Lamb of the Free (9)

As I’ve been reading along the author’s study of sacrifice in the old testament, both of purification and atonement, what is clear with atoning sacrifices the issue isn’t the salvation of the individual who sinned, but rather sin was a aerial miasma thought to contaminate the holy place and the land which could prevent God from dwelling among his people and so the offering was meant to sanctify the holy place and objects. Other sacrifices were meant to attract God to the holy place. The supreme day of atonement was thus to do a full reset on the defilement of the temple, restoring it to factory specs, and render it holy again.

The scope of atonement is that it is limited to sins that defile the sanctuary. The sanctuary can be purged, and particularly nasty sins can be reduced in effect through repentance. But some sins are particularly bad and actually defile the land, and no sin offering can clean the land. We read:

  • [ Leviticus ] provides no countervailing measures for the polluted land . The land stores its defilement nonstop until it vomits out its inhabitants ( [ Lev 18 ] vv . 25 , 28 ) . Unlike [ the ] sanctuary , which can be purged of its pollution by the high priest’s purification offerings ( chaps . 4 , 16 ) , there is no purificatory rite . . . that the high priest can perform for the land.

The priest must petition God apart from the sacrificial system to deal with sin like sexual immorality. Our author writes:

  • That said , somewhat ideally speaking , barring the festering of moral impurity that has gone unaddressed , the individual purgation sacrifices and the annual special purgation sacrifices on the Day of Atonement will make it possible for God to dwell in the midst of people who keep contaminating the divine dwelling place , either through ritual impurity or sins ( 15:31 ; 16:16 , 19 ) . At this point it is evident that this entire ritual framework has nothing to do with a ” substitutionary death . ” Even more so than previously , it is evident that this concept is unintelligible within the Levitical cultic logic . When moral impurity results in ” death ” or being ” cut off , ” there simply is no sacrificial remedy because sacrifices were never conceptualized as taking the place of the offerer’s deserved death . That is an unwarranted assumption about Levitical sacrifice that too many smuggle into the text . I will discuss the rationale for using blood for these purgation rituals shortly , but for now it suffices to make it clear that the haṭṭā ‘ t is a procedure that purges and / or consecrates sancta with the larger goal that God has a pure and holy space in which to dwell with Israel ( Exod 25 : 8 ) ; nothing more. God’s desire is to dwell among Israel so long as they maintain a habitation – appropriate sacred place for God to dwell ; hence the need for the atoning and consecrating sacrifices . (Rillera, 107)