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George Ophoff was Professor of Old Testament Studies in the Protestant Reformed Seminary in its early days. Reprinted here, in edited form, are articles which Ophoff wrote at that time for the Standard Bearer.

In our previous article we were dwelling upon the function of the shadows of the old covenant. We asserted, among other things, that the shadows exhibited to the believers of the old dispensation the fundamental truths of the economy of redemption. We pointed out that, for this reason, the sum total of the shadows was the schoolmaster bringing the believers of that epoch to Christ. The law led the disquieted soul to Christ because, so we explained, the gifts and sacrifices could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience. The believer, bowed down by the weight of his sin, would turn to the sacrifice for relief but found none. Having scrupulously attended to the prescriptions of the law, the troubled one would discover that he was as ill at ease as ever. In his sorrow and anguish he would then cast himself upon the mercy of Jehovah. The peace which he would experience, thereupon, indicated that his sin had been pardoned. He had learned that the blood of a beast cannot atone for sin, that faith in an animal brings no relief to a troubled soul. 

Yet, the rite of expiatory sacrifice taught him that sin somehow must be atoned for. The shadows impressed upon his soul that the mercy with which Jehovah feeds him is permeated with justice. In a word, the believer of the old covenant was taught and empowered to lay hold on what constitutes the very heart and core of the economy of redemption, viz., Jehovah and blood. Having passed through the course of training insisted upon by Jehovah, the believer learned that Jehovah saves in conjunction with blood. His troubled soul, together with his knowledge of the fact that sin must be atoned for, were responsible for it that devout sinners entrusted themselves to Jehovah to be fed by His mercy. We ended our last article, then, with the assertion that Christ is God and blood, the latter representing the Savior’s human nature, in which He atoned for the sin of His own.

Old Testament believers’ comprehension of the types

The shadows, then, were, first of all, exhibitions of such truthswhich the believer needed to know to be saved. They were more than that. We pointed out that the shadows, according to the testimony of Scripture, were also prefigurations or prophetic symbols of objects and events of a coming day. The question is now in order whether the believers of the old covenant were able to lay hold of the matters prefigured. Did the shadows speak to them of better things to come? That is to say, did the believer recognize the shadows as prefigurations of future events and objects, or did he merely possess them as symbols of the fundamental principles of redemption? Fairbairn insists that it must not be supposed that the shadows spoke to the believer of the old covenant of things belonging to a higher and more spiritual dispensation yet to come. We quote the following:

It was comparatively an easy thing for the Jewish worshiper to understand how, from time to time, he stood related to a visible sanctuary and an earthly inheritance, or to go through the process of an appointed purification by means of water and the blood of slain victims applied externally to the body—much more easy than for the Christian to apprehend distinctly his relation to a heavenly sanctuary, and realize the cleansing of his conscience from all guilt by the inward application of the sacrifice of Christ and the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit. But for the Jewish worshiper to do both his own and the Christian part—both to read the meaning of the symbol as expressive of what was already laid open to his view, and to descry its concealed reference to the yet undiscovered realities of a better dispensation—would have required a reach of discernment and a strength of faith far beyond what is now needed in the Christian. For this had been, not like him to discern the heavenly, when the heavenly had come, but to do it amid the obscurities and imperfections of the earthly; not simply to look with open eye into the deeper mysteries of God’s kingdom when these mysteries are fully disclosed, but to do so while they were still buried amid the thick folds of a cumbrous and overshadowing drapery (The Typology of Scripture, vol. 1, p. 58).

We also quote the following:

Such defects and imperfections inhering in the very nature of ancient sacrifice, it could not possibly have been introduced or sanctioned by God as a satisfactory and ultimate arrangement. Nor could He have adopted it as a temporary one, so far as to warrant the Israelitish worshiper to look for pardon and acceptance by complying with its enactments, unless there had already been provided His eternal counsels, to be in due time manifested in the world, a real and adequate sacrifice for human guilt. Such a sacrifice, we need scarcely add, is found in Christ; who is therefore called emphatically “the Lamb of God” … “foreordained before the foundation of the world”—and, of whose precious blood it is written, that “it cleanseth from all sin.”

How far, however, the Jewish worshipers themselves were alive to the necessity of this alone adequate provision and realized the certainty of its future exhibition, can only be a matter of probable conjecture or reasonable inference. As the light of the church, generally, differed at different times and in different individuals, so undoubtedly would the apprehension of this portion of divine truth have its diversities of comparative clearness and obscurity in the Jewish mind. If there were faith only to the extent of embracing and acting upon the existing arrangements—faith to present the appointed sacrifices for sin, and to believe in humble confidence, that imperfect and defective as these manifestly were, they would still be accepted as an atonement, and that God Himself would know how to supply what His own provision needed to complete its efficacy—if only such faith existed, we have no reason to say it was insufficient for salvation; it might be faith very much in the dark, but still it was faith in a revealed word of God, implicitly following the path which that word prescribed (The Typology of Scripture, vol. 2, p. 268).

In the first of the above selections the author asserts, be it indirectly, that God adopted the ancient sacrifice as a temporary arrangement to warrant the Israelitish worshiper to look for pardon and acceptance by complying with its enactments. Further, that this ancient sacrifice was sufficient for salvation if the one presenting it possessed faith to the extent of embracing the existing arrangement. In other words, the view that comes to the surface in the above selection is that faith in the ancient sacrifice was the extent of the requirements. In the first of the above quotations it is maintained that the worshiper could not be expected to read the concealed reference of the shadows to yet undiscovered realities of a future dispensation. In other words, it is the view of the author that the ancient worshiper need not look beyond the lamb to secure pardon and acceptance. Further, that the shadows did not necessarily direct him to objects and realities which were due to appear in the fullness of time.

These views go well together. If it be true that the worshiper could do no more than embrace the existing arrangement, it must follow that he failed to discern in them any reference whatever to realities of a future epoch. If, on the other hand, the ancient believer was taught and empowered to look beyond the sacrificial victim to Jehovah, it would follow that the shadows did speak to him of matters of a coming day.

Now, it is according to the testimony of Scripture that the believer found no relief until he, looking away from the lamb, had cast himself upon the mercy of his God (see former article [#4]). The gifts and sacrifices could not make him performing the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience. Jehovah could not permit the worshiper to rest in the sacrificial victim. The ancient sacrifice brought him no peace. The blood of an animal could not atone for sin. Neither did Jehovah inaugurate this rite for that purpose. What was His purpose? A twofold one: first, the rite of expiatory sacrifice was instituted for the purpose of demonstrating to the believer of the old covenant that there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood, or, speaking in general, the shadows were made to appear for the purpose of exhibiting to the believers the great truths of redemption. In the second place, the shadows were made to appear for the purpose of exhibiting to the believers matters of a future day.

Necessity of the Word

It is on the latter of these two purposes that we desire to focus our attention. How and why did Jehovah accomplish this purpose with this particular rite? The answer is ready: by bringing the believer under the conviction of sin and by refusing to grant him relief until the worshiper had learned to expect nothing from the ancient sacrifice and absolutely all from Jehovah (see former article [#4]). But this alone was not sufficient to cause the believer to turn again to this particular rite and to the shadows in general and to discern in them a reference to future and higher objects. Something more was needed to accomplish this, namely the word. It is a fact that a symbol, or a rite, without the word, will never function as a vehicle of instruction. The poet informs us that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork; that day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard (Ps. 19). However, if it were not for the word, that is to say, if it were not for the fact that God calls our attention to these things and teaches man that day unto day uttereth speech, man would never hear the declaration of the heavens. The symbol and the type need the word. Two elements of nature, bread and wine, signify the flesh and blood of our Lord. We know they do because our Savior told us so. “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:26-28).

Now, the question is in order whether the shadows of the old covenant were accompanied by the word explaining their function. Fact is, that this word was there. Let us quote Scripture. “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 an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). If this particular Scripture is interpreted to mean that the blood of the ancient sacrifice atoned for sin, it is in flagrant contradiction with a certain passage in the epistle to the Hebrews (chapter 9:9), which asserts that the sacrifices could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience. One must never, however, place Scripture in conflict with itself. Hence, either of the two passages shall have to be interpreted in the light of the other. Fairbairn would remove the apparent conflict by making the passage in Hebrews apply only to the believer of the new covenant.Acts 13:39

And still more strongly and expressly in Hebrews, it is declared that the gifts and sacrifices of the law “could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience” (9:9); that it was “not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats could take away sins” (10:4); and that such blood, as the ashes also of the heifer sprinkling the unclean, could but avail to the purifying of the flesh, while the blood of Christ and this alone can purge the conscience from dead works to serve the living God (9:13, 14). If such passages were to be taken absolutely, they would certainly deny any spiritual benefit whatever to the Old Testament worshiper from his legal sacrifices…. But in all the passages the apostle is speaking of what, in the proper sense, and in the estimation of God, or of a soul fully enlightened by His truth, can afford a real and valid satisfaction for the guilt of sin, and not what might or might not provide for it a present and accepted though inadequate atonement (The Typology of Scripture, vol. 2, p. 290).

Fairbairn, it appears, deprives the New Testament Scriptures of their absolute character. His view compels him to do that. The author avers that the blood of the ancient sacrificial victim was accepted by Jehovah as a covering for the sin of the worshiper. It is his view that the blood of the animal, to a degree at least, cleansed the conscience. This view of his again comes to the surface in the following selections.

And the sprinkling of the blood of the atonement, whether upon the horns of the altar (as in the private sin offerings), or on the mercyseat (as in the day of atonement), could not have properly met his case, if it had not furnished him with a present deliverance from any burden of guilt under which he groaned. …to a certain extent, at least, conscience had been aggrieved by what was done, and must have been purged by the atonement presented (The Typology of Scripture, vol. 2, pp. 290, 291).

Fairbairn, let it be said, is controverting the view of the higher critics who maintain that the offering covered such acts which violated the code of external jurisprudence. This view places God on a level with an earthly judge. When a subject is found guilty by the state, he is made to serve time or pay a fine. This having been accomplished, the offender is set free. Whether the culprit repented is a matter with which the state does not concern itself. Spenser reduced the rite of expiatory sacrifice to the level of a fine paid or a sentence served. The culprit, having attended to the prescription of the law, was permitted to resume his place in life.

Such a view of the shadows must be denounced. I think we do well to permit God Himself to instruct us as to the nature and character of the rite of expiatory sacrifice. He says that the shadows were symbols, images, parabolee (Heb. 9:9). The passage in Leviticus must be explained in the light of this piece of information. The blood of the sacrificial animal was but an image, a symbol. It could not cover sin nor cleanse the conscience. God Himself compels the student of Scripture to insert in the passage from the book of Leviticus the term symbol. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an (symbolical) atonement for your souls.” And I repeat, Jehovah prevented the believer from taking the blood as a covering for his soul, in that he refused to grant the worshiper peace until he had learned to expect all from Jehovah.

Leviticus 17:11 is one of the words explaining to the devout believers of the old covenant the purpose and function of the shadows. There are more such words. We shall single them out in our next article.