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Vayikra/Leviticus 10:17 Why have you not eaten the sin-offering in the place of holiness, for she is the holy of the holies and He gave her to you to take away the sin of the congregation
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Moshe has become angry with Elazar and Itamar, Aharon's two remaining sons, because he is worried that - in spite of the death of their brothers at the hand ofHaShem because they brought strange fire before Him - they have not followed the correct procedure with the sin offering that was offered as part of the installation of their father and themselves as priests. Our text contains one question and two very connected statements. Moshe starts with a question: "Why have you not eaten the sin offering in a holy place?" We see that the root , "to miss the mark, stumble of fail, to sin" (Davidson) also provides the noun , a sin offering. The rules for the sin offering have been described a few chapters earlier: "This is the ritual of the sin offering: the sin offering shall be slaughtered before the L-RD, at the spot where the burnt offering is slaughtered: it is most holy. The priest who offers it as a sin offering shall eat of it; it shall be eaten in the sacred precinct, in the enclosure of the Tent of Meeting" (Vayikra 6:18-19, NJPS). The translation's "sacred precinct" is the same "holy place" as our text above.
The first statement is that the sin offering is "most holy". This means that only the priest who was involved in offering the sacrifice, or his priest colleagues, may eat the flesh of the offering; unlike some off the other offerings, it may not be eaten by the priest's family or household. And it must be eaten in a holy place, which is taken here to mean within the courtyard of the Tent of Meeting; it cannot be taken home or eaten outside the sanctuary. AvrahamIbn Ezra explains that this means, "in the sacred precinct, in the enclosure of the Tent of Meeting." If any remains uneaten, it must be burned on the main altar; it may not be simply disposed of. This is why Rashi paraphrases and expands Moshe's question: "Did they eat it outside the sanctuary? Did they not burn it? Since it was in the holy place, why did you not eat it?" Mark Rooker suggests that, "the priests were thus guilt of burning meat they should have eaten."1
Why did the priest have to eat the sin offering? Many ancient religions also had this rule as part of their procedures: when the priest ate the sacrifice, as the representative of the god, it signified that the god had accepted the sacrifice. Gunther Plaut tells us that "this indicates that the community's sins were not fully expiated until the priests partook of the meat of the purgation offering", supported by RabbiHirsch who said that "this eating ranks with, and is part of, the procedure of atonement by which atonement is accomplished for a sin committed." Ibn Ezra seems very explicit: "When you eat the sin offering, G-d removes the guilt of the community. Or perhaps it literally means that 'you remove the guilt', that it, you make expiation for them." Other commentators were not so sure. The Ralbag, for example, claims that "though expiation was already made when the blood was dashed against the altar, it is nonetheless preferable that the priests should also eat their share of the offering", while Baruch Levine offers: "It was the duty of the priests to eat their assigned portions of the sin offering of the people. Therefore, although the blood rites incorporated in the the offering of the sin-offering constituted the primary means of expiation, the sacred meals of the priests were also essential." Samuel Balentine sums up: "According to the prescriptions already given, the priests must consume the remains of the goat in a holy place. The consumption is obligatory, because it effects the purgation of the community by removing their guilt. ... Because the priests are the personification of the holy, they are endowed with the capacity to nullify sin by ritually consuming it."2
Let's take a closer look at the second statement, that G-d has given the sin offering to the priests to take away the , the iniquity, of the congregation. The Qal infinitive comes from the root , to lift, carry, take away. The roles of the priest is to lift, carry the weight of and take away the sins that the people have committed. Walter Kaiser says that "this lays down an enormously important theological principle when it states that G-d had given the portion of the sin offering to be eaten in the sanctuary 'to bear the iniquity of the congregation'" Why so - what is happening? Kaiser continues, "these sins are in some sense transferred to the priests on behalf of the people. It was to this role that the early church appealed in understanding Yeshua as the ultimate mediator who would come to bear our sins in his own body, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24), "the Lamb of G-d, who takes away [bears away] the sin of the world" (John 1:29, emphasis added)."3
We can see here too the second of the two goats that are part of the Yom Kippur ritual. One is slaughtered before the L-rd; the Cohen HaGadol shall "slaughter the people's goat of sin offering, bring its blood behind the curtain, and ... he shall sprinkle it over the cover and in front of the cover" (Vayikra 16:15, NJPS) behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies. Then the second goat is brought forward and the priest "shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness ... Thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness" (vv. 21-22, NJPS). The confession of sin and laying on of hands transfers the community's sin to the goat who then takes that sin away from the people into the wilderness. Jewish tradition records that the goat was pushed over a cliff to its death in the wilderness so that it count not accidentally return - with its cargo of sin - to the people.
Jacob Milgrom too senses the magnitude of the priest eating the sin offering: "When the priest consumes the sin offering he is making a profound theological statement: holiness has swallowed impurity; life can defeat death."4 This takes us to a new level of understanding; these ideas must surely have been in the mind of the prophet Isaiah: "[The L-rd of Hosts] will swallow up death for all time, and the L-rd G-d will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the L-RD has spoken" (Isaiah 25:8, NASB). Using the concept - swallowing, eating, consuming, destroying - this time from the verb , to swallow or gulp down, the prophet sees HaShem destroying death forever, so that death is swallowed up by life. HaShem is the source of all life; He lives for ever and gives life to mankind. His life cannot be extinguished and so eats or consumes death.
Writing to the community of believers in Corinth, Rav Sha'ul talks about the resurrection that will happen when Yeshua returns: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:52, ESV). The flesh and blood, made from dust and ashes, human body which perishes all too easily, will become imperishable; the human body that dies will put on immortality. As Anthony Thiselton puts it, "in place of decay we shall receive a mode of being which cannot wear out and is incapable of dying."5 When this happens, Sha'ul writes, "then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory'" (v. 54, ESV), following Isaiah. As the priest ate the sin offering and thus effected atonement for the people, so Yeshua 'ate' or absorbed our sin and took its punishment on the cross - He atoned for or took away the sin of the world. He exchanged His life for ours: "[G-d] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB).
Yeshua, as our "great high priest over the household of G-d" (Hebrew 10:21), consumed our sins - they are transferred to Him, "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried" (Isaiah 53:4, NASB) - that He might effect atonement for all who come to Him. He "forgives sin, overcomes death and annuls the condemning power of the Law."6 We are called to walk in His footsteps, showing people the way, introducing them to Yeshua and encouraging them to surrender their sins so that may find atonement and forgiveness in Him who loves us.
1. - Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 162.
2. - Samuel E. Balentine, Leviticus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), page 88.
3. - Walter C. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 576.
4. - Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16|,Anchor Bible Bible 3, (New York, Doubleday, 1991), page 638.
5. - Anthony Thiselton, 1 Corinthians - A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), page 288.
6. - Ben Witherington III, Conflicy & Community in Corinth - A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), page 311.
Further Study: John 5:25-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Hebrews 9:25-28
Application: Have you found your atonement in the sacrifice of Yeshua and know His risen life setting you free from the power of sin and death? As we look to our eternal future with Him, rejoice today that He has exchanged His life for your life and swallowed up death for ever.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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