And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,…
cf. Genesis 22:1-19; Micah 6:7. In this chapter we come to a catalogue of capital crimes. Upon the whole list of cases we need not dwell; but the first has some interest as raising the question of "human sacrifices." How early the terrible practice of offering "the fruit of the body" in atonement for" the sin of the soul" arose, we can scarcely say. It has been supposed to be as early, at all events, as the time of Abraham. Some entertain the notion that the sacrifice of Isaac was primarily a temptation to imitate the custom existing in the land. But if the horrible custom existed in Abraham's day, nothing could more clearly convey that the Divine pleasure rested in other sacrifices altogether than the details of the escape of Isaac. The custom of human sacrifices was widespread, as investigations show. Here and elsewhere the Lord sets his face against them. Let us see if we can grasp the principle involved.
I. HUMAN SACRIFICE IS THE NATURAL CLIMAX OF THE SACRIFICIAL IDEA. "If no scruples," says Ewald, "held a man back from giving the dearest he had when a feeling in his heart drove him to sacrifice it to his God just as it was, then he would easily feel even the life of a beloved domestic animal not too dear to be given up at his heart's urgent demand, Nay, only in the offering up of life or soul, as the last that can be offered, did it seem to him that the highest was presented. But the logical consequence of such feelings was that human life must ultimately be looked upon as incomparably the highest and most wondrous offering, whether the life offered be that of a stranger or, as that which is dearest to one, that of one's own child, or even of one's self. Thus human sacrifice was everywhere the proper crown and completion of all these utterances of the fear of God." The case of Abraham is one in point. When God for wise purposes demanded the surrender of the only begotten and well-beloved son, Isaac, he asked the patriarch for the greatest conceivable sacrifice; and, so far as intention is concerned, Abraham made the surrender. It has been called on the patriarch's part a "magnificent and extraordinary act of romantic morals." While, therefore, it was in reality, as we shall see, a condemnation of human sacrifices as such, it illustrates their real spirit.
II. HUMAN SACRIFICE IS AT THE SAME TIME SUCH A MONSTROUS AND EXTRAVAGANT EXPRESSION OF THE SACRIFICIAL IDEA THAT NOTHING BUT A DIVINE COMMAND WOULD WARRANT THE ENTERTAINMENT OF IT. What distinguishes Abraham's case in connection with the proposed sacrifice of Isaac from that of all other sacrifices of human life is that he had a command of God to go upon, while the others followed the devices of their own hearts. So sacred should human life appear to men, that the idea of taking it away should only be entertained under the most solemn sanctions. Besides, but for the sin-distorted mind of man, it would appear that the consecration of human beings as "living sacrifices," is in itself far higher and nobler than their death (Romans 12:1). To take innocent infants and place them in the flaming arms of Molech must appear a most monstrous and exaggerated expression of the sacrificial idea. But would God, in any circumstances, command human sacrifices? As a matter of fact, men were sacrificed through capital punishment. The present chapter is full of capital crimes. Men died under the direction of God for their crimes. This, however, is not the sacrificial idea, which involves the sacrifice of the innocent in the room of the guilty. This was doubtless what led the infants to be favourite sacrifices with the heathen - the innocency of the sufferer constituted the greater appeal to the angry deity. We observe, then -
III. THAT GOD FORBADE, UNDER THE PENALTY OF DEATH, HUMAN SACRIFICES, AND IN THE ONLY CASE WHERE lie SEEMED TO DEMAND A HUMAN SACRIFICE HE HAD PROVIDED A SUBSTITUTE. He made the offering of children to Molech a capital crime. This was not aimed at the idolatry only, but at the unwarranted exaggeration of the sacrificial idea. Besides, in the ease of Isaac, just when Abraham was about to slay him, God interposed with a provided substitute. All God required in Abraham's peculiar case was the spirit of surrender. He guards, therefore, his prerogative of dealing with life, and enjoins his people only to take human life away when he directs them. They are not to presume to offer such a sacred gift as human lie upon his altar in the way of sacrifice. They may dedicate themselves and their children as living beings to his service, but their death he requires not in such a voluntary fashion at their hands.
IV. AT THE SAME TIME, WE FIND HUMAN LIFE REGULARLY SACRIFICED IN THE ORDER OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE AND AT THE CALL OF DUTY. That is to say, though we have not monstrous and unhallowed sacrifices required of God at his altars, he does make demands on men and women to surrender, like Abraham, their sons, or to surrender themselves at the call of duty. This is indeed as real a sacrifice as in the arms of Moloch, and at the same time a far nobler one. In fact, self-sacrifice seems to be a law of providence in the case of all who would be truly noble in their careers. The voluntary element, coming in along with the sweet reasonableness of the sublime necessity, vindicates the morality of the whole transaction. Men and women cheerfully lay down their lives in gradual sacrifice to duty's call, or sometimes in sudden and immediate sacrifice. And the act is moral as welt as heroic.
V. THIS LEADS TO A LAST OBSERVATION, THAT HUMAN SACRIFICE HAD ITS GREAT CULMINATION AND CLIMAX IN THAT OF JESUS CHRIST, For what God did not require from Abraham - the actual sacrifice of his son - he has required of himself. The demand for a human sacrifice made only apparently in the case of Isaac, was made really in the case of Christ. An innocent, sinless human being was once commanded by his God and Father to lay down his life and bear, in doing so, the sins of man. Hence we find him saying, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again" (John 10:17). It would seem a harsh command, a cruel necessity, were it not that the Father and Son are essentially one, and the commandment that the Son should die was virtually Divine self-sacrifice. "He who is sent is one in being with him who sends." The atonement of Christ is really the self-sacrifice of God. Hence the only human sacrifice demanded is God incarnate responding to himself. The necessity for thus atoning for human sin at the expense of self-sacrifice is in the main mysterious. But its very mystery makes it more deeply profitable to faith. How great must God's love be when it leads him to lay down his own life and die ignominiously in the interests of men! The ram which was offered in the stead of Isaac is the type of the self-sacrificing Jesus who was offered for us. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,