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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
SACRIFICES (of OT in relation to Christ).—Sacrifice is an act of homage resulting in a degree of friendship with God. So long as the creature is not incorporated into the Creator, homage must always be due from man to God. Not even under the gospel have we outgrown the attitude expressed by sacrifice. We have passed away from animal sacrifices, but we have passed into the region of the sacrifice of Christ.
The sacrifices of the OT may be divided into ritual or prescribed, and the spontaneous, primitive usages of which instances occur both before and after the time of Moses, and among heathen as well as in the direct line of revelation (Genesis 4:3; Genesis 8:20; Genesis 12:7, Exodus 18:12, Numbers 23:1, Judges 11:31, 1 Samuel 7:9, 1 Kings 3:4; 1 Kings 18:23, 2 Kings 3:27). This distinction, however, is not dwelt upon in the NT, and is noteworthy only for the light which the older form of sacrifice throws upon the origin of the Mosaic sacrifices.
1. It is generally agreed that the sacred record represents sacrifice as a practice found already in existence among men, when the special revelation to Israel begins (Genesis 4:26). A sense of dependence upon God, the need of His friendship, and the duty of rendering homage to Him by gifts, are the universal elements in sacrifice. It is not clear whether the friendship of God was taken to be assured, and the sacrificial meal only expressed it, or whether it was usually felt that there was some amends to be made, and the favour of God obtained, before His friendship could be enjoyed. But this matter was made clearer afterwards in the separate appointment of sin-offerings and peace-offerings in the Mosaic system. Meantime, we have here a universally implanted instinct in human nature that responds to the sovereignty of the Unseen in homage, thankfulness, confidence, or fear. Thus there was in the Mosaic law of sacrifice a language being prepared that would be intelligible to all men, and that was fitted to be the vehicle of a world-wide revelation of God.
It is of importance to notice that the usage of sacrifice is not only adopted and regulated in the OT, but is expressly commanded by prophets of God from Moses to Malachi (Exodus 23:15, Malachi 1:7-14). This fact makes the use of sacrificial language in regard to the death of Christ to be of very much greater significance than if sacrifice had merely provided Christ and His Apostles with an illustration that lay to hand. And it is the more to be attended to because so often the sacrifices of the Mosaic law seem to be disparaged by the prophets. What they found fault with was that the people complied with the outward rules of God’s worship, and did not lay to heart the high requirements of His law; for if these sacrifices meant that they were in friendly relations with God, this ought to have carried with it a life and conduct consistent with so high a religious profession (Isaiah 1:11-16, Jeremiah 7:9). Since, therefore, sacrifice was undoubtedly of Divine institution, through the prophets, we may take it that whatever feelings of confidence toward God, or of the consciousness of guilt, were expressed by sacrifice, these were not only Divinely allowed and sanctioned, but were required by God on the part of His people towards Him.
2. The Mosaic ritual was inaugurated by a covenant (Exodus 24). The sacrifices then offered are called burnt-offerings and peace-offerings (Exodus 24:5). This latter term usually implies that the flesh of the sacrifices was eaten by the worshippers, and accordingly we read that the elders did ‘eat and drink’ in the presence of God (Exodus 24:11). The covenant between Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31:54) was of a similar nature. Other covenants are between God and Abraham (Genesis 15:18), and in Jeremiah 34:18. It was a feature of these sacrifices that the animals sacrificed were divided, or the blood was divided, so that the parties to the covenant were assumed into a mystic unity of life. It is this particular sacrifice that is adduced in the Epistle to the Hebrews as signalizing the covenant between God and Israel (Hebrews 9:20). We have then these points to notice—(1) Everything in the subsequent history of the relations between God and Israel depended upon the fact that this covenant had been made. (2) It was a celebration of friendship between God and Israel, involving reverent obedience on their part, and securing to them the immense privilege of being welcome to draw indefinitely upon the aid of the Almighty. (3) The covenant was sealed by sacrifice, and more particularly by blood. This is insisted on in Hebrews 9:18 as giving an element of effective force to what was done. An oath is spoken of in somewhat similar terms (Hebrews 6:16). A covenant made by sacrifice was not only dramatic and memorable, but it had a sanctity, as of a visible oath (cf. 1 Samuel 11:7, Jeremiah 34:18-20).
In all this there was no emergence of the question of sin, nor was amends offered to God for sin. There was set forth a tie of friendship between God and His people, to begin with: of the existence of which friendship the whole events of the deliverance from Egypt were incontrovertible proof. At the same time the root-idea of a friendship subsisting between God and His people, and the obtaining of His favour by propitiation, if that should be necessary, are not widely different. A usually friendly attitude on the part of God is the presupposition which underlies the offering of sacrifice to remove His displeasure because of particular sins, or to obtain His favour in any special enterprise (1 Samuel 7:9). The Creator has bestowed innumerable benefits upon His creatures, and is justly to be regarded by them as their Friend. If Israel limited this to themselves, and had a feeling of their proprietary interest in God, and His in them, there is in that feeling the germ of the doctrine of special providence, and of God’s interest in the salvation of individuals; and all the confidence and intimacy of faithful affection therein contained may be appropriated to the believer’s relationship with God. The ignorance of those who thought they alone had a portion in God does not invalidate the truth and beauty of the mutual affection which that very ignorance allowed them to realize.
3. Under the general shelter of this covenant relationship the sacrifices of the Mosaic law were instituted (Galatians 3:17; Galatians 3:19). These consisted of two great classes, Sin-offerings and Peace-offerings. There were sin-offerings for the nation (Leviticus 4:13), for the priests (Leviticus 4:3), and for individuals (Leviticus 4:27): of which the first two were entirely consumed by fire, and the last were eaten only by the priests (Leviticus 4:26). Guilt-offerings, with whatever differences, belonged to the same general class; and with them may be reckoned the various offerings of purification. All these assumed their most characteristic form in connexion with the yearly Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). Peace-offerings, on the other hand, may be taken to include the Passover, and all offerings of first-fruits and tithes and bloodless sacrifices. Thus Christ acknowledged the one class (sin-offering) when He bade the leper ‘offer for thy cleansing what Moses commanded’ (Mark 1:44); and the other class (peace-offering) when He said, ‘Leave there thy gift before the altar’ (Matthew 5:24). As we have seen, the sacrifices offered at the making of the covenant were peace-offerings. These were acts of homage, and seals of a happy relationship between God and His people. Thus Solomon offering sacrifices received a gracious revelation that he might ask what he pleased (1 Kings 3:4, cf. Psalms 20:3).
Sin-offerings took notice of human unworthiness to approach God. The offences atoned for by sacrifice were sins of ignorance or inadvertence, and also misfortunes such as leprosy (Leviticus 14:19). For wilful disobedience there was no sacrifice (Numbers 15:30, 1 Samuel 2:25; 1 Samuel 3:14, 1 John 5:16). Where there was a civil penalty, there was a sacrifice as well. That is to say, the fact of sin against God was taken into account (Leviticus 6:5). The holiness of God was the dominating principle of the OT sacrifices for sin. Whatever was unsightly and degrading was to be abhorred: regard to propriety was enforced. By purity and seemliness of outward behaviour everything that tended to pollute the mind was atrophied, and only what was helpful to the higher nature was allowed to influence the future. Constituted as human nature is, physical purity is not only a picture of godliness but a help to it. Thus the OT sacrifices outclassed the customs of the heathen by their blamelessness, and collaborated with the prophets and with God’s providences to inculcate a high quality of conduct (Leviticus 20:23, 1 Corinthians 10:20).
In the sacrifices which involved the death of animals, a sense of the sacredness of life was expressed by the reverent use of the blood (Leviticus 17:11). Whatever was ratified by the taking of life obtained a sanctity thereby, and the putting away of human sin in making approach to God was so ratified, and the transaction made sacrosanct and secure. So far as we know, the animals sacrificed were put to death with no unnecessary pain; they did not expiate sin by suffering (contrast 1 Kings 18:28): it was the deprivation of life they suffered, and it was the blood representing life which had mysterious significance. No one might eat the blood of sacrifices, or of any animal (contrast Psalms 16:4 ‘drink-offerings of blood’). There was no festive garland placed on the victim, to make believe that it went willingly; but it must be without blemish, partly because only the best should be given to God, and partly, it may be, because the mystery of death is greater in the case of a perfectly healthful life.
In a sense the life of the animal went for the life of the worshipper. This was signified when the offerer laid his hand upon the victim’s head (Leviticus 1:4, etc.). And the same substitution is suggested when a ransom (Matthew 20:28) was paid for the firstborn, although no animal substitute is mentioned (Exodus 13:13, cf. Numbers 3:47). But the vicariousness of the suffering of Christ is anticipated in the OT rather by the priestly feeling of responsibility expressed in Ezra 9:6 and Daniel 9:5 (cf. also Isaiah 53), than by anything explicit in the appointment of animal sacrifices. See § 5, below.
4. The prophecy of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31) forms the principal link between the sacrifices of the OT and Christ’s fulfilment of them. For in that passage the promise of a covenant between God and His people is connected with the forgiveness of sin; and in the NT this conjunction is all-important. The NT is full of allusions to the law of sacrifice: ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3); ‘Christ our passover is sacrificed for us’ (1 Corinthians 5:7); and the words ‘ransom,’ ‘redemption,’ ‘propitiation,’ ‘cleanse,’ ‘purify,’ ‘sanctify,’—all occur frequently. But especially this reference is to be found in Christ’s words at the institution of the Supper: ‘For this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many unto remission of sins’ (Matthew 26:28); and in the Epistle to the Hebrews (chs. 8–10). In both these places attention is drawn to the covenant at Sinai. That was the OT sacrifice which especially corresponds in its position and efficacy to the position and efficacy of the death of Christ. By it there was solemnly established a relation of friendship between God and His people, once for all. So for all believers Christ’s one sacrifice avails to make them the people and children of God. As the slaying of animals, according to a well-understood language, gave sacredness to the older covenant, so the dying of the Saviour gave greater sacredness to a greater covenant. But these descriptions of the efficacy of Christ’s death also refer, as does the prophecy of Jeremiah, to the taking away of sin, to which there was no reference in the Old Covenant. Moreover, the words, ‘Take, eat,’ ‘Drink ye all of it,’ taken along with John 6:53-57, introduce in sacrificial language the thought of fellowship with God. Consecration is the other side of reconciliation (Exodus 29:15; Exodus 29:33). ‘We have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7). So in Hebrews, from the words ‘Let us come boldly’ (1 John 4:16) to ‘Let us draw near’ (Hebrews 10:22), the whole matter of our salvation is pictured under the form of access into the happy condition of being at peace with God (cf. Romans 5:1-2), which was given under the Mosaic law by the covenant sacrifice, and continued by the sacrifices that were commanded; but for us this has been obtained once for all by Christ (Hebrews 10:10), and remains ours as we abide in Him. It is understood that more had to be done in the fulness of time to assure God’s people of His favour than sufficed for that when they came out of Egypt. Now, they had a conscience of sin. This the Law had produced (Galatians 3:19; Galatians 4:3). Accordingly, in the New Covenant provision was made for the remission of sin, for redemption, for propitiation (Romans 3:24-25, 1 John 4:10). Even while the Apostles are setting aside the sacrifices of the OT, they can express the work of Christ in no other than sacrificial language. There was something in the sacrifices for sin that could not be set aside. Thus, to meet the displeasure of God witnessed by an accusing conscience (Romans 2:15) or by experience of the state of the world (Romans 1:18), there was need of ‘the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by his blood’ (Romans 3:24 f.).
In the last chapter of Hebrews the fate of the sin-offering is made into a parable of the state of believers (Hebrews 13:10-16). They do not rest in the enjoyment of God’s favour in this world, as the Jewish worshippers rejoiced before God and feasted on their peace-offerings. This is not our rest. Here we have no continuing city. We are not of the world, as Christ is not of the world. But the sin-offering was burned ‘in a clean place’ without the camp (Leviticus 4:12), and it was most holy. The place where it was consumed by fire was made a holy altar by it. So not in a worldly but in a spiritual manner those who go out unto Jesus without the camp have the highest, happiest enjoyment of the friendship of God; Christ Himself by His sacred and faithful life and death is their temple, and there they ‘offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.’
5. Finally, the sacrifices of the OT do not cover in analogy the whole of the Saviour’s work. The Epistle to the Hebrews employs the priesthood of Christ, as well as His sacrifice, to set forth all He is to us. Moses and Joshua and Aaron and Melchizedek Mere imperfect anticipations of Christ, besides the sacrifices. In Isaiah 53 the prophet is compelled to go beyond his sacrificial parable, and to say, ‘By his stripes we are healed,’ ‘He shall see of the travail of his soul.’ The lamb could give its life, but it needs a human representative of the Saviour to show His priestly sympathy and responsibility and sufferings. And this being so, no doubt the decided preferenee of Scripture and of Christian feeling for dwelling rather on the sacrifices than on the men who were anticipations of Christ, is because it is so supremely important that Christ should be seen to stand alone among men, no one near Him. A prophet may be a man of God, but Christ is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,—that to God may be all the glory of man’s redemption. See also the preceding article.
Literature.—P. Fairbairn, Typology; A. B. Davidson, Theology of the OT, and the same writer’s Com. on the Epistle to the Hebrews; Bp. Westcott, Hebrews; Denney, Death of Christ; art. ‘Sacrifice’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (by W. P. Paterson) and in Encyc. Brit.9 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] (by W. R. Smith).
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sacrifices'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/sacrifices.html. 1906-1918.