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Sacrifice (2)

By Rev. James Gracie

This Editorial was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 23, July-September 2001.

THE NEED for blood sacrifice became necessary upon the fall of Adam. This is indicated in Genesis 3:21 where God provided not only skins to clothe our first parents, but undoubtedly did so from an animal slain in sacrifice. This tells us a number of things about the nature and purpose of sacrifice as later developed within the Old Testament, culminating in the sacrifice of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world:

Firstly, Adam needed to be clothed immediately he fell. Sin exposed him to shame and guilt. His original innocence was now lost. He would learn at the hand of God that 'without shedding of blood is no remission' (Heb. 9:22). There is an emblem given to remind Adam of the need of the robe of Christ's righteousness, and the garments of his salvation. Thus Paul asserts: "But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year." (Heb.10:3)

Secondly, Adam was reminded that his dominion over the creatures was now at an end. It required the LORD to make coats of skins for him - animals would no longer voluntarily come to Adam as they had previously (Genesis 2:19). Rather than dominion, his sin brought the ravages of death into the created order; Adam was now unable to rule himself let alone be governor over the creation.

Thirdly, there was a reminder that death was the means by which Satan, sin, and death itself would be conquered by the seed of the woman.

Fourthly, there was a reminder that God alone could provide a suitable sacrifice. We should note that it was God who took the initiative in all the proceedings. It spoke of God's goodness and mercy in making such a provision for fallen man.

The fact that Abel offered by faith (Heb. 11:4), and that the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering (Gen.4:4), is further confirmation that sacrifice was specifically prescribed by God, for so far as worship is concerned nothing pleases him except what he has himself commanded.

Early History

Not only was sacrifice to be offered to God alone, but when offered properly it was also an acknowledgement that Jehovah is alone God (in opposition to false gods). For example, after the cleansing of Namaan, the Syrian declared, "Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel...thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD." (2 Kings 5:17)

It was with this particularly in mind that the patriarchs offered up sacrifice. Their sacrifices took a simple form. The only offerings mentioned by name are Burnt Offerings and Peace Offerings (Gen. 8:20; 22:2; Exod. 10:25; 18:12; 20:24; 24:5) For example, Abraham by faith offered up his only son Isaac. (Gen. 22:2,13). And Israel came to Beersheba and offered up sacrifice unto the God of Isaac. (Genesis 46:1) Similarly, we are told that Job rose early in the morning "and offered burnt offerings...thus did Job continually" (Job 1:5)

Levitical Sacrifices

The institution of sacrifice, although practised by the patriarchs, was more clearly and solemnly renewed by Moses. The Book of Leviticus, whose name is derived from the tribe of Levi (the tribe set apart as assistant to the Aaronic priesthood), is a digest of divine law unfolding the various ceremonial sacrifices to be kept by Israel.

These directions were given to Moses from between the Mercy Seat (Lev. 1:1). The Lord spoke as a friend. However, he would speak through Moses, a mediator. In this, Moses was but a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. God spoke to them of atonement and its effects. There was to be no deviation from God's sovereign way of approach. Samuel's words were to be imbibed: "Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (1 Samuel 15:22) Too often Israel forgot this aspect of sacrifice.

Burnt Offerings (ref. Leviticus ch. 1)

The Sacrifice - animals to be sacrificed were of the cattle, of the herd, and of the flock (Lev.1:2). These were domestic animals (cattle, goats and sheep) and so were very close at hand. So with Christ. He was The Lamb at God's right hand. He is also near to all that call upon him. He is the near kinsman. "Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare." (Ps. 75:1)

The domestic animal, particularly with its horns, was arguably the most valuable asset an Israelite had. So with Christ. The eternal Son of God, equal with the Father and greatly beloved of the Father. What an infinite value; "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." (Col 2:9) Yet the domestic animal would be taken from the quietness of the riverside and of the pasture. So with Christ. He left the heavenly glory at the Father's side to become a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

A male without blemish was to be offered. This represented the second Adam who is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens." (Hebrews 7:26) {The peace-offerings were different in that a slight blemish could be accepted. This is because the peace-offerings represented the effects of the atonement rather than the atonement itself i.e. the effects of the atonement may be imperfectly experienced by the sinner though the work itself be perfect}.

The Offerer - the offerer was to bring his sacrifice to the door of the Tabernacle where the altar of burnt offering was situated. There could be no further entrance without blood sacrifice.

Sacrifices were always to be given upon an altar. For example, after Moses had received the Decalogue, God instructed him, "An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee." (Exodus 20:24) Why was an altar necessary? The Lord gives us the answer - the altar sanctified the gift. Thus Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?" (Matt.23:19)

The altar at the door of the Tabernacle sanctified the gift, and was representative of Christ himself who combines priest, sacrifice, and altar in one Person. This single altar (he offered himself only once) was made of Shittim wood covered with brass. This was essential for durability and strength to endure the continual burnings that took place on it. So the incorruptibleness and strength of the Divine nature of Christ is portrayed to the eye of faith. There were horns at each corner of the altar and those who fled to it found a place of refuge. Thus Christ is a refuge to all who flee to him. We must bind all our sacrifices "with cords, even unto the horns of the altar." (Ps.118:27)

When the offerer came to the Tabernacle, he was to do so willingly: "He shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the Tabernacle before the Lord" (Lev.1:3) There was to be no compulsion. A man must be willing to freely come and offer to the Lord. In other words, "These things ye shall do unto the LORD in your set feasts, beside your vows, and your freewill offerings, for your burnt offerings." (Num 29:39) The principle that one gives freely to the Lord, not seeking recompense, is firmly established within the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. This is further confirmed in the New Testament.

Jesus commended the widow casting in her two mites (Luke 21:1-3). She had cast in very little in comparison to the rich men, and may have appeared contemptible to others. Yet before God her offering was highly valued because it was given in faith and from a principle of love: "she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had."

The Apostle Paul instructs the Corinthian Church, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him..." (1 Cor.16:2). This ought to be a freewill offering, not grudgingly, forced, or with covetousness, but generously and given cheerfully. There is no encouragement to buying and selling in God's House (sales of work, bring and buy etc.). Rather, "every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver." (2 Cor 9:7).