Part two in a loose, non-chronological series, this episode of The Spirit of the Law focuses on sacrifices and what we are to do in place of them today.
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All of the sacrificial laws pointed to one thing. They may have had different applications and representations, but they all pointed to one specific thing, and it boils down to a challenge Yeshua gave to the Scribes and Pharisees.
10 Later, Matthew invited Yeshua and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with scum like tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Yeshua heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a physician—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’”
This statement was repeated during a second encounter with the Pharisees:
1 At about that time Yeshua was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. 2 But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.”
3 Yeshua said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He went into the house of Elohim, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. 5 And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? 6 I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! 7 But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’”
In both instances, Yeshua was quoting from Scripture, specifically from the prophet Hosea. In chapter 6 of his book we read:
4 “O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks Yah. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. 5 I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces—to slaughter you with my words, with judgments as inescapable as light. 6 I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know mercy more than I want burnt offerings. 7 But like Adam, you broke my covenant and betrayed my trust.”
The word “mercy” used here is word H2617 chesed, and, according to Brown-Driver-Briggs, its chief senses are kindness, goodness, and mercy. We see the same word used in Proverbs 11:17:
17 The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm.
Some translations substitute gracious or kind for merciful, and both work almost as well.
Essentially, the laws surrounding sacrifice allowed Israel to receive forgiveness for their sins. As stated in the Passover section of our enhanced scripture study video The Pure Convocations, according to Leviticus 17 verse 11:
11 . . . The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.
By having the covering of Yeshua’s blood, death will pass over us, as mentioned in Exodus 12:13, and we will experience eternal life. Sin is basically a debt, which is to be paid by the death of the sinner, but sacrifice, which is a form of death that included the shedding of blood, covers the sin or debt of the sinner. Burnt offerings did the same:
3 “If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to Yah. 4 You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. 5 You are to slaughter the young bull before Yah, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting.”
Prior to Yeshua’s sacrifice, animal sacrifices, which were mere shadows, all pointed to him, seeing he was the true substance. Well, these daily acts of sacrifice were performed to unlock the minds of the people of Israel to something wonderful. It was supposed to instill in them the concept of mercy.
By experiencing the mercy of Yah, a supreme being who is full of mercy, they were expected to have this rub off on them. Say I lived in ancient Israel and I committed a sin. The nation understood that all sin required the payment of death to satisfy the cost of the offense, as enforced in Ezekiel 18:20.
20 The person who sins will die.
But I would be allowed to bring a sacrifice to the altar, which the priest would kill on my behalf, sprinkling its blood to symbolically cover my sins. Through this act I should instantly recognize that though I should be dead because of this sin, the death of the sacrificial animal symbolically took my place, therefore this is a mercy extended to me. It is gracious on Yah’s part, and kind, for he accepted the animal as a substitute for my death. Therefore, I should show that kind of mercy and forgiveness to others. Because Yah desires mercy over sacrifice.
36 You must be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
As versed in the law as they were, this is something the Scribes and Pharisees couldn’t see. Instead, people with a heart like theirs merely put stock in the letter of the law, being blind to its spirit, such as with the act of sacrifice itself. For instance, in ancient times, many with this kind of heart thought that the blood of animals actually took away their sin and they failed to see mercy at all, which is ultimately what sacrifices point to. And although they presented sacrifices, they did so with the wrong heart, not being truly repentant:
27 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, how much more when he brings it with evil intent!
The blood of those animals only represented the true blood of Yeshua which takes away sin. But the fact that he shed his blood in the place of his creation is the greatest mercy ever bestowed. And this we are to emulate, hence these words:
24 Then Yeshua said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your stake, and follow me.”
What we have to understand is this, Yah doesn’t extend his mercy to us via the sacrificial laws for blatant sins. This would mean that we would be sinning deliberately on a continual basis and coming to Yah for forgiveness. This is what ancient Israel did, and it displeased and angered Yah. This is why, at one point, he eventually rejected not only Israel’s sacrifices, but also their Sabbath and festival celebrations.
2 “My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, Yah, have spoken! I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word. 3 But those who choose their own ways—delighting in their detestable sins—will not have their offerings accepted. When such people sacrifice a bull, it is no more acceptable than a human sacrifice. When they sacrifice a lamb, it’s as though they had sacrificed a dog! When they bring an offering of grain, they might as well offer the blood of a pig. When they burn frankincense, it’s as if they had blessed an idol.”
The book of 1 Samuel gives us Yah’s true desire; what he hopes to see first and foremost in his servants:
22 But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to Yah: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”
—1 Samuel 15
This is reinforced in the book of Jeremiah:
21 This is what Yah of Heaven’s Armies, the Elohim of Israel, says: “Take your burnt offerings and your other sacrifices and eat them yourselves! 22 When I led your ancestors out of Egypt, it was not burnt offerings and sacrifices I wanted from them. 23 This is what I told them: ‘Obey me, and I will be your Elohim, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!’ 24 “But my people would not listen to me. They kept doing whatever they wanted, following the stubborn desires of their evil hearts. They went backward instead of forward.
25 From the day your ancestors left Egypt until now, I have continued to send my servants, the prophets—day in and day out. 26 But my people have not listened to me or even tried to hear. They have been stubborn and sinful—even worse than their ancestors.”
While the sacrificial system was in place in ancient Israel, and yes, while we have the blood of Yeshua covering us today and we can ask forgiveness any time we sin, Yah prefers obedience above these avenues of repentance. That means we are not to abuse the avenue of repentance by continually committing blatant and deliberate sins and asking for forgiveness. We are to exercise obedience and move forward. And once we are obedient and others become indebted to us through some sin or offense, he wants us to then exercise mercy by forgiving them when they ask for forgiveness, as he continually exercises mercy by forgiving us when we ask with the right heart. Simple as that.
This goes back to what Yeshua said in Luke 6:37, “Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.” Let’s face it, we, each of us, are guilty of offending someone. We have all done something wrong to someone else, and many others have done us wrong. What it boils down to is this: we must all learn to be merciful and forgive the people who have wronged us, because that is what Yah desires above all, which is what sacrifice taught all along.
But it is through sacrifice that we behold and experience mercy, hence Yehua’s ultimate sacrifice, and his challenge to the Pharisees:
13 . . . “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’”
To hold someone’s guilt over their head because they did you some injustice or wrong will cause your own guilt to hang over your head in Yah’s eyes. And no sacrifice, not even Yeshua’s, will cover it. But mercy wins out. Simple as that. If you first forgive and show mercy, then you yourself will be forgiven for all the evils that you have committed against Yah and others. Then the sacrifice of Yeshua will be able to cover your sins. That is because Yah desires mercy over sacrifice, and not the other way around.
Now some might think that there is a limit to this forgiveness of others, but Yeshua gives us a detailed breakdown on how forgiveness, which is the mercy we are speaking of, should work in our lives. In the book of Luke, chapter 17, we read:
3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
First, I’d like to point out that this study, and all studies in this series—including all videos and other materials we offer—is speaking solely to those who are in this walk, be they native-born Israelites or foreigners joined to them in service to Yah. With that in mind, we’ll begin to break down this concept of forgiveness and mercy as it is to be understood and implemented in our lives. In the verse we just read, the word brother is used, but a true understanding of what Yeshua was referring to requires a definition of that word.
It is word G80, adelphos, and while one version of the Strong’s Concordance, which is not a true scholarly reference by any means, renders the sense as a fellow-Christian or one from the same religious community, the Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives a clearer sense that more accurately expresses the true Hebrew meaning:
SENSE 2. according to a Hebrew use of ach, word H251 (see Exodus 2:11; Exodus 4:18, etc.), . . ., having the same national ancestor, belonging to the same people, countryman.
So the first verse Thayer’s cited, Exodus 2:11, reads as follows:
11 Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brothers [ach in Hebrew; adelphos in Greek] and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brothers.
And the second verse cited was Exodus 4:18, which reads:
18 Then Moses departed and returned to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please, let me go, that I may return to my brothers [ach in Hebrew; adelphos in Greek] who are in Egypt, and see if they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.”
So when Yeshua says,
3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
. . . he is referring to someone having the same national ancestor as you, in this case Jacob, who became Israel. He is referring to someone belonging to your people, and those joined to your people. Remember the law of Numbers 15:16 and similar verses:
16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the foreigner who sojourns with you.
This is shored up by Isaiah 56:
6 “Also the foreigners who join themselves to Yah, to minister to him, and to love the name of Yah, to be his servants, every one who keeps from profaning the Sabbath and holds fast to my covenant; 7even those will I bring to my pure mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
So this is clearly aimed at those who are fully in the walk among Israel, including those joined to Israel in heart, being fully obedient to the Most High. These are the people Yeshua is referring to in Luke 17:3. If your brother sins—if he or she wanders from the path of uprightness and honor by doing you some kind of wrong—you are to forgive them. The word “forgive,” as it is used here, is word G863, aphiémi, and it has a few strong senses, among them:
to let go, let alone, let be; to disregard. To leave, not to discuss now, give up a debt by not demanding it, to give up, keep no longer.
Forgiveness, therefore, means letting go of whatever someone did or said to you once they ask forgiveness. It means not even bringing it up in discussion again; to disregard it by putting it out of mind. This is how Yah will treat our sins, you see:
21 “I have made Israel for myself, and they will someday honor me before the whole world. 25I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.”
Yeshua goes on to say in the next verse:
4 “Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”
This gives us some idea as to the lengths we are to go to in order to show forth Yah’s mercy in our own lives. Forgiveness must not be limited, particularly when someone with a repentant heart comes to you seeking that forgiveness. This is what Yeshua was demonstrating in his life when he reached out to sinners to show them how they had wronged Yah and their fellow neighbor, which is made evident only by the law. And once aware of their sins, a repentant heart might result.
In another account, Yeshua was able to further illustrate the depth of forgiveness.
21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Master, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
22 “No, not seven times,” Yeshua replied, “but seventy times seven!”
In other words, Yah’s mercy is boundless to those who desire it, therefore, in being as merciful as he is merciful, which we are required to be, our forgiveness must have no end as well for those who desire that mercy. After answering Peter’s question regarding forgiveness, Yeshua offered up another parable to support his message:
23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him ten thousand talents (or $6 billion dollars). 25He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii (or $10,000 dollars). He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
The denarius and talent were units of currency in and after the time of Yeshua. A denarius was a Roman silver coin weighing, in Nero’s time, 53 grams. According to Matthew 20:1-2, a denarius amounted to a day’s wage. A talent, on the other hand, was not a coin but rather a unit of weight for either silver or gold that was about 75 pounds. To put things in perspective, a silver talent was equivalent to 6,000 denarii, while a gold talent was worth 30 times more.
So when we compare the value of a hundred denarii (or a few thousand dollars) to that of ten thousand talents (or billions of dollars), we see that Yah’s mercy involves a level of forgiveness that is far greater than ours can ever be, which we are to offer to our fellow servants here on earth. Our offenses against Yah far outweigh their little offenses against us.
I’ll put it this way: one talent, which is 6,000 denarii, as stated, would take the average laborer 6,000 days (or 16 years) to earn. So the ten thousand talents would be equal to 60,000,000 denarii, or over 160,000 years of labor! At $100 dollars a day for the average day’s wage of a typical worker in our era, this would amount to $6 billion dollars if the talents were silver. If the talents were gold the amount would balloon to $180 billion dollars. I hope you realize what this means: the king in Yeshua’s parable represents Yah, and the debt owed to him is equivalent to our sin debt to Yah. It would be impossible for those who are indebted to Yah through sin to ever pay off their debt!
This is why the king in the parable initially showed compassion for the repentant servant who pleaded with him. But the same mercy that was extended to that servant should have been extended to others. As demonstrated by Yah’s mercy toward us, this is the kind of mercy we are to extend to our fellow servants here on earth. And it is only through forgiveness—that is, by being forgivers of others—that we will be forgiven ourselves and thereby obtain the kingdom.
Keywords: spirit of the law, letter of the law, sacrificial system, sacrificing, burnt offering, Levitical priesthood, Melchizedek priesthood, covenant law, repentance, forgiveness, seventy times seven, holding grudges, forgive and forget, blatant sin, deliberate sin