Sin offering and salvation
Sprinkling, offering, and cross
The previous chapter touched briefly upon the part played by divine sprinkling within John’s baptism. However, such God ordained sprinkling is too important for such a succinct passage to suffice. Sprinkling, albeit of blood rather than water, was also a fundamental feature of the sacrificial system, being found in a range of procedures.
The Hebrew sin offering, as formalised within the Mosaic Law, had variants relating to both the basic covenantal sacrifices. One arose from the Noahic peace offering and was conservative in its application. However, the other, which stemmed from the Edenic burnt offering, is found in a bewildering diversity of forms, ranging from the red heifer and the scapegoat procedure, to the trial of a woman suspected of adultery and the brazen serpent. This Edenic sacrifice was a potent sacrament. Through the offering for an unsolved murder, it demonstrates an ability to exonerate the innocent and convicting the guilty, whilst, in the Passover, it reveals its power to bring salvation by identification. It was such an offering to which the divine sprinkling of John’s baptism pointed; It was such an offering that proved to be Messiah’s most awesome tool.
Two covenants, two types of sin offering
At the time of the Exodus, two covenants under-gird Israel’s cultic system. The Noahic covenant, established with Noah’s descendants in the aftermath of the flood, and the much older Edenic covenant, established with Eve and her seed, following Adam’s fall. Each of these foundational covenants each had their own characteristic offering, the Noahic being the peace offering and the Edenic being the burnt offering, and each also had its own type of sin offering. The characteristics of each sin offering, whilst flowing directly from their equivalent basic offering, negated its benefits to the supplicant, as if, by voluntarily acknowledging that they had forfeited these benefits, the supplicant for a merciful judgement.
Although the scriptures most obvious treatment of sin offerings is found in Leviticus 4-6, it is not immediately obvious that this chapter deals with both types of sin offerings, first the Edenic (Lev 4:3-21;6:30) and then the Noahic (Lev 4:22-35;6:23-29). To appreciate the distinction one must first understand the basic offerings upon which the sin offerings are based. These basic offerings (the burnt and the peace) each revolve around four parts of the animal that is being offered, its blood, its fatty bits, its skin, and the rest.
In the Edenic, or burnt, offering (Lev 1:2-17), the blood is poured on the ground (the foundation of the altar being counted as ground), the fatty bits were given to God as His rightful portion, the skin was given to the priest who officiated, and the flesh was the supplicant's portion, and their acceptable offering to God (hence fat and flesh both ended up on the altar). By virtue of making such an acceptable offering the supplicant benefited by becoming a priest, the skin serving as the most basic badge of office. An Edenic sin offering, negating the basic benefits of the burnt offering, was required when the high priest sinned and brought guilt on the people (Lev 4:3), or when the whole congregation sinned (Lev 4:13). Some of the blood is taken into the tent of meeting, flicked before the Lord, then placed on the horns of the altar (metaphorically right in God's face), thus negating the value of pouring it all on the ground, for the ground to cover it. The fatty bits still go to the Lord, but the flesh that would have been the priest's acceptable offering, together with the skin, are treated as refuse, and burnt on the ash heap, with none of it to be eaten (Lev 6:26-30).
In the Noahic, or peace, offering (Lev 3:1-16), the blood is poured out on side of the altar, the fatty bits are treated as a food offering to God, then the skin and the remainder are the supplicant's. the priest poured the blood out at the side of the altar to provide atonement. This then enabled the laity to commune with God through attendance at a divine banquet where the altar took the fat as God’s portion, God’s representatives (the priest) took their designated portions of the meat, and the other attendees eat the rest1. In this offering’s sin equivalent, the priests displayed a portion of the blood on the horns of the altar, thus rendering it ineffective as atonement for the life, whilst calling God's attention to that fact (by placing it where it could cry out). The remainder was disposed of as usual, but the damage was already done, so this brings no benefit. The priests then ensured that attendance at the banquet was restricted to God and his servants, so the people did not benefit. Thus, only the priests eat the meat, even though they offered the fat and burnt the remainder (God's portion) just as for a peace offering (Lev 4:8-12, note especially 10, 22-35, 6:26-30)2.
The correspondence between basic sacrifice and sin offering extends to the Edenic covenant, with many Edenic sin offerings resembling burnt offerings, but shorn of their benefit. In a burnt offering, an animal’s blood, i.e. their life, returned to the dust instead of an individual’s life, then fire consumed the animals ‘sanctuary’, i.e. their body, instead of consuming a person’s ‘Eden’. The individual who made the offering then received the hide, their ‘garment’, as a sign of their continued authority to represent God3. In this offering’s sin equivalent, the priest brought the sacrificial animal’s life into the presence of God, enjoying intimacy with God being the opposite of dwelling in the dust. Then, whilst ensuring the divine share still went to God, they rendered the flesh useless as an offering and the hide worthless as a covering (or at least conveyed that intent). Usually, this involved burning the fat (God’s part) on the altar and destroying the hide and flesh (mankind’s part) like refuse. However, not every Edenic sin offering involved an animal and, within the Law’s storehouse of sacrificial procedures, there are some very creative variations on the Edenic sin offering's theme.
The bull offered on the Day of Atonement is perhaps the most recognisably Edenic sin offering. The high priest took its blood into the tent of meeting, a model or ‘shadow’ of the inaccessible heavens (see Appendix Q) in which God’s presence was guaranteed to manifest above the Ark of the Covenant. Then priests burned the flesh and hide outside the camp.
A bull and a red heifer
The biblically astute will recall that the only other occasion when the blood was to be taken into the Tabernacle was also on the Day of Atonement and as part of its scapegoat procedure (Lev 16:15). Whilst that was also an Edenic sin offering, it is easiest to defer discussion of it until we have considered the red heifer (Num 19:1-10) and the ‘two birds’ component of cleansing procedure for tsara`ath ‘leprosy’ (Lev 14:3-7). Context driven differences in their implementation tend to obscure how closely these later two procedures parallel one another, the red heifer being for corporate application and the two birds its scaled-down personal counterpart, which, on the assumption that a ‘leper’ would be poor, has downgraded the offering to a pair of birds4. Nevertheless, the congruence is especially apparent in their treatment of the blood. Both effectively separated it, reserving a part for mixing with living water whilst deliberately propelling another heavenward. Thus, burning the whole heifer incorporated the blood into both the ash, which was mixing with living water, and the smoke, that ascended into heaven. Similarly, in the ‘two birds’ procedure, the priest mixed part of one bird’s blood with living water whilst part ascended into heaven on the feathers of the other bird. Both procedures also involve a seven-fold sprinkling of blood: in the corporate – toward the front of the tent of meeting (i.e. toward the place where the community assembled before God), in the personal, as a component of the water of purification, sprinkled on the individual as they stood before the priest. Furthermore, both symbolically brought the blood together with cedar, hyssop and scarlet thread in preparation for its application.
The Edenic sin offering pattern is immediately evident in the case of the heifer, not only in the treatment of the blood, but also in the specific instruction to burn both flesh and the hide. However, unlike the bull of the Day of Atonement, the priests needed to keep the ashes separate, so they did not burn the heifer in the place where they burnt the other refuse. Instead, its distinctive characteristics were used to mark it out as an offering that must not find its way onto the altar5. As a bovine, it was suitable for a corporate offering (Lev 4:13-14) and, thanks to the infant Israel’s recent Egyptian background, its redness ensured they recognised it as an intended sacrifice, for Herodotus records that the Egyptians sacrificed bulls (in their case to Tryphon) and that only red ones without any spot of other colour were acceptable6. However, as Moses Law did not permit a heifer for a burnt offering, this otherwise-ideal animal was unacceptable on the altar (Lev 1:3)
A bird set free and a goat sent out
As a scaled down version of the red heifer procedure, the ‘two birds’ illustrate how a composite sacrifice translated into an Edenic sin offering. When the cost of the required sin offering was unaffordable, the individual could bring two less valuable animals instead, a guilt offering comprising a sub-standard sin offering and a burnt offering to atone for this unavoidable misdemeanour (Lev 5:7-11). The blood ascending into the heavens identifies the slain bird as the sin offering and therefore the freed bird as the burnt offering. There is logic to setting the burnt offing free, for if the sin offering was intentionally useless for the altar, then it was pointless to sacrifice a life to atone for its inadequacy. Furthermore, this ensured no benefit accrued through the burnt offering component.
Understanding how the Law treated a composite Edenic sin offering enables us to recognise the enigmatic scapegoat procedure (Lev 16:5, 7-10, 15-27) as precisely that. Aaron took the blood of the goat sacrificed for sin into the Tent before burning the flesh and hide like refuse. He then pronounced the people’s sins over the ‘escape goat’7, as for a standard burnt offering, before setting it free.
An unclean invitation to judge
The circumstances addressed by the bull and goats of the Day of Atonement, the red heifer and its scaled-down avian counterpart, all confirm their link with the curse of Eden. The Day of Atonement saved a repentant nation from a cursed land, the ashes of the heifer came into play whenever death touched the community, and the two birds offering marked an individual’s return from the surrogate death of ‘leprosy’. Yet, the method used to achieve these outcomes was somewhat counter-intuitive, for it involved deliberately invoking the wrath of God.
In a Noahic sin offering, the priest placed a portion of the blood on the horns of the altar of burnt offering. Similarly, in the Edenic Day of Atonement sin offerings the high priest put some of the blood on the horns of the gold incense altar. However, to display the blood to the four winds like this was to invite judgement (Rev 7:1-3, Jer 49:36, Dan 7:2, Zech 1:17-21). Just as with the blood of Abel, the failure to cover blood summoned the judicial attention of God. Job knew as much, for whilst protesting the injustice of his suffering, he exclaimed “O earth, do not conceal my blood. Let it cry out on my behalf. Even now my witness is in heaven. My advocate is there on high.” (Job 16:18-19,NLT). The Revelation of John portrays a similar view (Rev 9:13-19), graphically portraying a voice crying out from the horns of the gold altar for the release of wrath upon the earth. The sin offering’s deliberate act of disobedience rendered the sacrifice a most unclean thing and therefore dangerous stuff. Thus, the priests characteristically exposed the blood or carried out the sacrifices in places that would be immune to the uncleanliness, places where God ruled supreme - the wilderness outside the camp, amidst the consuming fires of the altar of burnt offering, over living water, or (through use of the Tabernacle's iconic imagery) within the airy realm of the heavens.
On the face of it, calling for judgement seems the last thing you want to do if you know you are in the wrong. However, because God judges the heart and not the history, acknowledging the impact of sin and calling for judgement provided a way to clean the slate8. The efficacy of the Day of Atonement clearly depended upon this rational, however a contrived control of the when and where of judgement lay at the heart of all sin offerings. A minor sin by a priest called the court of heaven into session, whereupon God’s judgement exonerated the innocent from a larger sin. Thus, deliberately breaking the Law ensured that the way to the tree of life stayed open for those who availed themselves of the offering. An attempt to explain this principle, or even apply it, is perhaps why Paul found himself accused of advocating evil that good might result.
Of course, an offering that provoked judgement could be used to establish guilt as well as innocence, as when Nadab and Abihu misguidedly attempted to replicate Aaron’s role on the Day of Atonement and offered ‘strange fire’ (Lev 10:1-2). Therefore, when Korah challenged Aaron’s priesthood, Moses had both Aaron and the rebels offer incense. The ensuing judgement left Aaron exonerated whilst God, as it were, overturned the rebels with a flaming sword or returned them to the dust.
Placating the jealous and absolving the innocent
The ‘call for judgement’ aspect of the Edenic sin offering was particularly apparent when the priest used one to test a wife suspected of adultery (Num 5:1-31). Her husband brought a minimal sin offering9, a ‘jealousy offering’ with which the wife identifies by holding it. However, although the whole of any grain offering belonged to the priest and there was an absence of blood, there are nevertheless features of that identify this offering as Edenic rather than Noahic: It resolved whether the woman had eaten from a forbidden tree10; Consuming dust was associated with the curse on the serpent; the belly of the guilty would swell (through pregnancy), but her ‘thigh’ would fall (i.e. her priest’s portion, the spiritual significance of her offspring as ‘the seed of Eve’, would decay, which is why Nathan could be sure that the child of Bathsheba by her adultery with David would die).
This minimal Edenic sin offering served to ‘bring iniquity to remembrance’, i.e. to invite a judgement from God. It did so by getting the woman to perform an unclean act, simultaneously emulating the serpent whilst acknowledging that eating dust was the outcome of doing so. Dust from the tent was used because that, like dust from the wilderness, was solely under God’s authority and therefore immune to the uncleanliness of this act. The subsequent drinking of the water of bitterness symbolised the coming of the curse and adding God’s words to the mixture ensured that the wife received them. An undeserved curse could not settle (Prov 26:2), so if she had done nothing wrong it would be as when Ezekiel eats a scroll containing God’s words of woe, lamentation and mourning (Ezek 2:9-3:1). It would become sweet to her, not sour.
An appropriate Edenic offering could absolve a community as easily as it absolved an individual. Thus, when a village faced the spiritual implications of an unsolved murder, the elders took a heifer (the right species for a corporate offering and the wrong sex for a burnt offering) to a clean place (an unploughed valley, i.e. a wilderness) where there was living water. They then broke its neck to signify its worthlessness for the altar11. They did so in the presence of priests, for God had delegated to them the responsibility of judgement in such matters (Deut 17:8-9). The elders then invited God to be their judge, as in Aaron v Korah, by usurping the role reserved for Aaron and his sons and washing their hands over the offering (cf. Exod 30:20). Having summoned the court of heaven to session, they were then to declare their innocence and appeal that God not hold the blood against them. If they were free from guilt, they were thus exonerated.
A remedy for the bite of vipers
In Edenic sin offerings, the participants were usually required to identify with their sacrifice by obediently identifying with the act of disobedience. Often this was explicit, such as when the woman drunk the water of bitterness, or the elders washed their hands. Sometimes it was subtler, as with the sins pronounced over the scapegoat (identifying the people with the blood on the horns of the altar) or the sprinkling of the red heifer’s ashes (where people and homes became responsible for holding blood aloft).
When Moses found himself faced with the very Edenic problem of serpents bringing death, the solution introduces us to yet another form of identification. God instructed Moses to construct a rallying standard for the serpent’s cause. He then instructed people to look to this standard (thereby offending God), if they wanted to be saved. By the simple expedient of looking toward this symbol, those whom the snakes bit were then able to both acknowledge the consequences of their sin (i.e. coming under the authority of the serpent) and identify with Moses’ offering. By exalting the serpent toward heaven, as with a body left on a tree overnight and thereby cursed (Deut 21:22), Moses called for divine judgement between the seed of eve and the seed of the serpent, yet for those who accepted his authority and identified with this accursed ‘sin offering’ there was a guarantee of salvation.
An Edenic solution to an Edenic problem
Of the many and varied Edenic sin offerings, the first Passover was arguably
the most spectacular within the Pentateuch. The descendants of Jacob, as their Egyptian master’s property, shared Egypt’s corporate guilt
for shedding innocent blood (even though much of it was their own). However, by placing themselves directly under God’s authority, they,
like Cain, could bear the Lord’s mark and escape that attributed guilt. Their forefather, Jacob, had benefited from such a solution.
Furthermore, Moses stood before them, not only as a servant emissary of Godly Kenite authority, but also as a living testimony to the
efficacy of following Cain’s example. Indeed, the prophet would later allude to this aspect of the Passover when he stressed that the feast
served to remind them, like a sign on their hands and a reminder on their forehead (Exod 13:9), that they were bound to fulfil the Lord’s commandments.
Exchanging the leadership of Pharaoh for that of Moses got the Israelites off the hook of innocent bloodshed. Pharoh had, however, stood in the way of the people partaking in a covenant-renewal sacrifice. This left the Israelites unjustly condemned for their unavoidable failure. The Edenic sin offering, however, by precipitating judgement, provided a way for Israel to be freed, both from the bondage imposed by their Egyptian overlord’s folly, and from their guilt before God.
The Edenic red heifer procedure acknowledges its dependence upon the same principals as the Passover, for whilst the colour of the heifer pointed to the sacrifices of Egypt, the ceremony’s use of cedar, hyssop and scarlet thread serves as a reminder of that terrible night, when people protect their firstborn from death by taking sprigs of hyssop and daubing blood onto their door-frames (Exod 12:22). Ever since the birth of Perez and Zerah (Gen 38:28), Israelite culture had associated scarlet thread with the firstborn, so cedar, hyssop and scarlet thread were all there in the passover. The Israelites used hyssop to apply blood to cedar and stone12 to protect those set apart by a scarlet thread13. The red heifer procedure took cedar, rather than stone, as it needed flammable ingredient, but then incorporated it with hyssop and scarlet thread in a sacrifice that acknowledged salvation from death.
An offering for a son
Through Pharaoh's actions, each Israelite family stood guilty before God, and, like Pharaoh's subjects, they also stood to loose their first-born sons. At the root of this was their failure to offer a sacrifice. The need for a three-day journey immediately suggests that this sacrifice was to have been equivalent in function to that with which Abraham redeemed the life of his most significant son. Furthermore, from the Maccabean period, the Book of Jubilees offers a commentary on Abraham’s test that supports its traditional association with the time of Passover (Jub 17.15-18).So, iif a lamb was the appropriate animal for Abraham's intended burnt offering, it was also the appropriate animal for the Isrealite's sin offering. However, meeting the offering’s other requirements required a bit more ingenuity. Each Israelite family needed to keep the blood off the ground, bring it into God’s presence and then destroy the entire body without dismembering it. However, they somehow had to achieve this without the benefit of a pre-established altar and without going out of ‘the camp’.
Fortunately, provided a supplicant still adhered to the spirit of God’s earlier judgements, there was considerable latitude in the precise implementation of Edenic sin offerings, and a pragmatic approach to practicality. In the Mosaic Law, one can see this at work with the red heifer, where, unlike in the Day of Atonement procedures, there is no step where the priests remove the fat and give it to God on the altar14. In the basic Edenic offering (the burnt offering), the priest who offered sacrifice received its hide (as the animal only had one skin the burnt offering was a one-person job). The priest cut the burnt offering into pieces so that they could lift the meat onto the altar, where it was consumed by God. However, as the priest had to burn the red heifer whole and keep its efficacious ashes separate, use of the altar was impractical. Therefore, instead of burning the fat on the ceremonially clean ‘ground’ of the altar, they burnt it outside the camp. By inference, they did this in a clean place, just as they burnt the remains of the Day of Atonement offerings. The burnt fat, along with the rest of the carcass, rose as smoke, leaving the divine hand to take the requisite portion.
The pragmatism of Passover
As pragmatic implementations of an Edenic sin offering go, the Passover excels. Acting under Moses authority, each family head served as a priest. The Lord was seeking to visit their family (Exod 12:23) in judgement and when that had happened previously God came in human form (Gen 18:1-3, 32:24-30). So each family gathered in a house, ensuring that God would approach through the street door15. As they couldn’t take the blood into God’s presence, they ensured that God’s presence came to the blood. However, in doing so they were careful to applied it only to the lintel and doorposts and keep it off the ground (the only place it was supposed to be). Use of an altar to consume the sacrifice was out of the question16, but the Israelites, having become the Lord’s servants through accepting Moses’ authority, could render the flesh sacramentally useless by eating it17. The animal was therefore roast rather than boiled, so that nobody would confuse it with a peace offering and so that the flames could consume the fat as it escaped and ensure it went to God. None of the animal’s bones were to be broken (e.g. to extract their tasty marrow) for it was to remain whole. Furthermore, just as the fires were kept burning overnight so that the entire burnt offering was consumed by morning, so the Israelites were to eat, or burn, all of the Passover lamb by dawn.
The instruction to eat bread without leaven is certainly consistent with later sacrificial practice (Lev 2:11). However, it had as much to do with precedent as with practicality, for when the Lord and his two servant angels visited Abraham, en route to pass over Sodom (Gen 18:6-7), Abraham arranged food suitable for the Lord. Sarah rapidly kneaded flour and made round cakes of bread, whilst Abraham slaughtered a calf. This meal, effectively a peace offering, called for a recipe that did not require time for the bread to rise. Furthermore, when Lot provided food for the Lord’s servants (Gen 19:3), he served unleavened bread. Further support for the idea that Sarah prepared unleavened bread is found when the medium at Endor call up Samuel. After that encounter Saul and his men refuse food until the medium emulates Abraham’s feast (1 Sam 28:24), effectively obliging Saul to follow his Lord’s example and eat it, the bread she served being unleavened.
Precipitating judgement with a purpose
The blood of that first Passover cried out for judgement, not in some un-taintable place, where it could not bring a curse upon the land, but in the midst of the Egyptian communities. There it attracted divine wrath upon Egypt, leaving the Israelites to emulate Noah’s family, go into their houses and shut the door until the indignation passed (cf. Isa 26:20). For this repentant people, under the authority of the seed of Eve, whom Moses represented, their act of disobedience guaranteed salvation18.
As the Exodus unfolded, Moses continued to precipitate judgement with a purpose. The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) saw the giving of the foundational commandments of the Law (Exod 19:3-25). The Israelites’ new calendar then time-shifted their annual renewal of the Noahic re-creation into the seventh month. Thus, following Exodus’ first reminder to keep the feasts (Exod 23:14-19), the book describes the celebration of the Day of Atonement (Exod 24:1-11), though at this point its later form was barely discernable. As the ways of Egypt were still ingrained amongst the people, Moses presented the Law. Then, noting the community’s eagerness to embrace it, Moses sent young men to make burnt offerings and peace offerings. When they brought the blood for him to pour on the ground (Lev 17:13, Deut 12:15-16, cf. Gen 37:26), however, he deliberately disobeyed and put a portion of it on the altar (i.e. in the presence of God) before sprinkling the rest upon the people to implicate them in his ‘crime’. The relationship, of this deliberate invitation for divine judgement to other Edenic sin offerings, was not lost on the author of Hebrews (Heb 9:19), for, adopting a common rabbinic practice of interpretation19, they assume Moses used water, hyssop, cedar and scarlet thread in this sprinkling, just as in the red heifer procedure.
For these Israelites, judgement involved merciful weighing of the heart, rather than merciless application of the letter, so by applying the blood at that optimal moment when they had wholeheartedly chosen to serve God, Moses facilitated a merciful outcome. It was the ancient precursor of the evangelist who, finding a crowd hungry for God, calls them to recognise their part in nailing Jesus to the cross. Before Moses sprinkled the blood, Israel’s elders were to keep their distance (Exod 24:2), however afterwards they saw the Lord’s Glory and communed safely in His presence (Exod 24:10-11). The falling ‘fire’ of judgement had left heaven opened, a welcome in the Lord’s presence, and a new covenant in place.
Moses’ ‘crime’ left Israel enjoying a harmonious relationship with their maker. However, it would not stay that way for long and, following the tragic episode of the Golden Calf, he was forced to pursue God’s agenda outside the camp. Exodus’ second reminder to keep the feasts (Exodus 34:18-26) introduces the preparations for the first anniversary of the Passover (Num 9:1-5), the account of which sprawls across several books. Hence it is not until well into Leviticus that we find Moses preparing the priesthood to serve at that event (Lev 8:1-35). First, he offered a bull as a sin offering. It was equivalent to that used for the community on the Day of Atonement20, involved only Aaron’s family. A burnt offering followed, and then a peace offering, or at least the Ram of Ordination started out as that. Here again applying some of the blood to people’s bodies translated a standard offering into a sin offering, with Moses depriving the priests of the benefit of their portion whilst retaining his own. Aaron and his sons then stayed inside the tent until the indignation had passed over and the seven days had allowed time for God to fashion a new creation and leave their camp cleansed. Such was the significance of this sprinkling precipitated judgement in the separation of a new creation from the corruption of the old, that Hebrews recounts how Moses also used it to cleanse the Tabernacle and the utensils used in its service (Heb 9:21).
The offering of a firstborn
Beyond the Exodus there is less evidence of Edenic sin offerings, however one or two stand out. Amongst them is one of the scriptures more puzzling incidents, the King of Moab’s sacrifice (2 Kgs 3:24-27). By virtue of Moab’s rebellion, Jehoshaphat experienced two Day of Judgement scenarios, each of which went against Moab. After the second, Israel carried the battle out of the wilderness and into Moab, destroying cities, rendering fields useless, stopping springs and cutting down the good trees. The King of Moab, seeing that Israel intended to leave his land like Sodom, an Eden overturned, took the desperate step of offering his firstborn son as a burnt offering. Like Eve offering the fruit to Adam, behind this fundamentally wrong act was a right motive, for Abraham had committed his sons (Israel) to refrain from such actions against the sons of Lot (Moab). In a last ditch attempt to preserve the way to life for his people, the king invoked the precedent of Cain’s murder to call God to intervene, in doing so he declared his submission by emulating Abraham and offering his son. By choosing the city wall as this offering’s location, he not only lifted the blood toward heaven, but also ensured that the advancing messengers of death saw this ‘scarlet thread’. In the eternal balance, Israel’s over-zealous genocide weighed more heinous than the king’s sincerely motivated crime and so divine wrath routed the advancing troops. A beloved life, given that just judgement might bring deliverance, had proved the agent of Moab’s survival. This human sacrifice was indeed something God deplored, which may, on this occasion, be precisely why it worked.
The sacrifice of Jonah
Despite instigating an evil act that brought wrath upon the community, thanks to the precedent of Eve’s treatment (Gen 3:15), the priest who did so purely in order to further God’s purposes never suffered for their actions. Because Adam put his own glory before the preservation of life for others, God chastised him accordingly. Eve, however, because she was only seeking to help another fulfil God’s purpose for their life, retained God’s favour.
If the precedent of Eve were not enough, the same principle lies behind Joseph’s treatment of his brothers and his well known conclusion ‘Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people’. (Gen 50:20, NRSV). Joseph became like a sin offering for his family as his brothers unwittingly ensured that his blood (i.e. his life), instead of going into the ground, went into the presence of God’s representative in Egypt (Pharaoh). There it interceded and preserved the way to the tree of life. Joseph’s experience, whilst illustrating God’s merciful treatment of the ‘priest’, underlines that those who made such offerings were not always aware of what they were doing. I doubt that most who trusted Moses and offered their lamb at Passover understood the theological basis for their actions, but they could not fail to understand that it worked.
The experiences of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba illustrate the mercy enjoyed by those who served the interests of the Woman and her Seed. However, a further statement on the subject comes from the book of Jonah. In a scenario that echoes the psalms (Ps 107:23-32), the text places Jonah in the Noah like position of being adrift and totally dependant upon God’s mercy. When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he realised the suffering this might cause Israel and so he fled. The prophet’s disobedience brought calamity upon his Tarshish-bound ship, despite which, the Lord granted him sound sleep amidst the storm, i.e. peace amidst judgement (Prov 19:23, Ps 107:23). When the despairing men identified that Jonah lay behind their troubles the prophet reassured them that there was still a way to be saved. They must join him in yet another act of disobedience, an act that would see him descend into Sheol itself (Jonah 2:2), and one could flee no further than that in an attempt to avoid God’s presence (Isa 38:18). Upon his instruction, they were to throw him into the sea and to this certain death, i.e. to effectively shed his blood in a untaintable place. Had this simply been a matter of appeasing a wrathful God, then Jonah could have thrown himself over the side, however this was an Edenic sin offering and for the men to benefit they had to participate in the crime as per Jonah's instruction. At first, they resisted the prophet’s advice. Eventually, however, once they ran out of options and, pleading for mercy, they obeyed. The storm ceased and God was glorified. Out of Sheol, the place of the dead, Jonah cried out and the Lord rescued him (Jonah 2:2). As with Moses, after three days his God brought him through the waters, ready to continue the God given task of bringing the gentiles to repentance. It did not seem to matter how far this servant of the Seed went, or how gravely he had contravened the law in his attempts to preserve the life of his ship-mates, he still experienced his Lord’s mercy. As Jonah experienced at sea, and later found with Nineveh, neither the bounds of geography nor the magnitude of a person’s sin can limit the grace of God, toward those who repent and serve Him.
Participating in a personal Exodus
The deliberate precipitation of judgement did not always involve the sprinkling of blood, for the placing of blood, as in the Ram of Ordination, was equally effective, and, at times, there was no blood involved at all (e.g. with an unsolved murder, the jealousy offering and the brazen serpent). However, the sprinkling involved with the Red Heifer, the two birds and the sealing of the Mosaic covenant, became symptomatic of participation in an Edenic sin offering. At the personal level that sprinkling was like an individual Passover, an invitation for God to judge the heart, but at a moment calculated to ensure that mercy would prevail. In Namaan’s case, Elisha correctly deduced that the blood was not the essential ingredient in the process. At its heart lay an appeal for judgement, which assured cleansing for the clean at heart. This was both the basis of Psalm 51 and the key to the sprinkling element of John’s baptism. Thus, as John’s disciples went down into the water they participated in a personal Exodus experience. In their own Passover (i.e. Edenic sin offering), they were released from the bondage of their nation’s sin, in their own Red Sea crossing (i.e. cataclysmic flood), the Spirit brought them forth as new creations, and finally, through their own Day of Atonement, their Lord welcomed them into the covenant.
The case-law, established through Edenic sin offerings, set a precedent, upon which Messiah could then build, presenting a legally water-tight sacrifice, complete with its accursed act outside the camp (the crucifixion), its instruction to participate in that act (through the sacrament of communion), and its judgement that unleashes salvation through the miracle of grace. Just how Jesus put that into practice, and how his incarnation led up to that, are explored in the next, and final, chapter.
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1 The Lord’s personal portion of the peace offering is graphically portrayed in Ezekiel 39:17-20.
2 Moses’ comments on the priestly portions of peace offerings (Lev 10:16-18) lead naturally to his discovery that Aaron and his sons had not eaten the sin offering, but had burnt all of it like the leftover portion of a peace offering. Once he appreciated their motivation, Moses was happy to sanction this outcome as correct for a sin offering.
3 Something of this lies behind Paul’s comments on head covering. God has already given the woman a hairy covering for her head so she needs none other. However, where her husband is a believer and present, then she should defer to him.
4 The cleansing of a ‘leper’ took a similar approach to the priestly ordination (see Appendix N).
5 Numbers 19:17 describes the red heifer as a chatta’ah, the standard term for a sin offering.
6 Torrey, Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Nu 19:2.
7 The LXX refers to this animal as an ‘escape goat’, hence the procedure’s popular name.
8 This selfsame principle lies behind the efficacy of confession of sin.
9 A tenth of an ephah of grain without oil or frankincense (cf. Lev 5:11).
10 From time to time, a suggestion surfaces that Adam’s spouse sinned through sexual intercourse with the serpent. Perhaps here, rather than in Genesis, lies the origin of such ideas.
11 Because of the Passover, the firstborn of every womb in Israel belonged to God. Israel sacrificed the firstborn of any acceptable animals (Num 18:15-17). However, those of the useful-yet-unacceptable donkey, was either redeemed with a lamb or else its neck was broken (Exod 34:20).
12 Cedar was a generic description for various forms of internationally traded resinous wood, whose essential oils rendered them naturally resistant to rot and wood boring insects (see E. W. G. Masterman & Roland K. Harrison, “Cedar; Cedarwood,” ISBE, 1:626). Along with stone, cedar was therefore the material of choice for architectural details such as door and window frames. Poorer homes would have tended to use cedar, because of the cost of quarrying, transporting, and fashioning stone.
13 The association between scarlet thread and Passover salvation probably underlay the spy’s choice of a sign for Rahab, for as Israel’s armies passed over Jericho, the sight of a cord of scarlet thread hung from a window frame was to preserve the life of the family within (Josh 2:18). Similarly, on the Day of Atonement scarlet thread was used to mark the goat to release. The original intention was probably that when an Israeli huntsman passed by a herd of wild goats, they could spare the one with the scarlet thread.
14 The failure to mention fat removal in the case of the birds is not an issue, for the corresponding Noahic
sin offering of two birds also fails to mention it. It was presumably impracticable to worry about such small quantities of fat.
15 As the climate called for open windows, for obvious security reasons they would tend to be too small, or too high to permit easy entry.
16 The need to stay in the house made travel to a pre-established altar out of the question. Furthermore, amidst the deltaic brickfields of Goshen, uncut stones were presumably as rare as they usually are today in such places. Moreover, in most cases the cramped confines of workers dwellings would have made it impractical to set a fire big enough to consume the whole animal.
17 When circumstances dictated the two techniques were interchangeable (cf. Lev 10:16-19).
18 Thereafter, it appears the Passover could be eaten as a peace offering by boiling the meat (cf. Deut 16:7), but still allowing identification with the original offering.
19 The Law often abbreviates its instructions, so rabbis considered it valid to assume that points of practice mentioned for only some of a group of related procedures were nevertheless applied to all.
20 The burning of the hide and flesh outside the camp indicate that the blood was taken inside the Tabernacle. Furthermore, about this time Nadab and Abihu’s presumptuous attempt to enter the tent (Lev 10:1-3), presumably emulating what they had just seen, prompted Moses to clarify the procedure.