flames of the altar-fire.

(Note: The most holy character of the flesh of the sin-offering (Lev 6:18.) furnishes no valid argument against the correctness of this explanation of the burning; for, in the first place, there is an essential difference between real or inherent sin, and sin imputed or merely transferred; and secondly, the flesh of the sin-offering was called most holy, not in a moral, but only in a liturgical or ritual sense, as subservient to the most holy purpose of wiping away sin; on which account it was to be entirely removed from all appropriation to earthly objects. Moreover, the idea that sin was imputed to the sin-offering, that it was made sin by the laying on of the hand, has a firm basis in the sacrifice of the red cow (Num 19), and also occurs among the Greeks (see Oehler in Herzog's Cycl.).)

Leviticus 4:13

lev 4:13

Sin of the whole congregation. - This is still further defined, as consisting in the fact that the thing was hid (נעלּם)

(Note: In the correct editions נעלּם has dagesh both here and in Lev 5:2, Lev 5:4, as Delitzsch informs me, according to an old rule in pointing, which required that every consonant which followed a syllable terminating with a guttural should be pointed with dagesh, if the guttural was to be read with a quiescent sheva and not with chateph. This is the case in ויּאסּר in Gen 46:29; Exo 14:6, תּעלּים in Psa 10:1, and other words in the critical edition of the Psalter which has been carefully revised by Bהr according to the Masora, and published with an introduction by Delitzsch. In other passages, such as בּכל־לּבּי Psa 9:2, על־לּשׁנו Psa 15:3, etc., the dagesh is introduced to prevent the second letter from being lost in the preceding one through the rapidity of reading. - Ewald's conjectures and remarks about this "dagesh, which is found in certain MSS," is a proof that he was not acquainted with this rule which the Masora recognises.)

from the eyes of the congregation, i.e., that it was a sin which was not known to be such, an act which really violated a commandment of God, though it was not looked upon as sin. Every transgression of a divine command, whether it took place consciously or unconsciously, brought guilt, and demanded a sin-offering for its expiation; and this was to be presented as soon as the sin was known. The sin-offering, which the elders had to offer in the name of the congregation, was to consist of a young ox, and was to be treated like that of the high priest (Lev 4:14-23 compared with Lev 4:3-12), inasmuch as "the whole congregation" included the priesthood, or at any rate was on an equality with the priesthood by virtue of its calling in relation to the Lord. חטא with על signifies to incur guilt upon (on the foundation of) sin (Lev 5:5, etc.); it is usually construed with an accusative (Lev 4:3, Lev 4:28; Lev 5:6, Lev 5:10, etc.), or with בּ, to sin with a sin (Lev 4:23; Gen 42:22). The subject of ושׁחט (Lev 4:15) is one of the elders. "The bullock for a sin-offering:" sc., the one which the anointed priest offered for his sin, or as it is briefly and clearly designated in Lev 4:21, "the former bullock" (Lev 4:12).

Leviticus 4:20

lev 4:20

"And let the priest make an atonement for them, that it may be forgiven them," or, "so will they be forgiven." This formula recurs with all the sin-offerings (with the exception of the one for the high priest), viz., Lev 4:26, Lev 4:31, Lev 4:35, Lev 5:10, Lev 5:13; Num 15:25-26, Num 15:28; also with the trespass-offerings, Lev 5:16, Lev 5:18; Lev 19:22, - the only difference being, that in the sin-offerings presented for defilements cleansing is mentioned, instead of forgiveness, as the effect of the atoning sacrifice (Lev 12:7-8; Lev 13:20, Lev 13:53; Num 8:21).

Leviticus 4:22

lev 4:22

The sin of a ruler. - Lev 4:22. אשׁר: ὅτε, when. נשׂיא is the head of a tribe, or of a division of a tribe (Num 3:24, Num 3:30, Num 3:35).

Lev 4:23-26

"If (או, see Ges. 155, 2) his sin is made known to him," i.e., if any one called his attention to the fact that he had transgressed a commandment of God, he was to bring a he-goat without blemish, and, having laid his hand upon it, to slay it at the place of burnt-offering; after which the priest was to put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of burnt-offering, and pour out the rest of the blood at the foot of the altar, and then to burn the whole of the fat upon the altar, as in the case of the peaceoffering (see Lev 3:3-4), and thus to make atonement for the prince on account of his sin. עזים שׂעיר, or שׂעיר alone (lit., hairy, shaggy, Gen 27:11), is the buck-goat, which is frequently mentioned as the animal sacrificed as a sin-offering: e.g., that of the tribe-princes (Num 7:16., Lev 15:24), and that of the nation at the yearly festivals (Lev 16:9, Lev 16:15; Lev 23:19; Num 28:15, Num 28:22, Num 28:30; Num 29:5, Num 29:16.) and at the consecration of the tabernacle (Lev 9:3, Lev 9:15; Lev 10:16). It is distinguished in Num 7:16. from the attudim, which were offered as peace-offerings, and frequently occur in connection with oxen, rams, and lambs as burnt-offerings and thank-offerings (Psa 50:9, Psa 50:13; Psa 66:15; Isa 1:11; Isa 34:6; Eze 39:18). According to Knobel, עזים שׂעיר, or שׂעיר, was an old he-goat, the hair of which grew longer with age, particularly about the neck and back, and עזים שׂעירת (Lev 4:28; Lev 5:16) an old she-goat; whilst עתּוּד was the younger he-goat, which leaped upon the does (Gen 31:10, Gen 31:12), and served for slaughtering like lambs, sheep, and goats (Deu 32:14; Jer 51:40). But as the עזים שׂעיר was also slaughtered for food (Gen 37:31), and the skins of quite young he-goats are called שׂעירת (Gen 27:23), the difference between שׂעיר and עתּוּד is hardly to be sought in the age, but more probably, as Bochart supposes, in some variety of species, in which case seir and seirak might denote the rough-haired, shaggy kind of goat, and attud the buck-goat of stately appearance.

Leviticus 4:27

lev 4:27

In the case of the sin of a common Israelite ("of the people of the land," i.e., of the rural population, Gen 23:7), that is to say, of an Israelite belonging to the people, as distinguished from the chiefs who ruled over the people (Kg2 11:18-19; Kg2 16:15), the sin-offering was to consist of a shaggy she-goat without blemish, or a ewe-sheep (Lev 4:32). The ceremonial in both cases was the same as with the he-goat (Lev 4:23.). - "According to the offerings made by fire unto the Lord" (Lev 4:35): see at Lev 3:5.

Next: Leviticus Chapter 5