So we have met with a Rabi here on campus several times since the last post…
If there is one thing I have taken from what has been said about atonement is that there is a general desire to downplay the significance of blood in the ceremonies instructed by God on Mt. Sinai. (I think think is true in Church as well)
The Rabi took us to several passages to show that the blood of a sacrifice was not always necessary for atonement in the OT. There was no sin offering mentioned in Leviticus in which a grain offering could be made if the person could not afford a couple of birds.
Leviticus 5:11 – “But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for the sin that he has committed a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it and shall put no frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering.
Another place that mentions atonement apart from a blood sacrifice is in the instructions for taking a census of Israel. A 1/2 shekel tax was to be levied for the maintenance of the temple and so that no plague would break out against the people during the census.
11 ¶ And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 12 When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. 13 This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD. 14 Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD. 15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls. 16 And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls. Exodus 30:11-16
The atonement money was given “so that there would be no plague” when the census was taken. Was this why a plague broke out when King David numbered the people in 2 Sam. 24?
The Rabi also discussed why atonement was made for the altar. The altar cannot sin… so why atonement? It seems that according the commentators, atonement was made for the altar because it is likely that the altar contained material given with impure motives – and thus atonement was made to purify it… and to separate it from the common. (in other words to sanctify it and make it holy)
What I don’t understand is the desire to disconnect atonement from the blood of a sacrifice? Leviticus seems to be pretty clear on the matter: (even if there are some general exceptions for the poor)
Leviticus 17:11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
Some other questions that came up:
Was there any significance in the blood applied to the door post and lintel of the house during the Passover feast? No… It was simply a sign of obedience to God and had nothing to do with the sin of the Israelites.
What was the first recorded sacrifice? Cain and Abel.
When was the first recorded death? It was the death of an animal to provide clothing for Adam and Eve. Why did God clothe Adam and Eve? To show his love for them because fig leaves are uncomfortable. Is there significance to Adam and Eves feeling of nakedness and Gods provision of clothing other than purely physical considerations? Could this be considered the first sacrifice?
Anyway, that is the gist of the far ranging conversations that we had…
In finishing off this post, I think there is a danger in focusing only on the atonement sacrifices as though they were the sole purpose of the tabernacle… They were not. The tabernacle was ‘the Dwelling Place’ where God met with his people.
What was the music like? And what craftsmanship and skill went into the making of the tent and its furnishings? What vivid and meaningful ceremonies – such as the pouring out of water and wine at the feast of Tabernacles or the offering of the first fruit’s – were carried out as the people came before God with joy and singing at the appointed feasts? What messages of the prophets were spoken for the first time in its courts?
Psalm 84:10 10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
This was not a dark and depressing cathedral filled with the chanting of men who sound like they are at the edge of the grave.
But what is clear… and this what all of Rabinic Judaism seems to wish to deny… was that the sacrifice of atonement was at the heart of everything else that occurred in the tabernacle.
As the writer of Hebrews said,
Hebrews 9:22 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Matthew Henry – on the burnt offering:
It must be offered at the door of the tabernacle, where the brazen altar of burnt-offerings stood, which sanctified the gift, and not elsewhere. He must offer it at the door, as one unworthy to enter, and acknowledging that there is no admission for a sinner into covenant and communion with God, but by sacrifice…