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Vayikra/Leviticus 8:19 And he slaughtered; and Moshe sprinkled the blood on the altar, round about.
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Three sacrifices were commanded for the setting-in of Aharon as Cohen Gadol, High Priest: the sin offering, the burnt offering and the ordination offering - a bull, a ram and a ram respectively. Our text is for the second, the ram for the burnt offering. All three cases report the same sequence of events and the same Hebrew word structure is employed: the sacrificial animal is brought forward; Aharon and his sons lay their hands in its head; the animal is slaughtered; and Moshe does something with the blood. In the first case, "Moshe took the blood" (Vayikra 8:15); here, the second, "Moshe sprinkled the blood" (v. 19); and in the third, "Moshe took some of its blood" (v. 23). Each time, for the third step, the narrator uses the verb - the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , to slaughter, kill or sacrifice1 with a vav-conversive to signal a past tense narrative event - with a disjunctive accent and no direct object, followed by the next action verb with Moshe as the subject. Let's consider that in a little more detail.
Aharon and his sons - Nadab, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar - are plural but the verb , to lean or lay hands on, here being used as a sign of identification, is the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , to lean against or lay one's hand upon something, especially a sacrificial animal (Davidson). It is singular to denote firstly that all five of the men did this action as one and, secondly, that Aharon - who is the one about to become High Priest - takes the lead. , as we noted above, has no explicit subject or object; it is simply an event: "and he slaughtered". In all cases, although the specific action verb differs - , and again - the verb is the Qal 3ms prefix form of their root and is immediately followed by the named subject of the verb, Moshe.
Who carries out the action of slaughtering each of the three animals? We know that Moshe brought each of the animals forward and, presumably, held it while Aharon and his sons laid their hands on its head. The action of hand-laying explicitly attracts the current 'subject' to Aharon and it isn't transferred back to Moshe until the action verb following the slaughter. We might have expected, as Moshe was acting as both the priest and the master of ceremonies at the ordination ritual, that it would be he who sacrificed each offering, that Aharon and his sons would identified with each animal in turn by laying their hands on its head, but then stepping and simply receiving the benefits of the sacrifice at the hands - so to speak - of the priest conducting the ritual. It appears, however, from the way the Hebrew text takes the trouble to lay out the words, that it is actually Aharon who performs the action of slaughtering all three animals, while Moshe catches the blood and then carries out the ritual action for each step in turn. This matches the instructions given for sin offerings a few chapters earlier: "He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the L-RD and lay his hand on the head of the bull and kill the bull before the L-RD" (Vayikra 4:4, ESV).
Although the priest will deal with the technical nitty-gritty of what bits go where and when, it is the responsibility of the one who sins to identify with the sacrificial animal - the innocent victim whose life is to be taken instead of his own - and then to slaughter the animal with his own hands. The priest's role is to mediate the sacrificial process: to make sure that everything is done in the right way and in the right sequence, that the blood ends up in the right place and the right body parts go on the altar; it is the priest who performs the rite of atonement on behalf of the one who has sinned. The priest sees the process many times, perhaps even many times each day and, by virtue of his role, is able to be just that little bit detached or clinical about the whole thing. The sinner is confronted by the need both to identify with the animal and then to slaughter it. The sinner comes face to face with the cost of sin. This day, Aharon meets the consequences of the Golden Calf and appreciates the need for him to be holy in everything he says and does as he servesHaShem.
In the days when Hezekiah was king over the southern kingdom of Judah, in the very first month of his reign he ordered that the doors of the temple should be opened and repaired, and that the temple be cleansed and purified and rededicated after the abuse and idolatry of previous generations. The Chronicler tells that "they brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats for a sin offering for the kingdom and for the sanctuary and for Judah" (2 Chronicles 29:21, ESV). After the priests had offered the burnt offerings and peace offerings, they brought forward the goats that were specifically for the sin offering. They "were brought to the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them, and the priests slaughtered them and made a sin offering with their blood on the altar, to make atonement for all Israel" (vv. 23-24, ESV). Here, the king and the assembly laid their hands on them as a formal identification, but the priests did the slaughtering. Why did this work? Because "the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel" (v. 24, ESV) - the priests acted as agents for the people who had all (corporately) sinned, although no one individual was personally responsible for all the sinful actions.
Chazal discuss who may lay hands on a sin offering and conclude that it may only be the owner himself - the person for whom atonement is sought (b. Menachot 92b-93b). Despite the testimony of the book of Job - "Job would ... rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of [his sons]. For Job said, 'It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed G-d in their hearts'" (Job 1:5, ESV) - who brought sin offerings on behalf of his children, they conclude that it may not be an agent or a relative - even a son may not lay hands on his father's sin offering - because the act of laying hands on the animal is the identification of the offering with the person for whom it is offered. The Sages go as far as to say that a sin offering that has not had hands laid on it for identification is not a valid sin offering; without the assignation, it is meaningless.
Now let's turn to the Apostolic Writings to see what significance this has for us as followers of Messiah Yeshua. Our guide in this matter is the apostle John who wrote the famous verse, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9, NASB). Here we can see that there are three steps involved in seeking forgiveness - atonement - for sin: confession, forgiveness and cleansing. The first is carried out by us, the sinners; the second and third steps are carried out by Yeshua: He forgives us because we have come to Him in faith and asked to be forgiven; He then cleanses us from that sin. We can see clear language and process connections between this and the animal sacrifices. Only G-d can forgive sin and only by means of blood. As John has previously said, "the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin" (v. 7, NASB), but this only happens if we confess our sin: "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (v. 10, NASB).
It seems that the first step - the confession of sin - is the critical step here. Without that, the process goes nowhere. So what is confession? In its simplest terms, confession means agreeing with G-d. His word clearly describes - in many places - what is sin; what actions, words or behaviour constitute sin before Him. The Torah lists such things as eating non-food, forbidden sexual activity, stealing, mistreating slaves and multiple others. Rav Sha'ul give several lists, such as "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these" (Galatians 5:19-21, ESV). Doing these things, Sha'ul asserts, precludes the person from inheriting the kingdom of G-d. Confession involves slaughtering our pride and self-autonomy to agree with G-d.
The act of confession is first agreeing that we have done these things - whether knowingly, unknowingly, deliberately, reluctantly or involuntarily makes no difference. Secondly confession means acknowledging that these actions are sin, without attempts at justification, re-labelling or redefinition. Thirdly, confession involves admitting that we cannot put these things right ourselves - that we are entirely dependent on G-d to remove sin and its consequences from our lives. Confession cannot be done for us by someone else; we have to do it ourselves. We may pray that G-d will forgive someone who has wronged us or committed some public sin, but nothing will happen until they themselves come to Yeshua, bow their knee before Him and confess their own sin. Only then can the rest of the process follow through.
We can see that confession is closely connected to identification - agreeing with G-d - and aligning ourselves with Yeshua, who was crucified to pay the price of our sin. As Rav Sha'ul writes: "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of G-d is eternal life in Messiah Yeshua our Lord" (Romans 6:23). He died in our place; He died so that we might not die; He died that we would not have to die. As we confront our sin and look it squarely in the face, Yeshua takes our confession and sprinkles His blood round us and the altar, bring us atonement and cleansing.
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 455.
Further Study: Vayikra 16:20-22; B'Midbar 8:9-11; Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 16:17-18
Application: Have you confessed your sin and found atonement in Yeshua? Have you slaughtered your pride and admitted that you need Him? He is our great High Priest and only He can offer atonement from sin.
Comment - 10:17 13Mar22 Janet Gray: I appreciate the help here to connect with the sacrifices, pride and personal responsibility for sin.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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