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The offering up of sacrifices is to be regarded as a divine institution. It did not originate with man. God himself appointed it as the mode in which acceptable worship was to be offered to him by guilty man. The language and the idea of sacrifice pervade the whole Bible.
Sacrifices were offered in the ante-diluvian age. The Lord clothed Adam and Eve with the skins of animals, which in all probability had been offered in sacrifice ( Genesis 3:21 ). Abel offered a sacrifice "of the firstlings of his flock" ( 4:4 ; Hebrews 11:4 ). A distinction also was made between clean and unclean animals, which there is every reason to believe had reference to the offering up of sacrifices ( Genesis 7:2 Genesis 7:8 ), because animals were not given to man as food till after the Flood.
The same practice is continued down through the patriarchal age ( Genesis 8:20 ; 12:7 ; Genesis 13:4 Genesis 13:18 ; 15:9-11 ; 22:1-18 , etc.). In the Mosaic period of Old Testament history definite laws were prescribed by God regarding the different kinds of sacrifices that were to be offered and the manner in which the offering was to be made. The offering of stated sacrifices became indeed a prominent and distinctive feature of the whole period ( Exodus 12:3-27 ; Leviticus 23:5-8 ; Numbers 9:2-14 ). (See ALTAR .)
We learn from the Epistle to the Hebrews that sacrifices had in themselves no value or efficacy. They were only the "shadow of good things to come," and pointed the worshippers forward to the coming of the great High Priest, who, in the fullness of the time, "was offered once for all to bear the sin of many." Sacrifices belonged to a temporary economy, to a system of types and emblems which served their purposes and have now passed away. The "one sacrifice for sins" hath "perfected for ever them that are sanctified."
Sacrifices were of two kinds: 1. Unbloody, such as (1) first-fruits and tithes; (2) meat and drink-offerings; and (3) incense. 2. Bloody, such as (1) burnt-offerings; (2) peace-offerings; and (3) sin and trespass offerings. (See OFFERINGS .)
The peculiar features of each kind of sacrifice are referred to under their respective heads. I. (A) ORIGIN OF SACRIFICE. --The universal prevalence of sacrifice shows it to have been primeval, and deeply rooted in the instincts of humanity. Whether it was first enjoined by an external command, or whether it was based on that sense of sin and lost communion with God which is stamped by his hand on the heart of man, is a historical question which cannot be determined. (B) ANTE-MOSAIC HISTORY OF SACRIFICE. --In examining the various sacrifices recorded in Scripture before the establishment of the law, we find that the words specially denoting expiatory sacrifice are not applied to them. This fact does not at all show that they were not actually expiatory, but it justified the inference that this idea was not then the prominent one in the doctrine of sacrifice. The sacrifices of Cain and Abel are called minehah, tend appear to have been eucharistic. Noahs, ( Genesis 8:20 ) and Jacobs at Mizpah, were at the institution of a covenant; and may be called federative. In the burnt offerings of Job for his children ( Job 1:5 ) and for his three friends ch. ( Job 42:8 ) we for the first time find the expression of the desire of expiation for sin. The same is the case in the words of Moses to Pharaoh. ( Exodus 10:26 ) Here the main idea is at least deprecatory. (C) THE SACRIFICES OF THE MOSAIC PERIOD. --These are inaugurated by the offering of the Passover and the sacrifice of ( Exodus 24:1 ) ... The Passover indeed is unique in its character but it is clear that the idea of salvation from death by means of sacrifice is brought out in it with a distinctness before unknown. The law of Leviticus now unfolds distinctly the various forms of sacrifice: (a) The burnt offering : Self-dedicatory. (b) The meat offering : (unbloody): Eucharistic. (c) The sin offering ; the trespass offering: Expiatory. To these may be added, (d) The incense offered after sacrifice in the holy place and (on the Day of Atonement) in the holy of holies, the symbol of the intercession of the priest (as a type of the great High Priest) accompanying and making efficacious the prayer of the people. In the consecration of Aaron and his sons, ( Leviticus 8:1 ) ... we find these offered in what became ever afterward their appointed order. First came the sin offering, to prepare access to God; next the burnt offering, to mark their dedication to his service; and third the meat offering of thanksgiving. Henceforth the sacrificial system was fixed in all its parts until he should come whom it typified. (D) POST-MOSAIC SACRIFICES. --It will not be necessary to pursue, in detail the history of the Poet Mosaic sacrifice, for its main principles were now fixed forever. The regular sacrifices in the temple service were-- (a) Burnt offerings. 1, the daily burnt offerings, ( Exodus 29:38-42 ) 2, the double burnt offerings on the Sabbath, ( Numbers 28:9 Numbers 28:10 ) 3, the burnt offerings at the great festivals; ( Numbers 26:11 ; Numbers 29:39 ) (b) Meat offerings . 1, the daily meat offerings accompanying the daily burnt offerings, ( Exodus 29:40 Exodus 29:41 ) 2, the shewbread, renewed every Sabbath, ( Leviticus 24:6 Leviticus 24:9 ) 3, the special meat offerings at the Sabbath and the great festivals, ( Numbers 28:1 ; Numbers 29:1 ) ... 4, the first-fruits, at the Passover, ( Leviticus 23:10-14 ) at Pentecost, ( Leviticus 23:17-20 ) the firstfruits of the dough and threshing-floor at the harvest time. ( Numbers 15:20 Numbers 15:21 ; 26:1-11 ) (c) Sin offerings . 1, sin offering each new moon ( Numbers 28:15 ) 2, sin offerings at the passover, Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets and Tabernacles, ( Numbers 28:22 Numbers 28:30 ; Numbers 29:5 Numbers 29:16 Numbers 29:19 Numbers 29:22 Numbers 29:25 Numbers 29:28 Numbers 29:31 Numbers 29:34 Numbers 29:38 ) 3, the offering of the two goats for the people and of the bullock for the priest himself, on the Great Day of Atonement. ( Leviticus 16:1 ) ... (d) Incense . 1, the morning and evening incense ( Exodus 30:7 Exodus 30:8 ) 2, the incense on the Great Day of Atonement. ( Leviticus 16:12 ) Besides these public sacrifices, there were offerings of the people for themselves individually. II. By the order of sacrifice in its perfect form, as in ( Leviticus 8:1 ) ... it is clear that the sin offering occupies the most important: place; the burnt offering comes next, and the meat offering or peace offering last of all. The second could only be offered after the first had been accepted; the third was only a subsidiary part of the second. Yet, in actual order of time it has been seen that the patriarchal sacrifices partook much more of the nature of the peace offering and burnt offering, and that under the raw, by which was "the knowledge of sin," ( Romans 3:20 ) the sin offering was for the first time explicitly set forth. This is but natural that the deepest ideas should be the last in order of development. The essential difference between heathen views of sacrifice and the scriptural doctrine of the Old. Testament is not to be found in its denial of any of these views. In fact, it brings out clearly and distinctly the ideas which in heathenism were uncertain, vague and perverted. But the essential points of distinction are two. First, that whereas the heathen conceived of their gods as alienated in jealousy or anger, to be sought after and to be appeased by the unaided action of man, Scripture represents God himself as approaching man, as pointing out and sanctioning the way by which the broken covenant should be restored. The second mark of distinction is closely connected with this, inasmuch as it shows sacrifice to he a scheme proceeding from God, and in his foreknowledge, connected with the one central fact of all human history. From the prophets and the Epistle to the Hebrews we learn that the sin offering represented that covenant as broken by man, and as knit together again, by Gods appointment through the shedding of the blood, the symbol of life, signified that the death of the offender was deserved for sin, but that the death of the victim was accepted for his death by the ordinance of Gods mercy. Beyond all doubt the sin offering distinctly witnessed that sin existed in man. that the "wages of that sin was death," and that God had provided an atonement by the vicarious suffering of an appointed victim. The ceremonial and meaning of the burnt offering were very different. The idea of expiation seems not to have been absent from it, for the blood was sprinkled round about the altar of sacrifice; but the main idea is the offering of the whole victim to God, representing as the laying of the hand on its head shows, the devotion of the sacrificer, body and soul. to him. ( Romans 12:1 ) The death of the victim was, so to speak, an incidental feature. The meat offering, the peace or thank offering, the firstfruits, etc., were simply offerings to God of his own best gifts, as a sign of thankful homage, and as a means of maintaining his service and his servants. The characteristic ceremony in the peace offering was the eating of the flesh by the sacrificer. It betokened the enjoyment of communion with God. It is clear from this that the idea of sacrifice is a complex idea, involving the propitiatory, the dedicatory and the eucharistic elements. Any one of these, taken by itself, would lead to error and superstition. All three probably were more or less implied in each sacrifice. each element predominating in its turn. The Epistle to the Hebrews contains the key of the whole sacrificial doctrine. The object of the epistle is to show the typical and probationary character of sacrifices, and to assert that in virtue of it alone they had a spiritual meaning. Our Lord is declared (see) ( 1 Peter 1:20 ) "to have been foreordained" as a sacrifice "before the foundation of the world," or as it is more strikingly expressed in ( Revelation 13:8 ) "slain from the foundation of the world." The material sacrifices represented this great atonement as already made and accepted in Gods foreknowledge; and to those who grasped the ideas of sin, pardon and self-dedication symbolized in them, they were means of entering into the blessings which the one true sacrifice alone procured. They could convey nothing in themselves yet as types they might, if accepted by a true though necessarily imperfect faith be means of conveying in some degree the blessings of the antitype. It is clear that the atonement in the Epistle to the Hebrews as in the New Testament generally, is viewed in a twofold light. On the one hand it is set forth distinctly as a vicarious sacrifice, which was rendered necessary by the sin of man and in which the Lord "bare the sins of many." It is its essential characteristic that in it he stands absolutely alone offering his sacrifice without any reference to the faith or the conversion of men. In it he stands out alone as the mediator between God and man; and his sacrifice is offered once for all, never to be imitated or repeated. Now, this view of the atonement is set forth in the epistle as typified by the sin offering. On the other hand the sacrifice of Christ is set forth to us as the completion of that perfect obedience to the will of the Father which is the natural duty of sinless man. The main idea of this view of the atonement is representative rather than vicarious. It is typified by the burnt offering. As without the sin offering of the cross this our burnt offering would be impossible, so also without the burnt offering the sin offering will to us be unavailing. With these views of our Lords sacrifice oil earth, as typified in the Levitical sacrifices on the outer alter, is also to be connected the offering of his intercession for us in heaven, which was represented by the incense. The typical sense of the meat offering or peace offering is less connected the sacrifice of Christ himself than with those sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, charity and devotion which we, as Christians, offer to God, and "with which he is well pleased," ( Hebrews 13:15 Hebrews 13:16 ) as with an odor of sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable to God." ( Philemon 4:28 )