10 April 2009

A holy day — not a pretty day

by Dan Phillips

Justin Taylor links to a shocking video. It depicts Jews preparing, then slitting the throat of a sacrificial animal, and gathering its blood.

You watch it, hearing their ritual in rapid Hebrew, not understanding. But you have this feeling of dread, a horror for what you know is coming. Odds are that you had never quite seen the like, as I hadn't. But you feel it coming, you watch perhaps with a hand to your mouth, wanting to look away, but stopping yourself. The struggling victim, no clue what is coming; bound, prepared, shaved, given some liquid (sh'teh! sh'teh! — "Drink! Drink!" a speaker urges in Hebrew).

Then the blade slashes, the blood spurts and is gathered, and surprisingly quickly, the victim's struggles subside.

This was God's ancient pedagogy. From the very start, He taught us all that sin called for shed blood. He showed this to Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:21). Somehow Abel knew it (Genesis 4:4). Shed blood meant death (Genesis 9:6), and shed blood was the means that Yahweh instituted, for covering and paying for sin (Leviticus 17:11, 14).

This was God's pedagogy for the nation of Israel. The sight that so shocks us in the video is a sight every Israelite was exposed to from childhood, by divine design. Had they heard Yahweh, had they listened and learned, they would have known: sin-blood-life. Sin can only be atoned for by innocent life, life is in the blood, blood brings life and forgiveness. Violent death of an innocent victim, a substitute on whose head the offerer presses his hand, transferring, marking it as his substitute.

Yet all those animals never really finish the job. God forgives the believing worshipers... but then they have to bring another victim. And another. And another (Hebrews 10:1-4, 11).

Then God tells Israel that these animals would one day be summed up, fulfilled, in one grand Substitute, a Man who would die for His people and bring final and lasting peace and atonement (Isaiah 52:13—53:12).

That Man comes. Many reject Him, many do not. He dies. God removes the Temple. No more sacrifices according to the prescription of the Law are even possible. As if embarrassed (but not humbled), the nation fabricates substituted traditions, works, programs, rituals. The reality has come, but they keep trying to pencil in shadows.

It is like a child that ignored its entire childhood instruction. Blood is necessary for atonement; it would be offered, it has been offered. But the lesson was not heard.

Don't feel smug, Gentile reader, Christian reader. From our own numbers, from professed "evangelicals," there are plenty who just as badly — more badly — miss the point.

Imagine that, instead of watching a video of an animal's death, you somehow saw this day, nearly 2000 years ago. Imagine that, instead of that animal, you were watching Jesus Christ at last night's supper, at prayer in the garden, arrested, subjected to mock-justice, condemned. Imagine you were watching him being beaten and whipped, and led away.

Imagine the sick, nauseated, worsening clench in your gut as you saw Him stagger off, carrying the cross. You want to tear your eyes away. You want to make it stop. You want to scream "Stop! STOP! This is wrong!"

Yet He goes. He hangs. He bleeds. He dies. He is buried.

Why such an ugly, horrid death? Why, if penal, substitutionary, blood atonement were not indispensable for our salvation? Do we dare shake our heads at Jews who don't "get" the millennia of instruction?

Best not to mock, while such folly is tolerated in our numbers.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?


At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine—
And bathed in its own blood—
While the firm mark of wrath divine,
His Soul in anguish stood.

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
’Tis all that I can do.

Isaac Watts, 1707

(There is a companion-piece up at my blog)

Dan Phillips's signature


FX Turk said...

That's brilliant, dude. I had thoughts like these listening to Hitchens decry the barbarity of the Cross.

DJP said...

It's like hearing someone blithely dying of a thousand tumors complain about how intrusive and invasive surgery is, isn't it?

Matt said...

Beautifully done, Dan. And great comment, too! Blessed Easter, all.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Will never read the Bible the same, think the same, be the same.

Bill Lonas said...

Beautiful. Thanks for posting it.

As much as I would like to think otherwise, I'm ashamed to say that I would NOT have been one of those people screaming for it to stop.

Were it not for God's grace I would still be dead in my rebellion against Him.

Thank you Jesus.

Mike B. said...

Largely appreciated, except for just one nitpicky detail. This seems shocking to those of us in a modern urban or suburban environment, but this really wouldn't have been shocking or horrifying to anyone in the ancient world. Animal slaughter was a regular part of life. You did it for food as well as for ritual sacrifice. Many times, the sacrificial killing of an animal had nothing to do with atonement for defilements, but was instead an offering of fellowship, a shared meal as it were between God and the worshiper. So while the object lesson is certainly there, I do not think we can necessarily say that it is the "horror" of the event that really drives it home. I think that it is when we realize that it was the sacrifice of the son of God to which these offerings ultimately referred that the real horror and depth of effect sinks in, not in the regular day to day slaughtering of animals.

Boerseuntjie said...

Hi Dan,

Just one thing (For the babes in Messiah):

Who is the Author and when did he write the Hymn?

It reminds me of Augustus Montague Toplady...?
Is it?

It is good to know that YAHWEH has Passed Over us His wrath and placed it upon the Lamb that He provided unto Himself, as He did for Abraham and all the saints since. May we live each moment in the radiance of this Eternal Sacrifice that did Once for All Substitute and Atone formy sins. May I see that Lamb each day bleed out the Water and the Blood that Alone for sin could atone.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that.

I preached the good Friday message this morning and it was an incredibley sombre day. Hopeful, but sombre. The text was "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do".
In preparation I remembered the time on the farm where I had to kill older lambs, in much the fashion of the video. The memory hit hard when I thought about the imagery.
Now, we consider the Saviour, and the biblical account of the slaying of the innocent Lamb of God. It's powerful, it's brutal, it's gruesome... but it's necessary.

To those of you who are preaching this weekend, the death or the resurrection, pray earnestly, for you are proclaiming truths that words alone cannot carry.

"Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do."

DJP said...

Boerseuntjie: I've now added that info to the post.

donsands said...

"Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!"

And this love is personel. Absolutely incomprehensible.

Thanks for such a good post to reflect on this morning.

Anonymous said...

What a reminder! I needed that.


Solameanie said...

Wow. Talk about being on the same mental wave length this morning! I had been up late watching television (Glenn Beck of all things), where a clip of Mel Gibson's "Passion" movie was shown (part of the flogging scene). I have never seen the film, judging it probably too difficult for me to take.

I finally went to bed about 1:30 a.m. While lying there, I thought of what the Lord did on the cross, and how much of an outrage it is to have people who call themselves evangelicals can embrace doctrines that diminish His sacrifice. "Cosmic child abuse" as Steve Chalke calls it (and Brian McLaren approvingly applauding). It's simply beyond offensive.

No, folks. Instead, it's this:

"Amazing love, how can it be?
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me."

Great post, Dan. Thank you so much. And to God be the glory.

David said...

I'd never seen anything like this until now.

At the end, makes you wonder "Ok now what? For what purpose?" There needs to be the altar, the ritual clothing, the liturgy if you will, the surrounding Holy Place in order to give definition.

Tom Austin said...

I also think that, because we've had two thousand years of the cross as the symbol of Christ, we forget the shame and horror which that method of death conveyed to people of that time.
The closest thing we have today is the ugly threat implied by a noose. When you see how viscerally people (especially Black people) react to a noose, you can begin to understand what Galatians 5 means by "the offense of the Cross."

Solameanie said...


Believe it or not, you just gave me more food for thought. You mention the revulsion of the noose. Think of the revulsion today with the death penalty in general, even as neat and clinical as lethal injection is.

I don't want to derail the meta on the death penalty, but the way I am thinking goes along with the overall idea of atonement. Is it possible that -- despite the hue and cry of "it's inhumane" -- being against the death penalty is in essence sitting in judgment on the God who ordained it from the beginning? The Lord Himself willingly went to the cross, upholding His mandate that only blood could atone for sin. Yet our culture self-righteously insists that such a notion is pagan and bloodthirsty (read that God is pagan and bloodthirsty). We as a "civilized, modern, Western society" are better than God.

Can you see what I'm driving at? It's hard for me to put it into words. In essence, our human ideas of justice don't do justice to what God calls justice. We really don't get how serious sin is to a holy God.

The Squirrel said...

Good word today, Dan.

A few years ago, I did a personal study in Leviticus, and was struck by the masive numbers of animals being offered. The courtyard of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, would have resembled a slaughterhouse yard much more than what we thin of as a place of worship.

You're right, they didn't get it, and we don't get it.


Dead right, buddy! We don't understand, even those of us who understand more, how serious sin is to a holy God.

Happy Easter, everyone!


Drew said...

So God sent Jesus so we wouldn't have to sacrifice animals? He would rather his son die than us go through the hassle of a sacrifice?

I know this isn't what you believe, but that's the direction this post is heading.

Mike Riccardi said...


Read Hebrews 9 and 10.

If you have the same question after reading, read it again.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. It is excellent and honestly, exactly what I needed to read this morning.


NoLongerBlind said...

@Drew: You completely misread the post.

If I may me so bold as to offer a response, albeit NOT ex cathedra, here's one explanation of what Dan is saying - Hebrews 10:1-14:

"For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, "Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body have You prepared for Me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.'"

When He said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), then He added, "Behold, I have come to do your will." He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."

Jay said...

"From our own numbers, from professed "evangelicals," there are plenty who just as badly — more badly — miss the point."

I must confess that for most of my life I missed the point too. I had to see that the lesson of the cross is that man is so uttererly depraved that only God Himself could ever fully pay the price for our sin.

Isaiah 53:10 says it pleased God to crush Him, His Son - for me.

donsands said...

"We really don't get how serious sin is to a holy God." Sola

That's a huge truth. And we never will be able to comprehend just how sinful sin is in this life, however, we should pray that we do, and that God would allow us to recognize the blackness and hatefulness of our sin.

I saw the Passion of the Christ, and it is, to me, an incredible film, a difficult film, to watch. It has flaws, but it does show the agony of the Lord, and His triump, and His love.

Phil Johnson said...

Solameanie: "Steve Chalke . . . Brian McLaren"

Be sure to add Tony Jones to your list o' heretics.

Reading Jones's Good Friday diatribe so soon after watching him throw a fit on that video where he got so offended about Kevin DeYoung's critique of Emergent--well, it just makes his complaints ring rather hollow.

And (speaking of that panel) I also thought of the time Scot McKnight tore into Mark Dever for defending substitutionary atonement on Easter, because it was too controversial for a holy day. Hmmm. Wonder what he'll say to his pal Tony . . .

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

The scarlet thread running through the whole of Scripture.

He was despised and rejected by men;
     A man of sorrows,
     and acquainted with grief;
And as one from whom men hide their faces
     He was despised,
     and we esteemed Him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
     And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
     Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions;
     He was crushed for our iniquities;
Upon him was the chastisement
     that brought us peace,
     And with His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
     We have turned—every one—
     to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him
     The iniquity of us all.

(Isaiah 53:3-6)

Solameanie said...

Tony Jones: "Today, and every day, I hang with him on that cross.

I just checked out the link Phil provided to Tony Jones, and the line above is the last line of his post. When you read what Jones said above that concluding line, it amazes me that he'd have the temerity to post something like that. So he doesn't find the substitutionary atonement "compelling?" And that's not the worst of what he said.

Denying what Jesus did on that cross means in essence that Jones will be hanging in eternity all by his lonesome, rather than by Jesus' side. He doesn't get it, does he?

DJP said...

That's an odd meta, Phil.

I gather that a "Chris" offered Scripture giving the meaning of the atonement as penal, substitutionary atonement. Then a Scott M replies, saying, "Chris, 'scripture' doesn't interpret anything, much less itself. Scripture sits there until someone interprets it."

I love how blissfuly unself-aware these guys are.

Then he gives a pompous (and mistaken) dismissal of the Biblical doctrine.

Stefan Ewing said...

So I guess Acts 8:26-40 isn't in most people's Bibles.

Sir Brass said...

DJP, you have to find that link that says "read all comments." That "Christ" was Chris Rosebrough, and he ripped into Tony's heresy quite well, showing scripture's view on the atonement.

And back to THIS post on pyro...

To think that Christ took the place of that lamb is horrific. I'm with Respectabiggle on thinking that maybe I've been desensitized to the horrific nature of the Cross. Not that that is a prerequisite for salvation, but something to consider. Consider that our Lord died the most horrific, slow, painful death imaginable by practiced administrators. Yet all that physical agony, we are told, was as nothing compared to the spiritual agony He suffered on the cross when the Father poured out His wrath upon Him who knew no sin, becoming sin for us.

It's at times like this that I have to just sit and think and realize my fate were Christ's sacrifice to have no effect on me, and I think I would feel much like that sacrificial lamb, being bound, helpless, with my neck laid bare and instead of being a sacrifice, it was a just execution of justice for my sins. Except the end would not be stillness, but eternal torment. Separation from the only true source of life I know. And in that thought, I run, and like the tax collector in the temple, I cry out in prayer,

"Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner."

And then I also remember the promises of the Word, that none who truly come to Him will ever be turned away, and all who come to Him were brought to Him and that no man can take them away.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


Sir Brass said...

Edit to my most recent comment: I said "Christ" when I meant "Chris" Brain-fog-induced typo.

DJP said...

1. I make that same typo so often that I was afraid you were mocking me with your quotation-marks.

2. That's weird. You have to click something extra to see all comments. Thx.

Dr Bill said...

Dan, those lovely lyrics of Isaac Watts were published in Hymns and Spiritual Songs of 1707. Ralph Hudson concocted the refrain in 1885.

With gratitude for your ministry,

Dr Bill

NoLongerBlind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,make many to be accounted righteous,and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

donsands said...

"And (speaking of that panel) I also thought of the time Scot McKnight tore into Mark Dever"

Not able to get the Mcknight link. Was able to read the Pastor Dever article though, from the lionk from your post. Thanks.
I posted a portion on my blog.
He is an exceptional pastor, teacher, and servant of the Lord.

I can't fathom why Scot would be so upset.

DJP said...

Agh! Sloppy reading on my part. Thanks Dr Bill; corrected.


"I can't fathom why Scot would be so upset."

I'm thinking it might be related to that 9Marks thing.

Stefan Ewing said...

We had a wonderful Good Friday service today. It opened with the words from Isaiah 53 (!), concluded with a sermon on the suffering of Christ and His finished work on the Cross; then we enjoyed communion and fellowship.

On to Easter, for He is risen indeed!

Stefan Ewing said...

...And every seat in the sanctuary was filled, with spillover to ancillary rooms, and a second service. It was amazing.

(That Good Friday is a public holiday in Canada, must be one of the rare privileges we enjoy in comparison to you brothers and sisters to the south.)

Eric said...


The meta of that Tony Jones blog post contains a nice example (Michael) of your last NEXT! fallacy, the Jesus as a good teacher/rabbi/example/social revolutionary.

Reading that post and the majority of those comments makes me simultaneously sad and angry.

Chuck Weinberg said...

We so often go about our lives on this Passion week and the rest of the year, just thinking about what will happen next. We don't think about what has already happened.

He gave up Heaven, His own will and His life to restore our relationship with Him.

What a cost, what a Love. May we never lose the wonder of the cross, and may we think often of the cost.
Thanks for the reminder.

Eric Kaminsky said...

I'll have to take your word for it Dan, as my internet filter won't allow me to see the video, because of its graphic content.

Wes Walker said...

As to the comment that killing and butchering animals was commonplace, may I respectfully point out that animals were not typically chosen from the herd, and kept *in the house* for 2 weeks (if I'm reading Ex 12 rightly) before slaughtering it.

Try taking any small, cute animal into the home and see if you will still be ambivalent toward its suffering. I expect this was intentionally part of it. Compare scapegoat and other types / shadows.

(As a child, my wife went somewhere that they commonly eat goat. She understood generically what happened, and it hadn't been a problem to her. But once she realized that "Billy" was missing, and there was curried goat on the table, it suddenly meant something much more).

DJP said...

Beside that, it was simply a massive missing of the point. I never said anything at all about how the Israelites would feel about it, only about how unconditioned moderns would feel about it.

The only point I made about the Israelites is that they were conditioned by God to connect sin and atonement with the violent, bloody death of a perfect, innocent, substitutionary victim.

Craig Dunning said...

". . . and kept *in the house* for 2 weeks (if I'm reading Ex 12 rightly) before slaughtering it."


That would be 4 days since the lamb was chosen on the 10th day (Ex 12:3) and then sacrificed on the 14th.

Mark B. Hanson said...

By the way, in the hymn, leave out the chorus, please. Watts never wrote that part - it was added in the 19th century by Ralph E. Hudson, who probably thought the hymn as written was a downer, and wrote the revised melody as well. The chorus turns it into rollerskating music.

DJP said...

No no no.

"Coming Again" — that's roller skating music.

Mark B. Hanson said...

I guess I just have trouble considering that a Puritan like Watts would ever write a line like "and now I am happy all the day."

DJP said...

Oh well, Puritans certainly believed in being happy. Wasn't Jeremy Taylor a Purtan? He said, “God threatens terrible things, if we will not be happy.”

My own problem with that line in the hymn has been that that the tune has always sounded very sad and mournful to me, and doesn't really go with those words.

Wes Walker said...


Thanks for the correction.