Notes on Andrew Bonar’s comments on Lev. 10.16-20
(Page references to Banner of Truth Edition 1966, last reprinted 1989)
Andrew Bonar gives us rich and thoughtful comments on an intriguing event, but is he correct to claim (p.202) that Lev. 6.26-30 mandates eating the sin offering when offered for personal sins of the priest, but burning it when offered for others?
If so, there seem a number of contradictions in the account he gives.
1 Why in Lev. 10.17is it made clear that the sin offering was offered for the congregation, but Moses blamed Aaron’s sons for not eating it? The Hebrew is as plain as the English ‘for them’, if Moses intended the priests were atoned for first and the congregation secondarily, as Bonar suggests, it would have seemed clearer to say ‘ for you (pl.)’.
2 P.203 (inference 1) suggests priests needed to be cleansed themselves before offering for others (so does the footnote on p.204). This seems right, but if so it strengthens this problem with what Bonar says was primarily an offering for the priests’ own sins, but Moses says was for others.
3 P.203 (inference 3) increases the confusion. Now Bonar suggests that the priests are actually bearing the people’s sin without personal fault, by imputation. Again this may well be right, (it certainly is for the inanimate sanctuary in Lev 16.16, and only absolutely true for that which it prefigures, the Holiest of Holies, the Messiah Himself, the latter Bonar beautifully shows us from 1 Chron.23.13 (lit. Heb.). The problem is though, was the offering which technically should have been eaten but was in fact burned in Lev.10 for Eleazer and Ithamar’s own sins or for the people? If it is the latter as he now suggests, his earlier statement on p.202 is not valid.
4 P.204 Bonar now suggests from Lev.10.19 that the sin offering for the priests’ own sins had already been offered that morning, and it was this that had not been eaten. However the law for a priest’s offering prescribed a bullock not a goat (Lev.4.3), this kind of sin offering had been carried out for Aaron in Le.9.8, as Bonar discusses.
5 It seems more likely that the goat sin offering burnt that should have been eaten is the one mentioned in Lev.9.15, which was appointed for the people (the apparent discrepancy with Lev. 4.13 where a bullock is prescribed for the sin of the whole congregation is fairly easy to explain).
6 Bonar’s handling of Lev.10.20 is excellent and wonderfully helpful, especially his allusion to the splendid fulfilment of Daniel 9. However the reason that Moses accepted Aaron’s explanation may not be that the priests were unwilling to give sanction to Nadab and Abihu’s sin offering, as he suggests, but that Eleazar, Ithamar (and Aaron) felt personally unworthy to participate in the sacrifice for sin by eating it, (as in reason 2 above). They felt unworthy to carry the people’s sin as sinless imputees, and it was this healthy grasp of the kernel of the law that Moses approved. After all the sin offering was ‘holy of holies’ Lev.6. 17 (literal Heb.), and so was the eating of it Lev.6.29.
7 A similar kind of unworthiness is indicated in the Day of Atonement sacrifices Lev.16.15,27, & 33. The High Priest, even after offering for himself v.17, was not fit to participate in the cleansing of the sanctuary itself – perhaps because it was the fountainhead of pardon and reconciliation, and so to distinguish firmly between the Levitical priesthood and the better one to come. This is I think the true meaning of Lev.6.30 and it is tentatively there suggested by the Hebrew atone ‘in’ or ‘for’ (-ב) the sanctuary (the word ‘withal’ not appearing in the original, as indicated by italics in the AV), the exact phrase is echoed in the Day of Atonement passage, in 16 v.20 27, although the usual preposition in Hebrew for atone ‘for’ (על) is found in 16.16.
To my knowledge, this is the only text that suggests a priest’s participation in the efficacy of the sacrifice by eating it, (though the English is stronger than the Hebrew, ‘would it have seemed good in the eyes of the Lord?’), other texts simply refer to the receiving of a benefit of the sacred meal by eating, like Lev.7.18. Some may argue that being ‘accepted’ here refers only to the act of the priests, not the efficacy of the whole sacrifice, but that doesn’t adequately explain Moses’ initial indignation on behalf of the congregation, Lev.10 v.17, and his implication that the priests had failed to bear the iniquity of the people. This of course is not applicable to the Lord’s Table, as even Roman Catholics would be quick to point out – for them that would make all the people priests, but for us the Table is a remembrance of Christ’s sufficient and unique work, and not at all a real sacrifice for sin.