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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.

§ 1. The Mosaic Sacrifices

1. Sacrifice, an Expression of Religious Worship. The rite of sacrifice, as a public expression of religious worship, goes back to the most remote antiquity, and will ever remain not only the most fitting acknowledgment of God’s supreme Majesty, infinite holiness, justice and liberality, but also the means best calculated to impress upon, and develop in, the minds and hearts of men, the feelings which they should bear towards their almighty Maker and Preserver. In the time of the exodus, numerous sacrifices were offered to their gods by the Egyptians, as well as by the other nations of the ancient world, and it behooved Moses, who was so anxious to preserve in its purity the religious belief in Israel, to determine, in detail, which sacrificial rites the Hebrews should retain from the Egyptian ceremonial, and which they should discard. This, therefore, he did with a completeness and precision all the more necessary, because he knew he was legislating in a most important matter and for all future ages. The numerous sacrifices which he prescribed to the Jewish people can be divided into two great classes: (1) the bloody sacrifices, in which the Israelites testified, by the slaying of animals, the supreme power of God over the life and death of His creatures; (2) the unbloody sacrifices, by which they acknowledged Jehovah as the bestower of the land and of its produce.

2. The Bloody Sacrifices. Three principal kinds of bloody sacrifices can be distinguished in the Mosaic ceremonial, namely, the Holocausts, the Expiatory and the Pacific sacrifices. The distinguishing feature of the holocausts consisted in the burning of all the parts of the victim upon the altar, whereby it was signified that the offerer belonged wholly to Jehovah, dedicated himself entirely to His honor and glory, and placed his life at His disposal. In the Expiatory sacrifices, which were to be offered for sins of ignorance or for sins committed knowingly, only the fat of the victim was burned on the altar, and in some cases the flesh of the animal was burned without the camp, whilst in others it belonged to the priests. The leading characteristic of the Pacific sacrifices was the sacrificial meal by which they were followed. After the fat of the victim had been burned on the altar, its right shoulder and breast were “waved before Jehovah,” and then became the portion of the priest, whilst the remaining parts were restored to the offerer, who, the same day, feasted thereon, in a meal which was both the symbol and the pledge of God’s friendship to His worshippers.

But however different in many particulars they might appear, these various kinds of bloody sacrifices exhibited important features common to them all. Thus in all cases the offerer was required to bring the victim into the court of the Tabernacle, there to lay his hand on its head and then to slay it himself. In all cases also the priest received the blood of the animal in a basin, and then sprinkled it in different ways upon the Altar of the Holocausts. In all these sacrifices, finally, the selection of the victims was limited to animals of the herd, of the flock and to all clean birds, and the victim offered was required to be perfect of its kind and without blemish.

Thus, then, the animals to be selected as victims were those “most nearly connected with man, and of these again, such as were most meek, innocent, pure and valuable” (MACLEAR, Old Testament History, p. 136,), such, in a word, as would entail a real sacrifice upon the man who willingly parted with them, and would suggest the purity and innocence with which Jehovah was to be worshipped. Moreover, in prescribing animal sacrifices, God not only affirmed His supreme dominion over living things—even over animals which were regarded as gods by the Egyptians—but He also helped to prevent His people from falling back into idolatry, as might indeed be apprehended had He not required from them bloody sacrifices similar to those which were then offered by all the nations of the earth and which the Israelites had offered themselves in the land of Egypt. Finally, these animal sacrifices—however imperfect—suggested to the Hebrews inward sentiments of piety, such as thanksgiving for benefits received, sorrow for sins committed, etc., and foreshadowed the great and perfect sacrifice which Jesus, the High Priest of the New Law and the true Lamb of God, was to offer in fulfilment of all the bloody sacrifices of the old Covenant.

3. Unbloody Sacrifices. The second class of Mosaic sacrifices included all those which were to be offered to God, either in conjunction with, or independently of, the bloody sacrifices. These unbloody offerings were of three principal kinds, namely: (1) First-fruits and Tithes of the produce of the land, which were presented either in their natural state, as grain, fruit, wool, etc., or prepared for man’s use, such as flour, oil, wine; (2) Meat-offerings and Drink-offerings, the latter consisting in wine poured out at the foot of the altar, the former consisting in corn either in the form of fine flour seasoned with salt and mingled with frankincense and oil, but without leaven, or made into cakes offered with oil and salt, but without leaven or honey; (3) offering of Incense, which, besides accompanying every meat-offering, was also made separately every day on the golden altar in the Holy Place, and in the Holy of Holies on the great Day of Atonement.

As the Holocaust “signified the consecration of life to God, both that of the offerer himself and of his living property, so in the meat-offering the produce of the land was presented before Jehovah as being His gift” (SMITH, Old Testament History, p. 247). Another object of the first-fruits, and especially of the tithes, was, as we already noticed, to provide for the maintenance of the priests and Levites who were not allowed territorial possessions in Israel. Finally, even admitting, as supposed by many, that the incense which was burned with the various sacrifices was intended to make a sweet odor in the court of the Tabernacle, it can hardly be denied that the sacrifice of the incense when made separately was meant, even perhaps from the first, to have the symbolical signification of the prayer of the worshipper rising before the throne of God (cfr. Psalm 140:2).

4. Place where the Sacrifices were to be Offered. As might naturally be expected from a legislation framed for a nation which was encamped around the tent of its God, the court of the Tabernacle was the only place where the Hebrews were allowed to offer sacrifices to Jehovah (Levit. 17:3–9). The enactment of this rule was also in perfect harmony with the great wish of the Mosaic lawgiver, namely: to secure the monotheism of Israel, inasmuch as it prescribed that all sacrifices should be offered under the very eyes of priests whose plain duty it was to exclude all idolatry from the sacrificial rites of the people. Notwithstanding these and other such reasons in favor of the view that the Unity of Sanctuary was prescribed to the Hebrews at the time of the exodus, many scholars think that this point of Jewish worship was defined only centuries after the death of Moses, and that meanwhile the Israelites were at liberty to offer sacrifices in different places. To substantiate their position these scholars appeal (1) to Exodus 20:22–26, which seems clearly to allow the use of several altars whereon to offer sacrifices to Jehovah; (2) to the constant and apparently lawful practice in Israel of offering sacrifices in many places besides the court of the Tabernacle, such as Mount Ebal (Josue 8:30, 31), Bochim (Judges 2, 5), Bethsames, (1 Kings 6:15), Hebron, (2 Kings 15:7–9), etc.

5. Laws of Purity. Under the name of “Laws of Purity” may be designated many Mosaic regulations which are intimately connected with the offering of sacrifices, inasmuch as any one who was not legally clean was forbidden the approach of God’s sanctuary until he had first undergone a purification which often entailed various kinds of offerings according to the character of the legal impurity he had contracted. It cannot be doubted that many of these regulations were laws of hygiene regulating diet, enforcing cleanliness, and preventing the spread of contagious diseases. Yet it must be admitted that they had all a higher object, namely: that of reminding the Jews of their separation from the other nations and from all that is impure, because they had been chosen as the special people of the thrice holy God (Levit. 20:24–26).

The principal laws of purity regarded (1) Things unclean to touch, such as the dead body of any animal, the body, bones or grave of a dead man; (2) Things unclean to eat, wherein were included all quadrupeds which did not both divide the hoof and chew the cud, all birds of prey and nearly all the water-fowl, all fishes that have not both fins and scales, all the reptiles and insects except the locusts; (3) Unclean conditions, such as those which resulted from the use of marriage, from childbirth, and particularly the uncleanness entailed by leprosy (Levit. 11–15).

It should also be noticed that partaking of the blood of all animals, whether clean or unclean, was most strictly prohibited by the Mosaic law (Levit. 3:17; 17:10, 12), and that the rites prescribed for purification varied very considerably according to the character of the legal uncleanness which had been contracted.

§ 2. Mosaic Holidays

1. The Sabbath and Holidays connected therewith. Of all the holidays prescribed by the Mosaic law, none was to be observed more strictly than the Sabbath or seventh day of the week. Absolute rest from worldly toil was enjoined on this weekly holiday in remembrance of God’s rest after the six days of Creation, and for this reason it was called “Sabbath” or “Rest” (Exod. 20:8–11; 31:13–17). Bodily labor was prohibited under penalty of death, and work apparently most necessary, such as kindling the fire, cooking food, etc., was to be done on the preceding day. This strict prohibition of bodily labor extended also to slaves and strangers, even to beasts of burden. Besides this prescribed rest, a few religious services were enjoined on the Sabbath day; they consisted in the doubling of the morning and evening sacrifice which was offered on ordinary days (Numb. 28:3–10), the renewal of the loaves of proposition (Levit. 24:8), and finally some kind of religious meeting for the people.

Just as every week was marked by a day especially consecrated to Jehovah, so was also every month of the Jewish year. The feast of the New Moon—a kind of monthly Sabbath—was celebrated on the first day of the month by the sounding of the two sacred silver trumpets and by the sacrifice of eleven victims over and above the daily offerings (Numb. 10:10; 28:11–15).

The seventh month of the ecclesiastical year among the Jews had a kind of Sabbatic character, and hence its new moon was observed with special solemnity. It was a holy convocation and was called the Feast of Trumpets, because it was “a day for the sounding of trumpets” (Numb. 29:1), and in addition to the daily sacrifices and the eleven victims offered on the first day of the other months, ten other victims were offered to Jehovah.

During the seventh or Sabbatical Year, the land was to enjoy its Sabbath. It was not to be sown, nor the vineyards and olive-trees dressed, nor the spontaneous produce of the year to be gathered, but left entirely for the poor, the slave, the stranger and even the cattle. By this rest, the land did homage to its Lord and Creator in the same way as man by the rest of the seventh day. The seventh year was also called the “year of remission,” because in it creditors were bound to release poor debtors from their obligations, and its religious character was emphasized by the solemn reading of the Law to the people assembled at the feast of Tabernacles (Levit. 25:3–7; Deuter. 15; 31:10–13).

At the end of seven times seven years was the Year of Jubilee. During this fiftieth year, the land was left uncultivated, as in the Sabbatical year; all the territorial possessions, which poor owners had alienated, were to return to the families to which they had been originally allotted, and all slaves of Hebrew blood were set free. By this semi-centennial restitution of land and liberation of Hebrew bondmen, it was clearly asserted that both land and people belonged to Jehovah alone, whilst the accumulation of riches and the formation of castes were effectively prevented.

2. The Three Great Joyous Festivals. Besides the Sabbath and Sabbatic holidays, the Mosaic law enjoined the celebration of three annual festivals of a joyous character, because intended to return thanks to God for benefits received. The first and greatest of them all was the Pasch, whose original institution was noticed in connection with Israel’s departure from Egypt. It commemorated this great national event, and at the same time marked the beginning of the harvest. It lasted seven days, from the evening of the 14th to the end of the 21st of the first month of the Jewish ecclesiastical year, and during its celebration no leavened bread was to be eaten. Each paschal lamb was slain on the evening of the 14th of the first month (Nisan), in the court of the Tabernacle, its blood, received by priests in basins, was sprinkled on the altar, and the fat was burned upon the Altar of Holocausts. Thence the lamb was carried into private houses, where it was roasted whole with fire, and eaten with unleavened bread and a salad of bitter herbs. On the 15th and the six following days an offering of eleven animals was made, in addition to the daily sacrifices, and the first and last days (the 15th and 21st) were holy convocations. Finally, on the 16th of Nisan, the first ripe sheaf of barley was offered to Jehovah, and this marked the beginning of the harvest, whose first-fruits had thus been dedicated to the God of Israel (Levit. 23:5–8; Numb. 28:16–25; Deuter. 16:1–8).

The second great joyous festival of the Jewish year was the Feast of Pentecost, called the Feast of Weeks in the Pentateuch, because celebrated seven weeks after the Pasch. It lasted but one day, which was kept as a holy convocation, and during which the whole people were especially exhorted to rejoice before Jehovah with free-will offerings. Eleven animals were also publicly offered in the court of the Tabernacle, in addition to the daily sacrifices. But the chief and distinguishing feature of this festival was the offering of two leavened loaves, made from the new corn of the now completed harvest, together with two lambs, which were sacrificed as peace-offerings. “The whole ceremony was the completion of that dedication of the harvest to God, as its Giver, which was begun by the offering of the wave-sheaf at the Passover” (SMITH, p. 265).

The last great, joyous, annual festival of the Jews was the Feast of Tabernacles, which was celebrated in the autumn, on the 15th of the seventh month, and was at once a thanksgiving for the completion of the harvest and a commemoration of the time when the Israelites dwelt in tents during their sojourn in the wilderness. Its duration was strictly only of seven days, the first and last of which were holy convocations; as, however, it was followed by a day of holy convocation, the festival is sometimes spoken of as lasting eight days. During it the Israelites were commanded to live in tents or booths of green boughs, and to make burnt-offerings far more numerous than at any other festival. When this feast fell on a Sabbatical year, portions of the Law were read each day in public. The Feast of Tabernacles completed the cycle of the annual festivals, and was one of the most joyous of them all, for it marked the crowning of Divine mercy, which had just allowed the chosen people to complete the ingathering of the vintage and of all the fruits of the year.

For the celebration of these three great festivals, all male Israelites were required to appear before Jehovah.

3. The Day of Atonement. To these great national holidays was added another, of a very different character. The tenth day of the seventh month—five days only before the Feast of Tabernacles—was the Day of Atonement, that is, the great day of expiation for the sins of both priests and people. From the evening of the 9th to the evening of the 10th of the seventh month no bodily labor could be done, no food taken under penalty of death. All the ritual of the day was carried out by the high priest himself. Having bathed himself and dressed in the white linen garments common to himself and the rest of the priesthood, he brought forward a young bullock as sin-offering and a ram as burnt-offering for himself and for the priests; and next, two he goats as a sin-offering and a ram as a burnt-offering for the people. The two goats were then led to the entrance of the Tabernacle, and lots cast upon them, one lot being marked “for Jehovah,” the other “for Azazael” This done, the high priest, making atonement for himself and for the priesthood, offered the bullock, carried live coals in a censer with two handfuls of incense into the Holy of Holies, where he threw the incense upon the coals, and soon after sprinkled the blood of the bullock seven times before the Mercy-Seat. He then killed the goat that was “for Jehovah,” and sprinkled its blood in the same manner. Over the goat that was “for Azazael” he solemnly confessed the sins of the people and then sent it away into the desert. After this, the high priest bathed again, put on his special gorgeous robes and offered the two rams as a burnt-offering, one for himself and the other for the people.

The typical meaning of these victims and ceremonies is set forth in the Epistle to the Hebrews (chaps. 8–10).

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