The Temple Sacrifices

The Temple Sacrifices

 

The prophets repeatedly assured us that God forgives our sins when we repent (Isaiah 55:7; Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). The prophets did not tell us that there is no forgiveness from sin without a blood offering. In fact in the book of Deuteronomy we read how God will accept Israel’s repentance even when they are in exile and without the ability to present a blood offering to God (Deuteronomy 30:2). The book of Jonah describes how God accepted the repentance of the Ninevites and how He rescinded His decree of destruction that their sins had brought upon them and no mention is made of a blood sacrifice (Jonah 3:10).

 

The question then arises; if all that is necessary to obtain God’s forgiveness is repentance then what purpose is served by the blood offerings of Leviticus? Why was it necessary for Israel to go through the elaborate rituals of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1-34) if repentance alone can bring about the same results?

 

This same question can be asked concerning the fast of Yom Kippur as observed in our day and age. Why is it necessary for Israel to fast and refrain from work on this day (Leviticus 23:26-32) if all that is necessary for atonement is repentance?

 

In order to find the answer to this question we need to go to the heart of the Temple sacrifices. No; it is not the blood that is the heart of the sacrificial system, it is the commandment of God (Jeremiah 7:22,23). Just as bread is not what sustains a person’s physical body but rather it is the word of God that gives us life (Deuteronomy 8:3) so it is with our spiritual life. It is not the blood or the incense that provides forgiveness but it is the power of God’s command. The heart of the Temple sacrifices is the obedience and submission to God’s command that is inherent in the sincere fulfillment of those rituals.

 

God’s commandments sanctify us (Numbers 15:40). When we obey God’s directives He infuses our lives with sanctity and holiness. Each of the commandments is a gift that allows us to come closer to Him and to be suffused with His holiness. The commandments are God’s way of extending His hand towards us to draw us closer to Him.

 

God provided the commandments relating to the Day of Atonement so that our repentance can be infused with the power and the sanctity of His commandment. God granted us this way of giving concrete expression to the contrition of our hearts as a gift to His people. By following the path that God mapped out for us we take hold of God’s hand extended towards us and our repentance is empowered and sanctified by God. This is God’s way of smoothing out the path for His people.

 

The same concept applies to the Temple sacrifices. The opportunity to offer the atoning sacrifices is a gift that God granted to us that draws us towards Him as we repent. These concrete expressions of repentance ordained by God empowered and sanctified our constant return to God. On the basis of the infusion of sanctity that we were granted through these commandments God’s presence was manifest in the midst of our nation.

 

Now that we are in exile; some of these gifts have been temporarily withdrawn from us. We still have the fasting and the refraining from work on Yom Kippur but we do not have the offerings of that holy day. This does not mean that we have no forgiveness from our sins. What it does mean is that the added sanctity that God provided through obedience to these particular commandments is no longer being extended to us. This lack of sanctity is expressed in the fact that we have no Temple and God’s presence is not manifest in our midst in an open and obvious way.

 

But God did not leave us in the dark. God told us exactly what we need to do to merit that His presence return to dwell in the Jerusalem Temple. We need to return to the teachings of Moses and obey them together as a national unit in sincere submission to God’s command. And God assured us that the suffering of our exile will one day bring us to this national repentance (Deuteronomy 30:2). When that happens God will bring us back to His land and rebuild our Temple (Ezekiel 37:28). We will then offer the sacrifices that God has commanded us to bring to His altar in purity and in righteousness (Ezekiel 20:40; Malachi 3:3,4).

 

To come back to our original question we will reiterate that God never spurns a heart that is broken in contrition before Him (Psalm 51:19). God is slow to anger, abundant in kindness and He forgives those who return to Him in sincerity and truth (Psalm 86:4; 103:8-10; Jonah 4:2). God’s forgiveness is available to everybody all the time. God made this foundational truth abundantly clear through the teachings of His prophets. What we are lacking today without the Temple sacrifices is the added sanctity that allowed God’s presence to be manifest in our midst (Leviticus 16:2).

 

We yearn for that closeness to God that we experienced when His presence was manifest in the Jerusalem Temple and we constantly pray for its restoration. But we know that there are no shortcuts. The only path to God is obedience to His commandment and hearkening to His voice (Jeremiah 7:22,23). And He has already told us what is good for us. It is to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God – and nothing else (Micah 6:8). God promised that He will eventually hear our voice and take up our cause (Micah 7:7).

 

May it happen speedily in our day.

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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15 Responses to The Temple Sacrifices

  1. Xander says:

    I appreciate your words, but I cannot help but feel that you interchange forgiveness with atonement. Do these represent the same thing to you as Torah appears to treat them differently?

  2. The word for atone – “kipper” would indicate an action of cleansing while forgiveness would relate to what happens in God’s heart on occasion of whatever it is that moves Him to forgive – in any case the words in Ezekiel 18:22 and 33:16 which tell us that the sinners transgressions are not remembered against him when he repents is pretty comprehensive

    • I agree – He definitely notes multiple places in Scripture that He desires humility and repentance. What He does say in Leviticus 17:11 is that the blood is HIS provision to atone for the soul (not our own work). And Yom Kippur, described throughout the entire preceding chapter, was also a sacrifice completely separate from the individual sins and sacrifices for those specific sins – it was for sin in general, and was accepted as what “should” be already happening “for all time” IN ADDITION to the personal repentance G-d desires.

    • Xander says:

      But Ezekiel 18:21 sets the condition as observe all my statues in order to have all transgressions forgotten. The person would still have to follow the atonement process.

      • Xander – that is when applicable – in other words – when there is a temple then if you don’t bring an offering you are in rebellion – if there is no Temple – so you can’t bring an offering and trying to invent a new one won’t cut it

  3. Yedidiah says:

    Leviticus 16:21-22. “Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man. Thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.”

    Does this ritual mean that it really is the confessional that actually “takes off” the sins and which “puts it on” the live animal that carries it off? The animal that “took the sin away” is alive & free, not dead?

    And in Leviticus 17, there are a lot of “and ifs”. Doesn’t this suggest, there are strict rules only “if” ones seeks God with sacrifices? Most of the neighboring peoples or nations also offer blood sacrifices to their gods (even Israelite wrongly offered them to goat demons) but God does not acknowledge this blood or these gifts from man. It appears that the word offering means something that we give because we want to. We offer our gift – not required or forced to give it. But if we offer a gift to God the rules apply as to how it is given and which gifts are pleasing and which aren’t pleasing? Am I wrong?

    • Yedidiah says:

      Just like there are rules and ethical considerations of giving gifts in our work place. No offering gifts of alcohol, no lottery tickets, no gifts over $15, no more than $20 a year from outside vendors or contractors, gifts must be wrapped or presented in gift bags, money is given in a card not open cash, no ties for men, no sexy clothing or lingerie, these colors and these sizes for me, no rap or certain types of music for me, etc.

    • Yedidiah says:

      We must remember that Nefesh also means the life or soul of animals, not just of humans. And not all animal blood can be offered on the altar. Even out in the field/desert, if you took the life an animal, whether or not it was livestock and whether or not it was suitable for the altar, you respected the life of the animal by pouring the blood/life on the ground and covering it with dirt so that it would “return to God” & not used as worship to the “deities of the underworld”. Lev 17, in context, tells us why we should not eat or drink the blood of animals. Basically, verse 10-11, says that no Israelite should eat the blood when he ate the flesh of an animal because the life of the animal is identified with the blood that flows through and permeates it, and therefore God has limited the use (often translated less accurately as “assigned”) of animal blood by humans. In fact, the verses are confusing and it could logically mean that the human who offers the blood is “making up” for taking the life of the animal.

      Blood is not “magic” juice. Ezekiel 66 tells us, among other things, that blood given improperly & without true repentance was like murdering a man; it could have been idolatrous and it was an abomination.

      • Yedidiah says:

        Sorry, my memory is poor at times, that may be Isaiah 66. There is some other verse in Ezekiel that I was thinking of.

  4. Pingback: ‘The Prophet’s Perspective’ | Exploring Life, The Universe and Everything

  5. Ali Hussain says:

    Brilliant site ! , thanks for a good perspective on Judaism and Old Testament . As a Muslim i always wanted to know learn the Tanak , as my religion is soo intricately related with Judaism or i should say ..the same.

    One question which always keeps coming to me and which i have still come to terms with………..

    WHY ON EARTH DID GOD , IN THE TANAK ASKED US TO GIVE SO MANY SACRIFICES FOR OUR SINS ? . To me it looks absurd , how can a sacrifice of an animal clear our sins ?

    It will be very nice of you if you answer .

    • Ali
      Thanks for the kind comments and thanks for your question
      My understanding is that the blood offerings were God’s way of having the people come face to face with the recognition that their lives belong to God and to Him alone – doing a concrete act allows the concept to sink into your conscience much deeper than merely studying or thinking about it – helping people makes you a more charitable person than meditating about kindness. These offerings brought the concept home to the people on a constant basis – encouraging and deepening the repentance process

    • Yehuda says:

      Ali,

      I would throw in my two cents on the point that God mandated the sacrifices specifically and only when the temple (or its precursor, the Tabernacle) stood.

      Recognize of course that your question about “why” God wants something is by it’s nature calling for a certain amount of philsophizing and perhaps speculation about things that are not necessarily scriptural.

      The presence of an active temple indicates that the Jewish people’s (and really all people’s) relationship with God is in its optimal form. And God’s “presence” in an active functioning temple reflects God acknowledging that the relationship is intimate, healthy, and close (as opposed to the separation we experience in exile). God expects us to show active interest in maintaining that close relationship, if he is going to “dwell” in our midst. And if he is going to dwell in our midst sin becomes even more of an affront and are some sins are going to “cost” us in the sense that we will have to sacrifice (i.e pay for) the sins buy giving up things of value So we need to give up something (an animal or a measure of flour) to remind us that we don’t really own or control anything and that the arrogance that allowed us to sin to begin with is misplaced. The ultimate goal of course being a repair of the state of mind and heart to where it needs to be.

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