Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you bring an offering to the LORD…
1. At the root of the essential significance of the Mosaic sacrifices two ideas lie — viz., the Mosaic idea of presentation, and that of atonement.
(1) Upon the idea of presentation (or "giving to God," as it has been otherwise termed), the fundamental idea of all sacrifice, little need here be said. The Mosaic system of worship, like the patriarchal, was based upon the fact that man might approach God so long as his hands were not empty. As Adam worshipped in Eden by the surrender of time and strength in obedient performance of the Divine will, and possibly by the presentation of some of the fruits of his labour, as Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock, the acceptance of his gift opening a way to God which the patriarchs were not slow to follow; so, in the law given upon Sinai, the Jew was bidden to come near his Maker and Preserver, gifts in hand. Offerings of toil became means of grace; things eloquent of cost were channels for what was priceless; pledges of human sincerity in appeal were transmuted into pledges of Divine earnestness in reply; gifts from men to God brought gifts from God to men.
(2) Unlike the preceding idea, which belonged to every sacrifice of whatever name, in some measure or other, the idea of atonement belonged simply to sacrifices of blood. "To make an atonement," if we probe the Hebrew figure to the bottom, was to throw, so to speak, a veil over sin so dazzling that the veil and not the sin was visible, or to place side by side with sin something so attractive as to completely engross the eye. The figure which the New Testament uses when it speaks of the "new robe," the Old Testament uses when it speaks of "atonement." When an atonement was made under the Law, it was as though the Divine eye, which had been kindled at the sight of sin and foulness, was quieted by the garment thrown around it; or, to use a figure much too modern, yet equally appropriate, it was as if the sinner who had been exposed to the lightning of the Divine wrath had been suddenly wrapped round and insulated. The idea of atonement was the so covering the sinner that his sin was invisible or non-existent in the sense that it could no longer come between him and his Maker.
2. Carrying in mind these two conceptions of presentation and atonement which the language of the law associates with every animal sacrifice, the names and express statements concerning each variety of such sacrifice will enable us to add their distinguishing to their general characteristics.
(1) The burnt-offering was at once a sacrifice and an atonement; but it was the element of presentation which was brought by it into especial prominence. It was pre-eminently the sacrifice of worship.
(2) The peace-offering resembled the burnt-offering in the relative insignificance which it attached to the fact of atonement; it differed in laying stress upon quite another affinity which might exist between God and man. As the burnt-offering provided a means of individual worship, the peace-offering provided a worship that was social. The peace-offerings were the sacrifices of friendship, and were presented by those who either desired, or lived and rejoiced in, the sense of an established friendship between themselves and their Maker and Preserver.
(3) In the sin and trespass-offerings the fact of atonement is emphasised.
(a) The sin-offerings, as their name implies, were offerings for sin. They may be divided into three classes: those which were presented in processes of purification; those which had to do with the expiation of precise sins, whether committed in church or state, by priest or ruler or common Israelite; and those which had to do with the expiation of undefined sins.
(b) The trespass-offerings were presented in atonement for sins against God or against man which admitted of compensation. There was in every trespass-offering the idea of retribution.
(4) Of the several species of bloodless sacrifices, nothing further need be said as regards their essential significance than that they are gifts pure and simple, without any element of atonement, and that they have for their aim to carry this fundamental conception of worship by presentation into all the ramifying relations of life. By the aid of the meat-offerings and drink-offerings and their priestly analogues, the shew-bread and oil and incense, God might be approached by the produce of labour; by the ransoms and firstfruits, He might be approached in recognition of the gifts of child and beast and produce of the earth; even battle might be consecrated by the presentation of spoils. By gifts God could be approached, and the sources of these gifts being various, the Divine hallowing might be as various.
3. Without minutely investigating the essential significance of the various holy days of the Jewish calendar, it is sufficient to call to mind that, amongst other uses, these holy days were days for "holy convocation." They were opportunities specially arranged for a more regular and continuous attendance upon the means of grace provided by the Tabernacle and its services.
(A. Cave, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.