Under this heading we are here occupied with the spiritual benefits that the Old Testament believers derived from their animal sacrifices. To come to clarity on this point we must allow the Scriptures to instruct us regarding the speech that the Lord imposed upon the animal sacrifices. For it was in response to this speech that was made to dwell richly in the heart of every believing worshipper that he received testimony in his heart that he was righteous.
The Scriptures that bear on this phase of our subject are the following:: “And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that dwell among you, that eateth any manner of blood, I will set my face against that soul that eateth blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul.”
The animal in common with man has a soul and is also thus capable of thought, volition and memory and of experiencing joy, grief and anger, with this difference, however, that the soul of man is a rational moral soul, while the soul of the animal is non-rational moral. The animal thus thinks and wills as an animal, not as a human being. Thus the soul of the animal is not also spirit as is the soul of man. As the text states, it is the soul of the flesh and it is therefore in the blood and accordingly dies with the flesh or body of the animal. Now this is also true of the soul of man. But not so with his spirit or ego. This abides.
The animal for the above-cited reason stands close to man, particularly the domesticated animal such as the Lord selected for his altar. As man was created in the image of God, so it may be said of the animal that he was created in the image of man. And therefore the Lord gave the soul of the domesticated animal—one to be selected either from their flocks or from herds—to his believing people upon the altar to make atonement (symbolically) for their souls, that is, to expiate (symbolically) by its death the sins of God’s people and to cover their souls with its soul which was done by striking its blood upon the horns of the altar.
“To make a covering for your souls . . . We must take notice of this statement. Literally it reads: “I have given it to you—that is the blood wherein is the soul—upon the altar to cover upon your souls. “To cover”. Hebrew—L’kapheer, piel infinitive construct. With his soul covered by the blood of his sacrificing victim, the worshipper, offender, was forgiven. Thus the offender was covered by the blood of his sacrifice as to his sins. How is this to be understood ? Not in the sense that his sins were covered up, concealed, hidden, from the eyes of God, but in the sense that they were cancelled, obliterated (symbolically) in the same sense that, let us say, a hundred dollar debt is cancelled by a check on a bank equivalent to that amount. The check cancels, obliterates, the debt. So does the blood of Christ obliterate the moral debt, the minuses, of God’s people and in addition God’s people are wonderfully rich in Christ. They possess in Him all things. For by His atonement, expiation of the sins of His people, He not alone obliterated their moral debt but in addition begat for Himself and them a heavenly and eternal inheritance.
That as covered by the blood of his animal sacrifice the offender had forgiveness of sin is an idea that receives statement at several other places in the Mosaic legislation of the Old Testament Scriptures.
: “And the priest shall make a covering for him as concerning his (here a ruler of the people) sin, and it shall be forgiven him.” See besides ; ; and several other places. The meaning of the animal sacrifices as a symbolical typical transaction is well brought out by Aaron’s action with the two goats on the great day of atonement. . The double transaction was this, as we already have partially explained. On this day—one day in the year—Aaron took of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering and presented them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. Upon the two goats he cast lots, one lot for the Lord, that is for a sin offering, and the other lot for the scapegoat, Heb.—azazel, goat of departure, from the verb azaz to depart. The goat for the Lord was offered for a sin offering and its blood, instead of being struck on the horns of the altar of burnt offering that stood in the outer court of the tabernacle, was brought within the veil of the holy place and thus presented before the face of the Lord as a covering for the accumulation sins of the people.
Then he brought the live goat. Upon its head, as has already been explained, Aaron laid both his hands, and confessed over him all the iniquities of the people —the accumulation of the people’s sins of the whole bygone year—and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat. Thereupon he sent the goat away by the hand of some fit man into the wilderness. And then we read: “And the goat shall bear upon him all the iniquities of the people,” that is, bear them away from before the eyes of God and this permanently, which was equivalent to their being cancelled (symbolically).
But this would raise the question how God could allow sin to be lifted from the transgressor and thus borne away. Being God righteous and holy, must He not keep sin before Him and destroy the transgressor? The answer was that other goat selected for the sin offering. By its death sin was paid for (symbolically) and thereby obliterated. It is plain that the two goats must be conceived of as being one.
Further, it is clear—and it was certainly clear also to the Old Testament believers—that the animal sacrifice by blood was vicarious, substitutionary (symbolically). This is particularly plain from the action of Aaron with the scapegoat, from his putting all the sins of the people upon its head in order that it might bear them away. It was as their substitute and thus as standing in their room, that their sacrificing victims atoned their sins (symbolically). Instead of imputing all their sins unto them, the Lord put them upon the head of the live goat. Aaron’s confessing over it all the iniquities of the people with both his hands on its head was simply a ceremony indicative of God’s laying all our sins upon Christ. Accordingly this goat as led into the wilderness bore upon him no sin. What we gaze at here is simply an action symbolizing prophetically the bearing away of our sins by Christ. And the death of the sacrificing animal expiated no sin. It was simply a shadow of the expiation of sin by Christ. And so the priest’s striking the blood of the sacrificing victim upon the horns of the altar covered no sin; the action was simply shadow, symbol, prophetic of the covering, the obliteration, of sin by ‘the blood of Christ. All was prophetic symbol here as well as our sacraments are symbols. Certainly, we are not cleansed from our sin by the natural water of holy baptism. Our being sprinkled by this water is simply a ceremony symbolizing our being washed from our sins by the blood of Christ.
The priest of the first covenant must be still brought in here. He covered the sins of the offender but by the blood of an animal sacrifice, thus by a blood other than his own. Here the priest was one and the sacrificing victim another. Christ, on the other hand, saved His people from all their sins by His own blood. Here the priest and the sacrificing victim are one. For Christ, God’s only begotten Son, is partaker of the flesh and blood—the human nature—of His brethren. He entered into personal union with our nature. It was therefore God’s own Son—Son of God as God who atoned our sins.
We are now ready to set forth the meaning, idea, of the animal sacrifice. The meaning, idea is that of a sacrificing victim, God’s own merciful gift to His ill-deserving and condemnable yet chosen and contrite people, paying as their substitute for all their sins by His suffering and death and thereby bearing away their sins, covering, cancelling, obliterating them, blotting them out before God’s face. It is thus at once the idea of a sacrificing victim redeeming God’s people from all their sins by the price of its life rendered to God as a full satisfaction of His justice.
These are the ideas set forth, symbolized by the animal sacrifice. It formed, did these ideas, the very word of God that He, Himself, imposed upon the animal sacrifice by all such language as the following: “And I have given it (the life of the flesh of the animal) upon the altar to make an atonement (covering, cancellation) for your sins” (). “And the priest shall make a covering for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him” ( ). And consider once more the language of the action with the live goat of . “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat . . . And the goat shall bear upon him all the iniquities into a land not inhabited . . .”
The only question is whether the saints of the first covenant were made to realize that the animal sacrifice was but symbol and type so that this very language also was symbolical typical and that therefore in employing this language the Lord was really speaking of the true iamb of God that in His own time He would bring in. All the prayers of the believers of the first covenant plainly reveal that they were indeed made to realize this. Let us attend to some of these prayers while at once taking notice of the words that the Old Testament saints employed in giving expression to the idea of the forgiveness of sin.
1) nasa, to lift up and bear away., “O how blessed is he from whom his transgression has been lifted up and born away.” nasu kal passive part, construct. The English versions translate here “forgive”.
2) kasah, to cover in the sense of cancelling, obliterating, and not in the sense of concealing, covering up.: “Blessed is he whose sin is covered,” kasu, kal passive part, construct.
3) chashab with the negative lo, not to impute, reckon, think.: “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute his iniquity.” yachshob, Kal imperfect, third person mas.
4) machah, to blot out., “Have mercy upon me O God, according to thy loving kindness: according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out all my transgressions,’’ m’chee, Kal imperative.
5) kaphar a) to cover in the sense of cancelling, b) to expiate, that is, to make complete satisfaction for.
6) kabhas, to wash., “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity,” kabbees, Piel imperative.
7) thaher, to cleanse., “And cleanse me from my sin,” thaher, piel imperative.
8) phadah, to redeem, that is, to free from captivity or slavery and the like by the payment of a price., “And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” yiphdeh in the text. Kal pret. 3d. per. sing. mas.
Now of course, “to cleanse,” and “to forgive” are not the same. As works of God the latter is judicial; it squares a sinner with the law so that, if formerly his state was one of guilt, it is now one of innocence. The divine forgiveness accordingly is the blotting out of sin, the cancellation of sin and implies that sin has been paid for, atoned, expiated by the death of the Lamb that God provided. Hence, as forgiven, God’s people stand before Him blameless in love.
God’s cleaning, on the other hand, effects a change in the moral-spiritual condition of God’s people, so that, if formerly they were dead and polluted in their sins, as cleansed in the blood of Christ, they are now new creatures in Christ, holy and undefiled before God in Him.
Hence, the Hebrew terms nasa, macha, kasah, and kapher, signify forgiveness and may be so rendered in our language, but not so the terms kebhas, and thaher. padah—to redeem— as a work of God includes the expiation of sin, its cancellation, and the sinner’s cleansing of his sin.
Let us now examine the above-cited prayers. Doing so we discover that in their totality these prayers as to their content are pivoted, so to say, on the very ideas set forth by the sacrifice by blood. Every idea again meets us in these prayers. “Blessed is he whose sins are born away,” so prays the psalmist. And, “Blessed is he whose sins are covered, and to whom God does not impute iniquity.” And, “Blot out my transgressions O my God,” and, “cleanse me from all my iniquities.” And finally, “He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”
What it reveals is in the first place that the saints of the first covenant were indeed made by the Spirit of Christ to grasp the meaning of the animal sacrifice by blood. The word that God imposed upon that sacrifice dwelt richly in their hearts.
But there is still this question whether they were also made to realize that the sacrifice by blood was but symbol, type, shadow. The above-cited prayers plainly reveal that such was indeed the case. Had in David’s mind the animal sacrifice stood out as the true sacrifice he would have petitioned the Lord to forgive him his sin for the sake of that sacrifice, on the ground of its expiation of his sin. But no such prayer is found anywhere in the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures. To take the stand that the saints of the old covenant actually imagined that their sins were expiated and born away, obliterated, by the death of an animal is an insult to their sanctified intelligence.
On the other hand, neither do the saints appear anywhere in the Scriptures as praying that the Lord blot out their iniquity on the ground of the expiation of sin of the “man with Jehovah,” or the “seed,” or the “Anointed of the Lord” (Messiah), or the “servant of the Lord” (Isaiah), the true Lamb of God still to be brought in, the only begotten and eternal Son, partaker of the flesh and blood of the children, and thus like unto His brethren in all things, sin excepted, so that in truth He is our Immanuel, two natures, human and divine united in one single person, the person of God.
So the believers of the first covenant did not pray. Such was not their confession. And this is not a wonder. Christ was not yet revealed in the flesh and the Spirit was not yet, that is, the revelations of God had not yet attained that fullness and clarity that alone make possible the making of such prayers and confessions. Hence, as casting themselves upon the mercy of the Lord in the awareness that He alone is the hope of men such as they in themselves were—men lost and undone in their sins—they besought Him that He redeem them from their sins and blot out their iniquities by his righteousness and here they put the period. So they prayed even by their very act of sacrificing. So they sought, asked and knocked. And in the way of their asking they also received. First they received testimony in their hearts that they were forgiven and thus justified. So it is written of Abel that he “offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying with—should be, upon—his gifts.”
In this respect, although they were properly no sacraments, yet the sacrifices by blood served the Old Testament believers the same way that the sacraments of baptism and of the Lord’s supper serve the New Testament believers. Eating the Lord’s supper in faith, they receive testimony in their hearts that Christ bore for them the wrath of God from the beginning of his incarnation to the end of His life and that He has fulfilled for them all obedience to the divine law, and righteousness, that Christ loves them and has shed His blood for them, and will certainly feed and nourish their hungry and thirsty souls with his crucified body, and shed blood, that by His death He has taken away the cause of their eternal death and misery, namely sin, and obtained for them the quickening Spirit, and that by this same Spirit they are united as members of one body in true brotherly love.
Sacrificing in faith the believers of the first covenant received in their hearts essentially this same testimony. It means that they were saved men—saved of God unto God through Christ, and this though Christ stood not yet before them as having come into the flesh.
What could, we ask, have hindered God from saving such men,—hindered Him in the point of view of His own virtues, particularly His righteousness and holiness—considering that they were men that, as enlightened by Christ’s Spirit, perceived and believed that their sins were to be expiated by a Lamb that God would provide Him and them, that thus they were men redeemed from all their sins with a price, men redeemed, saved, therefore to the great and everlasting credit of the righteousness of Jehovah, their Redeemer-God in whom they were putting all their confidence. They perceived, did these men, that the meaning of the entire symbolical typical transaction—the animal sacrifice—was reducible to one basic idea, the idea namely, that Zion’s converts are redeemed by righteousness (), that is, by the righteous act, work, of a righteous God, it being a work by which sin is paid for, expiated, and thus obliterated, and that such being its aim and achievement, it is and will be to the everlasting glory of the righteousness of a righteous God. And so they also prayed, “Save me, O God, by thy righteousness.” So they prayed. What it means is that they were saved, despite the limitations of their knowledge of just how the righteousness of God was to operate in their behalf.
And so it may again be asked, what could hinder God from gathering His church already in that day if in the hearts of the men of His choice was implanted by Him such knowledge and understanding of His method of salvation? What could hinder God from telling such men in answer to their sacrificing and prayers that He loved them and that in His love he forgave them and that He was their covenant God everlastingly and they his heirs destined to dwell with Him in His house, his temple, to behold His beauties and to be satisfied by His likeness.
The whole question really comes down to this: What could hinder God from gathering His church already in that day there in the land of Canaan, seeing that in that land He, the Lord, had instituted the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. For that precisely is what that symbolical typical transaction—the animal sacrifice—was. With the word of God imposed upon it, it was preaching of the Gospel.
We see then how the Old Testament believers were served by their animal sacrifices. That sacrifice was preaching of the gospel of Christ. Second, as a prophetic symbol it served the believers as an instrument for the expression of their faith—the faith in which they sacrificed, and a faith to which the Lord responded by witnessing with their spirits that they were righteous.