Imagens das páginas

feelings of a joyful and domestic character. God, the Master and Judge, was merged in God, the Benefactor and Rescuer. The victims, whether of the herd or the flock, were not required to be males; female animals were equally acceptable. The bloodless oblation added to the thank-offering, consisted, in some cases, not only of unleavened cakes and wafers, but also of leavened bread, to remind the Israelite of his ordinary life and subsistence. Not the whole animal was burnt, but some special parts only were delivered up to the Deity as an offering made by fire, a sweet odour to the Lord. Two portions, the breast and the right shoulder, were reserved for the priests, who ate them with their wives, their children, and their servants, within the precincts of the Sanctuary, while the rest was consumed in convivial feasts, in any part of the sacred town, by the offerer himself, with his family and household, with the Levite, the poor, and the stranger, his invited guests. All the fat, together with the members and organs to which it is chiefly attached, as the kidneys and the fat tail of certain kinds of sheep, was burnt to God on the altar; and the cereal oblation which belonged to the thank-offering, was richly prepared with oil; for not only were the cakes and wafers mingled and anointed, but the flour itself of which they were made, was soinetimes saturated with it: therefore fatness, typical of abundance and prosperity, of joy and gratitude, appears to have been the leading characteristic of thankofferings.

Expiatory Sacrifices. These offerings grew, as has been observed, from a feeling of human weakness—a feeling which the Scriptures express in a thousand varied forms; a feeling which no trials, no miracles, no success, and no failure could change; which made itself heard in all ages, from the wanderings in the desert to the days of the exile.

But, as a rule, the expiatory offerings were only permitted in cases of inadvertent or unintentional transgression; they were not accepted for deeds of wanton impiety or reckless violence. • The knowledge that “the cogitation of man's heart is evil from his youth," was to afford no pretext for leniency to premeditated malice, but was, on the contrary, to stimulate to vigilance and self-control. Divine forgiveness should be granted to the imperfection, but not to the perversion of human nature. The precepts of the Law, being the emanation of Divine wisdom, bore the stamp of holiness; they could not, without offence to their all-wise Author, be violated under any circumstances, or in any manner whatever; they required, therefore, atonement, even if transgressed unconsciously : their absolute sanctity marked every trespass as a deplorable guilt to be expiated by a sacrifice of self-humiliation,' (Ibid. p. 253.)

Hence the sin-offering, if an animal, was neither accompanied by a cereal offering nor by a libation of wine ; if a cereal offering, it was presented without oil and frankincense : in the former case, it was to lose the character of social and domestic enjoyment, since it was no food of the Lord': and in the latter, it was not to recall the ideas of cheerfulness and festivity, of abundance and ornament; wherefore it was not designated a sweet odour to the Lord.' The flesh of those sin-offerings the blood of which did not come into the Holy, was indeed eaten by the male Aaronites, but the repast was serious and severe, devoid of genial conviviality, and forming a part of the ritual of expiation. Therefore the sin-offerings were naturally placed in the class of “ most holy' sacrifices. If any of their blood had fallen upon a garment, the latter was to be washed in the holy place, in the Court of the Sanctuary. Their flesh could be touched by holy persons or priests only; it was burnt entirely whenever

the blood had been sprinkled on the vail and put upon the horns of the altar of incense in the Holy ; it was eaten, with the exception of the fat and the fat parts, by the male Aaronites in the holy place, whenever the blood had been put upon the horns, and poured out at the bottom of the altar of burnt-offering in the Court.

The Law was so anxious to secure the expiation of sin under all circumstances, that it permitted poor persons to present as a sin-offering a cereal oblation, simply consisting of the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour, of which the priest took off a handful as a memorial, and burnt it on the brazen altar, while the rest belonged to the priest, and then the


man's sin was atoned for and he was forgiven.'

The Pentateuch mentions two kinds of expiatory sacrifices--the Sin-offerings and the Trespass-offerings. The former were presented, in the name of the whole people, on all the great festivals and days of solemn convocation, on Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles, on the Day of Memorial or the first day of the seventh month, and on the Day of Atonement. They also accompanied the inauguration of any great public functionary, as the consecration of Aaron and his


and seven days later, the commencement of their new duties; they preceded the initiation of the Levites and the dedication of a new Sanctuary. Moreover, they were connected with deliverance from serious perils and diseases, every illness being considered the consequence of some transgression, or the result of man's general imperfection.

The animals killed for trespass-offerings were males in all cases; most commonly a ram seems to have been chosen, probably because sheep, and especially rams, were the primitive medium of currency, chiefly for paying fines, and were, therefore, peculiarly appropriate, since trespass-offerings were originally presented as penalties for fraud.

The mode of sacrificing was, for all cases, minutely laid down by the Law, and varied according to the different occasions.

As we survey the expiatory offerings of the Hebrews, which for purity stand unrivalled in the ancient world, we are bound to admit that they were pre-eminently calculated to keep alive among the nation those feelings on which all religious life depends, and from which it flows as its natural source, the feelings of human sinfulness, and the conviction of Divine holiness, by the standard of which that sinfulness is to be measured ; they fostered, therefore, at once humility and an ideal yearning; and they effectually counteracted that sense of self-righteousness natural indeed to the pride of man, but utterly destructive of all nobler virtues. They were well suited to secure in the directest and completest manner that singleness of life and heart, which is the true end of all sacrifices. Every Israelite was to feel his transgression personally and individually ; hence the sin-offerings were carefully and designedly varied according to the sinner's rank and position, both with regard to the choice of the victim and the mode of the ceremonial; whereas the holocausts, symbolising as they did merely a general admission of the common frailty inherent in human nature, were uniform for all persons.

But the religious legislation was not to be brought into collision with the civil and political enactments; it was, on the contrary, meant to support and strengthen them; so far from endangering the safety of the state by an illadvised leniency, it helped to eradicate the natural propensity to crime and lawlessness ; its operation was therefore limited to involuntary trespasses, while the secular authorities were left free to deal with premeditated offences; it even abstained from interfering in some important cases of unintentional misdeeds, such as homicide

for which it prescribed no sacrifice, but admitted a worldly punishment: satisfied to act as a silent instrument for the reformation of the hearts, it indeed effectually contracted the application, but did not injudiciously weaken the authority of the criminal code. Hence, though bearing the character of vicariousness, the sin-offerings were far from encouraging an external worship by lifeless ceremonies ; in themselves the spontaneous offspring of religious repentance, and thus naturally helping to nourish the same beneficent feeling, they were the strongest guarantee for a life of honesty and active virtue.' (Ibid. p.281.)


[Exod. XXIX; Levit. VIII.-X. XXI. XXII; Num. III. IV. VIII. etc.]

Before we proceed with our narrative, it is necessary to give a short account of the priesthood, which forms so important a part in the economy of the Hebrew institutions. Although the priests seldom evinced the sublime and pure devotion of the Hebrew prophets; although they were at times justly censured for venality, indolence, and faithlessness: they were the appointed guardians of the Law, and the elected intercessors between the chosen people and their God.

In the patriarchal ages, the father of each family was the priest of his own household. He built the altar, he burnt the incense, he offered the sacrifices. Thus there was a temple of God in each rude tent. This arrangement was strengthened by the prevailing notion that the first-born sons belonged specially to God, and were therefore naturally devoted to His service. But when, after the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt, a political commonwealth was to be organised, it was found a practical impossibility that just the chiefs of the families,

« AnteriorContinuar »