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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Leviticus 22



Verse 1

1.And the Lord spake unto Moses. Moses here treats of the accidents whereby pollution is contracted, although a man may be by nature pure and sound. If any labored under natural defects, Moses prohibited them from exercising the sacerdotal office; now, if any extrinsic pollution may have affected a priest, he commands him to abstain from his duties until he shall have been purified. He had already commanded that any unclean person should be separated from the people lest their contagion should infect others; it may therefore seem superfluous to prescribe to the priests what had been universally enjoined. But since men placed in any position of honor are apt to abuse God’s favor as a pretext for sin, lest the sacerdotal dignity might be used as a covering for the indulgence or excuse of scandals, it was necessary to enact an express law, that the priests should not plead their privilege to eat in their uncleanness of the sacrifices which none but the clean might offer. And that their sacrilege might be the more detestable, he denounces death against any who should intrude their pollutions into the sacrifices; for it was necessary to arouse by the fear of punishment, and as it were to drive by violence to their duty those who would not have been otherwise restrained by any religious feeling from making God’s service contemptible. He then enumerates the particular kinds of pollution of which we have before spoken. Whence it appears, that the priests were brought into discipline by this law, lest they should think themselves more free than the rest of the people, thus might indulge themselves in security; and this is afterwards more clearly expressed where God admonishes them to “keep his ordinance,” (194) (Leviticus 22:9 :)i.e., diligently to observe whatever He commanded; and the greater dignity He had honored them with, that the greater should be their study to persevere in the exercises of piety; for he shews them that so far from their sacerdotal rights conducing to the alleviation of their sin, they were more strongly bound by them to keep the Law.

Verse 10

10There shall no stranger. It was also necessary to add this, that the majesty of sacred things might not be impaired; for if it had been promiscuously permitted to all to eat of the sacred bread and the other oblations, the people would have straightway inferred that they differed not from ordinary food. And unless the avarice of the priests had been thus anticipated, (195) an unworthy trade would have prevailed; for banquets would have been see up for sale, and the priest’s house would have been a kind of provision-market. The prohibition, therefore, that the meats offered in sacrifice should be eaten by strangers, was not made so much with reference to them as to the priests, who would have else driven a profitable trade with the offerings, or, by gratifying their guests, would not have hesitated to bring disrepute on the whole service of God. The Law consequently prohibits that either a sojourner, or a hired servant, should eat of them; and only gives this permission to their slaves, and those who were incorporated into their families. Moreover, He counts the priests’ daughters who had married into another tribe as aliens. The sum has this tendency, that whatsoever depends on the service of God should obtain its due reverence; nor could this be the case, if what was offered in the temple were not distinguished from common food. Inasmuch as they were human beings, they were allowed to subsist in the ordinary manner; yet was this distinction necessary, which might savor of the sanctity of Christ. This was the cleanness of the priests as regarded food.

Verse 14

14.And if a man eat of the holy thing unwittingly. A question may here arise, why God would have satisfaction made to the priests, if any one should have eaten of the offerings; for they deserved punishment rather than reward, if they had suffered sacred things to be brought into contempt by their promiscuous use. But the error of those is here dealt with, who had not reserved for the priests their lawful share. A portion, as we shall see, was assigned by God, which they were to set aside before they tasted any part of the victim; those, therefore, who had sinned by inadvertency, are commanded by Him to expiate their fault, to restore so much to the priest, and to add a fifth part. And this was done with the object of which we have spoken, lest, if the things offered to God were exposed to common use, religion should be brought into contempt. What follows afterwards, “and they shall not profane the holy things,” I interpret as addressed to the priests themselves; for this sentence is connected with the previous one, in which the injunctions were directed to the priests alone; and this is further confirmed by the next verse, which declares that the whole people would be accomplices in the sin of the priests if they should have polluted the sacred oblations. For thus I take the words, “that they should not suffer the people to bear the iniquity,” or the punishment of the transgression, if the unclean should have touched things offered to God. For as the priest is the mediator of reconciliation to propitiate God towards men, so his impiety is a common iniquity, which brings guilt upon all. The translation which some give, “that they should not lade themselves,” (196) is further from the sense, and altogether wrested. Finally, God again declares that in proportion to the greatness of the honor which He had put upon them, would be the heaviness and inexcusableness of the crime, if they acted unworthily of their calling.

Verse 17

Leviticus 22:17.And the Lord spake. He now more clearly teaches and more copiously inculcates what he has frequently adverted to heretofore, that it is sinful to offer to God a maimed, or weak, or otherwise imperfect animal. Now this external soundness admonished the ancient people that God is served amiss when He is served by halves, since He abominates a double heart. (292) (Proverbs 11:20.) At the same time, in this symbol was shewn forth the perfect purity of that victim by which God was at length to be reconciled. We know in how great liberties the world indulges itself in the service of God; for whilst it lightly and contemptuously obtrudes mere trifling upon Him as if He were a child, it still fancies that its duty is properly discharged. Hence it is that it claims reward for any rubbish (sordibus,) and exults in mere mockeries of God, as if it were laying Him under obligation. A notable example of this stupid security is seen now-a-days in the Papacy, when they mock God with no less audacity than as if they were dealing with a block of wood. To omit innumerable other cases, what can be more monstrous than this arrogance of theirs, when, as they mutter their prayers, their minds wander not only into frivolous but even into unholy imaginations, and yet they pretend that the final intention, as they call it, is meritorious and approved by God? (293) Suppose a priest (sacrificus ) shall have proposed to recite the godly prayers of his breviary, and, when scarcely three words have been said, his mind shall be occupied with dishes, shall run away now to his cups, now to dicing, or other pastimes, still, as if his task were performed, he will boast that he has offered worship to God. In order, therefore, to obviate this fault, God commands that sacrifices free from all blemish should be presented to Him. Hence that sharp expostulation of His in Malachi 1:7, because the Jews polluted His altar and thought His table contemptible, when they said that their blind, and lame, and sick victims were not evil. “Offer it now (he says) to thy governor, will he — accept thy person?” not because God cared for the fatness or the juiciness of the animals, but because it thus was made plain that true piety was neglected, nay, altogether despised. We perceive, then, that all defective sacrifices were rejected, that the Israelites might learn sincerely and seriously to consecrate themselves entirely to God, and not to play childishly with Him, as is often the case. Elsewhere we have seen indeed that all uncleanness is repudiated by God; but we must remember that two things are required for legitimate worship; first, that he who approaches God should be purged from every stain, and secondly, that he should offer nothing except what is pure and free from all imperfection. What Solomon says, that “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,” (Proverbs 15:8,) is true, although it be fat and splendid. But in order that the things which are offered by the good should be pleasing to God, another point must also be attended to, viz., that the offering should not be poor, and stingy, and deficient; and again, by this symbol, as I have already said, they were directed to Christ, besides whom no integrity will anywhere be found which will satisfy God.

Luther ridicules this mode of praying in his “Simplex Orandi Modus,” (Witteb. 1558,) vol. 7:132: “Quemadmodum sacrificulus ille rurestris ipsis periculis (precibus?) subinde aliena miscebat, ad hunc modum, Deus in adjutorium meum intende; (Heus, serve, deme helcia equis.) Domine ad adjuvandum me festina; (Vade, famula, mulge vaccas.) Gloria Patri, etc.; (Etiam cessas, puer? Dii te perdant, etc.) Tales preculas audivi sub Papatu quamplurimas, atque omnes adeo eorum orationes fere ejusmodi fuere."

Verse 19

19.“Unto your acceptance.” (294) Some indeed translate this “at your own will,” but the context forbids it; for Moses sometimes uses the word רצה, ratseh, which means “accepted,” in the same sense, and sometimes רצון, ratson, which can only be referred to God’s favor, which is commonly called His “good pleasure.” Again, as he here uses the compound word לרצנכם; leretsoncem, so he soon afterwards adds לרצון לכם, leretson lecem, where he declares that a blemished sacrifice would not be “unto their acceptance,” because it would be rejected by God. The sum therefore is, that if they desire their oblations to be approved by God, they must beware that there be no defect in them. Still, if any one chooses to think that God’s gratuitous favor is expressed by the word “good pleasure,” I willingly admit it, since our services only please God in so far as in His paternal indulgence He deigns to award to them the value of which they are by no means worthy. Nevertheless let us learn meanwhile that we must not play with God, but that He must be so worshipped in integrity and sincerity of heart as that our sacrifices may correspond with His good pleasure. For hence arises the careless profanation of His worship, because we do not sufficiently consider what is due to His perfection. It is indeed certain that nothing can proceed from us which is pure in every respect; but let us at least aspire at what befits us, and let us mourn that our desires fall so far short of their aim, in order that Christ may by His grace supply what is wanting in US for it is unquestionable that, provided our sacrifices are the fruits of true regeneration, He washes out their blemishes with His own blood.

Verse 22

22.Either a bullock, or a lamb, that hath anything superfluous. An exception is here stated as to free-will-offerings; for in them God does not refuse a diminutive animal, or one which has a member either contracted, or of excessive size. And doubtless a greater license ought to be given, when a person is not under the obligation either of a vow or any other necessity. Still we must remember that no victim is acceptable to God, which labors under any notable defect.

Verse 25

25.Neither from a stranger’s hand. God here forbids that victims of this sort should be offered to Him, although they might be purchased from foreigners. The Hebrews, however, has invented a different meaning, viz., that not even from foreigners were such sacrifices to be received, as it was unlawful for the children of the Church themselves to offer. But inasmuch as the Law altogether prohibited the unclean nations from making sacred oblations, another solution of this difficulty was still to be discovered. (295) They suppose, therefore, that those are called “strangers,” who observe the precepts of the children of Noah, i.e., who honor God, and do not pollute themselves by incest, abstain from the effusion of human blood, and from theft, and who do not worship idols. But the context does not accord with this, for Moses adds at the end that this kind of sacrifice would not be accepted by God from the Jews themselves, which will not agree with their being offered by the Gentiles. This, then, seems to me to be a confirmation of the previous injunction, introduced by way of precaution; for it might have seemed that the offering would have been permissible, if they had purchased the animal, even though it were defective; whereas God declares that what they were not allowed to present from their own stalls, was no more approved of by Him, if it had been purchased, because defectiveness is always displeasing to Him. Nor do I restrict this, as they do, to the foregoing clause, as if it only referred to castrated animals, and such as were wounded in the testicles, but I include with it also warts and eruptions, and other blemishes. In order that the prohibition may have more weight, he again calls the sacrificesthe bread of God,” not because God, who is the fountain of life, has need of food, or eats of corruptible meat, since He is the eternal Spirit; but that men may more diligently take care duly to perform their sacred rites, wherein they familiarly draw nigh to God. Now, if no one would dare to present stale or corrupted food to an earthly prince, much less tolerable is it to contaminate God’s table with anything blemished.

Verse 27

Leviticus 22:27.When a bullock or a sheep. God forbids the young to be taken from the womb to the altar, not only because this bad example was likely to be transferred from the sacrifices to the ordinary food, but also because the offering would have been a fraudulent one. We have seen that the sacrifices were called the bread of God, in order that men should be more liberal with respect to them, and not offer meagre victims; but to kill a young animal fresh from the womb would have been a sign of contempt; although regard was also had to humanity, lest, by eating of such sacrifices, they should grow accustomed to cruelty. The eighth day is appointed, on which the lawfulness of the offering should commence. I am afraid that the reason which some assign for this is too subtle, viz., that an animal is made perfect in seven days, because God completed the work of creation in seven days. Besides, on this ground the seventh day would be the fittest for sacrifice, because in six days God completed all His work, and the seventh was hallowed for His service It is enough for me that regard was had to maturity of age, just as in the case of circumcision. (296)

Verse 28

28.And whether it be a cow or ewe. Though cruelty was indeed condemned in this precept, still I make no doubt but that Moses speaks primarily of the sacrifices. I confess the word שחט, shachat, which he uses, is a general one; but since throughout the chapter he is professedly treating of the sacrifices, and in connection with these words adds the conclusion respecting the hallowing of His holy name, Leviticus 22:32, the context requires that we should consider it to be an inculcation of purity in God’s service. If any prefer to extend it further, I will not contest the point; and thus this sentence will be a supplement to the Sixth Commandment. I have, however, followed what appears most probable, and the reader of sound judgment will, I hope, agree with me. Meanwhile, I confess that all barbarity and cruelty was thus prohibited in the sacrifices, and in them the rule was laid down, that men should not be cruel in reference to their daily food. It is a sight by no means pleasant to gentle minds to see the dam killed together with her young; and, if it were a common custom, men would easily grow callous as to blood-shedding in general. God would therefore not have the exercises of religion disconnected from the duties of humanity; and the tendency of the precept is, that God’s altar should not be a Cyclopean slaughter-house.

Verse 32

32.Neither shall ye profane. In forbidding the profanation of His name, He confirms in other words the foregoing sentiment; guarding by them His worship from all corruptions, that it may be maintained in purity and integrity. The same, too, is the object of the clause in apposition, which immediately follows; for they hallow God’s name who turn not away from its rightful and sincere worship. Let this be carefully observed, that whatever fancies men devise, are so many profanations of God’s name; for although the superstitious may please themselves by their imaginations, yet is all their religion full of sacrilege, whereby God complains that His holiness is profaned. Mark, also, the mutual relation, when God requires Himself to be hallowed, even as he hallows the people; for nothing can be more unseemly than for the Israelites to mix up with idols Him by whose blessing they excel all other nations. It is as though He commanded them to reflect from whence their superiority proceeded, that they may pay their debt of gratitude to Him who is its author. In sum, forasmuch as He had separated them from heathen nations, He condemns all wicked blending with them, whereby the integrity of religion is corrupted, so that He may alone have the pre-eminence, and all idols may be repudiated. (224)


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 22:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

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