Sacrifice. 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 justifies the inference that this idea was not then the prominent one in the doctrine of sacrifice. The sacrifices of Cain and Abel are called minchah, and appear to have been eucharistic. Noah’s, Gen. 8:20, and Jacob’s 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. 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. Ex. 10:25. 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 Ex. 24. 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); the peace offering (bloody): 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, Lev. 8, 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 post-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, Ex. 29:38-42; 2, the double burnt offerings on the Sabbath, Num. 28:9, 10; 3, the burnt offerings at the great festivals; Num. 28:11-29:39. (b) Meat offerings,
1. the daily meat offerings accompanying the daily burnt offerings, Ex. 29:40, 41; 2, the shewbread, renewed every Sabbath, Lev. 24:5, 9; 3, the special meat offerings at the Sabbath and the great festivals, Num. 28, 29; 4, the first-fruits, at the Passover, Lev. 23:10-14, at Pentecost, Lev. 23:17-20, the first-fruits of the dough and threshing-floor at the harvest time. Num. 15:20, 21; Deut. 26:1-11. (c) Sin offerings. 1, sin offering each new moon, Num. 28:15; 2, sin offerings at the Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets and Tabernacles, Num. 28:22, 30; 29:5, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 31, 34, 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. Lev. 16. (d) Incense. 1, the morning and evening incense, Ex. 30:7, 8; 2, the incense on the Great Day of Atonement. Lev. 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 Lev. 8, 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 law, by which was “the knowledge of sin,” Rom. 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 be 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 God’s appointment, through the “shedding of blood.” 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 God’s 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. Rom. 12:1. The death of the victim was, so to speak, an incidental feature. The meat offerings, the peace or thank offering, the first-fruits, 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 Pet. 1:20) “to have been foreordained” as a sacrifice “before the foundation of the world,” or, as it is more strikingly expressed in Rev. 13:8, “slain from the foundation of the world.” The material sacrifices represented this great atonement as already made and accepted in God’s 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 Lord’s sacrifice on earth, as typified in the Levitical sacrifices on the outer altar, 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 with 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,” Heb. 13:15, 16, as with an “odor of sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable to God.” Phil. 4:18.