By Alfred Edersheim1
Symbolism of the Burnt-offering
I. The burnt-offering-Olah, or also Chalil (Deu 33:10; in Psa 51:19 literally rendered 'whole burnt-offering).- derivation of the term Olah, as wholly 'ascending' unto God, indicates alike the mode of the sacrifice and its meaning. It symbolised the entire surrender unto God, whether of the individual or of the congregation, and His acceptance thereof. Hence, also, it could not be offered 'without shedding of blood.' Where other sacrifices were brought, it followed the sin- but preceded the peace-offering. In fact, it meant general acceptance on the ground of previous special acceptance, and it has rightly been called the sacrificium latreuticum, or sacrifice of devotion and service.*
Thus day by day it formed the regular morning and evening service in the Temple, while on sabbaths, new moons, and festivals additional burnt-offerings followed the ordinary worship. There the covenant-people brought the covenant-sacrifice, and the multitude of offerings indicated, as it were, the fulness, richness, and joyousness of their self-surrender. Accordingly, although we can understand how this sacrifice might be said to 'make atonement' for an individual in the sense of assuring him of his acceptance, we cannot agree with the Rabbis that it was intended to atone for evil thoughts and purposes, and for breaches of positive commands, or of such negative as involved also a positive command. The burnt-offering was always to be a male animal, as the more noble, and as indicating strength and energy. The blood was thrown on the angles of the altar below the red line that ran round it. Then 'the sinew of the thigh' (Gen 32:32),** the stomach and the entrails, etc., having been removed (in the case of birds also the feathers and the wings), and the sacrifice having been duly salted, it was wholly burned.
The skins belonged to the ministering priests, who derived a considerable revenue from this source. The burnt-offering was the only sacrifice which non- Israelites were allowed to bring.*** The Emperor Augustus had a daily burnt-offering brought for him of two lambs and a bullock; and ever afterwards this sacrifice was regarded as indicating that the Jewish nation recognised the Roman emperor as their ruler. Hence at the commencement of the Jewish war Eleazar carried its rejection, and this became, as it were, the open mark of the rebellion.
* In the historical books the term Olah is, however, used in a more general sense to denote other sacrifices also.
** The 'sinew of the thigh' was neither allowed to be eaten nor to be sacrificed.
*** If they brought a 'peace-offering,' it was to be treated as a burnt-offering, and that for the obvious reason that there was no one to eat the sacrificial meal. Of course, there was no imposition of hands in that case.
Symbolism of the Sin-offering
II. The sin-offering.- is the most important of all sacrifices. It made atonement for the person of the offender, whereas the trespass-offering only atoned for one special offence. Hence sin-offerings were brought on festive occasions for the whole people, but never trespass-offerings (comp. Num 28, 29). In fact, the trespass-offering may be regarded as representing ransom for a special wrong, while the sin-offering symbolised general redemption. Both sacrifices applied only to sins 'through ignorance,' in opposition to those done 'presumptuously' (or 'with a high hand'). For the latter the law provided no atonement, but held out 'a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.' By sins 'through ignorance,' however, we are to understand, according to the Rabbis, not only such as were committed strictly through want of knowledge, but also those which had been unintentional, or through weakness, or where the offender at the time realised not his guilt. The fundamental difference between the two sacrifices appears also in this- sin- offerings, having a retrospective effect on the worshippers, were brought at the various festivals, and also for purification in such defilements of the body as symbolically pointed to the sinfulness of our nature (sexual defilement, those connected with leprosy, and with death). On the other hand, the animal brought for a trespass-offering was to be always a male (generally a ram, which was never used as a sin-offering); nor was it lawful, as in the sin-offering, to make substitution of something else in case of poverty. These two particulars indicate that the trespass-offering contemplated chiefly a wrong, for which decided satisfaction was to be made by offering a male animal, and for which a definite, unvarying ransom was to be given.
Symbolism of the Trespass-offering
III. The trespass-offering was provided for certain transgressions committed through ignorance, or else, according to Jewish tradition, where a man afterwards voluntarily confessed himself guilty. The Rabbis arrange this class into those for a doubtful and for a certain trespass. The former were offered by the more scrupulous, when, uncertain whether they might not have committed an offence which, if done high-handed, would have implied being 'cut off,' or, if in ignorance, necessitated a sin-offering. Accordingly, the extreme party, or Chassidim, were wont to bring such a sacrifice every day! On the other hand, the offering for certain trespasses covered five distinct cases,* which had all this in common, that they represented a wrong for which a special ransom was to be given.
It forms no exception to this principle, that a trespass-offering was also prescribed in the case of a healed leper (Lev 14:12), and in that of a Nazarite, whose vow had been interrupted by sudden defilement with the dead (Num 6:10-12), since leprosy was also symbolically regarded as a wrong to the congregation as a whole,** while the interruption of the vow was a kind of wrong directly towards the Lord. But that this last was, at the same time, considered the lightest kind of trespass appears even from this-, while ordinarily the flesh of the trespass-offering, after burning the inwards on the altar of (Lev 7:3), was only to be eaten by the officiating priests within the Holy Place, the lamb offered for such a Nazarite might be eaten by others also, and anywhere within Jerusalem. The blood of the trespass-offering (like that of the burnt-offering) was thrown on the corners of the altar below the red line.
* Lev 5:15; Lev 6:2; Lev 19:20 (in these three cases the offering was a ram); and Lev 14:12 and Num 6:12 (where the offering was a he-lamb). The Word of
God considers every wrong done to another, as also a wrong done against the Lord (Psa 51:4), and hence, as needing a trespass-offering.
** Hence the leper was banished from the congregation.
IV. The most joyous of all sacrifices was the peace-offering, or, as from its derivation it might also be rendered, the offering of completion.* This was, indeed, a season of happy fellowship with the Covenant God, in which He condescended to become Israel's Guest at the sacrificial meal, even as He was always their Host. Thus it symbolised the spiritual truth expressed in Rev 3:20, 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.' In peace-offerings the sacrificial meal was the point of main importance. Hence the name 'Sevach,' by which it is designated in the Pentateuch, and which means 'slaying,' in reference to a meal. It is this sacrifice which is so frequently referred to in the Book of Psalms as the grateful homage of a soul justified and accepted before God (Psa 51:17; Psa 54:6; Psa 56:12; Psa 116:17-18). If, on the one hand, then, the 'offering of completion' indicated that there was complete peace with God, on the other, it was also literally the offering of completeness. The peace-offerings were either public or private. The two lambs offered every year at Pentecost (Lev 23:19) were a public peace-offering, and the only one which was regarded as 'most holy.' As such they were sacrificed at the north side of the altar, and their flesh eaten only by the officiating priests, and within the Holy Place. The other public peace-offerings were slain at the south side, and their 'inwards' burnt on the altar (Lev 3:4-5). Then, after the priests had received their due, the rest was to be eaten by the offerers themselves, either within the courts of the Temple or in Jerusalem (Deu 27:7). On one occasion (1Ki 8:63) no less than 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep were so offered. Private peace-offerings were of a threefold kind (Lev 7:11): 'sacrifices of thanksgiving' (Lev 7:12), 'vows,' and strictly 'voluntary offerings' (Lev 7:16). The first were in general acknowledgment of mercies received; the last, the free gift of loving hearts, as even the use of the same term in Exo 25:2,Exo 35:29 implies. Exceptionally in this last case, an animal that had anything either 'defective' or 'superfluous' might be offered (Lev 22:23).
* It always followed all the other sacrifices.1 Adapted from Ch. 6 of The Temple: Its Ministry and Service published in 1874.