The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto me in the priest's office: Take one young bullock, and two rams without blemish,The Shedding of Blood
What a violent transition! We have been reading, up to this account, language of a very different kind. We have been reading of gold, and silver, and brass, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, rams'-skins and badgers'-skins, and acacia wood; we have been reading of oil for the light, spices for anointing oil, and for sweet incense; also of onyx, and all manner of precious stones, of rings of gold, of the cherub on the one end and the cherub on the other end of the mercy seat, and the cherubims stretching forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces looking one to another—and now, suddenly, violently, we are told to "take of the blood of the bullock." There has been no speech about blood hitherto. We have read of the garments of the priests, of the pomegranates, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem of the sacerdotal robe, and bells of gold between them round about; we have read of the blue lace, and of the mitre, and of the embroidered fine linen; but now we read of the bullock's blood—blood upon the horns of the altar.
"And thou shalt take of the blood that is upon the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it upon Aaron, and upon his garments, and upon his sons, and upon the garments of his sons with him: and he shall be hallowed, and his garments, and his sons, and his sons' garments with him (Exodus 29:21).
Sanctified by blood! Hallowed by blood of beasts! Have we fallen from some high level? Are we now upon lines lying far below the altitude upon which our imagination has folded its mighty wings? How has modern piety commented upon this blood-shedding? In some, such language as this:—"Is it to be believed that a God of love and pity would take delight in such offerings as are described in the ritual of the Jews? Is he a God taking delight in the shedding of blood, morning, noon, and night? Is that not a degrading view of God to think of him in any way participating in sacrifices so brutal and shocking? Ought we not to get rid of the word blood? Is it not a vulgar term? Does it not turn the mind in downward and debasing directions? Surely the mere reading of the ritual shocks the moral sense and distresses the imagination." So much for the spurious piety which has mistaken the point of view and utterly misinterpreted the whole thing. It is shocking to have to do with people who do not see the meanings of things, who continually make mistakes in the very act of priding themselves upon being correct. They want religion—but a certain kind and form of religion. They are shocked by the idea of idolatry, forgetting that they themselves are idolaters in worshipping only their own conceptions of what God requires, or might be supposed to require, at the hands of his creatures. The people who would get rid of the word blood would—though they do not see it—get rid of the word sin. They are not safe teachers; they are superficial commentators upon the dark mystery of human nature and the bright mystery of Divine love. My contention will be that without the word blood, as it is here found, the whole ritual would be a sham and a mockery, as without the sun the whole day would be dark and cold. But for the blood, the tabernacle would be an affair simply of filigree and upholstery,—a conception too pretty to be Divine, too mechanical to have any relation to the Infinite; this would be the frivolity of a god,—it is redeemed from frivolity by blood. Hitherto the people have been happily eager to give blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, and precious stones,—even a sardius, a topaz, a carbuncle, an emerald, a sapphire, a diamond, a ligure, an agate, an amethyst, a beryl, an onyx, a jasper;—"Take them all, with pleasure!" So you might, and miss the point Divine. All this initial contribution has a meaning far beyond. Having presented all these things—so beauteous, so rich, so valuable,—further claim is made upon the donors: now yourselves. That was the early and necessary method of spiritual education. The method is now reversed; but we must be just to history in not forcing open the pages that are closed; we must patiently and critically read the exact line to which we have come in the light of its own time. Mark the Divine wisdom: "Make me a tabernacle." "With pleasure," said Israel, in the wilderness. "Give me gold and precious stones, purple, and scarlet, and blue, and fine twined linen." "Yes," was the gracious reply—"certainly." Does God want such decoration?—such gilding, and painting, and colouring? Not he—except educationally, preparatorily. The meaner gift having been laid down, and laid down with some grace of generosity, the great claim is asserted in some such words as these:—"You have given the donation, now give the donor." Many of us are pleased with the tabernacle as a beautiful creation; so many of us are pleased with life as an opportunity of enjoyment, education, and progress, the reciprocation of courtesies, civilities which make life really worth living within a narrow sense. If we have advanced only so far, we have not begun to live. We do not know the meaning of life until we know the meaning of death. We have built a beautiful tabernacle; we have spared nothing of purple and blue, and fine twined linen, and all manner of precious stones, and laces, and beautiful things;—how is it that he does not come who alone can make the house livingly beautiful? Because the blood has not been shed. All this life-building is a trick, a gorgeous ceremonial, a subtle piece of self-adulation; God will come by way of death, sacrifice, agony. Yes,—death. This is the hard lesson; the preacher cannot teach it in words delicate enough, sufficiently pungent, graphic, palpitating with the blood of his own sacrifice. This is the reason that we have a tabernacle without a God: a beautifully-built creed without blood, or fire, or incense; this is the reason that the tabernacle is rotting. The Church has lost—in proportion as it has lost the right conception of blood—the one thing for which it was created. Christianity is no longer an agony; it is a controversy, a speculation, one philosophy amongst other philosophies; but its specialty—its Cross—is lost. Until we believe this we shall die a base death—not a death that has life coming after it to seal it as a sacrifice—a death without a resurrection. We are shocked by the idea of blood. Some ministers are afraid of the term; they speak of love, not of blood,—as if blood did not include love and more. love at its highest point—the point of agony, sacrifice. So the church is empty, the altar is abandoned, the tabernacle is a beautiful nonentity, a marvel in upholstery,—a marvel in atheism. Churches can never live without the blood. We all know how easy it is to debase that term, to vulgarise it and make it shocking by narrow and imperfect interpretations. It requires but a dull fancy to turn that term to vulgar uses so as to offend the nostril and distress certain imperfectly trained faculties of our nature.
But we must ascend to heroic heights, and take heroic measures, and stand where base definitions can never come, and speak of blood shed before the foundation of the world—the platform of vulgarity, the world that has made vulgarity possible. This blood was shed before the world was made,—a Divine refinement, an infinite tabernacle in an infinite eternity. By whom are we to be led? by the people who are easily shocked? by people of perverted and enfeebled taste and faculty? by persons who have no broad conceptions—who are afraid that words may be mistaken?—or by another quality of soul? The one would lead us in the direction of small moralities, little marvels in behaviour, small successes in excellent behaviour which might be measured by a school prize. The other will lead us into prayer equal to violence that takes heaven's gate by storm, and into heroism that counts all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. The Church has outlived itself because it has lost the profound conception of God in its creation and purpose. Only a return to God's idea can mean a true revival of piety. A revival is not an excitement of emotion, a momentary influence operating upon our sentimental nature; a great revival—profound as truth, lofty as Divine perfectness, happy as the bliss of heaven,—can only come out of grand realisations of Divine ideas,—knowledge that does not sparkle and crackle in dying flame, but glows in eternal ardour. We can only live as we live in God.
You say that you object to the term blood. What do you mean by that term? There is your mistake. You see only the red stream, the panting, quaking beast that dies under its throat-wound. No wonder you are shocked. You are looking in the wrong direction,—rather you are not truly looking at all. The ritual must be taken in its symbolic sense. What then does the shedding of blood signify?—death? No, there is no death in shedding of blood, as understood in its highest interpretation in connection with this old ritual. What then did the shedding of blood signify? It signified the giving of life;—the very opposite thought to that which ruled your thinking and debased your imagination. This is a symbolic act. The blood is taken and put upon the horns of the altar, and upon the garments of the priest, and upon the vessels of the sanctuary, and it is a blood of sprinkling by which the whole multitude is at least representatively sprinkled, and the meaning is we pour out our life in one libation of love; it is thine, thou Giver of all existence. If we have been looking down at some poor beast dying, no wonder our Christian thinking has been driven away into dark corners and unworthy refuges. We should have been looking in the other direction,—the outflowing blood and outflowing life; the man standing over the red stream saying, "Lord, this is what I would daily do; give back the life to the Lifegiver; have no life of my own, except as it is re-given to me by the God to whom I dedicate it."
Looked at physically, the spectacle is revolting; looked at symbolically, it is full of poetry, theology, beneficence. It is the one thing we needed to express a feeling for which there was no adequate articulation. We have given the blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen; we have not spared the precious cut stones, and the gold, and silver, and brass; but still we felt an aching as of a pain for which no words could be found. We were not satisfied after we had built the tabernacle, even according to the lines of the Divine specification; we walked around it, we ventured here and there to touch it with almost worshipping fingers; but still something was wanting; we knew not what it was,—it required the refinement of God to introduce the term blood into such eloquence and beauty so ineffable; but, having been introduced, our souls felt the completeness of the harmony; the measure was massive, solid, full, and we are resting in God's arrangement. Have we not even now some experience of that kind? We feel that we have done much, and yet there is a twitch at the heart, which being interpreted means: You have not done the one thing which gives value and meaning to all the other. What then is wanted?—blood. The blood is the life—not blood-letting in some brutal sense, but life-shedding, life-giving, life-worshipping,—every pulse bearing the legend—"I am not my own; I am bought with a price."
But was there not a burning, as well as a shedding of blood? There was. What does the burning symbolise? Destruction of the flesh. Fire is the true and never-failing disinfectant. Chemists have devised many disinfectants of more or less questionable efficacy and utility, but fire never fails. What does that smoking heap mean? It means that all about me that is fleshly, impure, earthly, unworthy is being consumed. We want such sanitary arrangements. This is the Divine sanitation,—not an offering of life and allowing the dead carcase to rot and scatter pestilence in the air; but a blood-oblation: the life given and the mean part handed over to fire to be turned into aspiration—the only form in which the flesh can pray.
In interpreting these ancient pages, events must never be judged out of their own time. We cannot understand the early books unless we exclude from our imagination every other book we have read. A great organist has said that, in coming to an instrument he has never tried, his first object is to forget every organ he has previously played upon; the new instrument must stand upon its own merits and neither be elevated nor depressed by memories connected with other instruments. It is even so we must read the early books of the Bible. When we read Genesis we must not know that Exodus was ever written; when we read Exodus we must have no idea that it is followed by Leviticus. Only in this way can we be just to the Divine method of revelation and to God's way of educating the human family. We shall thus be for the moment shocked by this word blood. It comes in amidst such a blaze of jewellery and such a consciousness of wealth in all directions which import civilisation, culture, luxury, even to redundance.
Whilst we have to read an event in the light of its own time, we ought not to suppose that any event is final. The caution must be exercised at the one end as certainly as at the other. We are not, therefore, yet prepared for final judgments because we have not the complete evidence before us. We must read on, and on, patiently, carefully, with all the restfulness of a judicial criticism; and we must add to that the singular power which is called imagination,—not as some fancy it: a base faculty that fancies things that have no existence, but the higher faculty that multiplies, that brings things into aggregation, that catches the projections of shadow and suggestive meaning amounting to an unwritten Apocalypse of viols and trumpets, and lightnings and thunderings, and beasts joining and swelling the hallelujahs of the heavens.
To what then does this "blood" point? It points, like John the Baptist, to One who is walking, and it says, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world." He could not have been slain openly one day sooner. It is in vain for us to ask why Jesus Christ did not come in Exodus or Leviticus. We must leave some room for God in his own universe. We must rest in the faith that there is an appointed time to man, to God, to the kingdom Divine, to the truth infinite, for revelation, incarnation, operation. The world needed all its school days to prepare for this high learning. Now the blood of no bullock is to be shed, or goat, or lamb; no ritual is to be performed. There is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. "Ye are come... to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." It is now our blood that has to be poured out; in other words, our life that has to be shed in daily libation. The blood of Atonement has been shed by the Son of God. He is the Propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world,—a great mystery because a great love; a great agony because of great sin; a great death—the greatest of deaths,—yea, the death of the Son of God. In order that we might never penally die, we are to die in Christ and to rise in Christ. If I cannot understand the Atonement, I cannot understand the apostacy; if I do not understand God, it is because I do not understand myself. If I could understand the sin, I could understand the mercy. It is not for me yet to understand: my attitude is this—none happier can I have till the vail drops and the clouds depart—"Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief."
The Priest and His Consecration
We now study the consecration of the priest himself. Strange if God has constructed a tabernacle, given a specification for an ark, detailed the shape and colour of the priestly robes, and omitted to say anything about the priest himself. Let us see how the case stands both historically and spiritually.
We have already seen that the priest did not officially appoint himself; in no sense did he rush into the priest's office; nay, more, at the very time of his appointment to the sacerdotal function he was absolutely unaware that the dignity was about to be conferred upon him. This we saw in our comment upon the twenty-eighth chapter and the first verse: "And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office." His sons were also appointed to the same high dignity. There is nothing in this appointment that should startle students of history. It is an appointment which is taking place every day in every circle and department of progressive human life. God appoints all men to their places. The conferring of honour is an expression of the Divine sovereignty. We do not know for what purpose we have come into the world until that purpose is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. That we have come for some purpose is a thought which should make us sober, watchful, expectant; that should touch our every thought with the solemnity and urgency of prayer. The uppermost question should be, "Lord, what was I made for? What is the fire which burns upon the altar of my life?" You, it may be, have been called to be great intercessors, having power Divinely given to hold the Almighty in long converse about human life, human sin, and human destiny, and may have the wondrous faculty which is best expressed to the dulness of our minds by the act of turning back the Divine purpose, when it is one of destruction, and begetting in the Divine mind a purpose of clemency and mercy. These things are of course, in the very necessity of the Deity; but our relation to them is sometimes best expressed by an accommodation of language which permits the Almighty to be represented as if he had been overthrown by human plea, and turned to more compassionate moods by human intercession. Others have been consecrated poets, painters, preachers, tradesmen; but every man is consecrated in the Divine purpose. We can have nothing common or unclean; nothing secular; nothing that is disregarded by the Almighty. If he thought it worth while to make us, he suffers no loss of dignity by appointing us, directing us, taking care of the life which he filled with the pulses of eternity. How we fall into recklessness, and fear, and many a snare by the evil thought that the Almighty had no purpose in making us, has never spoken of us in the radiant cloud which he has gathered around him like the walls of a sanctuary, but has left us poor, blind, homeless orphans without centre, outside the infinite gravitation which binds the universe to his heart You mock God by such wildness of conception. He gathereth the lambs in his bosom. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. There are vessels of honour and vessels of inferiority, but the great house is our Father's, and every one of us has a place in it and an appointment to fulfil, and blessed is he who with loving obedience and consent falls into the rhythm of the Divine movement, singing morning, noon, and night, "Not my will, but thine be done." Then is life a revolution round the eternal throne, and every life an opportunity for reflecting the Divine lustre upon lives that may be below it. There is a heredity of a spiritual kind, a succession priestly, artistic, philanthropic, evangelistic. Men are set in bands, classes, groups,—why not say they are fashioned into constellations?—every great grouping of stellar light and beauty having its appointed place, and though all the constellations fly so fast their wings never overlap, and there is no tumult in the infinite hurrying. We are called to this place because to this faith. To realise it is to be calm to seize that doctrine is to have bread to eat at all seasons, and a vision of heaven even when the darkness of the night is sevenfold.
A very solemn view of life is presented by this incident. Aaron was unaware what was passing in the cloud. Our life is being secretly planned for us. Up in the cloud the Lord is talking about his children on the earth. He is naming them by name, appointing coats and garments, ephods, crowns, mitres, and functions of usefulness and dignity for them. We cannot hear the converse, but we are the subjects of the marvellous talk. What is to become of the old man, and the little child, and the traveller whose journey will be done tomorrow, and the warrior who lifts his great sword for the last stroke in the Master's name? We are being spoken of. Said One: "I go to prepare a place for you." God would seem to have but one thought: love to man, redemption of the creature who bears his likeness. Wait until you get the message from the mount. We may begin to feel, before we hear the actual words, that we are about to be called to some great destiny,—there are premonitions. Some of us have experienced almost miracles of prescience; we have felt the inspiration before it has fully seized us. Blessed are those servants who rise morning by morning expecting the day's message for the day's own work. Let your attitude be one of expectancy, and let the expectancy be like a prayer that pierces without violating the sacred cloud.
Notice, in the next place, the most important thought that has yet come before us. The consecration of the priest is identified with what we may imperfectly describe as the creation of sin. Mark, not the commission of sin—with that we have been but too familiar;—but its Divine creation. That is a startling term, but my meaning of it is justified by the Bible itself. A time had come in human history when actions had to be spiritually defined, classified, and set in a new relation towards the personality and government of God. This will throw light upon many a mystery in the book of Genesis. In Genesis there was no sin as we now understand that pregnant term. That is a key to the Divine administration in the book of Genesis. Murder in the days of Cain and murder after the giving of the law were two different things. If we omit to use that all-opening key we shall feel ourselves in the book of Genesis in the midst of confusion which defies settlement into order. You blame Jacob for coveting the birthright of Esau, forgetting that there was no covetousness when Jacob did so. Covetousness, in the now legal sense of the term, was an after-creation. We must not take back with us sentiment which has been established and cultivated by the law into the book of Genesis, and judge antediluvian and patriarchal times by a standard of which they knew nothing. To get a right seizure of the genius of the book of Genesis, you must in mind detach that book from all the other books, and read only according to the immediate light of the particular time. It was bad for Cain to commit murder—it would be unpardonable for us to commit it. God did not treat the murderer Cain as he would treat a murderer of the present day. What was punished in those ancient times was the broad and vulgar crime about whose horribleness there could be no doubt, and the punishment was as broad as the crime. The two must be studied in their relation and harmony. How did God punish antediluvian and patriarchal crime? By floods of water, by tempests of fire. Wondrous is the adjustment of the answer to the aggravation! Deceit, covetousness, self-seeking, meanness, lying, and many other vices, had not in the book of Genesis been defined, and consequently were looked upon in many cases as necessary weapons of defence. The word kill would, in its highest sense, have to be explained to the persons to whom it was addressed. The word lying or falsehood would have to be expatiated upon and made clear, by expository and illustrative remark, to the individuals who first heard the word. They lied that they might win; they employed deceit as they would employ a weapon of defence, or an instrument of assault,—a shield, or a spear. There is what may be called a chronological morality in the sense which is now present to our minds: hence the wondrous speech of Christ—"It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you,"—that is the sum total of my meaning. After this interview upon the mountain, all human actions received a new definition. The spiritual element was introduced. Murder, incest, violence, rudeness of behaviour—all these are left behind among the vulgarities of the age to which they first belonged. But now we begin to come into the heart, into the innermost places of the thought,—yea, before the thought has shaped itself into expressibleness, criticism Divine is brought to bear upon it, and so brought that the trembling, fearing heart exclaims, "Thy word is exceeding powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow." This is the meaning of development. That great process can never be got rid of; it is the central line in revelation as it is in nature. The apostolic argument goes wholly in this direction. Look at Romans 4:15 :—"Where no law is, there is no transgression." Where was the law in many a case which has startled and confounded us in the book of Genesis? There was no law as that term is now understood. With this view accords the testimony of 1John 3:4 :—"Sin is the transgression of the law." But the Apostle Paul has just said, "Where no law is, there is no transgression." See how this is confirmed by Romans 3:20 :—"By the law is the knowledge of sin." The most distinctively illustrative statement upon the matter is made by the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:7—this expresses the whole thought:—"I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." So then the law created sin in its legal and spiritual sense. Until the law is revealed to a man he does not know precisely what he is doing in the judgment of God. He must learn what life is; he must have revelations addressed to him upon morality, even though he be prepared to resent the notion of revelation upon transcendental spiritual realities.
Mark how the history accumulates, how grandly it masses itself into unity and significance. The moment when sin was enlarged and defined and made matter of law, a new agency was needed. Up to this time there has been no priest, as that term is historically understood. There was a marvellous Figure, half-God, half-man, a Symbol rather than a person, that seemed to point to mysteries yet to be revealed—himself the greatest of mysteries, for that Melchisedec had no beginning and no end, neither father nor mother, neither beginning of days nor end of life. But now we come into concrete instances, and out of our own ranks is a man selected who was to be separate from us legally and functionally for ever. Is this poetry to be lost upon us? Is this sublime development to draw up out of our view without leaving its appropriate impression, infinite in meaning and in solemnity? These are the lines which prove the inspiration of the Scriptures. A new definition of life, action or conduct, is made up in the mount, and let us suppose there is no action upon the earth to correspond with it, not "What an oversight!" but "What an offence!" would then be our exclamation. But as God becomes narrower in his judgments, more penetrating, more critical, more discriminating, he adapts himself to the new morality, the more spiritual conception and criticism of conduct. Grace and Law were both in the mount,—even Moses and the Lamb were both there! Then came the mystery of sacrifice,—blood, expiation, atonement, daily sacrifice, continual shedding of blood, piercing criticism into every action of the human life,—a great tumult, an infinite mystery charged with intolerable pain.
Before the law was made known to the people the atonement was provided for sin. Behold, then, the goodness of God! Whilst the people were at the base of the mountain, not knowing what was being done, an atonement was being provided for the sin which would follow upon a revelation of the more critical and spiritual law. Is there any line in all the holy testimony which enlarges this thought and glorifies it? Verily there is: "The Lamb was slain from before the foundation of the world." The Atonement was not an after-thought, a mere expedient devised in reply to a set of circumstances which the Divine omniscience had not foreseen. Before the sin was committed, the Cross was erected; before the sinner had defied his Maker, his Maker had become the sinner's Saviour. Who can outrun the love of God? "Where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound." Sin is not an accident—something that has come into the universe without being expected. It was foreseen from the beginning; Grace was ahead of it, and God will overthrow it Instead of being surprised into despair by our sin, let us be surprised into praise by God's prevenient love.
In the Christian dispensation both the law and the priesthood are abolished. Sinai is but a hill left for the tourist, as the brazen serpent is but Nehushtan,—a piece of brass intended to be used for common purposes, and the mantle of Elijah is now but a perished rag. We have come to another point in the Divine development of events; now we have new heavens and a new earth. "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid." "We are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." That is the Christian position. "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." We, too, have a Divinely-appointed Priest—"No man taketh this honour unto himself but he that was called of God, as was Aaron; so also Christ glorified not himself to be made an highpriest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee." There is one Mediator between God and man. The Aaronic thought is completed in the Christly intercession. We now come not to man, but to God through the appointed way. Jesus Christ is Priest, Jesus Christ is Advocate. "This Man, because he continueth for ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood." From the beginning to the end the line is one—heightening, broadening, glorifying, until it is lost in the ineffable lustre of the upper kingdoms.
And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"The tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory."—Exodus 29:43.
Not even by the beauty which God himself had designed; not by the curious carving and cunning work of the artists whose busy fingers had made the tabernacle; not by the presence of Moses and Aaron; not by the burning of incense, or the offering of beasts, or the lighting of lamps; not by learning, pomp, splendour; not by rich and ingenious ceremonialism; only by the direct presence and ministry of the Divine Being.—If we do not see the manifestation of God in the tabernacle, we see nothing that is worth looking at in the tabernacle.—We should insist upon hearing the Word of God, and knowing the meaning of that Word, as little human as possible, whether in speech, or in music, or in spectacle;—all these we certainly need, but we need them only as mediums or vehicles; they are nothing in themselves, except as they gather up and express the immediate and living and saving presence of God.