SPECIAL TOPIC: SACRIFICES IN MESOPOTAMIA AND ISRAEL AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE

(These notes are part of my OT Survey notes online. Also note the chart in NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 1020-1021.)

I. Ritual laws in Mesopotamia

A. Sacrifice was primarily a meal offered to a god.  The altar was the table of the god where the meal was placed.  Beside the altar was the incense brazier which was to attract the god's attention. There was no ritual implication in the blood. The sword bearer cut the throat of the animal. The food was shared between the gods, the priest-king, and the attendants. The offerer received nothing.

B. There was no expiatory sacrifice.

C. Sickness or pain was punishment from the gods.  An animal was brought and destroyed; this acted as a substitute for the offerer. 

D. Israel's ritual was different and distinct.  It seems to have originated in a person giving back to God part of the resuslts of his labor for necessary food (cf. Gen. 4:1-4; 8:20-22). 

 

II. Ritual laws in Canaan (very similar to Israel's)

A. Sources

1. biblical accounts

2. Phoenician literature

3. Ras Shamra Tablets from Ugarit concerning Canaanite deities and mythology from about 1400 b.c.

B. Israel's and Canaan's sacrifices are very much alike.  However, there is no emphasis placed on the blood of the victim in Canaanite sacrifices.

 

III. Ritual Laws in Egypt

A. Sacrifices were offered but not emphasized.

B. The sacrifice was not important but the attitude of the sacrificer was.

C. Sacrifices were made to stop the wrath of the gods.

D. The offerer hoped for deliverance or forgiveness. 

 

IV. Israel's Sacrificial System – Israel's sacrifices were closer to Canaan's although not necessarily related to them at all.

A. Descriptive Phrases

1. Sacrifice was a spontaneous expression of mankind's need for God.

2. The OT laws which regulate sacrifice cannot be said to initiate sacrifice (cf. Gen. 8:20).

3. Sacrifice was an offering (animal or vegetable).

4. Must be an offering that was wholly or partially destroyed upon an altar in homage to God.

5. The altar was the place of sacrifice and symbolized the divine presence.

6. Sacrifice was an act of external worship (a prayer which was acted out).

7. The definition of sacrifice is "acted prayers" or "ritualized prayers."  The significance of ritual and our cultural bias against it is revealed in Gordon J. Wenham (Tyndale, Numbers, p. 25-39).  Leviticus and Numbers both contain large amounts of this type of material, which shows its importance to Moses and Israel.

B. Sacrifice Involved

1. Gifts to God

a. involve acknowledgment that all of the earth is the Lord's

b. all that a person has, he owes to God

c. therefore, it is right that people bring tribute to God

d. it was a special kind of tribute or gift. It was something that the man needed to sustain his own existence. It was more than just giving something, it was something he needed. It was giving a part of himself to God.

e. by destroying the gift it cannot be reclaimed

f. a burnt offering becomes invisible and goes up to God's realm 

g. earlier altars were erected in places where God appeared. The altar came to be looked upon as a holy place, therefore, the offering was brought there.

2. Expressing consecration of one's entire life to God

a. the burnt offering was one of three voluntary sacrifices

b. the entire animal was burnt to express to God deep-felt homage

c. this was a very expressive gift to God

3. Fellowship with God

a. communion aspect of sacrifice

b. an example would be the peace offering which symbolized God and man in fellowship

c. sacrifice was made to obtain or regain this fellowship

4. Expiation of sin

a. when man sinned he had to ask God to restore the relationship (covenant) which man had broken

b. there was no communal meal with the sin offering because of the broken relationship

c. the significance of blood

(1) placed on altar for man

(2) placed on veil for priest

(3) placed on mercy seat for High Priest and the nation (Leviticus 16)

d. there were two types of sin offerings. The second is called the guilt offering or trespass offering. In it the offender was to restore to his fellow Israelite that which was taken or damaged along with the animal sacrifice.

e. there was no sacrifice for premeditated or intentional sin, Lev. 4:2, 22, 27; 5:15-18; 22:14 

 

V. Procedures from Leviticus for the Different Sacrifices

A. Leviticus 1, burnt offering

1. Introductory Formula, "The Lord spoke to Moses," Lev. 1:1-2; 4:1; 5:14; 6:1,19; 7:22, 28

a. from the herd or flock

b. "when," Lev. 1:2, shows that this was not mandatory but voluntary

2. Burnt Offering, Lev. 1:3-17 (6:8-13)

a. Altar

(1) the brazen altar, also called altar of burnt offering, altar by door of Tabernacle, or altar of shittim wood, covered with bronze (cf. Exodus 27)

(2) this distinguished it from the incense altar (golden altar) in the Holy Place (cf. Exodus 30)

(3) coals from brazen altar were taken to incense altar

(4) brazen altar was right in the middle of the entrance of the Tabernacle

(5) altar had horns which were its most sacred part. The blood was applied to the horns (cf. Exod. 30:10).

(6) the horns were possibly for:

(a) symbol of hands to hold up the offering

(b) symbol of strength or prevailing power (Deut. 33:17; 2 Sam. 22:3.) 

(c) later, anyone who grabbed the horns of the altar was safe until his case was decided by the court (1 Kgs. 1:50-51; 2:28)

b. The Offering

(1) bullock without blemish which was mentioned first because of its importance and cost, Lev. 1:3

(2) male goat or sheep, Lev. 1:10

(3) turtle doves or young pigeons, Lev. 1:14 (provision for the poor)

c. Place of Burnt Offering was at the door of the Tent of Meeting

d. Laying on of the Hands – this was only for the bulls, not for goats, sheep or birds, Lev. 1:4

(1) the offerer did this himself (not the priest)

(2) many feel it was a symbolic action of the transferring of guilt

(3) some believe it meant that

(a) this animal comes from this particular individual

(b) the sacrifice was to be presented in the offerer's name

(c) the fruit of this sacrifice belongs to the one who placed his hands on the animal

e. Slaughtering

(1) bull – "before the Lord" by the man making the sacrifice.  The offerer had to kill, skin, and cut up the animal.  The priest's role (except in case of public sacrifices) began when the man brought the animal to the altar.

(2) sheep or goat, Lev. 1:11 – "on north side of altar before the Lord."  This designated a specific place for these lesser animals.

(3) bird – The priest killed and offered this sacrifice.  The offerer had to remove the bird's crop.

f. Handling of the Blood

(1) animals

(a) The priest threw blood against the altar, and sprinkled it round about the altar.

(b) The life of the animal was in the blood (cf. Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:11). Life already belonged to God, therefore, the blood represented no part of the gift of the man.

(c) The bird's blood was drained on the side of the altar and not consumed in fire.

g. Handling of the Flesh

(1) bull, Lev. 1:6

(a) The offerer skinned the offering; the priest could keep the skin (cf. 7:8)

(b) The offerer cut it into pieces

(c) The priest placed the offering on the altar in an arrangement as it was when alive

(d) The legs and entrails were washed with water from the laver

(e) The priest burned the whole animal on altar

3. Occasion of Burnt Offerings

a. Feast of Tabernacles, Booths

b. Day of Atonement

c. Feast of Weeks, First Fruits, or Pentecost

d. Feast of Trumpets

e. Wave Sheaf (Leviticus 23)

f. Feast of Unleavened Bread, Passover

g. Beginning of months, New Moon

h. Sabbath

4. Significance of Burnt Offering

a. A gift to God

b. Seen as the most valuable kind of sacrifice

c. It seems to deal with the concept of sin in general or thanksgiving

d. Most perfect representation of sacrificial idea

e. Symbolic offering of one's life

f. Represents complete consecration of the life of an individual to the service of God

g. Graded value of offering

(1) bull

(2) sheep – goat

(3) birds

 h. This shows that anyone conscious of spiritual need could approach God.  God made provision for all men.

5. Special Instructions for Priest, Lev. 6:8-12

a. Burnt offering remained all night on hearth of the altar

b. Fire was to be kept burning continually under a burnt offering

c. Instructions involving the Priest's dress

d. Instructions involving the removal of the ashes

B. Leviticus 2:1-16 (6:14-23), grain offering

1. Introduction

a. This chapter deals with the grain offering

b. Grain offering was from the root meaning "gift."  It became a technical term for non-animal, or vegetable gifts.

c. After the Exile the grain offering appears as a supplement to the burnt offering and peace offering and the rabbis say it could be offered alone by the very poor.

d. Salt covenant was also mentioned in Num. 18:19 and 2 Chr. 13:5.  Salt was the opposite of leaven.  It was used as a symbol of the covenant of God because it was non-corruptible and lasting.

2. The Grain Offering involved one's labor being given to God.

a. It was a gift to God from the daily food of the people.

b. It was generally a supplement (especially in post-exile days) to the burnt or peace offering.

c. Sacrifice was God's provision for the priest.  Only a small part was burnt as a memorial of the whole.

d. The word "memorial" describes the offered portion, or that part which brings the whole before the Lord.

e. New Testament concept of the Lord's Supper as "memorial" expresses this Old Testament concept. 

f. The distinction between the terms "holy" and "most holy" are:

(1) "holy" – priest and family could eat it at any clean place

(2) "most holy" – could only be eaten by the priests and in the court of the Tent of Meeting

3. Types

a. unbaked flour (for the rich), Lev. 2:1-3

b. baked loaves or cake, Lev. 2:4-11

c. green ears of corn or wheat (for the poor), Lev. 2:12-16

(1) unbaked flour was the highest offering. It was the very best of wheat flour.

(2) baked cakes

(a) oil was an ingredient

(b)  prepared in oven, Lev. 2:4.

(c)  on a baking iron, Lev. 2:5.

(d)  in an earthen frying pan, Lev. 2:7.

(3) green ears of corn or wheat

(a)  must be parched

(b) broken into coarse grits

(c)  arranged like a meal set before guests.

4. Ingredients

a. fine flour corresponded to an animal without blemish

b. oil was a symbol of prosperity and, therefore, a symbol of God's presence

(1) used for food, sacrificing, medicine, and anointing

(2) possibly use of oil was to replace offering of oil

c. frankincense was from India or Arabia

(1) seen as a very pure thing with a wonderful fragrance

(2) symbolized prayer and praise

d. salt

(1) life-giving as well as preserving qualities

(2) possibly more for table fellowship than for preserving

e. wlements excluded

(1) leaven excluded, Lev. 2:11

(a) possibly because of fermentation

(b) leaven associated with corruption

(c) could be offered with first fruits and to priest

(2) honey excluded

(a) syrup was from fruit not honey bee

(b) possibly because of its use in Canaanite ritual

5. Ritual of Offering

a. it was brought to the priest. He handled the whole ceremony (Lev. 2:2, 9, 16).

b. part of the offering was to be eaten by priest in the sanctuary. It was most holy. 

6. Significance

a. present from inferior to superior

b. burning of a portion of it represented the consecration of a portion of one's labor to God

c. apparent meaning

(1) burnt offering – consecration of one's life

(2) meal offering – dedication of one's daily labor

7. Special Instructions for Grain Offering, Lev. 6:14-23

a. offering in front of altar

b. labor offered the gift to God, but in reality it supported the priesthood

C. Leviticus 3:1-17 (7:13-34), Peace Offering

1. Introduction

a. why

(1) communion offering

(2) covenant sacrifice

(3) corporate offering

(4) concluding sacrifice

b. it expressed thankfulness to God because of fellowship with God, family, and friends

c. it was usually the final act in a series of sacrifices in which reconciliation had been established

d. the burnt offering expressed the costliness of obedience, while the peace offering expressed the joy and happiness of fellowship with God

e. male or female but without blemish

f. varieties of offering

(1) from herd; male or female

(2) the distinction that was made between the sheep and the goat was because of the fat of the tail of the sheep

(a) lamb of flock – male or female

(b) goat of flock – male or female

2. Ritual

a. presentation of offering

(1) laid hands on offering

(2) killed it at door of the Tent of meeting

(3) identification of sacrifice was the same as the burnt offering

(4) sprinkling of blood around altar

(5) burning of choice parts on altar to God

(a) fat (sheep-fatty tail) symbolized prosperity

(b) kidneys, lobe of liver symbolized the seat of the will and emotions

(c) fatty portions placed on offerer's burnt offering or on morning lamb offering

b. thanksgiving offering included (Lev. 7:11-14)

(1) unleavened cake mixed with oil

(2) unleavened wafers spread with oil 

(3) fine flour mixed with oil

3. Priest's Portion, Lev. 7:28-34

a. breast belonged to priest as a wave offering

b. waving involves the placing of the offering upon the offerer's hands and the priest's hands. It showed the offering offered by the offerer to God, and then its reception back by the priest.

c. right thigh belonged to officiating priest

d. heave offering was lifted to God and received back by the priest

4. Offerer's Portion, 7:15-18

a. A Thanksgiving Offering shall be eaten on day of giving, Lev. 7:15

b. A Votive (vow) or Freewill Offering shall be eaten on day of offering or on the next day, Lev. 7:16

c. This portion was all that was not given to God and by God to the priest

d. God symbolically eats with the offerer and his family and friends in this offering

e. This offering stresses that fellowship relationships have been restored

D. Leviticus 4:1-5:13 (6:24-30), sin offering

1. Introduction

a. This is the first offering in which atonement was the dominant element.

b. This sacrifice re-establishes the covenant between man and God. It restores fellowship.

c. This offering involves:

(1) Sins of ignorance

(2) Sins of inadvertence

(3) Sins of passion

(4) Sins of omission

(5) It did not atone for sins committed intentionally in haughty rebellion against God.  There was no sacrifice for intentional, high handed, premeditated sin (cf. Num. 15:27-31).

2. Meaning

a. This offering expiated the guilt and punishment for sins.

b. This involved grace on God's part and faith on man's part.

c. No sacrifice achieves anything by mere ritual offering. It was the offerer's faith behind the act.

d. Yet, sacrifice was more than the mere expression of the offerer. It did something for him. It re-established the relationship with God.

e. Ritual was a God-given means of restitution, not a substitute for personal faith.

f. God hates any religious action without accompanying faith, Isa. 1:10-20; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8.

3. Ritual

a. For the High Priest, Lev. 4:3-12

(1) High priest – anointed priest

(a) sin, in leading people wrongly

(b) sin, in a personal nature 

(c) the high priest, being the spiritual representative of the community; if he sins, all sinned in him. This was the Jewish understanding of corporality (cf. Joshua 7; Romans 5:12ff).

(2) Procedures

(a) the High Priest brought a young bullock without blemish to altar

(b) he laid hands on its head

(c) the High Priest slaughtered animal

(d) the High Priest sprinkled the blood before the veil seven times

i. this cleansed the Tabernacle

ii. symbolically opened the way to God

iii. blood placed on horns of incense altar

iv. remaining blood poured out at base of altar of burnt offering

(e) he placed all the fat on the altar to be burned

(f) all the rest of the animal will be taken outside the camp to a clean place, v. 12, where the ashes are poured out from altar; there the remainder of the animal is burned

b. For the Nation, Lev. 4:13-21

(1) they sinned when commands of the law were not met, Lev. 4:13-21

(2) procedures

(a) the Elders brought a young bullock without blemish to altar

(b) the Elders laid hands on head

(c) the Elders slaughtered the animal

(d) the High Priest sprinkled the blood before veil seven times

i. this cleansed Tabernacle

ii. symbolically opened the way to God

iii. blood placed on horns of incense altar

iv. rest poured out at base of altar of sacrifice

(e) all of it offered on the altar

(f) all the rest of the animal was taken outside the camp to a clean place, v. 12, where the ashes were poured out from the altar; there the remainder of the animal was burned

c. For leader, Lev. 4:22-26

(1) leader (ruler), Lev. 4:22-26

(a) leader of tribe

(b) responsible person in community

(c) elder

(2) procedures

(a) the leader brought a male goat (old, shaggy goat) to altar

(b) the leader laid hands on its head

(c) the leader slaughtered the animal

(d) a High Priest placed blood on horns of altar of burnt offering – the rest of blood poured out at base of altar of sacrifice

(e) all fat is burned on the altar

(f) priests ate the rest of the flesh

d. For individual, Lev. 4:27-35

(1) for individual – when he learned he had sinned he was to make this offering

(2) procedures

(a) the individual brought a female goat or female lamb 

(b) the individual laid hands on its head

(c) the individual slaughtered the animal

(d) a priest placed blood on horns of altar of sacrifice-rest poured out at base of altar

(e) all fat placed on altar and burned

(f) priests ate the rest of the flesh

e. Special cases involving the sin offering, Lev. 5:1-13 (these seem to involve intentional sin against a covenant partner)

(1) if a witness doesn't come forward and testify (failure to give information), Lev. 5:1

(2) touching unclean animal, Lev. 5:2

(3) touching unclean human, Lev. 5:3

(4) speaking thoughtlessly with an oath, Lev. 5:4

(5) offering for the above sins:

(a) female goat or sheep

(b) two turtledoves or two pigeons

(c) 1/10 ephah of fine flour

f. Sin offering ritual, Lev. 6:24-30

(1) priest could eat what was left

(2) if blood got on clothes, clothes must be washed

(3) if blood got on earthen vessel, vessel was broken

(4) if blood got on brass vessel, vessel was washed

(5) if burnt offering's blood was brought into Holy Place, then the flesh must be burnt and not eaten by priest

g. Significance of the sin offering

(1) there is no offering for premeditated sin—only for inadvertent sin or sins of ignorance, Lev. 5:15, 18.

(2) what does forgiveness involve:

(a) man's part is faith

(b) God's part is mercy 

E. Leviticus 5:14-19, guilt or trespass offering

1. Introduction

a. While the Sin Offering dealt with sin committed, the Guilt Offering had to do with the damage that was done to a covenant partner and what restitution was possible.

b. The sin and trespass offerings were very similar. 

c. The rights of the individual were expressed in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5).

(1) home

(2) accumulation of good

(3) life

d. This offering emphasizes the harm done to a brother in sinning, and the restitution of the cost of that which was damaged plus 1/5 more.

2. Sins Requiring an Offering

a. against God or that which belongs to Him

(1) first fruits

(2) firstborn, Lev. 5:14-16

(3) tithe

(4) offering given incorrectly

(5) gifts of inferior value

b. "If a person sins and does any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty, and shall bear his punishment."

F. Ancient sacrifices were offered to

1. appease an angry deity

2. feed a deity

3. communicate with a deity

4. praise a deity

5. foster a sense of forgiveness or reconciliation

 

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