Response to The Line of Fire 6
In the May 19 2011 edition of his radio show, “The Line of Fire” http://lineoffireradio.askdrbrown.org/ , Dr. Brown attempts to defend his arguments relating to the Biblical book of Jonah.
The book of Jonah describes how the wicked people of Nineveh were threatened with destruction. They repent, and the Divine decree is rescinded.
The obvious message of this book is that God accepts repentance for the forgiveness of sin.
Christian theology contends that there is no forgiveness of sin without a blood sacrifice. The book of Jonah presents a serious problem for Dr. Brown. Where was the blood sacrifice of the Ninevites?
In volume 2 of his “Answering Jewish Objections” series, Dr. Brown presents an inventive solution to this Christian problem. Dr. Brown argues that the blood offering for the people of Nineveh was offered on their behalf by the Jewish people in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Dr. Brown attempts to prop up this fanciful theory with a passage in the Bible. In Exodus 19:6, God tells the people of Israel that they will be a “kingdom of priests”. Dr. Brown then jumps to the conclusion that Israel is now enjoined to offer sacrifices for the gentile nations, and that these sacrifices will be a critical requirement for the gentile nations to achieve forgiveness for their sins.
I have corresponded at length with Dr. Brown about this particular issue. At the end of this article I share two sections of this correspondence, one of which is available on this blog in its entirety – https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/letter-to-aryeh-leib/ .
At this point I will just make a few general observations.
The entire thrust of the book of Jonah is that repentance is efficacious. God saw that this message was important enough so that He devoted a full book of the Bible to accentuate this message. If it is as Dr. Brown says, that the repentance of the gentiles is meaningless without the blood sacrifices of Israel, why does God not devote at least the same amount of space in Scripture to articulate this message? Why is it that even according to Dr. Brown’s interpretation, this “critical” message is presented in only one segment of one verse in such a backhanded way?
The passage in exodus singles out Israel from all the nations of the earth. We would then expect that whatever the verse is referring to would be limited to the nation of Israel to the exclusion of the gentiles. The fact is that the gentiles were allowed to bring blood sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple on their own behalf. The Scriptures never limit the bringing of blood offerings to the Jewish people alone. According to Torah law, even in the absence of the Temple, gentiles are still permitted to bring blood offerings to the Creator of heaven and earth. When God singles out the people of Israel, He is NOT stating that members of no other nation may bring blood offerings.
Finally, the people of Israel are referred to as priests in the Messianic era (Isaiah 61:6). If it is as Dr. Brown contends, that the title “kingdom of priests” denotes the bringing of offerings to atone for the nations, then why will this be necessary in the Messianic era – when according to Dr. Brown’s theology, Jesus will have already fulfilled that requirement?
4) A kingdom of priests
The reason this subject entered our dialogue was because I was trying to demonstrate that without the rabbinical writings you will have no answer for objection 3.14. You went on to argue that on a purely scriptural basis, you would say that the Jews were supposed to bring offerings for the gentiles – this based on the kingdom of priests passage in Exodus. (Even if I were to agree with the interpretation, this is still a far cry from the concept that the gentiles have no atonement without Israel’s offerings – in a sense that the plain meaning of the book of Jonah is utterly negated.) I wrote back to you saying, that if you would only have Jewish scripture to go with (and not the rabbinic writings or the Christian scriptures) you would never have come to this conclusion. The role of the priests towards the rest of Israel as bringing offerings for them is not paralleled in scripture’s description of Israel’s role towards the nations. The role of the priests as teachers is paralleled. I think this is pretty straightforward.
You respond by asking me if I do not believe that the priests were intercessors for the rest of Israel. They certainly were intercessors for the people in the sense of praying for the people (Joel2:17) – paralleled by Jeremiah 29:7 in describing Israel’s role towards the nations amongst whom they were dispersed. The Priests were intercessors in the sense that they were a “lightening rod to attract God’s wrath upon themselves” (what a vivid expression!) As stated in Numbers 18:1 and as paralleled in Isaiah 53 in describing Israel’s role towards the nations. But as for the priests being intercessors in the sense of the bringing of offerings, I cannot find a parallel in scripture where this is described as Israel’s role towards the nations. So if one were to go on a strictly scriptural basis, he would sooner conclude that Israel is to pray and suffer for the nations before he would conclude that Israel must bring offerings for the nations.
5) A Kingdom of Priests
I must thank you for bringing this subject into focus for me. It seems that we both see in this quotation from Exodus 19:6, support to our conflicting positions. You see the chief role of the priests as the affecting of atonement. You also happen to believe that there is no atonement without the offering of blood sacrifices. Therefore you see in this passage a support to the philosophy that the gentiles do not have atonement only through the blood offerings of the people of Israel.
I see the chief role of the priests as being directly responsible for the service of God that is necessary for His divine presence to dwell in our midst. This certainly includes the processing of blood offerings for atonement, but in no way is it limited to this. The priests were assigned many responsibilities that related to the open manifestation of God’s presence here on earth. I believe that the gentiles can achieve expiation for their sins without the people of Israel (as the book of Jonah openly teaches), but they cannot merit an open manifestation of God’s presence without the people of Israel.
I think that the overwhelming weight of scripture supports my understanding of this passage. If indeed this passage (Exodus 19:6) is talking exclusively about blood offerings and is highlighting their fundamental importance, then what is God saying in Jeremiah 7:23? If the chief role of the priests is to provide atonement, then why does scripture so often describe the role of the priest as “le’shareis”( – to serve) and not as “le’chaper” (- to atone)? If the chief role of the priests is to provide atonement, and since Jesus came on the scene, the blood offerings of Israel no longer atone, so why is the nation spoken of as being Kohanei Hashem (- the priests of the Lord) by Isaiah (61:6) in the messianic era? The role that the nation of Israel played in the offering of blood offerings – namely bringing the animals to the temple and paying for and supporting the temple service, is a function that is clearly permitted to the gentiles. If the entire point of Israel’s designation as a kingdom of priests is limited to the blood offerings, then in what way is Israel as a nation different than the gentiles?
The way I understand this passage (Exodus 19:6) is that just as the priests were designated by God to be involved in the service related to the manifestation of His presence in a more direct and explicit way than the rest of the nation of Israel. So were the Jewish people as a whole designated by God to be involved in His service as it relates to the manifestation of His presence in a more direct and explicit way than the rest of the nations. This was clearly true when the temple was standing and it will be obvious again when the temple will be restored, but it is also true now. Ezekiel 11:16 (note Matthew Henry’s commentary) tells us that even in exile we are in God’s sanctuary. The covenantal sign of the Sabbath, tells us that God’s sanctity is still with us. The glimmer of God’s sanctity that dwells in this fallen world dwells amongst the Kingdom of Priests – those who love God and are loyal to His word.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal