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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

1 Kings 9

Verse 25



1 Kings 8:62-66; 1 Kings 9:25

"I have chosen this house to Myself for a house of sacrifice."

- 2 Chronicles 7:12

"Gifts and sacrifices, that cannot, as touching the conscience make the worshipper perfect, being only carnal ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation."

- Hebrews 9:9-10

THE whole sacrificial system with which our thoughts of Judaism are perhaps erroneously, and much too exclusively identified, furnishes us with many problems.

Whether it was originally of Divine origin, or whether it was only an instinctive expression, now of the gratitude, and now of the guilt and fear, of the human heart, we are not told. Nor is the basal idea on which it was founded ever explained to us. Were the ideas of "atonement" or propitiation (Kippurim) really connected with those of substitution and vicarious punishment? Or was the main conception that of self-sacrifice, which was certainly most prominent in the burnt offerings? Doubtless the views alike of priests and worshippers were to a great extent indefinite. We are not told what led Cain and Abel to present their sacrifices to God; nor did Moses-if he were its founder-furnish any theories to explain the elaborate system laid down in the book of Leviticus. The large majority of the Jews probably sacrificed simply because to do so had become a part of their religious observances, and because in doing so they believed themselves to be obeying a Divine command. Others, doubtless, had as many divergent theories as Christians have when they attempt to explain the Atonement. The "substitution" theory of the "sin offering" finds little or no support from the Old Testament; not only is it never stated, but there is not a single clear allusion to it. It is emphatically asserted by later Jewish authorities, such as Rashi, Aben Ezra, Moses ben-Nachman, and Maimonides, and is enshrined in the Jewish liturgy. Yet Dr. Edersheim writes: "The common idea that the burning, either of part or the whole of the sacrifice, pointed to its destruction, and symbolized the wrath of God and the punishment due to sin, does not seem to accord with the statements of scripture." Sacrifices were of two kinds, bloody (Zebach), or unbloody (minchah, korban). The latter were oblations. Such were the cakes of shewbread, the meal and drink offerings, the first sheaf at Passover, the two loaves at Pentecost. In almost every instance the minchah accompanied the offering of a sacrificial victim. The two general rules about all victims for sacrifice were,

(1) that they should be without blemish and without spot, as types of perfectness; and

(2) that every sacrifice should be salted with salt, as an antiseptic, and therefore a type of incorruption. {; Mark 9:49}

Sacrificial victims could only be chosen from oxen, sheep, goats, turtle doves; and young pigeons-the latter being the offering of the poor who could not afford the costlier victims. Sacrifices were also divided generally

(1) into free, or obligatory;

(2) public, or private; and

(3) most holy or less holy,

of which the latter were slain at the north and the former at the east side of the altar. The offerer, according to the Rabbis, had to do five things-to lay on hands, slay, skin, dissect, and wash the inwards. The priest had also to do five things at the altar itself-to catch the blood, sprinkle it, light the fire, bring up the pieces, and complete the sacrifices. Sacrifices are chiefly dwelt upon in the Priestly Code; but nowhere in the Old Testament is their significance formally explained, nor for many centuries was the Levitic ritual much regarded. {See Judges 6:19-21 1 Samuel 2:13, 1 Kings 19:21 2 Kings 5:17}

The sacrifices commanded in the Pentateuch fall under four heads.

(1) The burnt offering (Olah, Kalil), which typified complete self-dedication, and which even the heathen might offer;

(2) the sin offering (Chattath), which made atonement for the offender;

(3) the trespass offering (Asham), which atones for some special offence, whether doubtful or certain, committed through ignorance; and

(4) the thank offering, eucharistic peace offering (Shelem), or "offering of completion," which followed the other sacrifices, and of which the flesh was eaten by the priest and the worshippers.

The oldest practice seems only to have known of burnt offerings and thank offerings, and the former seem only to have been offered at great sacrificial feasts. Even in Deuteronomy a common phrase for sacrifices is "eating before the Lord," which is almost ignored in the Priestly Code. Of the sin offering, which in that code has acquired such enormous importance, there is scarcely a trace-unless Hosea 4:8 be one, which is doubtful-before Ezekiel, in whom the Asham and Chattath occur in place of the old pecuniary fines. {; 2 Kings 12:16} Originally sacrifice was a glad meal, and even in the oldest part of the code {Leviticus 18:1-30; Leviticus 19:1-37; Leviticus 20:1-27; Leviticus 21:1-24; Leviticus 22:1-33; Leviticus 23:1-44; Leviticus 24:1-23; Leviticus 25:1-55; Leviticus 26:1-46} sacrifices are comprised under the Olam and Zebach. The turning-point of the history of the Sacrificial system is Josiah’s reformation, of which the Priestly Code is the matured result.

It is easy to see that sacrifices in general were eucharistic, dedicatory, and expiatory.

The eucharistic sacrifices (the meal and peace offerings) and the burnt offerings, which indicated the entire sacrifice of self, were the offerings of those who were in communion with God. They were recognitions of His absolute supremacy. The sin and trespass offerings were intended to recover a lost communion with God and thus the sacrifices were, or ultimately came to be, the expression of the great ideas of thanksgiving, of self-dedication, and of propitiation. But the Israelites, "while they seem always to have retained the idea of propitiation and of eucharistic offering, constantly ignored the self-dedication, which is the link between the two, and which the regular burnt offering should have impressed upon them as their daily thought and duty." Had they kept this in view they would have been saved from the superstitions and degeneracies which made their use of the sacrificial system a curse and not a blessing. The expiatory conception, which was probably the latest of the three, expelled the others, and was perverted into the notion that God was a God of wrath, whose fury could be averted by gifts and His favor won by bribes. There was this truth in the notion of propitiation-that God hates, and is alienated by, and will punish, sin; and yet that in His mercy He has provided an Atonement for us. But in trying to imagine how the sacrifice affected God, the Israelites lost sight of the truth that this is an inexplicable mystery, and that all which we can know is the effect which it can produce on the souls of man. If they had interpreted the sacrifices as a whole to mean this only - that man is guilty and that God is merciful; and that though man’s guilt separates him from God, reunion with him can be gained by confession, penitence, and self-sacrifice, by virtue of an Atonement which he had revealed and would accept-then the effect of them would have been spiritually wholesome and ennobling. But when they came to think that sacrifices were presents to God, which might be put in the place of amendment and moral obedience, and that the punishment due to their offences might be thus mechanically diverted upon the heads of innocent victims, then the sacrificial system was rendered not only nugatory but pernicious. Nor have Christians been exempt from a similar corruption of the doctrine of the Atonement. In treating it as vicarious and expiatory they have forgotten that it is unavailing unless it be also representative. In looking upon it as the atonement for sin they have overlooked that there can be no such atonement unless it be accompanied by redemption from sin. They have tacitly and practically acted on the notion, which in the days of St. Paul some even avowed, that "we may continue in sin that grace may abound." But in the great work of redemption the will of man cannot be otiose. He must himself die with Christ. As Christ was sacrificed for him, he, too, must offer his body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. "Without the sin offering of the Cross," says Bishop Barry, "our burnt offering (of self-dedication) would be impossible; so also without the burnt offering the sin offering will, to us, be unavailing."

Many of the crudities, and even horrors, which, alike in Jewish and Christian times, have been mixed up with the idea of bloody sacrifices, would have been removed if more attention had been paid to the prominence and real significance of blood in the entire ritual. As taught by some revivalists the doctrine of the blood adds the most revolting touches to theories which assimilate God to Moloch; hut the true significance of the phrase and of the symbol elevates the entire doctrine of sacrifice into a purer and more spiritual atmosphere.

The central significance of the whole doctrine lies in the ancient opinion that "the blood" of the sacrifice was "its life." This was why an expiatory power was ascribed to the blood. There was certainly no transfer of guilt to the animal, for its blood remained clean and cleansing. Nor was the animal supposed to undergo the transgressor’s punishment; first, because this is nowhere stated, and next, because had that been the case, fine flour would certainly not have been permitted (as it was) as a sin offering. {; Leviticus 5:11-13} Moreover, no willful offence, no offense "with uplifted hand," i.e., with evil premeditation, could be atoned for either by sin or trespass offerings; -though certainly so wide a latitude was given to the notion of sin as an involuntary error as to tend to break down the notion of moral responsibility. The sin offering was further offered for some purely accidental and ceremonial offences, which could not involve any real consciousness of guilt. The "blood of the covenant" {Exodus 24:4-8} was not of the sin offering, but of peace and burnt offerings; and though, as Canon Cook says, we read of blood in paganism as a propitiation to a hostile demon, "we seem to seek in vain for an instance in which the blood, as a natural symbol for the soul, was offered as an atoning sacrifice." "The atoning virtue of the blood lies not in its material substance, but in the life of which it is the vehicle," says Bishop Westcott. "The blood always includes the thought of the life preserved and active beyond death. It is not simply the price by which the redeemed were purchased, but the power by which they were quickened so as to be capable of belonging to God." "To drink the blood of Christ," says Clement of Alexandria, "is to partake of the Lord’s incorruption."

Besides the points to which we have alluded, there is a further difficulty created by the singular silence respecting sin offerings of any kind, except in that part of the Old Testament which has recently acquired the name of the Priestly Code.

The word Chattath, in the sense of sin offering, occurs in Exodus 29:1-46; Exodus 30:1-38, and many times in Leviticus and Numbers, and six times in Ezekiel. Otherwise in the Old Testament it is barely mentioned, except in the post-exilic Books of Chronicles {; 2 Chronicles 29:24} and Ezra. {Ezra 8:25} It is not mentioned in any other historic book; nor in any prophet except Ezekiel. Again as we have seen, the Day of Atonement leaves not a trace in any of the earlier historic records of Scripture, and is found only in the authorities above mentioned. Through all the rest of Scripture the scapegoat is unmentioned, and Azazel is ignored. Dr. Kalisch goes so far as to say that there is conclusive evidence to prove that the Day of Atonement was instituted considerably more than a thousand years after the death of Moses and Aaron. For even in Ezekiel, who wrote B.C. 574, there is no Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month, but on the first and seventh of the first month (Abib, Nisan). He thinks it utterly impossible that, had it existed in his time, Ezekiel could have blotted out the holiest day of the year, and substituted two of his own arbitrary choice. The rites, moreover, which he describes differ wholly from those laid down in Leviticus. Even in Nehemiah there is no notice of the day of Atonement, though a day was observed on the twenty-fourth of the month. Hence this learned writer infers that even in B.C. 440 the Great Day of Atonement was not yet recognized, and that the pagan element of sending the scapegoat to Azazel, the demon of the wilderness, proves the late date of the ceremony.

It is interesting to observe how utterly the sacrificial priestly system, in the abuses which not only became involved in it, but seemed to be almost inseparable from it, is condemned by the loftier spiritual intuition which belongs to phases of revelation higher than the external and the typical.

Thus in the Old Testament no series of inspired utterances is more interesting, more eloquent, more impassioned and ennobling, than those which insist upon the utter nullity of all sacrifices in themselves, and their absolute insignificance in comparison with the lightest element of the moral law. On this subject the Prophets and the Psalmists use language so sweeping and exceptionless as almost to repudiate the desirability of sacrifices altogether. They speak of them with a depreciation akin to scorn. It may be doubted whether they had the Mosaic system with all its details, as we know it, before them. They do not enter into those final elaborations which it assumed, and not one of them so much as alludes to any service which resembles the powerfully symbolic ceremonial of the Great Day of Atonement. But they speak of the ceremonial law in such fragments and aspects of it as were known to them. They deal with it as priests practiced it, and as priests taught-if they ever taught anything-respecting it. They speak of it as it presented itself to the minds of the people around them, with whom it had become rather a substitute for moral efforts and an obstacle in the path of righteousness, than an aid to true religion. And this is what they say:-

"Hath the Lord as great delight in sacrifice," asks the indignant SAMUEL, "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}

"I hate, I despise your feasts," says Jehovah by Amos, "and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yea, though ye offer Me your burnt offerings and meal offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Turn thou away from Me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream." {Amos 5:21-23}

"Wherewith shall I come before the Lord," asks MICAH, "and bow myself before the most high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" {; Micah 6:6-8}

HOSEA again in a message of Jehovah, twice quoted on different occasions by our Lord, says: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." {Hosea 6:6} ISAIAH also, in the word of the Lord, gives burning expression to the same conviction: "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of lambs, arid the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hands, to trample My courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies, -I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth: they are a cumbrance unto Me; I am weary to bear them Wash you, make you clean!" {; Isaiah 1:11-16}

The language of JEREMIAH’S message is even more startling: "I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: but this thing I commanded them, saying, Obey My voice." And again-in the version of the LXX, given in the margin of the Revised Version for the unintelligible rendering of the Authorized Version-he asks: "Why hath the-beloved wrought abomination in My house? Shall vows and holy flesh take away from thee thy wickedness, or shalt thou escape by these?" {Jeremiah 7:22, Jeremiah 11:15} Jeremiah, is, in fact the most anti-ritualistic of the prophets. So far from having hid and saved the Ark, he regarded it as entirely obsolete. {; Jeremiah 3:16} He cares only for the spiritual covenant written on the heart, and very little, if at all, for Temple services and Levitic scrupulosities. {Jeremiah 7:4-15; Jeremiah 31:31-34} THE PSALMISTS are no less clear and emphatic in putting sacrifices nowhere in comparison with righteousness:-"I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices; Nor for thy burnt offerings which are continually before Me. I will take no bullock out of thine house, Nor he-goats out of thy folds."

"Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving; And pay thy vows unto the Most High." {; Psalms 50:8-14}

And again:-

"For Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it Thee: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." {Psalms 51:16-17}

And again:-

"Sacrifice and offering Thou hast no delight in; Mine ears hast thou opened: Burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required." {; Psalms 40:6}

And again:-

"To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice." {Proverbs 21:3}

And again:-

"I will praise the name of God with a song, And magnify it with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord rather than a bullock that hath horns and hoofs." {; Psalms 69:30-31}

Surely the most careless and conventional reader cannot fail to see that there is a wide difference between the standpoint of the prophets, which is so purely spiritual, and that of the writers and redactors of the Priestly Code, whose whole interest centered in the sacrificial and ceremonial observances. Nor is the intrinsic nullity of the sacrificial system less distinctly pointed out in the New Testament. The better-instructed Jews, enlightened by Christ’s teaching, could give emphatic testimony to the immeasurable superiority of the moral to the ceremonial. The candid scribe, hearing from Christ’s lips the two great commandments, answers, "Of a truth, Master, Thou hast well said that He is one; and there is none other but He: and to love Him with all the heart and to love his neighbor as himself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."

And our Lord quoted Hosea with the emphatic commendation, "Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." {Matthew 9:13} And on another occasion: "But if ye had known what this meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless." {; Matthew 12:7}

The presenting of our bodies, says St. Paul, as a living sacrifice is our reasonable service; and St. Peter calls all Christians a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifice. {1 Peter 2:5}

It is impossible, says the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins; and he speaks of the priests daily offering the same sacrifice, the which can never take away sins." {; Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 10:11} And again:-"To do good and to distribute forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." {; Hebrews 13:16}

The wisest fathers of Jewish thought in the post-exilic epoch held the same views. Thus the son of Sirach says: "He that keepeth the law bringeth offerings enough." (Sirach 35:1-15) And Philo, echoing an opinion common among the best heathen moralists from Socrates to Marcus Aurelius, writes, "The mind, when without blemish, is itself the most holy sacrifice, being entirely and in all respects pleasing to God."

And what is very remarkable, modern Judaism now emphasizes its belief that "neither sacrifice nor a Levitical system belong to the essence of the Old Testament," Such was the view of the ancient Essenes, no less than of Maimonides or Abarbanel. Modern Rabbis even go so far as to argue that the whole system of Levitical sacrifice was an alien element, introduced into Judaism from without, tolerated indeed by Moses, but only as a concession to the immaturity of his people and their hardness of heart.

Such, too, was the opinion of the ancient Fathers of the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, of Justin Martyr, Origen, Tertullian, Jerome, Chrysostom, Epiphanius, Cyril, and Theodoret, who are followed by such Roman Catholic theologians as Petavius and Bellarmine.

This at any rate is certain-that the Judaic system is not only abrogated, but rendered impossible. Whatever were its functions, God has stamped with absolute disapproval any attempt to continue them. They are utterly annulled and obliterated forever.

"I am come to repeal the sacrifices." Such is the {missing Greek words} ascribed to Christ; "and unless ye desist from sacrificing, the wrath of God will not desist from you." The argument of St. Paul in the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, and of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, show us why this was inevitable; and they were but following the initiative of Christ and the teaching of His Spirit. It is a mistake to imagine that our Lord merely repudiated the inane pettinesses of Pharisaic formalism. He went much further. There is not the slightest trace that He personally observed the requirements of the ceremonial law. It is certain that He broke them when he touched the leper and the dead youth’s bier. The law insisted on the centralization of worship, but Jesus said, "The day cometh, and now is, when neither in Jerusalem, nor yet in this mountain, shall men worship the Father. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." The law insisted, with extreme emphasis, on the burdensome distinctions between clean and unclean meats. Jesus said that it is not that which cometh from without, but that which cometh from within which defileth a man, and this He said "making all meats clean." {; Mark 7:19} St. Paul, when the types of Mosaism had been forever fulfilled in Christ, and the antitype had thus become obsolete and pernicious, went further still. Taking circumcision, the most ancient and most distinctive rite of the Old Dispensation, he called it "concision" or mere mutilation, and said thrice over, "Circumcision, is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but ‘a new creature"’; "but faith working by love," "but the keeping of the commandment of God." The whole system of Judaism was local, was external, was minute, was inferior, was transient, was a concession to infirmity, was a yoke of bondage: the whole system of Christianity is universal, is spiritual, is simple, is un-sacrificial, is un-sacerdotal, is perfect freedom. Judaism was a religion of a temple, of sacrifices, of a sacrificial priesthood: Christianity is a religion in which the Spirit of God

"Doth prefer before all temples the upright heart and pure."

It is a religion in which there is no more sacrifice for sin, because the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, has been consummated for ever. It is a religion in which there is no altar but the Cross; in which there is no priest but Christ, except so far as every Christian is by metaphor a priest to offer up spiritual sacrifices which alone are acceptable to God.

The Temple of Solomon lasted only four centuries, and they were for the most part years of dishonor, disgrace, and decadence. Solomon was scarcely in his grave before it was plundered by Shishak. During its four centuries of existence it was again stripped of its precious possessions at least six times, sometimes by foreign oppressors, sometimes by distressed kings. It was despoiled of its treasure by Asa, by Jehoash of Judah, by Jehoash of Israel, by Ahaz, by Hezekiah, and lastly by Nebuchadnezzar. After such plunderings it must have completely lost its pristine splendor. But the plunder of its treasures was nothing to the pollutions of its sanctity. They began as early as the reigns of Rehoboam and Abijah. Ahaz gave it a Syrian altar, Manasseh stained it with impurities, and Ezekiel in its secret chambers surveyed "the dark idolatries of alienated Judah."

And in the days when Judaism most prized itself on ritual faithfulness, the Lord of the Temple was insulted in the Temple of the Lord, and its courts were turned by greedy priests and Sadducees into a cowshed, and a dovecot, and a fair, and a usurer’s mart, and a robber’s den.

From the first the centralization of worship in the Temple must have been accompanied by the danger of dissociating religious life from its daily social environments. The "multitudes who lived in remote country places would no longer be able to join in forms of worship which had been carried on at local shrines. Judaism, as the prophets so often complain, tended to become too much a matter of officialism and function, of rubric and technique, which always tend to substitute external service for true devotion, and to leave the shell of religion without its soul."

Even when it had been purified by Josiah’s reformation, the Temple proved to be a source of danger and false security. It was regarded as a sort of Palladium. The formalists began to talk and act as though it furnished a mechanical protection, and gave them license to transgress the moral law. Jeremiah had sternly to warn his countrymen against this trust in an idle formalism. "Amend your ways and your doings," he said. "Behold, ye trust in lying words which cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye have not known, and come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, We are delivered; that ye may do all these abominations?"

The Temple of Solomon was defaced and destroyed and polluted by the Babylonians, but not until it had been polluted by the Jews themselves with the blood of prophets, by idolatries, by chambers of unclean imagery. It was rebuilt by a poor band of disheartened exiles to be again polluted by Antiochus Epiphanes, and ultimately to become the headquarters of a narrow, arrogant, and intriguing Pharisaism. It was rebuilt once more by Herod, the brutal Idumean usurper, and its splendor inspired such passionate enthusiasm that when it was wrapped in flames by Titus, it witnessed the carnage of thousands of maddened and despairing combatants.

"As ‘mid the cedar courts and gates of gold

The trampled ranks in miry carnage rolled

To save their Temple every hand essayed,

And with cold fingers grasp’d the feeble blade;

Through their torn veins reviving fury ran

And life’s last anger warm’d the dying man."

Yet that last Temple had been defiled by a worse crime than the other two. It had witnessed the priestly idols and the priestly machinations which ended in the murder of the Son of God. From the Temple sprang little or nothing of spiritual importance. Intended to teach the supremacy of righteousness, it became the stronghold of mere ritual. For the development of true holiness, as apart from ceremonial scrupulosity, its official protectors rendered it valueless.

We are not surprised that Christianity knows no temple but the hearts of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth; and that the characteristic of the New Jerusalem, which descends out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband, is:-

"And I saw no temple therein." {Revelation 21:22}

Abundantly was the menace fulfilled in which Jehovah warned Solomon after the Feast of Dedication that if Israel swerved into immorality and idolatry, that house should be an awful warning-that its blessing should be exchanged into a curse, and that every one who passed by it should be astonished and should hiss.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 9". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".