Between what was Egyptian and what was Israelitish, there was, as we have seen, similarity. Let us now ask, first in respect to the religious institutions and in particular the sacrificial system of both people, how this similarity is to be explained. According to the prevalent view, the explanation is that the Israelitish institution of the sacrifice together with the rites and ceremonies attending it, was borrowed by Moses either wholly or in part from the religious worship of the Egyptians. To correctly appraise this explanation, it must be realized that it can be given several meanings. Let us attend to two of these. (1) Moses borrowed the Israelitish institution of the sacrifice together with the religious truths which it set forth from the Egyptian worship. He thus did not receive it from God by revelation. (2) The sacrifices, Israel’s religious symbols (the sacrifices were symbols, signs), were already in existence in Egypt at the time of the Exodus. Appropriating these symbols, (the sacrifices) for His own use, God commissioned Moses to bring them into being in Israel as signs and symbols, not, to be sure, of pagan religious ideas, but of the truths of the gospel.
To the explanation under consideration with the construction under 1 upon it, no believing student of God’s word can possibly be addicted. To maintain that Moses derived his religious symbols together with the religious ideas of which they were the expression not from God but from Egypt, is to deny that Israel’s religion is of divine origin and that the Scriptures which constitutes the Pentateuch is God’s Word, given by divine revelation. The explanation with the construction under 2 upon it, has been held by some Christian writers including Fairbairn, who set forth his view in the following language, “(For) the handwriting of ordinances brought in by Moses was predominantly of a symbolical nature. But a symbol is a kind of language, and can no more than ordinary speech be framed arbitrarily; it must grow up and form itself out of the elements which are furnished by the field of nature and art, and be gathered from it by daily observation and experience. Now it so happened in the providence of God, that the children of Israel were brought into contact with the religious rites and usages of a people deeply imbued, no doubt, with a spirit of depravity and superstition, but abounding, at the same time, with symbolical arts and ordinances. And it was in the nature of things impossible that another religion abounding with the same could be framed, without adopting to a large extent the signs with which, from the accident of their position, they had become familiar. The religion introduced might differ—in point of fact, it did differ—from that already established, as far as light from darkness, in respect to the spirit they respectively breathed and the great ends they aimed at. But being alike symbolical, the one must avail itself of the signs which the other had already seized upon as fitted to express to the eye particular ideas. This had become, so to speak, the current language, which might to some extent be modified and improved, but could not be arbitrarily set aside.” In a word, the Israelitish and the Egyptian religions differed as far as light from darkness. But, being alike symbolical, the one (Israelitish) availed itself of the signs which the other had already seized upon. However, just because the two differed as light and darkness, it must be that, according to the view under consideration, what was appropriated is not the religious ideas of which these signs were the signification, but merely these signs as such. What to think of this view? Aside from the question of its correctness, it is no explanation of the resemblance which the Jewish worship bore to that of Egypt. As a solution of this phenomenon, it says too much. For the appropriation of the religious symbols of Egyptian pagan worship would have rendered this worship, as to its form, not merely similar to but identical with that of Israel. And this it was not. Neither, of course, was this the contention of Fairbairn. For he went on to say, “Yet. . . . it is rather in accordance with just and rational expectation, if, since the Egyptians were in various respects so peculiar a people, and the Israelites in general, and Moses in particular, had been brought into such close and intimate connection with their entire system, the symbols of the Jewish worship should in some points bear a resemblance to those of Egypt, which cannot be traced in those of any other nation of heathen antiquity.”
Fairbairn attempted to render plausible and to justify his view by means of the following reasoning, “(For) the handwriting of ordinances brought in by Moses was predominantly of a symbolical nature. But a symbol is a kind of language, and can no more than ordinary speech be framed arbitrarily; it must grow up and form itself out of the elements which are furnished by the field of nature or art, and be gathered from it by daily observation and experience. The language which we use as the common vehicle of our thoughts, and which form the medium of our most hallowed intercourse with heaven, is constructed from the world of sin and sorrow around us, and, if viewed as to its origin, savors of things common and unclean. But in its use simply as a vehicle of thought or a medium of intercourse, it is not the less fitted to utter the sentiments of our heart, and convey even our loftiest aspirations to heaven. Why should it be thought to have been otherwise with the language of symbol? This too must have its foundation to a great extent in nature and custom, in observation and experience; for, as it is addressed to the eye, it must be intelligible, employ the signs which, by previous use, the eye is able to read and understand.. How should I imagine that white, as a symbol, represents purity, or crimson, guilt, unless something in my past history or observation had taught me to regard the one as a fit emblem of the other ? It would not in the least mar the natural import of the symbol, or destroy its aptitude to express, even on the most solemn occasions, the idea with which it has become associated in my mind if I should have learned its meaning amid employments not properly sacred, or the practices of a forbidden superstition. No matter how acquired, the bond of connection exists in my mind between the external symbol and the spiritual idea; and to reject its religious use because I may have seen it abused to purposes of superstition, would not be more reasonable than to have proscribed (outlawed) every epithet in the language of Greece or Rome, which had been anyhow connected with the worship and service of idolatry.” So far the writer.
Now this reasoning, however valid it at first glance may appear, is not wholly sound. Firstly, it fails to take into account that there are differing kinds of symbols; and, secondly, it fails to mark the difference between language, the spoken word, and symbol and in particular the symbolic rites and ceremonies of religion. It, this reasoning, proceeds on the wrong foundation that the two are identical, which, certainly, is not the case.
There are differing kinds of symbols. There are the symbols in nature, brought into being directly by God when He created the earth and its fullness. The writer of the above lines mentions two such symbols, to wit, white the representative of purity, and crimson, of guilt. Now such symbols, and their number is large, are the common property of all peoples, and are thus likely to appear in the worship of every religion. They cannot be said therefore to have been borrowed by one people from another. There is a certain knowledge of God and of right and wrong, revealed in the heart of every man through the things made. If so, there is and must be a number of sensible things in nature associated in the mind of every man with definite religious and moral concepts. Symbols they are that form a current language, understood by all men.
Secondly there are the symbols by which the church of the Old Dispensation came by special revelation. These are the institutions, the rites and ceremonies imposed by and described in, Israel’s law. All these symbols are out of God and were brought into actual existence by Him through His servants.
There is still a third kind of symbol, to wit, the rites of the pagan worship. These rites, forming, as they do, a system of symbols expressive of pagan religious ideas, are not out of God but out of man. Now the issue upon which our present discussion revolves is precisely this: Is that symbolical-typical apparatus, imposed by Moses to be regarded as a reproduction of that Egyptian system of religious symbols. This is the view that the writer whom we just quoted strove to render plausible by the above-cited reasoning. But, as was said, the reasoning is weighed down by two objections. It fails to distinguish between the kinds of symbols and thus circumvents the real issue specified above and it proceeds on the wrong foundation that, as a vehicle of thought, language, the spoken word, is identical to the language of symbol. Now this it is not. As to their primary meanings, spoken words are to a very large extent, the significations of conceptions and ideas to which correspond things and actions in the realm of nature that as such are not evil. The spoken word blood, which is the sign of an idea to which corresponds the fluid that flows through the veins of man and beast, is by itself, not evil as to its meaning, It is one of the words therefore that could enter into the construction of that language through the medium of which God reveals unto ITis people the truth about Christ.
As to the symbolic rites and ceremonies of a pagan worship, each, without exception, is the signification of a false religious idea. How then can the language of these symbols serve as a vehicle of truth? It cannot. But could not these symbols by themselves, as freed from their evil associations, be placed in the service of truth? They could not as they were constructed to give expression to the lie. Their very structure therefore rendered them useless as a medium of intercourse between God and His people. So, too, was it the structure of Israel’s symbolic institution that rendered them useful as such a medium. Great therefore is the significance that the Lord attaches to the structure of these institutions. “Look that thou,” said He to Moses, “make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount” (Ex. 25:40). And in one of Moses’ farewell addresses occurs this passage, “Take heed that thou inquire not after their gods (viz., of the nations of Canaan), saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord which He hateth have they done unto their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” (Deut. 12:30-32).
It is to be noticed that this passage turns on the how of pagan worship. Now after the manner of this worship, thus after the structure of its ceremonies, the people of Israel shall not inquire. And the reason? These rites, being, as they were, the expression of the vile intents of man’s wicked heart, were an abomination to the Lord, Hence, the children of Israel are to keep themselves strictly to the mode of worship of which Moses was instrumentally the author. “Whatsoever thing I command you, observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto nor diminish it.”
Thus in the language of Witsius (quoted by Fairbairn), “When the Lord was going to found a new commonwealth, as it was really new, he wished it also to appear such to the Israelites. Hence its form or appearance, not as fabricated of Canaanite or Egyptian superstitions, but as let down from heaven, was first shown to Moses on the sacred mount, that everything in Israel might be ordered and settled after that pattern.”
Fairbairn quoted the above lines with satisfaction. With the sentiment expressed he is in full agreement. Yet, as was shown, his explanation of the similarity between Egyptian and Israelitish worship is one according to which this worship, as to its form, was indeed constructed from the rubbish of Egyptian superstition. Still he did affirm with emphasis: “It is to be held as a sacred principle, that whatever might be the acquaintance Moses possessed with the customs and learning of Egypt, this could in no case be the direct and formal reason of his imposing anything as an obligation on the Israelites. For the whole and every part of his work he had a commission from above; and nothing was admitted into his institutions which did not first approve itself to divine wisdom and carry with it the sanction of divine authority.” This statement however does not touch on the real issue, which is whether anything in the way of pagan rites and ceremonies was approved by divine wisdom, and, as so approved, admitted into Moses’ institutions. And our stand is that such was not the case.
No Christian writer has ever maintained, of course, that Israel’s sacrifice in its initial and primitive form was borrowed from Egypt. No one, who has the grace to bow before the plain testimony of Holy Writ can maintain this, as according to this testimony the sacrifice was brought into being immediately after the fall. The first true sacrifice recorded in Scripture is that which was brought by Abel. That Adam had previously been seeking God through this channel of communion is certain, and this, certainly in obedience to a divine ordinance. That we do not read of this in Scripture has occasioned the view that the sacrifice was of human origin, that it sprang from the desire on the part of the primitive worshipper to ingratiate himself with God, whose favor, so he imagined, could be won by a gift. Now such, no doubt, was the desire under the impulse of which Cain brought his offering. His aim was to induce God by his gift to walk with him in the way of sin. Disappointed in this and unwilling to repent of his sins, he was wroth—with God. So, after slaying the righteous Abel, he went out from before the face of God and took up his residence in the land of Nod. But Abel was a penitent sinner. He thus brought the sacrifice in connection with which he could obtain witness that he was righteous. And he did so as one instructed by the Lord. But just how this instruction had been given is not stated. There is the notice that God made for them coats of skin to clothe them with. Now clothing so obtained had necessitated the giving up of life on the part of an inferior yet innocent creature. It was, it is certain, in connection herewith that Adam, trusting God and believing the promise, was made to comprehend that without shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness of sins. Thus, the first to officiate as priest in the history of mankind, was Jehovah Himself.
Even before the coming of the law, the church was already bringing three distinct sacrifices by blood, to wit, the sin- burnt- and peace-sacrifices. Of Noah we read that, upon leaving the ark, he “builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings upon the altar.” And the young men of the children of Israel, sent by Moses on the occasion of the ratification of the covenant, thus sent at a time when the elaborate ritual of Moses had not yet been imposed, ‘‘offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord.” To these must be added the sin offerings. And as the difference between the sin- and trespass offering was slight, this list may be completed by the addition of the offering last named. Thus it is certain that even long before the deluge the church, as instructed by the Lord, was already offering all the sacrifices by blood. This certainty follows from the fact that, as has been explained in former articles, these four offerings were essentially the same. Each was an instrument for the expression of all the hallowed sentiments and longings of the sanctified heart, of contrition, of desire for pardon, of reliance upon God as the justifier of the ungodly, of gratitude and the desire to belong wholly to Him the faithful Savior of His people. Each set forth the same fundamental truths of the gospel. They differed the one from the other only in this that each more than the others rendered prominent some particular aspect of the mediation of Christ and of the life in Christ as it abounds in His people.
This early date of the bringing into being of the sacrifices by blood renders entirely fictitious the view that Moses derived the ritual of these offerings from Egyptian pagan worship,—the view that the sacrificial system of the law was grounded upon that of Egypt, that Moses, as legislator, stood on the shoulders of Egypt’s wise men. The shoulders upon which Moses stood were solely those of the believers who had preceded him. In introducing the institution of the sacrifice, the Spirit through Moses reproduced what He had already brought into being in His church even centuries previous. And as Moses was standing on the shoulders of his spiritual forbears, so all the prophets that came after again stood upon his shoulders. Moses was raised to a vantage point of such heights as to allow him to perceive the doings of God to the very end of time. In his final discourses there is plainly a prediction of the exile of Israel to Babylon, of its return to Canaan, and of the ultimate dispersion of the Israelitish people over the face of the earth. In these final discourses Moses stands before us as the Father of all the prophets and books of the Holy Scriptures. The theme of the last of these discourses is: the church, redeemed with judgment or, the church, humbled unto death, purged through suffering and led through suffering to glory. Now this theme, symbolized by the sacrifices by blood, formed the substance of prophecy from Adam to Christ. However, it was upon the promise, upon the God-appointed way of salvation, especially as set forth by Moses, that the prophets who came after him, seized upon and further expanded. For the light that Moses was instrumental in shedding upon the promise was great. What prophet, prior to him, had set forth, through type and symbol, through signs and wonders, God’s way of salvation as plainly as did he? He is indeed the father of all prophecy. That the latter prophets leaned upon him is everywhere evident from their discourses. The entire historical writings from the book of Joshua on, pre-suppose the law of Moses as a book. All the history, proverbs, prophecy and poetry of Israel is grounded upon his laws and exists in them. And as to the prophecy of the century preceding Josiah, it is plainly grounded upon Moses’ discourses. Isaiah begins his prophecies with words almost identical to those found in Deuteronomy 82:1, “Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear O earth, the words of my mouth.” The whole discourse (Isa. 1) is, as to tone, a Mosaic from Deut. 31 and 32. There is no objection, certainly, to ascribing to the rites and ordinances of the law, or to latter prophecy a ground, if it only be understood that this ground can be nothing else than Scripture itself. There is no objection to saying of any of the prophets of Scripture that they borrowed—they did this—only we insist that in doing their borrowing they went for their material not to the wise men of this world but to Scripture.
Yet, although Moses cannot be held to have borrowed his rites and ceremonies from the Egyptians, the customs of the two nations do nevertheless resemble each other. Examples of this were given in the previous article on this subject. How now is this resemblance to be explained? Besides the explanation that Moses borrowed from the Egyptians there are two others. There is the view of Witsius, according to which the Egyptians borrowed from Moses. Then there is the view of Bahr. His conception is that the Egyptians were as little indebted to Moses as Moses was to the Egyptians, that thus neither borrowed from the other. He maintains, in the language of Fairbairn, that whatever similarity existed between their respective institutions, arose from the necessity of employing like symbols to express like ideas, which rendered a certain degree of similarity in all symbolical religions unavoidable.
Let us briefly examine both these views. It is held now that the view that the Egyptians borrowed from the Israelites is rendered unlikely by the circumstance that the institutions of Egypt are of greater antiquity than those of Israel. Now this is, without a doubt, true of several of Egypt’s institutions. It is very likely true of ancient Egypt’s civilization as a whole. Yet no one can speak here with certainty. Egyptologers tell us that the chronological element in the early Egyptian history is in a state of almost hopeless obscurity. Modern critics of the best judgment and the widest knowledge, basing their conclusions on identically the same data, have published to the world views upon the subject which are not only divergent and conflicting, but which differ to the extent of about three thousand years. There were three successive empires in ancient Egypt, the old, the middle and the new. It was in the century of the new empire, which commenced about 1600 B.C., that Moses legislated. Now it appears from the monuments that at this time Egypt’s civilization was fully developed.
Yet from this it does not follow that especially in the matter of religion as to its outward form the Egyptians did not borrow from Moses. This is certain that the sacrifice, as we find it among the nation of heathen antiquity, was God’s gift unto His church—a gift that ancient men, the fathers of heathen nations took with them, when they went out from before the face of the Lord and his people, and thereupon, in the course of time, corrupted through their so changing its structure that it could serve them as a suitable instrument for the expression of their false religious ideology and the corrupt sentiments of their depraved heart and mind. This, I think, goes a long way toward explaining the resemblance also between Egyptian and Israelitish rites and ceremonies. And in so far as this explanation fails to account for the more striking congruities, there is nothing that Egyptologers have thus far discovered that forbids us to supplement it by the view that the Egyptians did indeed borrow from Moses. This, we take it, is true of both the bloody and unbloody offerings as to their provisions. As has already been pointed out, both in Egypt and in Israel, these provisions were bread, flour, cakes, oil, wine and incense. Among both peoples, the sacrificial animals included bulls, oxen, calves, sheep, goats and pigeons. But it was noticed that the Egyptians offered in addition flowers; and that their sacrificial animals included also pigs, ducks, antelopes and various kinds of water fowl. Some writers have maintained that it cannot be proven that after the Exodus any such connection between the two nations existed as to render a borrowing on the part of the Egyptians from the Israelites in the least degree likely. (So Fairbairn and Warburton). But this, to say the least, is an extreme statement. It is simply not true. During the four centuries of the Israelitish monarchy there were many connections with Egypt. The earlier of these were with the line of kings who ruled in the Delta, toward the Jewish frontier. During this time there was a lively peaceful intercourse on the part of Egypt with Palestine. Perhaps the most important connection was between Solomon and a daughter of Pharaoh as a principle wife in his palace. The date of the marriage was during the building of the temple, as “Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh’s daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house and the house of Jehovah” (I Kings 3:1).
However, there were several chief points of Egyptian life whose resemblance to certain ordinances and institutions of Moses could not be due to borrowing either on the part of Israel or on the part of Egypt, such points as the tenure of land and the support ministered from its yield to the priests. In fact, none of the resemblances between the Mosaic institutions and those of Egypt need necessarily have been the result of borrowing. There is still another explanation which we deem to be the only acceptable one for most cases. We submit the following proposition.
The entire Egyptian life—religion, worship, science and customs—was not an accident. It was determinately willed by God and it came forth out of the womb of His providence. For what purpose? The answer is that advanced religious and civil polity, that complex system of symbolic ceremonies and institutions, those instruments of worship, the patterns of which ‘were let down from heaven and shown to Moses on the sacred mount. These patterns would have perplexed and confused the church, had they been shown it four or five centuries earlier, and this for much the same reason that one who had lived in the tenth century of our Christian era would be struck with amazement at beholding the achievements of the men of this age. Things of which one has no conception or notion, cannot be intelligently perceived. In this case, the description of such things, will not be understood. Adam or Abel would not have understood, had the Lord spoken to them about the things of which He spake to Moses. Before the showing of these things could take place, the church had first to possess a suitable adaptation to and an adequate notion of them. So the Lord so arranged His providence, that the resemblances of these things—Egyptian civilization and religion, religious polity and worship—came into being. And with these resemblances He brought His people and particularly Moses into close contact for some centuries, so that it was to a people armed with proper and adequate notions that the pattern of God’s things was revealed. This divine working is the true explanation of the phenomenon under consideration. The correspondence between what was Egyptian and what was Israelitish is often remarkably close. One example. On the holiest of all things, the Ark of Jehovah, there were cherubs, one on each end of the mercy seat, with their wings covering the mercy-seat. This description is like the Egyptian arks of the gods, with figures of Maat, or truth, at each end, with their wings covering the ark. Congruities such as these do not at all baffle, if only the divine working be taken into consideration. What Moses received from Egypt is not the pattern of Jehovah’s ark, but merely an idea, or conception of an ark, an idea that bore resemblance to the pattern shown him. But to say that Moses actually borrowed from Egypt is to maintain that what he received from this pagan land is the very pattern of the Ark. If there was actual borrowing done, the conclusion would be unavoidable that the rites of the law are pagan rites sanctified. And how, on the basis of this solution, can the divine commission of Moses be maintained?
We close this article with examining another of Fairbairn’s explanations. We quote, “And the people for whom he (Moses) was to legislate had grown up in a civilized country and an artificial state of society, familiar, at least, with the results of Egyptian learning, if but little initiated into the learning itself, naturally called for a corresponding advancement in the whole structure of his religious polity; for what was needed to develop and express either the civil or the religious life of a people so reared, would in many respects differ from what might have suited a rude and uncultivated horde. So that a certain regard to the state of things in Egypt was absolutely necessary in the Hebrew polity, if it was to possess a suitable adaptation to the real progress of society in the arts and manners of civilized life.”
The view that comes to the surface in this excerpt is plainly this that due to the fact that Israel had grown up in civilized Egypt, Moses, the Lord, found Himself under the necessity of somewhat accommodating his policy to heathenish notions and customs. This is the view into which the writer of these lines, accidentally, to be sure, reasoned himself. If pitfalls such as this are to be avoided, it must be realized that the divine working as described above is the only explanation that will do.