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urge, in the first place, that it never could have entered into the mind of a wise and holy man, like Abel, either that the slaughter of innocent animals and the smell of carcasses and entrails would be acceptable to God; or even that these services would evince the supreme reverence of his heart towards God, and his profound veneration of the divine sovereignty over life and death, unless God himself had instituted such rites by an express command : especially since (as they conceive) nothing was originally offered in sacrifice, except what was used for human sustenance, but the use of animal food most probably was not allowed before the deluge.* Nor is this the
The force of this argument constrained Grotius, a defender of the contrary opinion, to maintain that Abel's sacrifice consisted, not of the members of slaughtered animals, but only of the milk and best fleeces of living ones. So he interprets the original words in Genesis iv. 4. Whether he has any followers in this sentiment, 1 know not.
TR.—This notion of Grotius was adopted by Le Clerc, but has justly been rejected by commentators in general, as altogether fanciful and absurd. Though Ibn is properly rendered milk in various passages of scripture, it cannot be shown to have that sense in any place which describes it as offered, or commanded to be offered, in sacrifice; and the use of the word in several other places justifies its being here translated the fattest. (Numb. xviii. 12. Psal. lxxxi, 16. cxlvii. 14.) to mean the best of the kind : but, though it is admitted that Abel's oblation was of the best of his flock, this idea is conveyed in the word abno; and no valid reason has been assigned for understanding n1993 any otherwise than in its literal and radical sense of earliest or first born. Of wool, there is no pretence for saying, that the text makes any mention at all; and that Abel's “ bringing of his flock” implies his “ bringing" the wool “ of his flock,” is a mere conjecture without any foundation. As Cain's “ bringing of the fruit of “ the ground,” confessedly means his “ bringing" some “ of the fruit of the ground;" so Abel's “bringing of the firstlings “ of his flock," evidently signifies his “bringing" some
of the firstlings " of his flock.” (Puoli Synops. in loc. Heideg. Exerc. V. s. 20. Kenni. cott's Two Dissert. p. 192–194. edit. 1747.) The version of this text may be further improved in simplicity and clearness by rendering the conjunctive 1 even, instead of and. “ And Abel, he also brought (some) of “ the firstlings of his flock, even of the fattest of them.”
בכרות. Grotius asserts
only argument of those who believe the first sacrifices to have been commanded by God: they adduce to the same purpose the assertion of an apostle, that “ by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain :"* and nothing, they say,
is done “ by faith,” but what is done by the direction of God himself.
IV. But there are others, who, so far from thinking 2 that the faith of Abel here commended had its foundation in any express command of God, consider this passage as rather authorizing a contrary conclusion. For, if Abel offered sacrifices in obedience to a divine precept, what opinion must be formed respecting Cain? If his sacrifice was caused by the belief that God had given such a command, he evidently possessed the same faith as Abel himself: whereas the contrary appears to have been the fact. But, if he entertained no such belief, and without any express command of God, but from the dictates of his own mind, spontaneously sacrificed some of the gifts with which providence had favoured him ;—if such was the conduct of Cain, a wicked man, influenced by the light of nature, how much more probably may Abel, a good man, be supposed to have done the same! These persons perceive but little force in the argument, that, without divine direction, Abel could never have supposed it would be acceptable to God for him to celebrate his power and goodness by religious rites and services involving the effusion of animal blood. Habituated as we have been to other customs and different modes of worship, we ought not, they say, at such a vast distance of time, hastily to decide what might possibly occur to the mind of Abel, especially
* Heb. si. 4.
in things not contrary to the laws of nature, which sacrifices certainly are not; since God, who has never commanded any thing contrary to the laws of nature, enjoined them on the people of Israel. Nor do they think it at all surprising, if the first men took particular care that the sacrifices which they offered to God should be consumed by fire, unless perhaps they were consumed by fire descending from heaven : their entire consumption being necessary to prevent any part of what was consecrated to God from being transferred to profane uses; a circumstar.ce which might have occurred, unless the oblations had invariably been committed to the flames. But however this may have been, they consider it as an act of presumption in any persons, to pronounce that sacrifices originated in a divine command, which is never mentioned in the scriptures; it being altogether incredible that such a law, if any such had been given by God to our first parents and their immediate descendants, should have been intentionally passed over in silence by all the sacred writers, as a fact of no importance.
But how do the advocates of this opinion account for the high commendation of Abel's faith? They say, that his supreme veneration for the former of all things, and for his dominion, power, and goodness, led him to conclude, that the best of all his flocks ought to be solemnly offered, as an expression of reverence and gratitude to his Creator, the giver of all and the sovereign of life and death; but that Cain being destitute of these pious sentiments, the fruits which he offered were neither the best of his crops nor acceptable to God.
V. Persons who view the subject in this light, there
fore, are convinced that the primitive sacrifices were not occasioned by an express command of God, but by the dictates of natural reason. They believe that the first men were taught by the light of nature to discover that public worship and honour ought to be paid to God, and that this might be best effected if every individual made a solemn consecration to him of the best of his possessions. This notion, they think, derives considerable support from that passage of Moses : “ And in the end of days* it came to
pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also
brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat “ thereof."| For they understand “the end of days” to mean, with respect to Cain, the completion of his harvest, and, with respect to Abel, the time when his wealth was increased by the multiplication of his flocks; so that each of them at these seasons, taught by his own reason (for no law is produced) considered it his duty to offer to God some portion of the gifts received from him; but that one neither offered the best of his possessions, nor exercised sufficient gratitude of heart, whereas the other did both. To this purpose may be cited the language in which God censures the Israelites for an excessive confidence in sacrifices. “ Put your burnt offerings unto “ your
sacrifices, and eat flesh;” that is, ' Eat if you please, not only your peace offerings,' which are intended by the word here rendered sacrifices, but also your
entire victims;' which nevertheless was forbidden by the law. “ For I spake not unto your fathers, nor
commanded them, in the day that I brought them “out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings
+ Gen. iv. 3, 4.
or sacrifices."* For how could the declaration here made by God to the Israelites, that when he brought their forefathers out of Egypt he gave them no immediate command respecting sacrifices,-how could this diminish their excessive estimation of those rites, if he had enjoined on mankind the very same species of worship and similar sacrificial rites from the carliest ages ? Who will imagine that the laws given to Adam and his immediate descendants from the beginning of the world, are to be considered as less important than those which were afterwards given to the Hebrews on their departure from Egypt? So that there could be no reason why sacrifices should be said to have been commanded at a subsequent period, as being evidently things of very
little importance ; if they had been already appointed from the commencement of time.
VI. These and similar considerations, therefore, led most of the ancient fathers to conclude that sacrifices originated, not from any divine command, but from natural reason. Thus the author of the Answers to the Orthodox:t None of those who offered animals “in sacrifice before the law, did it by any divine
precept; though God appears to have accepted the 'sacrifice; his acceptance of the offering being a proof
of his acceptance of the person who offered it.' And again : ‘God nowhere appears to have given
any law to Noah for the sacrificing of animals.' On this passage of Moses, “ And in the end of days “ it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of “ the ground an offering unto the Lord,” Chrysostom makes the followiny observations. " See how the author of nature endued the conscience with know
* Jer. vii. 21, 22.
Resp. ad. Quæst. 83.