And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
This chapter finds its natural place here as the supplement of all that has gone before. The first part of the book contains the institution or regulation of the sacrificial system (chapters 1-7). This chapter, therefore, which gives injunctions as to the place where all sacrifices are to be offered, might well, as Knobel has remarked, have taken its place as chapter 8. The second part contains the institution of the hereditary priesthood (chapters 8-10). This chapter, therefore, which forbids for the future all offering of sacrifices in the open fields, and commands that they shall be brought "unto the priest, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation," would still more fitly find its place after chapter 10. But the first two sections of the third part (chapters 11-16) contain the laws and rules respecting cleansing from ceremonial defilement, and this cleansing is to be mainly effected by the means of sacrifice. Therefore the rule as to the place where sacrifice shall be offered is most naturally given here, where it is found (chapter 17), forming a close not only to Parts I and II, but also to the two sections of Part III, which contain the regulations as to purification by sacrifice. It is altogether a mistake to make a Second Book begin with chapter 17, as is clone by Lange and Keil. The first injunction contained in the chapter (verses 2-7) is very generally understood to mean that while the Israelites lived in the wilderness, all animals fit for sacrifices which were slain for food should be so far regarded as sacrifices that they should be brought to the door of the tabernacle and slain in the court, an offering of the blood and fat being made to the Lord. Thus the ordinary slaughtering of domestic animals, it is said, became sanctified, and the dignity of life made clear: God is the Lord of life; he gave it, and it must not be taken away unless the blood, which is the vehicle of life, be offered to him by being presented sacrificially on his altar, or, where this is not possible, as in the case of wild animals, by being reverently covered with earth. Such a rule as this respecting the slaughtering of domestic animals, difficult to carry out in any case, would become impossible to obey after the camp had been expanded into a nation, and it is therefore supposed that it is by anticipation repealed in Deuteronomy 12:15 ("Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee"), while the regulations as to restricting the offering of sacrifice to the court of the temple, and as to pouring blood on the earth, are there emphatically enforced. This view of the text is erroneous, and must be rejected. The injunction dues not refer to the ordinary slaughter of domestic animals for food, but only to sacrifices. Hitherto it had been the right and the duty of the head of each family to offer sacrifice for his household, and this he did wherever he thought proper, according to the ancient patriarchal practice, and most naturally in the open fields. This duty and liberty is now abolished. The Aaronic priesthood has superseded the older priestly system, and henceforth every sacrifice is to be offered in the court of the tabernacle, and by the hand of Aaron's sons. The change was most momentous, but it could not but be made after the consecration of Aaron and his sons for an hereditary priesthood. A second reason for the change being made was the immediate danger to which a rude and superstitious people was exposed, of offering the parts which they were bound to set aside for the altar of God to some other deity, if God's priests and altar were not at hand. The imaginations of the Israelites, corrupted by their stay in Egypt, peopled the fields with beings answering to the Pan and the satyrs of the Greeks; and to these the sacred portions of the animals slaughtered elsewhere than at the tabernacle were offered.
Speak unto Aaron, and unto his sons, and unto all the children of Israel, and say unto them; This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, saying,
What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it out of the camp,
Verse 3. - What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat. The use of the word killeth, instead of sacrificeth, is one of the chief causes of the error referred to above, which represents this command as applying to the slaughter of domestic animals. But it is always permissible to use a generic in place of a specific term, and its use proves nothing. Probably the sacred writer uses it as a less sacred term, and therefore more suitable to sacrifices offered to the spirits of the fields and woods. If ordinary slaughtering were meant, there is no reason why pigeons and turtle-doves should not be added to the ox, or lamb, or goat. That every ox, or lamb, or goat, to be killed in the camp, or... out of the camp, for the food of more than 600,000 men, should be brought to so confined a space as the court of the tabernacle for slaughter, where the animals for the daily, weekly, annual, and innumerable private sacrifices were also killed, appears almost credible in itself. How would the drivers have made their way into it? and what would have soon been the state of the court? It is true that animal food was not the staple sustenance of the Israelites in the wilderness; but not unfrequently, after a successful war or raid, there must have been a vast number of cattle killed for feasting or reserved for subsequent eating.
And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer an offering unto the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD; blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people:
Verse 4. - In case a man offers a sacrifice elsewhere than at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,... blood shall be imputed unto that man; that is, it shall no longer be regarded as a sacrifice at all, but an unjustifiable shedding of blood, for which he is to be cut off from among his people, that is, excommunicated.
To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they offer in the open field, even that they may bring them unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest, and offer them for peace offerings unto the LORD.
Verse 5. - To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices. This passage tells us the purpose of the previous command: it is to prevent sacrifices being sacrificed (the word is twice used in the original) in the open field, or anywhere else than in the court of the tabernacle. It follows that the command refers to sacrifice, not to mere slaughtering. Clark, taking the opposite view of the command, is obliged to change the translation, sacrifices which they offer in the open field, into "beasts for slaughter which they now slaughter in the open field" ('Speaker's Commentary'); but he has no authority for doing so. Zabach means always, in the Pentateuch, to slay in sacrifice. These field sacrifices, when offered to the Lord in the proper place and with the proper ceremonies, would become peace offerings unto the Lord.
And the priest shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar of the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and burn the fat for a sweet savour unto the LORD.
Verse 6. - The priest, that is, the Levitical priest, is henceforth to sprinkle the blood upon the altar of the Lord... and burn the fat for a sweet savour, which were the two parts of the sacrifice which were essentially priestly in their character. The old priestly function of the head of the family is disallowed.
And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations.
Verse 7. - And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. The word rightly translated devils means, literally, shaggy goats (see 2 Chronicles 11:15; Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14; where the word occurs). It is generally supposed that the Israelites borrowed their worship of the goat-like spirits of the woods and fields from Egypt. That goat-worship prevailed there in a very foul shape we know (Herod., 2:42), but sacrifices in the open fields are rather a Persian habit (Herod., 1:132). Pan-worship, however, was common to most if not to all agricultural nations. The injunction which follows, This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations, which cannot be confined to the last few words or verses, shows that the command of verse 3 refers to sacrifices, not to ordinary slaughtering. Had slaughtering been meant, the statute could not have been intended to be more than temporary in its obligation. The importance attributed to the regulation is further shown by the declaration previously made, that whoever transgressed it should be cut off from among his people, or excommunicated. In fact, it makes an era in the history of the chosen people. The old patriarchal priesthood having ceased, and the Aaronic priesthood substituted for it, the tabernacle is appointed to serve as a religious centre to the race. Whenever, from this time onwards, sacrifices were offered, without offense, elsewhere than in the court of the tabernacle or temple, as by Samuel (see 1 Samuel 13:8), and by Elijah (1 Kings 18:32), it was done by the direct order or dispensation of God.
And thou shalt say unto them, Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers which sojourn among you, that offereth a burnt offering or sacrifice,
Verses 8, 9. - So essential is the regulation to the maintenance of the Israelitish polity, that it is extended to the strangers which sojourn among them, not confined to those who were of the house of Israel; and the penalty of excommunication is appointed for both classes alike in case of disobedience. It may be noticed that this verse assumes that burnt offerings and peace offerings are offered by the strangers that sojourn among them, as well as by the Israelites by race.
And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer it unto the LORD; even that man shall be cut off from among his people.
And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people.
Verses 10, 11. - The appointment made just above, that the blood of all animals slain in sacrifice should be offered to the Lord on his altar in the court of the tabernacle, leads naturally to a reiteration of the prohibition of the eating of blood, and a statement of the reason of that prohibition. "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat," was given as a command to Noah (Genesis 9:4). It has already been repeated twice in the Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26), and it is still again found in chapter Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16; Deuteronomy 15:23. The present is the locus classicus which explains the earnestness with which the rule is enforced. It begins with an extension of the obligation from the Israelites to the sojourners among them, and with a solemn declaration that, in case of transgression, God will take into his own bands the punishment of the offenders; not only is he to be cut off or excommunicated by political or ecclesiastical authority, but God himself will set his face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people, by death, or such means as he chooses to adopt. Then follows the reason for the prohibition. For the life of the flesh is in the blood. The blood may not be eaten because it is the vehicle of life, literally, the soul of the flesh, that is, it is the seat of the animal life of the body. "It is the fountain of life," says Harvey; "the first to live, the last to die, and the primary seat of the animal soul; it lives and is nourished of itself, and by no other part of the human body." In consequence of possessing this character, it is to be reserved, to make an atonement for your souls upon the altar; for thus only blood became qualified for the purpose of atonement. The clause, for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul, should be translated, for the blood maketh atonement by means of the soul, i.e., by means of the life which it contains. It is because the blood is the vehicle of the animal's life, and represents that life, that it serves to cover, or make atonement for, the soul of the offerer of the sacrifice, who presents it instead of his own life.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.
Verse 12. - This verse emphatically restates that the atoning power of the blood, as being the seat of life, is the reason that the eating of it is forbidden, and the same statement is repeated in a different connexion in verse 14.
And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.
Verses 13, 14. - Negatively, it has been ordered that blood shall not be eaten; positively, that it is to be offered to God. But there may be cases where the latter command cannot be caused out, as when animals are killed in hunting. On such occasions the man who kills the animal, whether he be an Israelite or a sojourner, is to pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust, regarding it as a sacred thing.
For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.
And every soul that eateth that which died of itself, or that which was torn with beasts, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger, he shall both wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even: then shall he be clean.
Verses 15, 16. - There is still another possible case. The blood of an animal may not have been shed, or not shed in such a way as to make it flow abundantly, as when the animal has died a natural death, or been killed by wild beasts. In this case, as the blood still remains in the body, the flesh may not be eaten without defilement. The defilement may be cleansed by the unclean man washing his clothes and bathing, but if he neglect to do this, he shall bear his iniquity, that is, undergo the consequence of his transgression, which he would not have undergone had he been ceremonially cleansed (cf. Exodus 22:30; chapter Leviticus 11:39; Deuteronomy 14:21). The prohibition of the eating of blood was continued by the Council of Jerusalem, but the observance of the regulation was no longer commanded as a duty binding on all men, but as a concession to Jewish feelings, enabling Jewish and Gentile converts to live together in comfort (see 1 Samuel 14:32; Ezekiel 33:35; Acts 15:20).
But if he wash them not, nor bathe his flesh; then he shall bear his iniquity.