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

Leviticus Chapter 17


lev 17:0

II. Laws for the Sanctification of Israel in the Covenant - Fellowship of Its God - Leviticus 17-25

Holiness of Conduct on the Part of the Israelites - Leviticus 17-20

The contents of these four chapters have been very fittingly summed up by Baumgarten in the following heading: "Israel is not to walk in the way of the heathen and of the Canaanites, but in the ordinances of Jehovah," as all the commandments contained in them relate to holiness of life.

Holiness of Food. - The Israelites were not to slaughter domestic animals as food either within or outside the camp, but before the door of the tabernacle, and as slain-offerings, that the blood and fat might be offered to Jehovah. They were not to sacrifice any more to field-devils (Lev 17:3-7), and were to offer all their burnt-offerings or slain-offerings before the door of the tabernacle (Lev 17:8,_ 9); and they were not to eat either blood or carrion (Lev 17:10-16). These laws are not intended simply as supplements to the food laws in ch. 11; but they place the eating of food on the part of the Israelites in the closest relation with their calling as the holy nation of Jehovah, on the one hand to oppose an effectual barrier to the inclination of the people to idolatrous sacrificial meals, on the other hand to give a consecrated character to the food of the people in harmony with their calling, that it might be received with thanksgiving and sanctified with prayer (Ti1 4:4-5).

Leviticus 17:1

lev 17:1

The directions are given to "Aaron and his sons, and all the children of Israel," because they were not only binding upon the nation generally, but upon the priesthood also; whereas the instructions in ch. 18-20 are addressed to "the children of Israel," or "the whole congregation" (Lev 18:2; Lev 19:2; Lev 20:2), just as special laws are laid down for the priests in ch. 20 and 21 with reference to the circumstances mentioned there.

Leviticus 17:3

lev 17:3

Whoever of the house of Israel slaughtered an ox, sheep, or goat, either within or outside the camp, without bringing the animal to the tabernacle, to offer a sacrifice therefrom to the Lord, "blood was to be reckoned to him;" that is to say, as the following expression, "he hath shed blood," shows, such slaughtering was to be reckoned as the shedding of blood, or blood-guiltiness, and punished with extermination (see Gen 17:14). The severity of this prohibition required some explanation, and this is given in the reason assigned in Lev 17:5-7, viz., "that the Israelites may bring their slain-offerings, which they slay in the open field, before the door of the tabernacle, as peace-offerings to Jehovah," and "no more offer their sacrifices to the שׂעירים, after whom they go a whoring" (Lev 17:7). This reason presupposes that the custom of dedicating the slain animals as sacrifices to some deity, to which a portion of them was offered, was then widely spread among the Israelites. It had probably been adopted from the Egyptians; though this is not expressly stated by ancient writers: Herodotus (i. 132) and Strabo (xv. 732) simply mentioning it as a Persian custom, whilst the law book of Manu ascribes it to the Indians. To root out this idolatrous custom from among the Israelites, they were commanded to slay every animal before the tabernacle, as a sacrificial gift to Jehovah, and to bring the slain-offerings, which they would have slain in the open field, to the priest at the tabernacle, as shelamim (praise-offerings and thank-offerings), that he might sprinkle the blood upon the altar, and burn the fat as a sweet-smelling savour for Jehovah (see Lev 3:2-5). "The face of the field" (Lev 17:5, as in Lev 14:7, Lev 14:53): the open field, in distinction from the enclosed space of the court of Jehovah's dwelling. "The altar of Jehovah" is spoken of in Lev 17:6 instead of "the altar" only (Lev 1:5; Lev 11:15, etc.), on account of the contrast drawn between it and the altars upon which they offered sacrifice to Seirim. שׂעירים, literally goats, is here used to signify daemones (Vulg.), "field-devils" (Luther), demons, like the שׂדים in Deu 32:17, who were supposed to inhabit the desert (Isa 13:21; Isa 34:14), and whose pernicious influence they sought to avert by sacrifices. The Israelites had brought this superstition, and the idolatry to which it gave rise, from Egypt. The Seirim were the gods whom the Israelites worshipped and went a whoring after in Egypt (Jos 24:14; Eze 20:7; Eze 23:3, Eze 23:8, Eze 23:19, Eze 23:21, Eze 23:27). Both the thing and the name were derived from the Egyptians, who worshipped goats as gods (Josephus c. Ap. 2, 7), particularly Pan, who was represented in the form of a goat, a personification of the male and fertilizing principle in nature, whom they called Mendes and reckoned among the eight leading gods, and to whom they had built a splendid and celebrated temple in Thmuis, the capital of the Mendesian Nomos in Lower Egypt, and erected statues in the temples in all directions (cf. Herod. 2, 42, 46; Strabo, xvii. 802; Diod. Sic. i. 18). The expression "a statute for ever" refers to the principle of the law, that sacrifices were to be offered to Jehovah alone, and not to the law that every animal was to be slain before the tabernacle, which was afterwards repealed by Moses, when they were about to enter Canaan, where it could no longer be carried out (Deu 12:15).

Leviticus 17:8

lev 17:8

To this there are appended three laws, which are kindred in their nature, and which were binding not only upon the Israelites, but also upon the foreigners who dwelt in the midst of them.

Lev 17:8-12

Lev 17:8, Lev 17:9 contain the command, that whoever offered a burnt-offering of slain-offering, and did not bring it to the tabernacle to prepare it for Jehovah there, was to be exterminated; a command which involved the prohibition of sacrifice in any other place whatever, and was given, as the further extension of this law in Deut 12 clearly proves, for the purpose of suppressing the disposition to offer sacrifice to other gods, as well as in other places. In Lev 17:10-14 the prohibition of the eating of blood is repeated, and ordered to be observed on pain of extermination; it is also extended to the strangers in Israel; and after a more precise explanation of the reason for the law, is supplemented by instructions for the disposal of the blood of edible game. God threatens that He will inflict the punishment Himself, because the eating of blood was a transgression of the law which might easily escape the notice of the authorities. "To set one's face against:" i.e., to judge. The reason for the command in Lev 17:11, "For the soul of the flesh (the soul which gives life to the flesh) is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your souls," is not a double one, viz., (1) because the blood contained the soul of the animal, and (2) because God had set apart the blood, as the medium of expiation for the human soul, for the altar, i.e., to be sprinkled upon the altar. The first reason simply forms the foundation for the second: God appointed the blood for the altar, as containing the soul of the animal, to be the medium of expiation for the souls of men, and therefore prohibited its being used as food. "For the blood it expiates by virtue of the soul," not "the soul" itself. בּ with כּפּר has only a local or instrumental signification (Lev 6:23; Lev 16:17, Lev 16:27; also Lev 7:7; Exo 29:33; Num 5:8). Accordingly, it was not the blood as such, but the blood as the vehicle of the soul, which possessed expiatory virtue; because the animal soul was offered to God upon the altar as a substitute for the human soul. Hence every bleeding sacrifice had an expiatory force, though without being an expiatory sacrifice in the strict sense of the word.

Lev 17:13

The blood also of such hunted game as was edible, whether bird or beast, was not to be eaten either by the Israelite or stranger, but to be poured out and covered with earth. In Deu 12:16 and Deu 12:24, where the command to slay all the domestic animals at the tabernacle as slain-offerings is repealed, this is extended to such domestic animals as were slaughtered for food; their blood also was not to be eaten, but to be poured upon the earth "like water," i.e., not quasi rem profanam et nullo ritu sacro (Rosenmller, etc.), but like water which is poured upon the earth, sucked in by it, and thus given back to the womb of the earth, from which God had caused the animals to come forth at their creation (Gen 1:24). Hence pouring it out upon the earth like water was substantially the same as pouring it out and covering it with earth (cf. Eze 24:7-8); and the purpose of the command was to prevent the desecration of the vehicle of the soulish life, which was sanctified as the medium of expiation.

Lev 17:14-16

"For as for the soul of all flesh...its blood makes out its soul:" i.e., "this is the case with the soul of all flesh, that it is its blood which makes out its soul." בּנפשׁו is to be taken as a predicate in its meaning, introduced with beth essentiale. It is only as so understood, that the clause supplies a reason at all in harmony with the context. Because the distinguishing characteristic of the blood as, that it was the soul of the being when living in the flesh; therefore it was not to be eaten in the case of any animal: and even in the case of animals that were not proper for sacrifice, it was to be allowed to run out upon the ground, and then covered with earth, or, so to speak, buried.

(Note: On the truth which lay at the foundation of this idea of the unity of the soul and blood, which others of the ancients shared with the Hebrews, particularly the early Greek philosophers, see Delitzsch's bibl. Psychol. pp. 242ff. "It seems at first sight to be founded upon no other reason, than that a sudden diminution of the quantity of the blood is sure to cause death. But this phenomenon rests upon the still deeper ground, that all the activity of the body, especially that of the nervous and muscular systems, is dependent upon the circulation of the blood; for if the flow of blood is stopped from any part of the body, all its activity ceases immediately; a sensitive part loses all sensation in a very few minutes, and muscular action is entirely suspended... The blood is really the basis of the physical life; and so far the soul, as the vital principle of the body, is pre-eminently in the blood" (p. 245).)

- Lastly (Lev 17:15, Lev 17:16), the prohibition against eating "that which died" (Lev 11:39-40), or "that which was torn" (Exo 22:30), is renewed and supplemented by the law, that whoever, either of the natives or of foreigners, should eat the flesh of that which had fallen (died a natural death), or had been torn in pieces by wild beasts (sc., thoughtlessly or in ignorance; cf. Lev 5:2), and neglected the legal purification afterwards, was to bear his iniquity (Lev 5:1). Of course the flesh intended is that of animals which were clean, and therefore allowable as food, when properly slaughtered, and which became unclean simply from the fact, that when they had died a natural death, or had been torn to pieces by wild beasts, the blood remained in the flesh, or did not flow out in a proper manner. According to Exo 22:30, the נבלה (that which had fallen) was to be thrown to the dogs; but in Deu 14:21 permission is given either to sell it or give it to a stranger or alien, to prevent the plea that it was a pity that such a thing should be entirely wasted, and so the more effectually to secure the observance of the command, that it was not to be eaten by an Israelite.

Next: Leviticus Chapter 18