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On the shedding of blood, which was of the greatest importance-- since, according to the Talmud, 'whenever the blood touches the altar the offerer is atoned for'--followed the 'flaying' of the sacrifice and the 'cutting up into his pieces.' All this had to be done in an orderly manner, and according to certain rules, the apostle adopting the sacrificial term when he speaks of 'rightly dividing the word of truth' (2 Tim 2:15). The 'inwards' and 'legs' having been washed (Lev 1:9), and dried with sponges, the separate pieces of the sacrifice were brought up by various priests: the calculation of the Rabbis being, that in the case of a sheep or a she-goat six priests carried the sacrifice, one more the meat-, and another the drink-offering (in all eight); while in that of a ram twelve, and in that of a bullock four-and-twenty priests were needed for the service. Next, the sacrificial salt was applied, and then the pieces were first confusedly thrown and then arranged upon the fire. * This latter part of the service requires explanation.
The common idea that the burning either of part or the whole of the sacrifice pointed to its destruction, and symbolised the wrath of God and the punishment due to sin, does not seem to accord with the statements of Scripture. The term used is not that commonly employed for burning, but means 'causing to smoke,' and the rite symbolises partly the entire surrender of the sacrifice, but chiefly its acceptance on the part of God. Thus the sacrifice consumed by a fire which had originally come down from God Himself--not by strange fire--would ascend 'for a sweet savor unto the Lord' (Lev 1:9; 4:31). Even the circumstance that the fire for the altar of incense was always taken from that on the altar of burnt-offering, shows that, while that fire might symbolise the presence of a holy Jehovah in His house, it could not refer to the fire of wrath or of punishment. *
* Compare the article in Herzog's Encyc. vol. x. p. 633. Some of the sacrifices were burned on the altar of burnt- offering, and some outside the gate; while in certain less holy sacrifices it was allowed to burn what was left anywhere within the city.
As already stated, those parts of the sin-, trespass-, * and public peace-offerings, which were allowed to be eaten, could only be partaken of by the priests (not their families) during their actual ministry, and within the Temple walls.
The flesh of these offerings had also to be eaten on the day of the sacrifice, or in the night following; while in other offerings the permission extended to a second day. The Rabbis, however, restrict the eating of the Passover lamb to midnight. Whatever was left beyond the lawful time had to be burned.
It is deeply interesting to know that the New Testament view of sacrifices is entirely in accordance with that of the ancient Synagogue. At the threshold we here meet the principle: 'There is no atonement except by blood.' In accordance with this we quote the following from Jewish interpreters. Rashi says (on Lev 17:11): 'The soul of every creature is gave it to atone for the soul of man-- that one soul should come and atone for the other.' Similarly Aben Ezra writes: 'One soul is a substitute for the other.' And Moses ben Nachmann: 'I gave the soul for you on the altar, that the soul of the animal should be an atonement for the soul of the man.' These quotations might be almost indefinitely multiplied. Another phase of Scriptural truth appears in such Rabbinical statements as that by the imposition of hands: 'The offerer, as it were, puts away his sins from himself, and transfers them upon the living animal'; and that, 'as often as any one sins with his soul, whether from hate or malice, he puts away his sin from himself, and places it upon the head of his sacrifice, and it is an atonement for him.' Hence, also, the principal laid down by Abarbanel, that, 'after the prayer of confession (connected with the imposition of hands) the sins of the children of Israel lay on the sacrifice (of the Day of Atonement).' This, according to Maimonides, explains why every one who had anything to do with the sacrifice of the red heifer or the goat on the Day of Atonement, or similar offerings, was rendered unclean; since these animals were regarded as actually sin-bearing. In fact, according to Rabbinical expression, the sin- bearing animal is on that ground expressly designated as something to be rejected and abominable. The Christian reader will here be reminded of the Scriptural statement: 'For He has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.'
There is yet one other phase on which the Synagogue lays stress. It is best expressed in the following quotation, to which many similar might be added: 'Properly speaking, the blood of the sinner should have been shed, and his body burned, as those of the sacrifices. But the Holy One--blessed be He!--accepted our sacrifice from us as redemption and atonement. Behold the full grace which Jehovah--blessed be He!--has shown to man! In His compassion and in the fulness of His grace He accepted the soul of the animal instead of his soul, that through it there might be an atonement.' Hence also the principle, so important as an answer to the question, Whether the Israelites of old had understood the meaning of sacrifices? 'He that brought a sacrifice required to come to the knowledge that that sacrifice was his redemption.'
In view of all this, the deep-felt want so often expressed by the Synagogue is most touching. In the liturgy for the Day of Atonement we read: 'While the altar and the sanctuary were still in their places, we were atoned for by the goats, designated by lot. But now for our guilt, if Jehovah be pleased to destroy us, He takes from our hand neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice.' We add only one more out of many similar passages in the Jewish prayer- book: 'We have spoken violence and rebellion; we have walked in a way that is not right...Behold, our transgressions have increased upon us; they press upon us like a burden; they have gone over our heads; we have forsaken Thy commandments, which are excellent. And wherewith shall we appear before Thee, the mighty God, to atone for our transgressions, and to put away our trespasses, and to remove sin, and to magnify Thy grace? Sacrifices and offerings are no more; sin- and trespass-offerings have ceased; the blood of sacrifices is no longer sprinkled; destroyed is Thy holy house, and fallen the gates of Thy sanctuary; Thy holy city lies desolate; Thou hast slain, sent from Thy presence; they have gone, driven forth from before Thy face, the priests who brought Thy sacrifices!' Accordingly, also, the petition frequently recurs: 'Raise up for us a right Intercessor (that it may be true), I have found a ransom (an atonement, or covering).' And on the Day of Atonement, as in substance frequently on other occasions, they pray: 'Bring us back in jubilee to Zion, Thy city, and in joy as of old to Jerusalem, the house of Thy holiness! Then shall we bring before Thy face the sacrifices that are due.'
Who shall make answer to this deep mourn of exiled Judah? Where shall a ransom be found to take the place of their sacrifices? In their despair some appeal to the merits of the fathers or of the pious; others to their own or to Israel's sufferings, or to death, which is regarded as the last expiation. But the most low-spirited exhibition, perhaps, is that of an attempted sacrifice by each pious Israelite on the eve of the Day of Atonement. Taking for males a white cock, * and for females a hen, the head of the house prays: 'The children of men who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in misery and iron--them will He bring forth from darkness and the shadow of death, and break their bonds asunder. Fools, because of their transgressions and because of their iniquities, are afflicted; their soul abhorreth all manner of meat, and they draw near unto the gates of death. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, that He save them out of their distresses. He sends His word and heals them, and delivers them from their destruction. Then they praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His marvellous works to the children of men. If there be an angel with Him, an intercessor, one among a thousand, to show unto men his righteousness, then He is gracious unto him, and saith, Let him go, that he may not go down into the pit; I have found an atonement (a covering).'
* Because the Hebrew word for 'man' (Gever) is used in the Talmud for 'a cock,' and 'white,' with reference to Isaiah 1:18.
Next, the head of the house swings the sacrifice round his head, saying, 'This is my substitute; this is in exchange for me; this is my atonement. This cock goes into death, but may I enter into a long and happy life, and into peace!' Then he repeats this prayer three times, and lays his hands on the sacrifice, which is now slain.
This offering up of an animal not sanctioned by the law, in a place, in a manner, and by hands not authorised by God, is it not a terrible phantom of Israel's dark and dreary night? and does it not seem strangely to remind us of that other terrible night, when the threefold crowing of a cock awakened Peter to the fact of his denial of 'the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world'?
And still the cry of the Synagogue comes to us through these many centuries of past unbelief and ignorance: 'Let one innocent come and make atonement for the guilty!' To which no other response can ever be made than that of the apostle: 'Such an High- Priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens'! (Heb 7:26)