William Kelly Major Works Commentary
The Offerings of Leviticus
An Exposition of Leviticus 1 - 7
by W. Kelly
It is not without importance to observe that, for all these interesting and instructive types in the early chapters of Leviticus, Jehovah spoke to Moses "out of the tent of meeting." He had taken His place and dwelt among the children of Israel, as He said in the book of Exodus. It was not grace only, though most fully so; it was on a basis of righteousness. The passover and the passage of the Red Sea were the types of redemption. The blood of the lamb had sheltered the children of Israel, when the destroyer slew the first-born; and it laid the basis for a deliverance through the waters of death wherein their enemies perished. God henceforth could be their God and dwell among them. Out of that dwelling, the tent of meeting, He can and does speak words of grace and blessing.
But it was not yet eternal redemption. It was. still the law, and the law made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19). It was still the first man; and wherein is he to be accounted of, whose breath is in his nostrils? He was not yet come Who could say, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8). But in due time of Israel as according to flesh came the Christ, Who is over all, God blessed for ever, Amen. Born of woman, born under law, Christ came in infinite love to do a work, commensurate with the dignity of His person, in that nature which had sinned against God everywhere and at all times, and only more rebelliously when His law had been given, and every transgression and disobedience received just retribution. That nature in Him was holy, both in virtue of Incarnation and through the Spirit of holiness ever after.
All hope therefore for him who believed hung on the Second man, the last Adam. And He not only glorified His Father in the perfect obedience of His life, though tried to the uttermost in a wilderness world, but glorified Him as God in His death for sin. Therefore has God glorified Him now in Himself straightway, before He receives His universal kingdom and appears in glory before the world. In the cross, which was the blind and daring guilt of Jew and Gentile joined by Satan for once against the Holy and the True, God wrought His work for reconciling all that believe in one body, the church; as He will by-and-by bring in salvation for Israel and all nations in the days of the coming kingdom; yea, He will thereby reconcile all things to Himself, be they the things on the earth or the things in the heavens.
Now it is the various aspects of Christ's work which were represented in these types. But we need to remember what the apostle declares, that the law has but "a shadow." For "the very image" could only be in that work itself in its unapproachable excellence. Here we have such a shadow as God alone could give beforehand in testimony to its many-sided fulness.
First, there are the three offerings to Jehovah of sweet savour, where the whole as the Burnt offering, or a part as of the Meal offering or of the Peace offering, was burnt as a Fire offering to Him on the brazen altar, the point of individual approach (Lev. 1-3). Then, in Leviticus 4, 5 and 6: 1-7 follow the offerings for sin and trespass. Lastly, the laws of the various offerings are given in the rest of Leviticus 6 and in Leviticus 7, which bring out communion where given or withheld.
It may be observed, however, that notable offerings are found elsewhere which are not specified in Leviticus, rich as it is on this theme. Thus "the daily" is rather given in Exodus, as the constant offering, one lamb on the altar in the morning and the other between the two evenings. The acceptance of the camp in the midst of which Jehovah dwelt is presented in a continual Burnt offering; and therefore was most suitably named in the redemption book of the Pentateuch.
On the other hand the Red Heifer is given in full detail only in the fourth book, because it is the special provision for defilements by the way; and this book treats of the wilderness path for God's people. So here only we have the gracious means of a second-month Passover for such as missed the first through a passing defilement; whereas the Passover was instituted and most copiously laid down in the second book as the sacrificial basis of redemption, which comes out there as nowhere else. Indeed we do not hear of the blood sprinkled on the door-posts - one of its most striking features - save on that first occasion.
What on the other side can be more characteristic of the fifth book than the offering of the firstfruits as in Lev. 26? The book, written on the verge of the land after the wilderness journeying was closed, contemplates the people's entering on their inheritance, when the Israelite was to take of the first of all the fruit of the ground which Jehovah their Elohim gave him, put it in a basket, and go to the chosen centre where He set His name. To the priest he professed that he was come into the land of Jehovah's gift; and when the priest set the basket before the altar, the Israelite was to say, A Syrian ready to perish was my father who went down into Egypt and there multiplied, and was afflicted to bondage; but Jehovah saw and heard and delivered mightily, and brought into the land flowing with milk and honey. "And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruits of the ground, which thou, Jehovah, hast given me." There he set down his basket before Jehovah and worshipped; there he was told to rejoice in all the good which Jehovah his Elohim gave him and his house, and the Levite, and the stranger his midst. So, in union with Christ gone on high, the Christian is entitled to kindred joy in God, that he may the more truly enjoy the good He gives Who with Christ has freely given us all things.
Yet of all the offerings none has such unique value as that of Atonement-day in Lev. 16. There the blood was carried within, and sprinkled upon the mercy-seat and before it. Not the sons of Aaron as at other times, but the High Priest made atonement for the sanctuary and the tent of meeting and the altar, as well as for himself and for his household and for all the assembly of Israel, substitution having as distinct a place as propitiation. It was access to God in the highest degree that the law admitted, the Holy Spirit thus showing that the way of the holies had not yet been manifested, while as yet the first tabernacle had a standing. Now that Christ has come and died; the veil is rent, and we who believe are made free of the holies. And, the priesthood being changed, there takes place of necessity a change of the law also. For a better hope is now introduced whereby we draw nigh to God. The Father has qualified us for partaking of the portion of the saints in light; and we can approach with boldness to the throne of grace, having a great High Priest Who has passed through the heavens. Israel must wait till the High Priest comes out, when they shall know all their iniquities sent away to a land apart never more to appear.
Its privileges and its duties: an exposition of Leviticus 8 - 15.
Before we enter upon the details of the types in Leviticus 8, 9, it seems well to speak of priesthood generally, and also in special reference to Christianity.
The priest offered gifts and sacrifices to God. In patriarchal days this fell to the head of the family, and indeed to, its members also as may be seen in the very first recorded instance of Cain and Abel. But when the law came, priesthood was established in a particular family of that tribe which was chosen for divine service and separated from the inheritance of the land given to the other tribes of Israel. The Levites had therefore the tithes of the children of Israel as a heave-offering to Jehovah, but of this the Levites were bound to offer a tenth of the tithes to the priests, who had also their own special perquisites by Jehovah's command.
The Epistle to the Hebrews treats of Levitical priesthood, as well as of the sanctuary and the sacrifices, more formally and fully than any other part of the N.T., though the principle runs through the Epistles in general and even the Revelation. To the Hebrews the utmost care was taken to lay the foundation of all that follows on the Person of Christ, Son of God in Hebrews 1, Son of Man in Hebrews 2, with incontestably superior glory in both respects, whatever His humiliation in grace for our sakes, to every creature, even to angels. Such is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. Others, as Moses, Aaron, Joshua, derived dignity from the office to which each was called of God; He had intrinsic glory and excellence which conferred lustre on all He undertook, though perfectly subject to God in all respects. As sin had ruined all creation, His death was the only door of deliverance for "everything," and the "many sons" for glory in particular, to annul the devil's power, to succour in temptation and sympathise in suffering, as well as to make propitiation for sins.
The Epistle accordingly contemplates on the one hand the partakers of a heavenly calling passing through the wilderness, and on the other Jesus the Son of God, called as Aaron, but owned of Him as His Son, and saluted as according to the order of Melchizedek. Such He is, and He only, being first by interpretation King of righteousness, and then also King of Salem, which is King of peace. The exercise is after the pattern of Aaron (intercession based on sacrificial blood-shedding), the order after that of Melchizedek, as being not a succession of priests but one ever-living priest. Thus Ps. 110 is cited as divine authority for a priesthood everlasting and intransmissible, which supersedes that of Aaron. "For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and become higher than the heavens, who needeth not daily, as the high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, then [for] those of the people; for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appointeth men high priests having infirmity; but the word of the oath-swearing which [was] after the law, a Son perfected for ever."
Hence the doctrine of the Epistle beyond doubt is of a sole High Priest Who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens, minister of the holy place, and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, not man. The redemption too is everlasting, as is the inheritance. His offering once for all has perfected, not only for ever but without interruption, the sanctified. The unity of the priesthood for the saint is as certain and plain as that of the sacrifice for our sins.
Nevertheless the same chapter (Hebrews 10) which sums this up clearly exhorts Christians as a whole, sprinkled and washed as they were, to approach with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, as having boldness to enter the holies by the blood of Jesus, a new and living way which He dedicated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and [having] a great priest over the house of God. The inspired writer takes his place with every other saint now, as entitled to draw near, where no son of Aaron could, and even as Aaron could not; for he had no such "boldness" when he entered on the Atonement-day with fear of death. Compare also Hebrews 13:10; Heb 13:15-16. The apostle Peter teaches us the same truth: the believers are "a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ;" and "a royal priesthood. . . to show forth the virtues of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:5-9). The Book of Revelation teaches the same truth (chap. 1: 6).
Under the Levitical system the way of the holies had not yet been manifested. But by Christ's death the veil was rent; and now the way is open not by grace only but in righteousness. Earthly sacrifices, priesthood, and sanctuary alike disappear; and we who believe are privileged to approach God. Compare also Romans 5:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 2:13-18, Ephesians 3:12, Colossians 1:12-13. In the N. T. an official priest is either Jewish or heathen, never Christian; a mere and guilty imposture.
Save Christ the High Priest, alone efficacious for us, scripture recognises no priesthood but that of all Christians. To assert a sacerdotal class for us is to deny that we can offer up our spiritual sacrifices to God; it is in effect to efface the proper and revealed effect of Christ's sacrifice; it is therefore to obliterate the gospel and to restore Judaism. Not only is it a superstitious falsehood, but a contradiction of the faith "once for all" since redemption. Nay more, it essentially and systematically opposes the full and final revelation of God's word which will have the Christian to walk, not in the distance and darkness of the law, but in the light and grace of God perfectly revealed in Christ, His Father and our Father, His God and our God. It is wholly inconsistent with the great mystery as to Christ and as to the church (Ephesians 5:32). For we all compose the one body of Christ, His bride, and are members one of another, each one spirit with the Lord. Hence such a relationship is incompatible with a priestly caste nearer to God than the rest, who are able only through it to draw near to Him. It is in short apostasy, not from Christ's Person, but from the truth of Christ's work and from the reality of the Holy Spirit's presence Who constitutes all the saints now God's habitation and Christ's one body.
No doubt these subtle adversaries of the faith allege Exodus 19:5 to oppose the dogmatic teaching of the N. T. But the argument is absolutely worthless. For the promise to Israel of being a kingdom of priests was strictly conditional on their obedience, as the law is and mast be; whereas our priestly standing, like other privileges, hangs on Christ and His finished work to God's glory. The ritualist is what the apostle calls "fallen from grace," and much lower than the Galatians; he has lost the fundamental truth of Christianity, and is far more guilty than those who have never heard the Lord's name. The root principle, if not an anti-Christ, is anti-Christian.
It was a sad oversight that English Protestants allowed "priest" to represent "presbyter," and that the Reformed abroad called their ecclesiastical buildings "temples." An equivocal word is a compromise, of which error always takes advantage when the fresh power of truth fades. But if the N. T. carefully eschews "temple" or even "church" for the place in which the faithful might assemble, it is explicit in the apostles' teaching, that believers are now priests, and made already more free than Aaron himself, to enter boldly into the true sanctuary where the Lord is on high.
It is of course sound that there is no priest on earth between God and the saints. But the effect of Christ's work announced in the gospel goes much farther, and constitutes every Christian a priest, exhorted day by day to draw near through the rent veil. Having therefore, brethren, boldness for the entrance of the holies by the blood of Jesus (a fresh and living way which He dedicated for us through the veil, that is to say His flesh), as well as a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith. A little priest here below is a delusion, a barrier, and an outrage on Christ's official glory, and on the nearness which God has made ours already in virtue of the blood of Jesus. Ephesians 2:13-18, Hebrews 10:18-22. Let us then not only abjure and denounce an imposture but appropriate what divine grace has made us.