Church Sacrifices Explained in King David's Time
I am here, Jesus:
In this sermon I wish to speak to you about David's attitude towards Temple sacrifices. There are many expressions in the Psalms indicating that David did not look with favor on them, and there are just as many statements to the contrary: that David whole-heartedly supported the Temple sacrifices. Many writers there are, and have been, who believe David never wrote verses either for or against them, and that their presence proves that David never wrote these Psalms, or any other.
Now the first thing we must know is that Judaism in David's time was nationalistic and deistic -- that is to say, that the Jews were concerned first with the tribes as a nation and that God meant the God of the Jewish nation, whom He had chosen and delivered from bondage in Egypt and whose destiny He was directing. If you will turn to your Book of Exodus and review the Ten Commandments given by God to the people through Moses, you will see that they are all laws of conduct, morals and ethics, and that provision for offerings (Exodus 20, verses 24-25) is made in passing, the important instruction being that the altar be made of earth or natural stone, and not constructed by tool or hewn.
The building of a tabernacle, and later the construction of the great Temple of Solomon, or the second temple after the Exile, was something new and unknown to the Hebrews of Moses' time; it was a much later development dependent upon the circumstances that arose with the passing centuries. In the same way, the concept of sacrifices changed radically with time. To all peoples of the ancient world, sacrifices were vital. They were offered to the various gods who, to those peoples, controlled their lives and their stability -- war gods, fertility goddesses of agriculture and growth, and others taken from the physical universe -- the sun god especially, moon goddess and those of the heavens. These all had to be offered for fear of incurring their wrath -- and defeat in war, famine and storms were all attributed to those Gods. Now Abraham understood the existence of God, because to Abraham, the diety meant a God of ethics and human behavior -- therefore he had an inkling that man had a soul, an entity within him that stood for morality and right living. Abraham had this inkling as a gift, an intuitive gift, and not the result of reasoning, and while he sacrificed to god, he realized that such sacrifices should be restricted to animals, and that humans slain for that purpose was abomination unto Him. Thus began the trend towards reviewing sacrifices and as time wore on, especially after the Hebrews established themselves in Canaan, and the principle of religion became centered more and more on righteousness of conduct, and the overcoming of evil and the vicissitudes of life and through faith in God, men began to become progressively more critical of sacrifices and their utility. The prophets in general, stressing righteousness of heart and thundering again and again against sin and evil, were opposed to sacrifices, or, at best, countenanced them only when offered with a clean heart and it was only with the Exile in Babylonia and loss of national life did the priests emphasize the need of concentration on the religious aspect of Judaism and the old sacrifices and brought out to the public the code of minute statutes concerning them.
Thus you see that altars and sacrifices were not at all God-given Commandments but were traditions that experienced changes in accordance with the historical development or fluctuating circumstances to which they were subject.
Now In David's time, the altar was really the Ark placed in a tabernacle which travelled with the people and eventually landed in Jerusalem stormed by David in battle against the Jebusites, who were still sacrificing human beings. The tribes were wont to sacrifice yearly at their tabernacles, such as Shiloh, were Eli the priest was visited by Hannah, mother of Samuel the Prophet. Even in those days, the prophets spoke out to the people that offerings could not atone for evil and sin, for the Lord told Samuel, concerning Eli's wayward sons:
"For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth, because his sons make themselves vile, and he restrained them not."
"And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice and offering forever."
Now the Philistines rose up in battle against Israel, killing Eli's sons and capturing the Ark, but because of subsequent plagues, these pagans decided to return the object with suitable offerings to placate the god of Israel, whom they felt responsible for their misfortunes. According to the story -- which you realize was imaginary -- the good people of Beth Shemeah, where the Ark was returned, joyfully sacrificed unto the Lord. But the only reward from this supposed god of Israel was a slaughter of the villagers, (50,610 men, say the scriptures) because they had looked into the Ark of the Lord. Now all this is found in Samuel I, Chapter 6 and reveals to us the superstitious state of the writer, in that he could attribute to God a wholesale slaughter for the great crime of supposedly looking into the Ark. it also reveals to us that sacrifices, even offered with the best intentions, were futile, as the poor Beth Shemites could woefully testify according to the story. And more important, the loss of the Ark for 7 months, as the Israelites experienced, did not mean destruction of the people following their defeat. Even though Samuel later sacrificed with a burnt-offering and the Israelites won in battle against the Philistines at Eben Ezer and even built (in violation of instructions from Moses) an altar at Ramah, the discrediting of sacrifices inevitably came about because people began to realize they had no relationship to, or influence on, subsequent events.
Now the First book of Samuel of course, was written by a man of the priesthood, in that it attributes Saul's downfall to disobedience to the rituals, so that he unwittingly wrote things which I now use against his attitude towards sacrifices. Indeed the entire book is filled with references to those as, for example, Saul inquires about his father's lost asses of Samuel at a time when the people were offering sacrifices in the high places , and Samuel was blessing them (I Samuel Chapter 9, verses 12 and 13) and again, after anointing Saul with oil (I Samuel, Chapter 10, verses 1 and 8) for the victory over the Ammonites at Jabesh Gilead (I Samuel, Chapter 12, verse 15). Samuel declared God rejected Saul as King of the Jews because he intruded into the priest's office and made peace-and-burnt-offerings, a duty which only a priest could perform (I Samuel, Chapter 13, verses 10 to 13). So you see that even in those days Saul, as King, challenged the authority of the priest, though unsuccessfully to be sure. At the same time Saul was willing to sacrifice his son Jonathan because Jonathan ate when his father had cursed partakers of food (I Samuel, Chapter 14, verse 24). When told that he had sinned, Jonathan exclaimed:
"My father hath troubled the land: see, I pray you, how mine eyes have
been enlightened, because I tasted a little of this honey. If my people
had by chance eaten freely, how much more of a slaughter of the
Philistines would there have been? (I Samuel, Chapter 14, verses 29-30).
Jonathan, you see, was not inclined to believe in the rituals, and yet in the next battle, won a great victory. And then in violation of the strict statute commanding Koshering of meat, that is, salted to drain the blood thereof, for the blood was considered the Lord's alone, the people, faint with hunger because of Saul's unreasonable curse, slew the cattle taken from the Philistines, and ate them with the blood -- and you may be sure that Jonathan and David were among them (I Samuel, Chapter 14, verse 31). When Saul discovered Jonathan's sin, he sought to have him sacrificed but the people said unto Saul:
"Shalt Jonathan die, -- he who has brought about this great salvation
for Israel? God forbid this, curse or no curse; not one hair of his head
shall fall to the ground, for he has fought on God's side this day." (I Samuel, Chapter 14, verses 43 to 45).
So the people rescued Jonathan from Saul, his father, and the Hebrews went on to many victories. Saul's final rejection as King is supposed to be his sparing of the life of Agad, King of the Amalekites, Samuel had ordered him in God's name, to kill him because of his cruelty to the Hebrews. You must understand that such an order never came from the Father, but that Samuel, filled with fury against the brutal foe, thought it did. Saul's downfall resulted not from such a merciful act as sparing an enemy's life, but from a progressive nervous disorder which proved fatal for Israel at Mt. Gilboa.
From all this you can readily see that David, connected intimately as he was with these events, realized, as Jonathan did, that the prohibitions and sacrifices had no efficacy. Jonathan, we saw, his best friend violated them, and so did the people. The Hebrews were very practical, considering the superstitious nature of the day and many of them, and David included, had an instinct that told them that such statutes were made to be violated and were meaningless as regarded their relationship to God.
But when David became King, and his obligations included being the custodian of the national religion, his outlook towards the religious ceremonies underwent a change, and he wanted to see a well ordered ritual, not for any belief in their efficacy, but for the outward signs connected with the religion and their resultant aid to the nation's stability, and for something for the people to hold to. One of the things David wished to do on capturing Jerusalem from the Jebusites was to bring the Ark to his new capital. The story of Uzziah's death for touching the Ark has no historical veracity and was inserted later by a priestly minded editor who re-echoed in one man the so-called disaster to the Beth Shemites. David really danced before the Lord when the Ark was placed in the tabernacle constructed for that purpose, and he himself conducted the services, making the peace-and-burnt-offerings before the Lord. He then blessed the people in the name of God.
Thus, you see that David did exactly that for which Saul, you remember, had been rejected in wrath by Samuel, who said he had spoken for God. You realize that Samuel really spoke out for his own manner of thinking and in the course of time, the old views were replaced and men permitted to do what before had been considered abomination. In the Psalms of David may be seen the King's suspicions and disbelief in the sacrifices and their efficacy, but also his later desire that they be continued for form's sake and national purposes. Their opposing views are found in the later Psalms and also in the writing of the Prophets.
Here are some of these divergent views in the Psalms on the sacrifices in Judaism. David did write a psalm of contrition after his trespass with Beth Sheba which, with the many alterations and interpolations inserted by later hands, has come down to us as Psalm 51. Here stands David's knowledge that, not sacrifices, but repentance for sin, are the valid offerings before the Lord:
For thou delightest not in sacrifices; else would I give it;
Thou hast no pleasure in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God
are a broken spirit: A broken and a contrite heart, 0 God,
thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51, verse 16 and 17).
After David's death, priests took hold of this psalm and added the following verses, favorable to their views.
Do good in Thy good pleasure unto Zion; Build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then wilt thou delight in the sacrifices of righteousness, in burnt-offering
and whole burnt-offerings; Then wilt they offer bullocks upon Thine altar.
(Psalm 51, verses 18 and 19).
The wall known as the ''Wall of Jerusalem" was built by Solomon and this addition to the psalm was written at this time. (I Kings, Chapter 9, verse 5 and I Kings Chapter 2, verse 27).
Again, in Psalm 50, the writer has David say that God expresses His dissatisfaction with sacrifices in favor of thanksgiving unto Him and faith, and seeking Him in time of trouble for deliverance:
Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
Offer unto God the sacrifices of thanksgiving;
And pay thy vows unto the Most High;
And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee,
and thou shalt glorify Me. (Psalm 50, verses 13 to 15).
This attitude towards vain religious sacrifices had great advocates among many of the prophets, and in time I shall turn to this subject again, for as Christianity stands to-day it cannot be dissociated from my coming, and is something which must be shown to be completely without connection as regards my being the Christ.
Jesus of the Bible
Master of the Celestial Heavens