Thursday, July 27, 2017

We must stop being the whores of goat demons - More Problems with Penal Substitution

Another one of the developing insights I've recently come across was found in a passing sentence in the book of Leviticus, chapter 17. This is the famous chapter where God explains why blood is 'special' and why the Israelites were forbidden to eat blood. This is one of the most important chapters in the Old Testament, since it speaks on the heart of the sacrificial system. This insight should radically alter your perception of animal sacrifices, such that you will see Penal Substitution truly has no place. 

I begin by quoting the relevant portion of Leviticus 17: 
1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. 3 If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. 5 This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the Lord. 6 And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 7 So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.
Before the chapter goes onto speak on the issue of sacrificial blood, it begins by speaking on the location of where sacrifices are taking place. In this passage, God commands all animals which were slain for sacrifice to be brought to the priestly tent to be offered upon the altar, and anyone who fails to do this will be subject to severe punishment. Why is this such a big deal? Because God wanted to stop the Israelites from sacrificing "to goat demons, after whom they whore" themselves. This bizarre statement actually contains a crucial insight into what Sacrifices were all about: Liturgical Worship! Man's chief goal has always been to give God the form of Worship which God desires to receive; anything else is technically idolatry. In this case, the lesson seems to be that while in Egypt, the Israelites had picked up some bad religious habits, particularly offering worship to animal-idols, in this case a goat-deity. This got me reflecting and researching, which led me to some further insights by some Catholic Biblical scholars. 

The book of Leviticus is basically divided into two parts: the first half discusses animal sacrifices, while the second half focuses on illicit sexual acts. At first it doesn't seem that Liturgy and Sex go together, but surprisingly they actually often do, particularly in pagan contexts. Goat Demons and Whoring is a combination of Worship and Sex, even if the 'whoring' spoken about here was mostly focused on spiritual unfaithfulness to God. None the less, it is clear that much of the Torah is spent talking and warning about not emulating the pagan culture from which the Israelites were brought out of. God repeatedly says to them, "You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt," and then proceed to list a bunch of sexual perversions. Much of their conversion involved leaving the past behind them, and much of our spiritual journey involves the same thing. How often do we get caught up in the culture and whore ourselves out to the local pagan deities? "American Catholicism" has always had a bad name for it's manner of corrupting the faith, even while making it seem like you're being a good Catholic! It is clear that we are engulfed in a land of illicit sexual acts, and we practically worship animals and technology.

I don't think it was an accident that God's two primary animals He wanted sacrificed were goats and cows, for these were likely held in high deity-esteem in the pagan regions. The "goat demons" and "golden calf" (Ex 32:4-6) didn't just come randomly from the imagination, but rather they were explicitly taught to the Israelites while in their long bondage in Egypt. Indeed, it's not hard to see why such animals would be worshiped, for they give us milk and wool. As such, these animals are very valuable, and so to slaughter them would not only be a noteworthy financial hit, but even an attack on their 'sacred status'. Even in the land of Canaan, which the Israelites were going to enter into, God gives a similar warning to destroy any remnants of pagan worship and pagan altars, so that the Israeltes don't fall prey to "covenant with the inhabitants of the land, where they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice." (Ex 34:15; cf 1 Cor 10:21) It is fascinating to note that altar-sacrifice, covenant, worship, and eating are all present in such passages. True worship versus false worship is the point of these lessons, not punishing substitutes. (And why would the pagans even be concerned with punishing a substitute in their own pagan sacrifices?) 

A friend had explained that (from what he recalled), Scott Hahn had already thought along these lines, and that Hahn had pointed to texts like Exodus 8:25-29, speaking of why God wanted the Israelites to go out into the wilderness to sacrifice instead of remaining inside the Egyptian city limits: "Moses said, It would not be right to do so [i.e. sacrifice to within city limits], for the offerings we shall sacrifice to the Lord our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?" This certainly suggests that by sacrificing sheep and cows, the Egyptians would have seen this as an attack upon their animal-deities.

This would explain why God commanded the Passover Lamb to be slain, and it's blood painted on the doors: such an act was a direct attack upon the Egyptian pagan Sheep-Deity, and splattering its blood a supreme sign of disrespect to their religion, as well as a marker on which slaves were bold enough to do such a revolutionary act which could cost them their lives. Without recognizing the Liturgical Worship aspect of these Sacrifices, we lose a lot of the motivation behind the Passover Lamb. It begins to look somewhat random, and somewhat mechanistic in killing an innocent animal for the "sin" of just being the first born son. What sense does Penal Substitution make in cases like when God says, "But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall burn their fat as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord."? (Numbers 18:15-17) Where is the "sin" that is being imputed onto these first born animals that warrants their death? Only a Liturgical Worship answer makes any sense. For the ancient world, and even today, being first born was a big deal, not only for inheritance rights, but for the sake of being the chief, and possibly even the only son. So when it comes down to the world superpower Egypt verses the enslaved Israelites, for God to call the latter his "first born son" (Ex 4:22-23) is extremely significant. It signifies a cosmic injustice that needs to be rectified. 

With this in mind, it could help better explain the notion of Jesus being "the Lamb of God". When we hear this phrase, we typically only associate it with Jesus' blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. But this seems to be deficient and reduce the "Lamb" status to a mere tool. Rather, I think that we must supplement the blood-forgiveness aspect with the more central aspect: the goat-deity motif. In this view, the (firstborn) Lamb is first to be seen as a deity of sorts, to be worshiped and honored. This means that Jesus being "God's Lamb" is really about Jesus' deity and to be worshiped. 

While much of this is speculative reflection, and definitely would appreciate any insights by others, I think that the whole of it is true and puts the Sacrificial system in the proper perspective. The point of sacrifices was never about punishing, but rather first and foremost about Liturgy. This is why Abel, Noah, and Abraham - despite being explicitly deemed "righteous" - were made famous for their sacrifices. Because True Worship is at stake.


Mark Thimesch said...

Very interesting. Thanks

Berhane Selassie said...

Syrian Tradition following, Jewish says that the Egyptians worshipped sheep, to make things worse Genesis says the Egyptians hated the Israelites for being shepherds, strangely, the Pharaoh had his own flock of sheep we are told.

Nick said...

Wow, that's an awesome insight! Here is what I found in Genesis 46:

"33 When Pharaoh calls you [Israel] and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you [Israel] shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”"

I haven't looked up any commentaries on this yet, but it appears that Joseph wanted his brothers to dwell outside the main city in the 'suburb' of Goshen where they could keep the flocks without trouble. Being a shepherd would make sense as an abomination if the Egyptians held sheep to be sacred.

And in Exodus 10:24, following the Ninth Plague, it says:

"24 Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, “Go, serve the Lord; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.” 25 But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God."

So Pharaoh doesn't want them taking their sacrifices, flocks and herds (i.e. sheep and cows), which Moses explicitly links to the Sacrifices pleasing to God. Pharaoh could have either been wanting them to leave behind their valuables so as to prevent them from fleeing the country or he could have been trying to prevent them from Sacrificing.