Sacrifices in the Bible
What are the sacrifices in the Bible?
There are a variety of sacrifices mentioned in the Bible.
Zebhaḥ : a "slaughtered animal," a "sacrifice," general term for animals used in sacrifice, including burnt offerings, peace offerings, thank offerings, and all sacrifices offered to the Deity and eaten at the festivals. More particularly it refers to the flesh eaten by the worshippers after the fat parts had been burned on the altar and the priest had received his portion.
‛Olāh : a "burnt offering," sometimes whole burnt offering. Derived from the verb ‛ālāh , "to go up." It may mean "that which goes up to the altar" (Knobel, Wellhausen, Nowack, etc.), or "that which goes up in smoke to the sky" (Bahr, Delitzsch, Dillmann, etc.); sometimes used synonymously with kālı̄l (which see). The term applies to beast or fowl when entirely consumed upon the altar, the hide of the beast being taken by the priest. This was perhaps the most solemn of the sacrifices, and symbolized worship in the full sense, i.e. adoration, devotion, dedication, supplication, and at times expiation.
Ḥătā'āh , ḥattā'th : a "sin offering," a special kind, first mentioned in the Mosaic legislation. It is essentially expiatory, intended to restore covenant relations with the Deity. The special features were: (1) the blood must be sprinkled before the sanctuary, put upon the horns of the altar of incense and poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering; (2) the flesh was holy, not to be touched by worshipper, but eaten by the priest only. The special ritual of the Day of Atonement centers around the sin offering.
'Āshām : "guilt offering," "trespass offering" (King James Version; in Isaiah 53:10 , the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) "an offering for sin," the American Revised Version margin "trespass offering"). A special kind of sin offering introduced in the Mosaic Law and concerned with offenses against God and man that could be estimated by a money value and thus covered by compensation or restitution accompanying the offering. A ram of different degrees of value, and worth at least two shekels, was the usual victim, and it must be accompanied by full restitution with an additional fifth of the value of the damage. The leper and Nazirite could offer he-lambs. The guilt toward God was expiated by the blood poured out, and the guilt toward men by the restitution and fine. The calling of the Servant an 'āshām (Isaiah 53:10 ) shows the value attached to this offering.
Shelem , shelāmı̄m : "peace offering," generally used the plural, shelāmı̄m , only once shēlem ( Amos 5:22 ). These were sacrifices of friendship expressing or promoting peaceful relations with the Deity, and almost invariably accompanied by a meal or feast, an occasion of great joy. They are sometimes called zebhāḥim , sometimes zebhaḥ shelāmı̄m , and were of different kinds, such as zebhaḥ ha -tōdhāh , "thank offerings," which expressed the gratitude of the giver because of some blessings, zebhaḥ nedhābhāh , "free-will offerings," bestowed on the Deity out of a full heart, and zebhaḥ nedher , "votive offerings," which were offered in fulfillment of a vow.
Minḥāh : "meal offering" (the Revised Version), "meat offering" (the King James Version), a gift or presentation, at first applied to both bloody and unbloody offerings ( Genesis 4:5 ), but in Moses' time confined to cereals, whether raw or roast, ground to flour or baked and mixed with oil and frankincense. These cereals were the produce of man's labor with the soil, not fruits, etc., and thus represented the necessities and results of life, if not life itself. They were the invariable accompaniment of animal sacrifices, and in one instance could be substituted for them (see SIN OFFERING ). The term minḥāh describes a gift or token of friendship (Isaiah 39:1 ), an act of homage (1 Samuel 10:27 ; 1 Kings 10:25 ), tribute (Judges 3:15 , Judges 3:17 f), propitiation to a friend wronged ( Genesis 32:13 , Genesis 32:18 (Hebrew 14:19)), to procure favor or assistance ( Genesis 43:11 ff; Hosea 10:6 ).
Ṭenūphāh : "wave offering," usually the breast, the priest's share of the peace offerings, which was waved before the altar by both offerer and priest together (the exact motion is not certain), symbolic of its presentation to Deity and given back by Him to the offerer to be used in the priests' service.
Ṭenūmāh : "heave offering," something lifted up, or, properly, separated from the rest and given to the service of the Deity. Usually the right shoulder or thigh was thus separated for the priest. The term is applied to products of the soil, or portion of land separated unto the divine service, etc.
Ḳorbān : "an oblation," or "offering"; another generic term for all kinds of offerings, animal, vegetable, or even gold and silver. Derived from the verb ḳārabh , "to draw near," it signifies what is drawn or brought near and given to God.
'Ishsheh : "fire offering," applied to offerings made by fire and usually bloody offerings, but at times to the minḥāh , the sacred bread and frankincense placed on the tables as a memorial, part of which was burned with the frankincense, the bulk, however, going to the priest. The gift was thus presented through fire to the Deity as a sort of etherealized food.
Neṣekh : "drink offering," or "libation," a liquid offering of wine, rarely water, sometimes of oil, and usually accompanying the ‛ōlāh , but often with the peace offerings.
Kālı̄l : "whole burnt offering," the entire animal being burned upon the altar. Sometimes used synonymously with ‛ōlāh . A technical term among the Carthaginians.
Ḥagh : a "feast," used metaphorically for a sacrificial feast because the meat of the sacrifices constituted the material of the feast.
Lebhōnāh : "frankincense," "incense," used in combination with the meal offerings and burnt offerings and burned also upon the altar in the holy place. See INCENSE .
Ḳetōrāh , ḳetōreth : "smoke," "odor of sacrifice," or incense ascending as a sweet savor and supposed to be pleasing and acceptable to God.
Melaḥ : "salt," used in all sacrifices because of its purifying and preserving qualities.
Shemen : "oil," generally olive oil, used with the meal offerings of cakes and wafers, etc.
Sacrifice is thus a complex and comprehensive term. In its simplest form it may be defined as "a gift to God." It is a presentation to Deity of some material object, the possession of the offerer, as an act of worship. It may be to attain, restore, maintain or to celebrate friendly relations with the Deity. It is religion in action - in early times, almost the whole of religion - an inseparable accompaniment to all religious exercises.
Few or many motives may actuate it. It may be wholly piacular and expiatory, or an Offering of food as a gift to God; it may be practically a bribe, or a prayer, an expression of dependence, obligation and thanksgiving. It may express repentance, faith, adoration, or all of these combined. It was the one and only way of approach to God. Theophrastus defines it as expressing homage, gratitude and need. Hubert and Mauss define it as "a religious act which by the consecration of the victim modifies the moral state of the sacrificer, or of certain material objects which he has in view, i.e., either confers sanctity or removes it and its analogue, impiety."
II. Origin and Nature of Sacrifices.
The beginnings of sacrifice are hidden in the mysteries of prehistoric life. The earliest narrative in Genesis records the fact, but gives no account of the origin and primary idea. The custom is sanctioned by the sacred writings, and later on the long-established custom was adopted and systematized in the Mosaic Law. The practice was almost universal. The Vedas have their elaborate rituals. Some Semitic peoples, Greeks, Romans, Africans, and Indians of Mexico offered human sacrifices. It is unknown in Australia, but even there something akin to it exists, for some natives offer a portion of a kind of honey, others offer a pebble or a spear to their god. For this practically universal habit of the race, several solutions are offered.
1. Theory of a Divine Revelation:
One view maintains that God Himself initiated the rite by divine order at the beginnings of human history. Such a theory implies a monotheistic faith on the part of primitive man. This theory was strongly held by many of the Reformed theologians, and was based mainly on the narrative in Genesis 4:4 f. Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice, and, according to Hebrews 11:4 , this was because of his faith. Faber makes a strong plea as follows: Since faith was what made the sacrifice acceptable to God, this faith must have been based upon a positive enactment of God in the past.
Without this divine positive enactment to guarantee its truthfulness, faith, in Abel, would have been superstition. In other words, faith, in order to be truly based and properly directed, must have a revelation from God, a positive expression of the divine will. Fairbairn, in his Typology , goes further and holds that the skins wherewith Adam and Eve were clothed were from animals which had been slain in sacrifices.
This is entirely without support in the narrative. The theory of a divine order cannot be maintained on the basis of the Biblical narrative. Moreover, it involves certain assumptions regarding the nature of faith and revelation which are not generally held in this age. A revelation is not necessarily a positive divine command, an external thing, and faith may be just as real and true without such a revelation as with it. That there may have been such a revelation cannot be denied, but it is not a necessary or probable explanation.
2. Theories of a Human Origin:
(1) The Gift-Theory.
By this it is held that sacrifices were originally presents to the deity which the offerer took for granted would be received with pleasure and even gratitude. Good relations would thus be established with the god and favors would be secured. Such motives, while certainly true among many heathen people, were obviously based upon low conceptions of the deity. They were either. Nature-spirits, ancestral ghosts or fetishes which needed what was given, and of course the god was placed under obligations and his favor obtained. Or, the god may have been conceived of as a ruler, a king or chief, as was the custom in the East.
Cicero vouches for such a view when he says: "Let not the impious dare to appease the gods with gifts. Let them hearken to Plato, who warns them that there can be no doubt what God's disposition to them will be, since even a good man will refuse to accept presents from the wicked" ( HDB , IV, 331a). This view of sacrifice prevails in classical literature. Spencer therefore thinks it is self-evident that this was the idea of primitive man.
Tylor and Herbert Spencer also find the origin of sacrifices in the idea of a gift, whether to the deity or to dead ancestors, food being placed for them, and this afterward comes to be regarded as a sacrifice. Such a view gives no account of the peculiar value attached to the blood, or to the burnt offerings. It may account for some heathen systems of sacrifice, but can help in no degree in understanding the Biblical sacrifices.
(2) The Magic Theory.
There are two slightly variant forms of this: ( a ) that of R.C. Thompson ( Semitic Magic, Its Origins and Developments , 175-218), who holds that a sacrificial animal serves as a substitute victim offered to a demon whose activity has brought the offerer into trouble; the aim of the priest is to entice or drive the malignant spirit out of the sick or sinful man into the sacrificial victim where it can be isolated or destroyed; ( b ) that of L. Marillier, who holds that sacrifice in its origin is essentially a magical rite.
The liberation of a magical force by the effusion of the victim's blood will bend the god to the will of the man. From this arose under the "cult of the dead" the gift-theory of sacrifice. Men sought to ally themselves with the god in particular by purifying a victim and effecting communion with the god by the application of the blood to the altar, or by the sacrifice of the animal and the contact of the sacrificer with its blood. Such theories give no account of the burnt offerings, meal offerings and sin offerings, disconnect them entirely from any sense of sin or estrangement from God, and divest them of all piacular value. They may account for certain depraved and heathen systems, but not for the Biblical.
(3) The Table-Bond Theory.
Ably advocated by Wellhausen and W.R. Smith, this view holds that sacrifices were meals which the worshippers and the god shared, partaking of the same food and thus establishing a firmer bond of fellowship between them. Sykes ( Nature of Sacrifices , 75) first advocated this, holding that the efficacy of sacrifices "is the fact that eating and drinking were the known and ordinary symbols of friendship and were the usual rites in engaging in covenants and leagues."
Thus sacrifices are more than gifts; they are deeds of hospitality which knit god and worshipper together. W.R. Smith has expounded the idea into the notion that the common meal unites physically those who partake of it. Though this view may contain an element of truth in regard to certain Arabian customs, it does not help much to account for Bible sacrifices. As A.B. Davidson says, "It fails utterly to account for the burnt offering, which was one of the earliest, most solemn and at times the most important of all the sacrifices."
(4) The Sacramental Communion Theory.
This is a modification of the table-bond theory. The basis of it is the totemistic idea of reverencing an animal which is believed to share with man the divine nature. On certain solemn occasions this animal would be sacrificed to furnish a feast. At this meal, according to men's savage notions, they literally "ate the god," and thus incorporated into themselves the physical, the intellectual and the moral qualities which characterized the animal.
If the divine life dwelt in certain animals, then a part of that precious life would be distributed among all the people ( RS2 , 313). In some cases the blood is drunk by the worshippers, thus imbibing the life. Sometimes, as in the case of the sacred camel, they devoured the quivering flesh before the animal was really dead, and the entire carcass was eaten up before morning.
The brilliant work of W. R. Smith has not been universally accepted. L. Marillier has criticized it along several lines. It is by no means certain that totemism prevailed so largely among Semites and there is no evidence of its existence in Israel. Also, if an original bond of friendship existed between the god and the kin, there is no need to maintain it by such sacrificial rites. There is no clear instance of this having been done. If on the other hand there was no common bond between the god and the people but that of a common meal, it does not appear that the god is a totem god.
There is no reason why the animal should have been a totem. In any case, this idea of sacrifice could hardly have been anything but a slow growth, and consequently not the origin of sacrifice. Hubert and Mauss also point out that W. R. Smith is far from having established the historical or the logical connection between the common meal and the other kinds of sacrifices. Under piacula he confuses purification, propitiation and expiations. His attempts to show that purifications of magical character are late and not sacrificial do not succeed. Smith's theory is mainly the sacramental, though he does recognize the honorific and piacular element. The theory may be applicable to some of the heathen or savage feasts of the Arabs, but not to the practices of the Hebrews (see Encyclopedia Brit , XXIII , 981).
(5) The Homage Theory.
This has been advocated by Warburton and F. D. Maurice. The idea is that sacrifices were originally an expression of homage and dependence. Man naturally felt impelled to seek closer communion with God, not so much from a sense of guilt as from a sense of dependence and a desire to show homage and obedience. In giving expression to this, primitive man had recourse to acts rather than words and thoughts. Thus sacrifice was an acted prayer, rather than a prayer in words. It was an expression of his longings and aspirations, his reverence and submission. There is much truth in this view; the elements of prayer - dependence and submission - enter into some sacrifices, the burnt offerings in particular; but it does not account for all kinds of offerings.
(6) The Piacular Theory.
This holds that sacrifices are fundamentally expiatory or atoning, and the death of the beast is a vicarious expiation of the sins of the offerer. Hubert and Mauss admit that in all sacrifices there are some ideas of purchase or substitution, though these may not have issued from some primitive form. The unifying principle in all sacrifices is that the divine is put in communication with the profane by the intermediary - the victim - which may be piacular or honorific. It is thus a messenger, a means of divination, a means of alimenting the eternal life of the species, a source of magical energy which the rite diffuses over objects in its neighborhood. Westermarck ( Origin of Moral Ideas ) makes the original idea in sacrifice a piaculum , a substitute for the offerer.
This view is the most simple, the most natural, and the only one that can explain certain sacrifices. Man felt himself under liability to punishment or death. The animal was his, it had life, it was of value, and perchance the god would accept that life in place of his. He felt that it would be accepted, and thus the animal was sacrificed. The offerer in a sense gives up part of himself. The beast must be his own; no sacrifice can be made of another person's property (2 Samuel 24:24 ). The true spirit of sacrifice appears in a willingness to acknowledge God's right to what is best and dearest (Gen 12).
Objection is raised to this by A. B. Davidson ( Old Testament Theology ), Paterson ( HDB , IV, 331) and others, on the ground that such an origin represents too advanced a stage of ethical thought and reflection for primitive man. We question seriously whether this be an advanced stage of moral reflection. On the contrary, it represents a very simple and primitive stage. The feeling that sin of some kind is never absent from human life, and that its true penalty is death, has been inseparable from the human heart's sense of sin.
What could be more simple and natural than to take an innocent animal and offer it in place of himself, hoping that the Deity would accept it instead? Nor is there much force in Professor Paterson's objection that sacrifices were preponderantly joyous in character and therefore could not be offered as an expiation. This joyous character belongs to such sacrifices as peace offerings and thank offerings, but does not belong to the ‛ōlāh and others. In most cases the joyous feast followed the killing of the animal by which the expiation was accomplished, and the feast was joyous because atonement had been made. In fact, many sacrifices were of the most solemn character and represented the deepest and most serious emotions of the heart.
(7) Originating in Religious Instincts.
Neither theory of an objective divine revelation, nor of a human origin will account for the universality and variety of sacrifices. The truth lies in a proper combination of the two. The notion of offering a gift to the Deity arose out of the religious instincts of the human heart, which in an early period had a consciousness of something wrong between itself and God, and that this something would mean death sooner or later. Added to these true instincts was the Omnipresent Spirit to guide men in giving expression.
What could be more simple and primitive than to offer something possessing life? Of course the notion originated in simple and childlike ideas of God, and its real motive was not to gratify God by sharing a meal with Him, or to gain His favor by a bribe, but to present Him with something that represented a part of the offerer which might be accepted in his stead. Thus sacrifices became the leading features of the religious life of primitive man.
Naturally other ideas would be added, such as a gift of food by fire to the Deity, the peace offerings, etc., to celebrate the friendly relations with God, the thank offerings, the sin offerings, etc., all of which naturally and logically developed from the primitive idea. It might be expected that there would be many corruptions and abuses, that the sense of sin would be obscured or lost among some peoples, and the idea of sacrifice correspondingly degraded. Such has been the case, and as well might we try to understand man at his best by studying the aboriginal tribes of Africa and Australia, or the inmates of asylums and penitentiaries, as to attempt to understand the Bible ideas in sacrifices by studying the cults of those heathen and savage tribes of Semites, etc.
III. Classification of Sacrifices.
Maimonides was among the first to classify them, and he divided them into two kinds:
(1) Those on behalf of the whole congregation, fixed by statute, time, number and ritual being specified. This would include burnt, meal and peace offerings with their accompaniments. (2) Those on behalf of the individual, whether by virtue of his connection with the community or as a private person. These would be burnt offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings with their accompaniments.
2. W. R. Smith and Others:
Others, such as W. R. Smith, classify them as: (1) honorific, or designed to render homage, devotion, or adoration, such as burnt, meal and peace offerings; (2) piacular, designed to expiate or make atonement for the errors of the people, i.e. burnt offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings; (3) communistic, intended to establish the bond between the god and the worshipper, such as peace offerings.
Oehler divides them into two classes, namely: (1) those which assume that the covenant relation is undisturbed, such as peace offerings; (2) those intended to do away with any disturbance in the relation and to set it right, such as burnt, sin and guilt offerings.
4. Paterson and Others:
Professor Paterson and others divide them into three: (1) animal sacrifices, burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings; (2) vegetable sacrifices, meal offerings, shewbread, etc.; (3) liquid and incense offerings; wine, oil, water, etc.
5. H. M. Wiener:
H. M. Wiener offers a more suggestive and scientific division ( Essays on Pentateuchal Criticism , 200 f): (1) customary lay offerings, such as had from time immemorial been offered on rude altars of earth or stone, without priest, used and regulated by Moses and in more or less general use until the exile, namely, burnt offerings, meal offerings, and peace offerings; (2) statutory individual offerings, introduced by Moses, offered by laymen with priestly assistance and at the religious capital, i.e. burnt offerings, peace offerings, meal offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings; (3) statutory national offerings introduced by Moses and offered by the priest at the religious capital, namely, burnt, meal, peace and sin offerings.
IV. Sacrifices in the Pre-Mosaic Age.
Out of the obscure period of origins emerged the dimly lighted period of ancient history. Everywhere sacrifices existed and sometimes abounded as an essential part of religion. The spade of the archaeologist, and the researches of scholars help us understand the pre-Mosaic period.
1. In Egypt:
In Egypt - probably from the beginning of the 4th millennium BC - there were sacrifices and sacrificial systems. Temples at Abydos, Thebes, On, etc., were great priestly centers with high priests, lower priests, rituals and sacrifices in abundance. Burnt, meal and peace offerings predominated. Oxen, wild goats, pigs, geese were the chief animals offered. Besides these, wine, oil, beer, milk, cakes, grain, ointment, flowers, fruit, vegetables were offered, but not human beings. In these offerings there were many resemblances to the Hebrew gifts, and many significant exceptions. Moses would be somewhat familiar with these practices though not with the details of the ritual. He would appreciate the unifying power of a national religious center. It is inconceivable that in such an age a national leader and organizer like Moses would not take special care to institute such a system.
2. In Babylonia:
In Babylonia, from the year 3000 BC or thereabouts, according to E. Meyer ( Geschichte des Alterthums ), there were many centers of worship such as Eridu, Nippur, Agade, Erech, Ur, Nisin, Larsa, Sippar, etc. These and others continued for centuries with elaborate systems of worship, sacrifices, temples, priesthoods, etc. Considerably over 100 temples and sanctuaries are mentioned on inscriptions, and several hundreds in the literature and tablets, so that Babylonia was studded with temples and edifices for the gods.
At all these, sacrifices were constantly offered - animal and vegetable. A long list of the offerings of King Gudea includes oxen, sheep, goats, lambs, fish, birds (i.e. eagles and doves), dates, milk, greens (Jastrow, in HDB , V, 580 f, under the word). The sacrifices provided an income for the priests, as did the Mosaic system at a later time. It had long passed the stage when it was supposed to furnish a meal for the god. A sacrifice always accompanied a consultation with a priest, and was really an assessment for the services rendered. It was not a voluntary offering or ritualistic observance.
The priests on their own behalf offered a daily sacrifice, as in the Mosaic Law, and likewise on special occasions, to insure the good will of the gods they served. It seems certain that in some of the larger centers of worship animals were offered up twice a day, morning and evening. At these sacrifices certain portions were consumed on the altar, the rest belonging to the priest. The similarity of much of this to the Mosaic institutions is obvious. That the culture and civilization of Babylon was known to Egypt and Israel with other nations is shown clearly by the Tell el-Amarna Letters . Special sacrifices on special occasions were offered in Babylonia as in Israel.
As Jastrow says, "In the Hebrew codes, both as regards the purely legal portions and those sections dealing with religious ritual, Babylonian methods of legal procedure and of ritual developed in Babylonian temples must be taken into consideration as determining factors." We do not doubt that Moses made use of many elements found in the Egyptian and Babylonian systems, and added to or subtracted from or purified as occasion required. As sacrificial systems and ritual had been in use more than a millennium before Moses, there is absolutely no need to suppose that Israel's ritual was a thousand years in developing, and was completed after the exile. To do so is to turn history upside down.
3. Nomads and Tribes of Arabia and Syria:
Among the nomads and tribes of Arabia and Syria, sacrifices had been common for millenniums before Moses. The researches of Wellhausen and W. R. Smith are valuable here, whatever one may think of their theories. The offerings were usually from the flocks and herds, sometimes from the spoils taken in war which had been appropriated as their own.
The occasions were many and various, and the ritual was very simple. A rude altar of earth or stone, or one stone, a sacred spot, the offerer killing the victim and burning all, or perhaps certain parts and eating the remainder with the clan or family, constituted the customary details. Sometimes wild animals were offered. Babylonians, Phoenicians and Arabs offered gazelles, but the Hebrews did not. Arabs would sometimes sacrifice a captive youth, while the Carthaginians chose some of the fairest of the captives for offerings by night. Assyrian kings sometimes sacrificed captive kings. The Canaanites and others constantly sacrificed children, especially the firstborn.
4. The Offerings of Cain and Abel:
The account of the offerings of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:4 f) shows that the ceremony dates from almost the beginnings of the human race. The custom of offering the firstlings and first-fruits had already begun. Arabian tribes later had a similar custom. Cain's offering was cereal and is called minḥāh , "a gift" or "presentation." The same term is applied to Abel's. There is no hint that the bloody sacrifice was in itself better than the unbloody one, but it is shown that sacrifice without a right attitude of heart is not acceptable to God. This same truth is emphasized by the prophets and others, and is needed in this day as much as then. In this case the altars would be of the common kind, and no priest was needed. The sacrifices were an act of worship, adoration, dependence, prayer, and possibly propitiation.
5. Of Noah:
The sacrifices of Noah followed and celebrated the epochal and awe-inspiring event of leaving the ark and beginning life anew. He offered burnt offerings of all the clean animals (Genesis 8:20 ff). On such a solemn occasion only an ‛ōlāh would suffice. The custom of using domestic animals had arisen at this time. The sacrifices expressed adoration, recognition of God's power and sovereignty, and a gift to please Him, for it is said He smelled a sweet savor and was pleased. It was an odor of satisfaction or restfulness. Whether or not the idea of expiation was included is difficult to prove.
6. Of Abraham:
Abraham lived at a time when sacrifices and religion were virtually identical. No mention is made of his offering at Ur or Charan, but on his arrival at Shechem he erected an altar (Genesis 12:7 ). At Beth-el also (Hebrews 12:8 ), and on his return from Egypt he worshipped there (Genesis 13:4 ). Such sacrifices expressed adoration and prayer and probably propitiation. They constituted worship, which is a complex exercise. At Hebron he built an altar (Genesis 13:18 ), officiating always as his own priest. In Genesis 15:4 ff he offers a "covenant" sacrifice, when the animals were slain, divided, the parts set opposite each other, and prepared for the appearance of the other party to the covenant.
The exact idea in the killing of these animals may be difficult to find, but the effect is to give the occasion great solemnity and the highest religious sanction. What was done with the carcasses afterward is not told. That animals were slain for food with no thought of sacrifice is shown by the narrative in chapter 18, where Abraham had a calf slain for the meal. This is opposed to one of the chief tenets of the Wellhausen school, which maintains that all slaughtering of animals was sacrificial until the 7th century BC. In Genesis 22 Abraham attempts to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering, as was probably the custom of his neighbors. That he attempted it shows that the practice was not shocking to his ethical nature. It tested the strength of his devotion to God, shows the right spirit in sacrifices, and teaches for all time that God does not desire human sacrifice - a beast will do. What God does want is the obedient heart. Abraham continued his worship at Beer-sheba ( Genesis 21:33 ).
7. Of Job:
Whatever may be the date of the writing of the Book of Job, the saint himself is represented as living in the Patriarchal age. He constantly offered sacrifices on behalf of his children (Job 1:5 ), "sanctifying" them. His purpose no doubt was to atone for possible sin. The sacrifices were mainly expiatory. This is true also of the sacrifices of his friends (Job 42:7-9 ).
8. Of Isaac:
Isaac seems to have had a permanent altar at Beer-sheba and to have regularly offered sacrifices. Adoration, expiation and supplication would constitute his chief motives (Genesis 26:25 ).
9. Of Jacob:
Jacob's first recorded sacrifice was the pouring of the oil upon the stone at Beth- el ( Genesis 28:18 ). This was consecration or dedication in recognition of the awe-inspiring presence of the Deity. After his covenant with Laban he offered sacrifices (zebhāḥim ) and they ate bread (Genesis 31:54 ). At Shechem, Jacob erected an altar (Genesis 33:20 ). At Beth-el (Genesis 35:7 ) and at Beer-sheba he offered sacrifices to Isaac's God (Genesis 46:1 ).
10. Of Israel in Egypt:
While the Israelites were in Egypt they would be accustomed to spring sacrifices and spring feasts, for these had been common among the Arabs and Syrians, etc., for centuries. Nabatean inscriptions testify to this. Egyptian sacrifices have been mentioned (see above). At these spring festivals it was probably customary to offer the firstlings of the flocks (compare Exodus 13:15 ). At the harvest festivals sacrificial feasts were celebrated. It was to some such feast Moses said Israel as a people wished to go in the wilderness (Exodus 3:18 ; Exodus 5:3 ff; Exodus 7:16 ). Pharaoh understood and asked who was to go (Exodus 10:8 ). Moses demanded flocks and herds for the feast (Exodus 10:9 ). Pharaoh would keep the flocks, etc. (Exodus 10:24 ), but Moses said they must offer sacrifices and burnt offerings (Exodus 10:25 f).
The sacrifice of the Passover soon occurs (Exodus 12:3-11 ). That the Hebrews had been accustomed to sacrifice their own firstborn at this season has no support and is altogether improbable (Frazer, Golden Bough3 , pt. III, 175 f). The whole ceremony is very primitive and has retained its primitiveness to the end. The choosing of the lamb or kid, the killing at a certain time, the family gathered in the home, the carcass roasted whole, eaten that night, and the remainder, if any, burned, while the feasters had staff in hand, etc., all this was continued. The blood in this case protected from the Deity, and the whole ceremony was "holy" and only for the circumcised. Frazer in his Golden Bough gives a very different interpretation.
11. Of Jethro:
As a priest of Midian, Jethro was an expert in sacrificing. On meeting Moses and the people he offered both ‛ōlāh and zebhāḥim and made a feast ( Exodus 18:12 ).
12. Summary and Conclusions:
From the above it is evident that sacrifices were almost the substance of religion in that ancient world. From hilltops and temples innumerable, the smoke of sacrifices was constantly rising heavenward. Burnt offerings and peace offerings were well known. Moses, in establishing a religion, must have a sacrificial system. He had abundance of materials to choose from, and under divine guidance would adopt such rules and regulations as the pedagogic plans and purposes of God would require in preparing for better things.
V. The Mosaic Sacrificial System.
1. The Covenant Sacrifice:
The fundamental function of Moses' work was to establish the covenant between Israel and God. This important transaction took place at Sinai and was accompanied by solemn sacrifices. The foundation principle was obedience , not sacrifices ( Exodus 19:4-8 ).
No mention is made of these at the time, as they were incidental - mere by-laws to the constitution. The center of gravity in Israel's religion is now shifted from sacrifices to obedience and loyalty to Yahweh. Sacrifices were helps to that end and without obedience were worthless. This is in exact accordance with Jeremiah 7:21 ff. God did not speak unto the fathers at this time about sacrifices; He did speak about obedience.
The covenant having been made, the terms and conditions are laid down by Moses and accepted by the people (Exodus 24:3 ). The Decalogue and Covenant Code are given, an altar is built, burnt offerings and peace offerings of oxen are slain by young men servants of Moses, not by priests, and blood is sprinkled on the altar (Exodus 24:4 ff). The blood would symbolize the community of life between Yahweh and Israel, and consecrated the altar.
The Law was read, the pledge again given, and Moses sprinkled the representatives of the people, consecrating them also ( Exodus 24:7 f). Ascending the mount, they had a vision of God, held a feast before Him, showing the joys and privileges of the new relationship. The striking feature of these ceremonies is the use of the blood. It is expiatory and consecrating, it is life offered to God, it consecrates the altar and the people: they are now acceptable to God and dare approach Him and feast with Him. There is no idea of God's drinking the blood. The entire ritual is far removed from the crass features of common Semitic worship.
2. The Common Altars:
In the Covenant Code, which the people accepted, the customary altars are not abolished, but regulated (Exodus 20:24 ff). This law expressly applies to the time when they shall be settled in Canaan. 'In the whole place where I cause my name to be remembered,' etc. ( Exodus 20:24 margin). No need to change the reading to "in every place where I cause," etc., as the Wellhausen school does for obvious reasons. All the land was eligible. On such rude altars sacrifices were allowed.
This same law is implied in Deuteronomy 16:21 , a passage either ignored or explained away by the Wellhausen school (see Wiener, Essays in Pentateuchal Criticism , 200 f). Moses commanded Joshua in accordance with it (Deuteronomy 27:5 ff). Joshua, Gideon, Jephthah, Samuel, Saul, David, Elijah and many others used such altars. There were altars at Shechem ( Joshua 24:1 , Joshua 24:26 ), Mizpah in Gilead (Judges 11:11 ), Gilgal (1 Samuel 13:9 ). High places were chiefly used until the times of Hezekiah and Josiah, when they were abolished because of their corruptions, etc.
All such altars were perfectly legitimate and in fact necessary, until there was a central capital and sanctuary in Jerusalem. The customary burnt offerings and peace offerings with the worshipper officiating were the chief factors. Heathen sacrifices and the use of heathen altars were strictly forbidden (Exodus 22:20 (Hebrew 19); Exodus 34:15 )
3. The Consecration of Aaron and His Sons:
The altar used at the consecration of Aaron and his sons was a "horned" or official altar, the central one. The offerings were a bullock, two rams, unleavened bread, etc. (Exodus 29:1-4 ), and were brought to the door of the sanctuary. The ritual consisted of Aaron laying his hand on the bullock's head, designating it as his substitute (Exodus 29:10 ), killing it before the tent of meeting (Exodus 29:11 ), smearing some blood on the horns of the altar, and pouring the rest at its base (Exodus 29:12 ).
The blood consecrated the altar, the life was given as atonement for sins, the fat parts were burned upon the altar as food for God, and the flesh and remainder were burned without the camp (Exodus 29:13 , Exodus 29:14 ). This is a sin offering - ḥaṭṭā'th - the first time the term is used. Probably introduced by Moses, it was intended to be piacular and to "cover" possible sin. One ram was next slain, blood was sprinkled round about the altar, flesh was cut in pieces, washed and piled on the altar, then burned as an offering by fire ('ishsheh ) unto God as a burnt offering, an odor of a sweet savor (Exodus 29:15-18 ).
The naive and primitive nature of this idea is apparent. The other ram, the ram of consecration, is slain, blood is smeared on Aaron's right ear, thumb and great toe; in the case of his sons likewise. The blood is sprinkled on the altar round about; some upon the garments of Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:19-21 ). Certain parts are waved before Yahweh along with the bread, and are then burned upon the altar (Exodus 29:22-25 ). The breast is offered as a wave offering (tenūphāh ), and the right thigh or shoulder as a heave offering (terūmāh ). These portions here first mentioned were the priests' portion for all time to come, although this particular one went to Moses, since he officiated (Exodus 29:26-30 ).
The flesh must be boiled in a holy place, and must be eaten by Aaron and his sons only, and at the sanctuary. What was left till morning must be burned (Exodus 29:31-34 ). Consecrated to a holy service it was dangerous for anyone else to touch it, or the divine wrath would flame forth. The same ceremony on each of the seven days atoned for, cleansed and consecrated the altar to the service of Yahweh, and it was most holy (Exodus 29:35-37 ). The altar of incense is ordered (Exodus 30:1 ), and Aaron is to put the blood of the sin offering once a year upon its horns to consecrate it.
4. Sacrifices Before the Golden Calf:
When the golden calf was made an altar was erected, burnt offerings and peace offerings were presented. From the latter a feast was made, the people followed the usual habits at such festivals, went to excess and joined in revelry. Moses' ear quickly detected the nature of the sounds. The covenant was now broken and no sacrifice was available for this sin. Vengeance was executed on 3,000 Israelites. Moses mightily interceded with God. A moral reaction was begun; new tables of the Law were made with more stringent laws against idols and idol worship (Exodus 32:1-35 ).
5. The Law of the Burnt Offering ('Olah):
At the setting-up of the tabernacle burnt and meal offerings were sacrificed (Exodus 40:29 ). The law of the burnt offering is found in Lev 1. Common altars and customary burnt offerings needed no minute regulations, but this ritual was intended primarily for the priest, and was taught to the people as needed. They were for the statutory individual and national offering upon the "horned" altar before the sanctuary. Already the daily burnt offerings of the priests had been provided for (Exodus 29:38-42 ). The burnt offering is here called ḳorbān , "oblation."
(1) Ritual for the Offerer (Leviticus 1:3-17 ).
This may have been from the herd or flock or fowls, brought to the tent of meeting; hands were laid (heavily) upon its head designating it as the offerer's substitute, it was killed, flayed and cut in pieces. If of the flock, it was to be killed on the north side of the altar; if a fowl, the priest must kill it.
(2) Ritual for the Priest (Leviticus 1:3-17 ).
If a bullock or of the flock, the priest was to sprinkle the blood round about the altar, put on the fire, lay the wood and pieces of the carcass, wash the inwards, legs, etc., and burn it all as a sweet savor to God. If a fowl, he must wring the neck, drain out the blood on the side of the altar, cast the crop, filth, etc., among the ashes, rend the wings without dividing the bird and burn the carcass on the altar.
(3) General Laws for the Priest.
The burnt offering must be continued every morning and every evening (Exodus 29:38 f; Numbers 28:3-8 ). At the fulfillment of his vow the Nazirite must present it before God and offer it upon the altar through the priest (Numbers 6:14 , Numbers 6:16 ): on the Sabbath, two lambs (Numbers 28:9 ); on the first of the month, two bullocks, one ram and seven lambs (Numbers 28:11 ); on the day of first-fruits, the same (Numbers 28:27 ); on the 1st day of the 7th month, one bullock, one ram, seven lambs (Numbers 29:8 ); on the 15th day, 13 bullocks, two rams, 14 lambs, the number of bullocks diminishing daily until the 7th day, when seven bullocks, two rams, 14 lambs were offered (Nu 29:12-34); on the 22nd day of this month one bullock, one ram and seven lambs were offered (Numbers 29:35 , Numbers 29:36 ). Non-Israelites were permitted to offer the ‛ōlāh , but no other sacrifices (Leviticus 17:8 ; Leviticus 22:18 , Leviticus 22:25 ).
(4) Laws in Deuteronomy 12:6 , Deuteronomy 12:13 , Deuteronomy 12:14 , Deuteronomy 12:27 ; Deuteronomy 27:6 .
Anticipating a central sanctuary in the future, the lawgiver counsels the people to bring their offerings there (Deuteronomy 12:6 , Deuteronomy 12:11 ); they must be careful not to offer them in any place (Deuteronomy 12:13 ), but must patronize the central sanctuary (Deuteronomy 12:14 ). In the meantime common altars and customary sacrifices were allowable and generally necessary (Deuteronomy 16:21 ; Deuteronomy 27:6 ).
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).