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Sacrifices: Their Order and Their Meaning
It is a curious fact, but sadly significant, that modern Judaism should declare neither sacrifices nor a Levitical priesthood to belong to the essence of the Old Testament; that, in fact, they had been foreign elements imported into it--tolerated, indeed, by Moses, but against which the prophets earnestly protested and incessantly labored. The only arguments by which this strange statement is supported are, that the Book of Deuteronomy contains merely a brief summary, not a detailed repetition, of sacrificial ordinances, and that such passages as Isaiah 1:11, etc., Micah 6:6, etc., inveigh against sacrifices offered without real repentance or change of mind. Yet this anti-sacrificial, or, as we may call it, anti-spiritual, tendency is really of much earlier date. For the sacrifices of the Old Testament were not merely outward observances--a sort of work-righteousness which justified the offerer by the mere fact of his obedience--since 'it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins' (Heb 10:4).
Symbolism of the Sacrifices
The sacrifices of the Old Testament were symbolical and typical. An outward observance without any real inward meaning is only a ceremony. But a rite which has a present spiritual meaning is a symbol; and if, besides, it also points to a future reality, conveying at the same time, by anticipation, the blessing that is yet to appear, it is a type. Thus the Old Testament sacrifices were not only symbols, nor yet merely predictions by fact (as prophecy is a prediction by word), but they already conveyed to the believing Israelite the blessing that was to flow from the future reality to which they pointed. Hence the service of the letter and the work-righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees ran directly contrary to this hope of faith and spiritual view of sacrifices, which placed all on the level of sinners to be saved by the substitution of another, to whom they pointed. Afterwards, when the destruction of the Temple rendered its services impossible, another and most cogent reason was added for trying to substitute other things, such as prayers, fasts, etc., in room of the sacrifices. Therefore, although none of the older Rabbis has ventured on such an assertion as that of modern Judaism, the tendency must have been increasingly in that direction. In fact, it had become a necessity--since to declare sacrifices of the essence of Judaism would have been to pronounce modern Judaism an impossibility. But thereby also the synagogue has given sentence against itself, and by disowning sacrifices has placed itself outside the pale of the Old Testament.
Sacrifices the Center of the Old Testament
Every unprejudiced reader of the Bible must feel that sacrifices constitute the center of the Old Testament. Indeed, were this the place, we might argue from their universality that, along with the acknowledgment of a Divine power, the dim remembrance of a happy past, and the hope of a happier future, sacrifices belonged to the primeval traditions which mankind inherited from Paradise. To sacrifice seems as 'natural' to man as to pray; the one indicates what he feels about himself, the other what he feels about God. The one means a felt need of propitiation; the other a felt sense of dependence.
The Idea of Substitution
The fundamental idea of sacrifice in the Old Testament is that of substitution, which again seems to imply everything else-- atonement and redemption, vicarious punishment and forgiveness. The firstfruits go for the whole products; the firstlings for the flock; the redemption-money for that which cannot be offered; and the life of the sacrifice, which is in its blood (Lev 17:11), for the life of the sacrificer. Hence also the strict prohibition to partake of blood. Even in the 'Korban,' gift (Mark 7:11) or free- will offering, it is still the gift for the giver. This idea of substitution, as introduced, adopted, and sanctioned by God Himself, is expressed by the sacrificial term rendered in our version 'atonement,' but which really means covering, the substitute in the acceptance of God taking the place of, and so covering, as it were, the person of the offerer. Hence the Scriptural experience: 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered...unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity' (Psa 32:1,2); and perhaps also the Scriptural prayer: 'Behold, O God, our shield, and look upon the face of Thine Anointed' (Psa 84:9). Such sacrifices, however, necessarily pointed to a mediatorial priesthood, through whom alike they and the purified worshippers should be brought near to God, and kept in fellowship with Him. Yet these priests themselves continually changed; their own persons and services needed purification, and their sacrifices required constant renewal, since, in the nature of it, such substitution could not be perfect. In short, all this was symbolical (of man's need, God's mercy, and His covenant), and typical, till He should come to whom it all pointed, and who had all along given reality to it; He whose Priesthood was perfect, and who on a perfect altar brought a perfect sacrifice, once for all--a perfect Substitute, and a perfect Mediator (Heb 10:1-24).
The Passover Lamb
At the very threshold of the Mosaic dispensation stands the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb connected with the redemption of Israel, and which in many respects must be regarded as typical, or rather anticipatory, of all the others. But there was one sacrifice which, even under the Old Testament, required no renewal. It was when God had entered into covenant relationship with Israel, and Israel became the 'people of God.' Then Moses sprinkled 'the blood of the covenant' on the altar and on the people (Exo 24). On the ground of this covenant-sacrifice all others rested (Psa 50:5). These were, then, either sacrifices of communion with God, or else intended to restore that communion when it had been disturbed or dimmed through sin and trespass: sacrifices in communion, or for communion with God. To the former class belong the burnt- and the peace-offerings; to the latter, the sin- and the trespass-offerings. But, as without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin, every service and every worshipper had, so to speak, to be purified by blood, and the mediatorial agency of the priesthood called in to bring near unto God, and to convey the assurance of acceptance.
Bloody and Unbloody Offerings
The readiest, but perhaps the most superficial, arrangement of sacrifices is into bloody and unbloody. The latter, or 'Minchah,' included, besides the meat- and drink-offering, the first sheaf at the Passover, the two loaves at Pentecost, and the shewbread. The meat-offering was only brought alone in two instance--the priest's offering (Lev 7:12) and that of jealousy (Num 5:15), to which Jewish tradition adds the meat-offerings mentioned in Leviticus 2. If in Leviticus 5:11 a meat-offering is allowed in cases of extreme poverty as a substitute for a sin-offering, this only further proves the substitutionary character of sacrifices. From all this it will be evident that, as a general rule, the meat-offering cannot be regarded as separate from the other or bloody sacrifices. In proof of this, it always varied in quantity, according to the kind of sacrifice which it accompanied (Num 15:1-12; 28:1-12; 39:1, etc.).
The Requisites of Sacrifice
The general requisites of all sacrifices were--that they should be brought of such things, in such place and manner, and through such mediatorial agency, as God had appointed. Thus the choice and the appointment of the mode of approaching Him, were to be all of God. Then it was a first principle that every sacrifice must be of such things as had belonged to the offerer. None other could represent him or take his place before God. Hence the Pharisees were right when, in opposition to the Sadducees, they carried it that all public sacrifices (which were offered for the nation as a whole) should be purchased, not from voluntary contributions, but from the regular Temple revenues. Next, all animal sacrifices were to be free of blemishes (of which the Rabbis enumerate seventy-three), and all unbloody offerings to be without admixture of leaven or of honey; the latter probably because, from its tendency to fermentation or corruption, it resembled leaven. For a similar reason salt, as the symbol of incorruption, was to be added to all sacrifices. *
Hence we read in Mark 9:49--'For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt'; that is, as the salt is added to the sacrifice symbolically to point to its incorruption, so the reality and permanence of our Christian lives will be brought out by the fire of the great day, when what is wood, hay, and stubble shall be consumed; while that which is real shall prove itself incorruptible, having had the fire applied to it.
The Creatures Appointed
In Scripture three kinds of four-footed beasts--oxen, sheep, and goats; and two of birds--turtle-doves and young pigeons--are appointed for sacrifices. *
* 'The birds' used at the purification of the leper (Lev 14:4) cannot be regarded as sacrifices.
The latter, except in certain purifications, are only allowed as substitutes for other sacrifices in case of poverty. Hence also no direction is given either as to their age or sex, though the Rabbis hold that the turtle-doves (which were the common birds of passage) should be fully grown, and the domestic pigeons young birds. But, as in the various sacrifices of oxen, sheep, and goats there were differences of age and sex, the Jews enumerate twelve sacrifices, to which as many terms in Scripture correspond. The Passover lamb and that for the trespass-offerings required to be males, as well as all burnt- and all public sacrifices. The latter 'made void the Sabbath and defilement,' i.e. they superseded the law of Sabbath rest (Matt 12:5), and might be continued, nevertheless one kind of Levitical defilement--that by death.