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SACRIFICE: THE BURNT-OFFERING.
The voice of Jehovah which had spoken not long before from Sinai, now speaks from out "the tent of meeting." There was a reason for the change. For Israel had since then entered into covenant with God; and Moses, as the mediator of the covenant, had sealed it by sprinkling with blood both the Book of the Covenant and the people. And therewith they had professedly taken Jehovah for their God, and He had taken Israel for His people. In infinite grace, He had condescended to appoint for Himself a tabernacle or "tent of meeting," where He might, in a special manner, dwell among them, and manifest to them His will. The tabernacle had been made, according to the pattern shown to Moses in the mount; and it had been now set up. And so now, He who had before spoken amid the thunders of flaming, trembling Sinai, speaks from the hushed silence of "the tent of meeting." The first words from Sinai had been the holy law, forbidding sin with threatening of wrath: the first words from the tent of meeting are words of grace, concerning fellowship with the Holy One maintained through sacrifice, and atonement for sin by the shedding of blood. A contrast this which is itself a Gospel!
The offerings of which we read in the next seven chapters are of two kinds, namely, bloody and unbloody offerings. In the former class were included the burnt-offering, the peace-offering, the sin-offering, and the guilt-, or trespass-offering; in the latter, only the meal-offering. The book begins with the law of the burnt-offering.
In any exposition of this law of the offerings, it is imperative that our interpretation shall be determined, not by any fancy of ours as to what the offerings might fitly symbolise, nor yet, on the other hand, be limited by what we may suppose that any Israelite of that day might have thought regarding them; but by the statements concerning them which are contained in the law itself, and in other parts of Holy Scripture, especially in the New Testament.
First of all, we may observe that in the book itself the offerings are described by the remarkable expression, "the bread" or "food of God". Thus, it is commanded (xxi. 6) that the priests should not defile themselves, on this ground: "the offerings of the Lord made by fire, the bread of their God, do they offer." It was an ancient heathen notion that in sacrifice, food was provided for the Deity in order thus to show Him honour. And, doubtless, in Israel, ever prone to idolatry, there were many who rose no higher than this gross conception of the meaning of such words. Thus, in Psalm l. 8-15, God sharply rebukes Israel for so unworthy thoughts of Himself, using language at the same time which teaches the spiritual meaning of the sacrifice, regarded as the "food," or "bread," of God: "I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices; and thy burnt-offerings are continually before Me.... I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out 31 of thy stalls.... If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; for the world is Mine, and the fulness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God the sacrifice of thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High; and call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify Me."
Of which language the plain teaching is this. If the sacrifices are called in the law "the bread of God," God asks not this bread from Israel in any material sense, or for any material need. He asks that which the offerings symbolise; thanksgiving, loyal fulfilment of covenant engagements to Him, and that loving trust which will call on Him in the day of trouble. Even so! Gratitude, loyalty, trust! this is the "food of God," this the "bread" which He desires that we should offer, the bread which those Levitical sacrifices symbolised. For even as man, when hungry, craves food, and cannot be satisfied without it, so God, who is Himself Love, desires our love, and delights in seeing its expression in all those offices of self-forgetting and self-sacrificing service in which love manifests itself. This is to God even as is food to us. Love cannot be satisfied except with love returned; and we may say, with deepest humility and reverence, the God of love cannot be satisfied without love returned. Hence it is that the sacrifices, which in various ways symbolise the self-offering of love and the fellowship of love, are called by the Holy Ghost "the food," or "bread of God."
And yet we must, on no account, hasten to the conclusion, as many do, that therefore the Levitical sacrifices were only intended to express and symbolise the self-offering of the worshipper, and that this 32 exhausts their significance. On the contrary, the need of infinite Love for this "bread of God" cannot be adequately met and satisfied by the self-offering of any creature, and, least of all, by the self-offering of a sinful creature, whose very sin lies just in this, that he has fallen away from perfect love. The symbolism of the sacrifice as "the food of God," therefore, by this very phrase points toward the self-offering in love of the eternal Son to the Father, and in behalf of sinners, for the Father's sake. It was the sacrifice on Calvary which first became, in innermost reality, that "bread of God," which the ancient sacrifices were only in symbol. It was this, not regarded as satisfying Divine justice (though it did this), but as satisfying the Divine love; because it was the supreme expression of the perfect love of the incarnate Son of God to the Father, in His becoming "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
And now, keeping all this in view, we may venture to say even more than at first as to the meaning of this phrase, "the bread of God," applied to these offerings by fire. For just as the free activity of man is only sustained in virtue of and by means of the food which he eats, so also the love of the God of love is only sustained in free activity toward man through the self-offering to the Father of the Son, in that atoning sacrifice which He offered on the cross, and in the ceaseless service of that exalted life which, risen from the dead, Christ now lives unto God for ever. Thus already, this expression, so strange to our ears at first, as descriptive of Jehovah's offerings made by fire, points to the person and work of the adorable Redeemer as its only sufficient explication.
But, again, we find another expression, xvii. 11, 33 which is of no less fundamental consequence for the interpretation of the bloody offerings of Leviticus. In connection with the prohibition of blood for food, and as a reason for that prohibition, it is said: "The life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement,"—mark the expression; not, as in the received version, "for the soul," which were mere tautology, and gives a sense which the Hebrew cannot have, but, as the Revised Version has it,—"by reason of the life," or "soul" (marg.). Hence, wherever in this law we read of a sprinkling of blood upon the altar, this must be held fast as its meaning, whether it be formally mentioned or not; namely, atonement made for sinful man through the life of an innocent victim poured out in the blood. There may be, and often are, other ideas, as we shall see, connected with the offering, but this is always present. To argue, then, with so many in modern times, that because, not the idea of an atonement, but that of a sacrificial meal given by the worshipper to God, is the dominant conception in the sacrifices of the ancient nations, therefore we cannot admit the idea of atonement and expiation to have been intended in these Levitical sacrifices, is simply to deny, not only the New Testament interpretation of them, but the no less express testimony of the record itself.
But it is, manifestly, in the nature of the case "impossible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins." Hence, we are again, by this phrase also, constrained to look beyond this Levitical shedding of sacrificial blood, for some antitype of which the innocent victims slain at that altar were types; one 34 who, by the shedding of his blood, should do that in reality, which at the door of the tent of meeting was done in symbol and shadow.
What the New Testament teaches on this point is known to every one. Christ Jesus was the Antitype, to whose all-sufficient sacrifice each insufficient sacrifice of every Levitical victim pointed. John the Baptist struck the key-note of all New Testament teaching in this matter, when, beholding Jesus, he cried (John i. 29), "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Jesus Christ declared the same thought again and again, as in His words at the sacramental Supper: "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Paul expressed the same thought, when he said (Eph. v. 2) that Christ "gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for an odour of a sweet smell;" and that "our redemption, the forgiveness of our trespasses," is "through His blood" (Eph. i. 7). And Peter also, speaking in Levitical language, teaches that we "were redeemed ... with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ;" to which he adds the suggestive words, of which this whole Levitical ritual is the most striking illustration, that Christ, although "manifested at the end of the times," "was foreknown" as the Lamb of God "before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter i. 18-20). John, in like manner, speaks in the language of Leviticus concerning Christ, when he declares (1 John i. 7) that "the blood of Jesus ... cleanseth us from all sin;" and even in the Apocalypse, which is the Gospel of Christ glorified, He is still brought before us as a Lamb that had been slain, and who has thus "purchased with His blood men of every tribe, 35 and tongue, and people, and nation," "to be unto our God a kingdom and priests" (Rev. v. 6, 9, 10).
In this clear light of the New Testament, one can see how meagre also is the view of some who would see in these Levitical sacrifices nothing more than fines assessed upon the guilty, as theocratic penalties. Leviticus itself should have taught such better than that. For, as we have seen, the virtue of the bloody offerings is made to consist in this, that "the life of the flesh is in the blood;" and we are told that "the blood makes atonement for the soul," not in virtue of the monetary value of the victim, in a commercial way, but "by reason of the life" that is in the blood, and is therewith poured out before Jehovah on the altar,—the life of an innocent victim in the stead of the life of the sinful man.
No less inadequate, if we are to let ourselves be guided either by the Levitical or the New Testament teaching, is the view that the offerings only symbolised the self-offering of the worshipper. We do not deny, indeed, that the sacrifice—of the burnt-offering, for example—may have fitly represented, and often really expressed, the self-consecration of the offerer. But, in the light of the New Testament, this can never be held to have been the sole, or even the chief, reason in the mind of God for directing these outpourings of sacrificial blood upon the altar.
We must insist, then, on this, as essential to the right interpretation of this law of the offerings, that every one of these bloody offerings of Leviticus typified, and was intended to typify, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. The burnt-offering represented Christ; the peace-offering, Christ; the sin-offering, Christ; the guilt-, or trespass-offering, Christ. Moreover, since each of these, 36 as intended especially to shadow forth some particular aspect of Christ's work, differed in some respects from all the others, while yet in all alike a victim's blood was shed upon the altar, we are by this reminded that in our Lord's redemptive work the most central and essential thing is this, that, as He Himself said (Matt. xx. 28), He "came to give His life a ransom for many."
Keeping this guiding thought steadily before us, it is now our work to discover, if we may, what special aspect of the one great sacrifice of Christ each of these offerings was intended especially to represent.
Only, by way of caution, it needs to be added that we are not to imagine that every minute circumstance pertaining to each sacrifice, in all its varieties, must have been intended to point to some correspondent feature of Christ's person or work. On the contrary, we shall frequently see reason to believe that the whole purpose of one or another direction of the ritual is to be found in the conditions, circumstances, or immediate intention of the offering. Thus, to illustrate, when a profound interpreter suggests that the reason for the command that the victim should be slain on the north side of the altar, is to be found in the fact that the north, as the side of shadow, signifies the gloom and joylessness of the sacrificial act, we are inclined rather to see sufficient reason for the prescription in the fact that the other three sides were already in a manner occupied: the east, as the place of ashes; the south, as fronting the entrance; and the west, as facing the tent of meeting and the brazen laver.
The Ritual of the Burnt-offering.
In the law of the offerings, that of the burnt-offering comes first, though in the order of the ritual it was not 37 first, but second, following the sin-offering. In this order of mention we need, however, seek no mystic meaning. The burnt-offering was very naturally mentioned first, as being the most ancient, and also in the most constant and familiar use. We read of burnt-offerings as offered by Noah and Abraham; and of peace-offerings, too, in early times; while the sin-offering and the guilt-offering, in Leviticus treated last, were now ordered for the first time. So also the burnt-offering was still, by Divine ordinance, to be the most common. No day could pass in the tabernacle without the offering of these. Indeed, except on the great day of atonement for the nation, in the ritual for which, the sin-offering was the central act, the burnt-offering was the most important sacrifice on all the great feast-days.
The first law, which applies to bloody offerings in general, was this: that the victim shall be "of the cattle, even of the herd and of the flock" (ver. 2); to which is added, in the latter part of the chapter (ver. 14), the turtle-dove or young pigeon. The carnivora are all excluded; for these, which live by the death of others, could never typify Him who should come to give life. And among others, only clean beasts could be taken. Israel must not offer as "the food of God" that which they might not eat for their own food; nor could that which was held unclean be taken as a type of the Holy Victim of the future. And, even among clean animals, a further selection is made. Only domestic animals were allowed; not even a clean animal was permitted, if it were taken in hunting. For it was fitting that one should offer to God that which had become endeared to the owner as having cost the most of care and labour in its bringing up. For this, also, we can easily see another reason in the Antitype. Nothing was to mark Him 38 more than this: that He should be subject and obey, and that not of constraint, as the unwilling captive of the chase, but freely and unresistingly.
And now follow the special directions for the burnt-offering. The Hebrew word so rendered means, literally, "that which ascends". It thus precisely describes the burnt-offering in its most distinctive characteristic. Of the other offerings, a part was burned, but a part was eaten; in some instances, even by the offerer himself. But in the burnt-offering all ascends to God in flame and smoke. For the creature is reserved nothing whatever.
The first specification in the law of the burnt-offering is this: "If his oblation be a burnt-offering of the herd, he shall offer it a male without blemish" (ver. 3). It must be a "male," as the stronger, the type of its kind; and "without blemish," that is, ideally perfect.
The reasons for this law are manifest. The Israelite was thereby taught that God claims the best that we have. They needed this lesson, as many among us do still. At a later day, we find God rebuking them by Malachi (i. 6, 13), with indignant severity, for their neglect of this law: "A son honoureth his father: ... if then I be a Father, where is My honour?... Ye have brought that which was taken by violence, and the lame, and the sick; ... should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord." And as pointing to our Lord, the command was no less fitting. Thus, as in other sacrifices, it was foreshadowed that the great Burnt-offering of the future would be the one Man without blemish, the absolutely perfect Exemplar of what manhood should be, but is not.
And this brings us now to the ritual of the offering. In the ritual of the various bloody offerings we find 39 six parts. These are: (1) the Presentation; (2) the Laying on of the Hand; (3) the Killing of the Victim; in which three the ritual was the same for all kinds of offerings. The remaining three are: (4) the Sprinkling of Blood; (5) the Burning; (6) the Sacrificial Meal. In these, differences appear in the various sacrifices, which give each its distinctive character; and, in the burnt-offering, the sacrificial meal is omitted,—the whole is burnt upon the altar.
First is given the law concerning
The Presentation of the Victim.
"He shall offer it at the door of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord" (ver. 3).
In this it was ordered, first, that the offerer should bring the victim himself. There were parts of the ceremony in which the priest acted for him; but this he must do for himself. Even so, he who will have the saving benefit of Christ's sacrifice must himself bring this Christ before the Lord. As by so doing, the Israelite signified his acceptance of God's gracious arrangements concerning sacrifice, so do we, bringing Christ in our act of faith before the Lord, express our acceptance of God's arrangement on our behalf; our readiness and sincere desire to make use of Christ, who is appointed for us. And this no man can do for another.
And the offering must be presented for a certain purpose; namely, "that he may be accepted before the Lord;"77The usage of the common Hebrew phrase so rendered does not warrant the translation in the old version: "of his voluntary will." and that, as the context tells us, not because of a present made to God, but through an atoning sacrifice. 40 And so now it is not enough that a man make much of Christ, and mention Him in terms of praise before the Lord, as the One whom He would imitate and seek to serve. He must in his act of faith bring this Christ before the Lord, in such wise as to secure thus his personal acceptance through the blood of the Holy Victim.
And, finally, the place of presentation is prescribed. It must be "at the door of the tent of meeting." It is easy to see the original reason for this. For, as we learn from other Scriptures, the Israelites were ever prone to idolatry, and that especially at places other than the appointed temple or tent of meeting, in the fields and on high places. Hence the immediate purpose of this order concerning the place, was to separate the worship of God from the worship of false gods. There is now, indeed, no law concerning the place where we may present the great Sacrifice before God. At home, in the closet, in the church, on the street, wherever we will, we may present this Christ in our behalf and stead as a Holy Victim before God. And yet the principle which underlies this ordinance of place is no less applicable in this age than then. For it is a prohibition of all self-will in worship. It was not enough that an Israelite should have the prescribed victim; it is not enough that we present the Christ of God in faith, or what we think to be faith. But we must make no terms or conditions as to the mode or condition of the presentation, other than God appoints. And the command was also a command of publicity. The Israelite was therein commanded to confess publicly, and thus attest, his faith in Jehovah, even as God will now have us all make our confession of Christ a public thing.
The second act of the ceremonial was
The Laying on of the Hand.
It was ordered:
"He shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him, to make atonement for him" (ver. 4).
The laying on of the hand was not, as some have maintained, a mere declaration of the offerer's property in that which he offered, as showing his right to give it to God. If this were true, we should find the ceremony also in the bloodless offerings; where the cakes of corn were no less the property of the offerer than the bullock or sheep of the burnt-offering. But the ceremony was confined to these bloody offerings.
It is nearer the truth when others say that this was an act of designation. It is a fact that the ceremony of the laying on of hands in Scripture usage does indicate a designation of a person or thing, as to some office or service. In this book (xxiv. 14), the witnesses are directed to lay their hands upon the blasphemer, thereby appointing him to death. Moses is said to have laid his hands on Joshua, thus designating him in a formal way as his successor; and, in the New Testament, Paul and Barnabas are set apart to the ministry by the laying on of hands. But, in all these cases, the ceremony symbolised more than mere designation; namely, a transfer or communication of something invisible, in connection with this visible act. Thus, in the New Testament the laying on of hands always denotes the communication of the Holy Ghost, either as an enduement for office, or for bodily healing. The laying of the hands of Moses on Joshua, in like manner, signified the transfer to him of the gifts, 42 office, and authority of Moses. Even in the case of the execution of the blaspheming son of Shelomith, the laying on of the hands of the witnesses had the same significance. They thereby designated him to death, no doubt; but therewith thus symbolically transferred to the criminal the responsibility for his own death.
From the analogy of these cases we should expect to find evidence of an ideal transference of somewhat from the offerer to the victim here. And the context does not leave the matter doubtful. It is added (ver. 4), "It shall be accepted for him, to make atonement for him." Hence it appears that while, indeed, the offerer, by this laying on of his hand, did dedicate the victim to death, the act meant more than this. It symbolised a transfer, according to God's merciful provision, of an obligation to suffer for sin, from the offerer to the innocent victim. Henceforth, the victim stood in the offerer's place, and was dealt with accordingly.
This is well illustrated by the account which is given (Numb. viii.) of the formal substitution of the Levites in the place of all the first-born of Israel, for special service unto God. We read that the Levites were presented before the Lord; and that the children of Israel then laid their hands upon the heads of the Levites, who were thus, we are told, "offered as an offering unto the Lord," and were thenceforth regarded and treated as substitutes for the first-born of all Israel. Thus the obligation to certain special service was symbolically transferred, as the context tells us, from the first-born to the Levites; and this transfer of obligation from all the tribes to the single tribe of Levi was visibly represented by the laying on of hands. And just so here: the laying on of the hand designated, certainly, the victim to death; but it did 43 this, in that it was the symbol of a transfer of obligation.
This view of the ceremony is decisively confirmed by the ritual of the great day of atonement. In the sin-offering of that day, in which the conception of expiation by blood received its fullest symbolic expression, it was ordered (xvi. 21) that Aaron should lay his hands on the head of one of the goats of the sin-offering, and "confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel." Thereupon the iniquity of the nation was regarded as symbolically transferred from Israel to the goat; for it is added, "and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a solitary land." So, while in this ritual for the burnt-offering there is no mention of such confession, we have every reason to believe the uniform Rabbinical tradition, that it was the custom to make also upon the head of the victim for the burnt-offering a solemn confession of sin, for which they give the form to be used.
Such then was the significance of the laying on of hands. But the ceremony meant even more than this. For the Hebrew verb which is always used for this, as the Rabbis point out, does not merely mean to lay the hand upon, but so to lay the hand as to rest or lean heavily upon the victim. This force of the word is well illustrated from a passage where it occurs, in Psalm lxxxviii. 7, "Thy wrath lieth hard upon me." The ceremony, therefore, significantly represented the offerer as resting or relying on the victim to procure that from God for which he presented him, namely, atonement and acceptance.
This part of the ceremonial of this and other sacrifices was thus full of spiritual import and typical meaning. By this laying on of the hand to designate the victim as 44 a sacrifice, the offerer implied, and probably expressed, a confession of personal sin and demerit; as done "before Jehovah," it implied also his acceptance of God's penal judgment against his sin. It implied, moreover, in that the offering was made according to an arrangement ordained by God, that the offerer also thankfully accepted God's merciful provision for atonement, by which the obligation to suffer for sin was transferred from himself, the guilty sinner, to the sacrificial victim. And, finally, in that the offerer was directed so to lay his hand as to rest upon the victim, it was most expressively symbolised that he, the sinful Israelite, rested and depended on this sacrifice as the atonement for his sin, his divinely appointed substitute in penal death.
What could more perfectly set forth the way in which we are for our salvation to make use of the Lamb of God as slain for us? By faith, we lay the hand upon His head. In this, we do frankly and penitently own the sins for which, as the great Burnt-sacrifice, the Christ of God was offered; we also, in humility and self-abasement, thus accept the judgment of God against ourselves, that because of sin we deserve to be cast out from Him eternally; while, at the same time, we most thankfully accept this Christ as "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world," and therefore our sins also, if we will but thus make use of Him; and so lean and rest with all the burden of our sin on Him.
For the Israelite who should thus lay his hand upon the head of the sacrificial victim a promise follows. "It shall be accepted for him, to make atonement for him."
In this word "atonement" we are introduced to one of the key-words of Leviticus, as indeed of the whole Scripture. The Hebrew radical originally means "to cover," and is used once (Gen. vi. 14) in this purely physical sense. But, commonly, as here, it means "to cover" in a spiritual sense, that is, to cover the sinful person from the sight of the Holy God, who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil." Hence, it is commonly rendered "to atone," or "to make atonement;" also, "to reconcile," or "to make reconciliation." The thought is this: that between the sinner and the Holy One comes now the guiltless victim; so that the eye of God looks not upon the sinner, but on the offered substitute; and in that the blood of the substituted victim is offered before God for the sinner, atonement is made for sin, and the Most Holy One is satisfied.
And when the believing Israelite should lay his hand with confession of sin upon the appointed victim, it was graciously promised: "It shall be accepted for him, to make atonement for him." And just so now, whenever any guilty sinner, fearing the deserved wrath of God because of his sin, especially because of his lack of that full consecration which the burnt-sacrifice set forth, lays his hand in faith upon the great Burnt-offering of Calvary, the blessing is the same. For in the light of the cross, this Old Testament word becomes now a sweet New Testament promise: "When thou shalt rest with the hand of faith upon this Lamb of God, He shall be accepted for thee, to make atonement for thee."
This is most beautifully expressed in an ancient "Order for the Visitation of the Sick," attributed to Anselm of Canterbury, in which it is written:—
"The minister shall say to the sick man: Dost 46 thou believe that thou canst not be saved but by the death of Christ? The sick man answereth, Yes. Then let it be said unto him: Go to, then, and whilst thy soul abideth in thee, put all thy confidence in this death alone; place thy trust in no other thing; commit thyself wholly to this death; cover thyself wholly with this alone.... And if God would judge thee, say: Lord! I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and Thy judgment; otherwise I will not contend or enter into judgment with Thee.
"And if He shall say unto thee that thou art a sinner, say: I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and my sins. If He shall say unto thee, that thou hast deserved damnation, say: Lord! I put the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between Thee and all my sins; and I offer His merits for my own, which I should have, and have not."
And whosoever of us can thus speak, to him the promise speaks from out the shadows of the tent of meeting: "This Christ, the Lamb of God, the true Burnt-offering, shall be accepted for thee, to make atonement for thee!"
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