by Terry Harman
Note to the reader. This is a narrative created by the writer meant to portray how a father in the first century B.C.E. might have approached the Temple with his offering. It is not intended to be an exact or detailed examination of the sacrificial system of Judaism during that time period.
This narrative was originally written for publication Hal Lindsey's publications. (hallindseyoracle.com August 15, 2006). At the end of one of my speaking engagements, Jack Kinsella, one of Lindsey's staff writers, approached by one of his staff and encouraged to put what I taught that night into a story format. For this blog I've added a few pictures to illustrate the story. I welcome any comments that might help improve the story line.
We see them all the time. They are everywhere. They are on work shirts at the muffler shop. They can be found on labels. We put them on business cards. Military uniforms have them sewn above the pocket. Name tags are everywhere. Men, we have to admit it. We all wore them on our wrist or we gave them to a pretty girl to wear on her wrist. Back in the 1970’s a popular form of jewelry was the I.D. bracelet. Generally, the bracelet was gold or silver plated and had our given name engraved on the surface. Why did we give the bracelet to another person? Well, it meant we were “going steady” and there was an expectation that the wearer would not date anyone else as long as she or he was “going steady.” All who saw the I.D. knew who that person “belonged to.” It seems silly now that we are older but bracelet signaled to others that “this person was taken.”
Placing our name on possessions did not start in the 1970’s. Neither did the use of an I.D. tag originate with the military or your local gas station. The practice of naming, labeling or identification has been around since the days of the Garden of Eden when Adam identified every living creature with a different name. It is possible that the Hebrews placed some form of identification on the animal sacrifices they would offer to God.
Let us look back three thousand five hundred years. At that time, the Hebrews had already been slaves for nearly 400 years at the hands of the Pharaoh of Egypt. While enduring bitter oppression the people cried out to the Lord for deliverance, but as generation after generation passed, they lost heart. In addition, their cultural norms as well as their native language and even religious beliefs were entangling with those of their taskmasters. In time, some fell into the ultimate error of idol worship.
In answer to the people’s prayers, God spoke to Moses telling him to demand that Pharaoh let his people go free, but with each admonition Pharaoh resisted. With each resistance the Lord sent a plague upon the land to persuade Pharaoh to release the Hebrews, but Pharaoh’s heart grew harder. The last plague was the most terrible of all. God decreed that unless Pharaoh released the Hebrew people the firstborn child of every family in the land would die. A death angel was to pass through at midnight and claim their lives. God, however, provided an exception. Any Hebrew family who would slay a lamb and apply its blood to the door post of their home would deter the angel of death. In other words, the blood of the Passover lamb signaled that death would pass over the obedient family.
The dreadful night came, and many innocent sons died, along with Pharaoh’s own son. With his personal tragedy Pharaoh quickly agreed to let the Hebrews go. In fact, he told them to take from the riches of Egypt everything they needed. They left, taking gold, silver, copper, fine linens of various colors, as well as rams, goats and other livestock.
Pharaoh’s repentance was short-lived, however. His grief turned to rage and he ordered his army to pursue the Hebrews and destroy them. Pharaoh’s army approached the Hebrews on the banks of the Red Sea. They were trapped! The army was nearly upon them! Then God’s mighty hand opened the sea. The Hebrew children crossed on dry ground. Pharaoh’s army attempted to follow, only to have God close the waters over them.
After crossing the Red Sea, they journeyed to the foot of Mt. Sinai. There, the people were given hope for a bright future and a promise of land. While the people camped at the foot of Sinai, Moses climbed to the mountain’s summit. There, God came to him giving him Ten Commandments his people were to follow, as well as the plan for building a sanctuary. In this sacred dwelling the hearts of the people would again be united to the great heart of their God.
In addition to prescribing the pattern of the Tabernacle and later the Temple, God also instructed the people to set aside prescribed feasts and sacrifices to remember the seasons and the blessings of God. It is has been suggested that a few weeks before the appointed time of offering at the Tabernacle the head of the household or the “man with the blessing”
would look over the family’s flock inspecting all the lambs. He might cull out a few that were of exceptional quality. These lambs would be without defect and in perfect health. Over the next few days he would inspect them daily to make sure he would have at least one that would be presentable for a sacrifice.
At one point a single lamb would be selected to present to the Lord. This little lamb would be kept close to the family. As children are prone to do when an animal is present they might feed it goodies, wash it and comb it to keep all the tangles free. Children would grow fond of the lamb and might even name it like a pet. Attachments would grow but Mom and Dad knew that this lamb would soon loose its life because the family needed atonement for sin.
It appears that by the first century the Second Temple, commonly known as Herod’s Temple, had been corrupted by religious leaders and crafty business types by offering pilgrims a short cut in keeping the prescribed demands for the offerings associated with the various feasts. Money changers and shady merchants set up shop near the temple to offer desperate pilgrims less than acceptable sacrifices. For a fee of course! Pilgrims who had travelled from distant lands were easy prey for the festival hawkers! The New Testament records this practice provoked Jesus to overturn tables and set the animal offerings free.
And the Jews' Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise. John 2:13-16 KJV
If the Elder of the family took any family members with him to the tabernacle that day he would be the one who would present the animal for sacrifice. All others would stand outside the seven and one half foot high linen gate. His wife, sons and daughters would only be able to hear some of the goings on beyond the linen barrier. During this time period they would be required to wait patiently outside the gate. We can imagine the children saying goodbye to “fluffy” as he made his way to the Altar of Burnt Sacrifice.
On the prescribed day the man with the blessing would take the family’s lamb might have hung a small tag around its neck. Inscribed upon the copper tag would have been the name of the family. Since there would be many lambs sacrificed that day the I.D. tag would signify whose lamb was offering up its innocent life blood for sin.
Once the head of the household approached the linen gate or entrance to the tabernacle he would meet the priest. The priest would ask the man what type of offering was being made. The priest would inspect the animal to verify that it was appropriate to be offered upon the altar.
Then the priest would ask the most important question. “Is this your lamb? Does this lamb belong to your family?” The offerer would affirm the lamb belonged to the family – it was personally theirs. Next the priest would give the head of the family permission to enter the outer court where the place of sacrifice stood – the brazen altar.
Inside the court yard he would meet another priest who would lead him to the north side of the brazen altar. Here the priest would instruct the man to tie the lead rope to the horns of the altar – for sacrifices generally do not remain willingly! Once again lamb would be inspected for blemishes and defects. This was important because this innocent victim was going to represent the family’s sacrifice before God.
The head of the family would then lay his hands upon the head of the sacrifice and make confession for sins committed. The ritual was called the “laying on of hands” or literally “to lean heavily.” An example of the practice of leaning on the head of the animal is seen in Leviticus.
And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Leviticus 1:4 JPS 1917
The penitent might silently confess to God that they had sinned and this innocent animal would take their place and suffer for their sins. Silently the man with the blessing would be instructed by the priest in the prescribed manner for taking the life of the lamb. As the head of the family the priest would show you how to take your thumb and finger and gently press upon the jugular veins of the little lamb until it finally became light-headed due to the lack of oxygen. At that point you, not the priest, would nip the two veins with the sacrificial knife. The priest did not kill the animal, you did. Because you were responsible for the death of this innocent lamb. Your sins caused the animal to die.
Slowly he would release the pressure from the veins while holding the head of the lamb. The life blood of the sacrifice would wash over the penitent’s hand. The priest would catch the blood in a basin as it flowed over the backhand of the offerer. Once the blood was drained from the sacrifice you were free to return home with with the name tag that once hung around the neck of your sacrifice.
Can you imagine how The Father would feel explaining to his children why the lamb lost its life and why it would not be returning home with them?
The Lord never needed or intended for animals to become substitutionary sacrifices. Maimonides indicates the Lord made this accommodation to help the people to learn the wages of sin brought a heavy price. The English word sacrifice is a misleading translation of the Hebrew word Korban. It is misleading in the sense that the modern understanding of “sacrifice” brings up many negative connotations of losing something or giving up something. But the biblical word korban is better translated as offering because the root word means “to draw close to.” The purpose of all of the Levitical offerings was a tangible way for the offeror to express his or her contrition and desire to draw closer to God through the act of repentance. Bringing an animal without a contrite heart meant nothing. A sincere heart was required!
Shalom, Terry "The Tabernacle Man"