The Prophetic Critique Of Israel’s Cultic Order -- By: Lloyd R. Bailey

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 06:2 (Spring 1989)
Article: The Prophetic Critique Of Israel’s Cultic Order
Author: Lloyd R. Bailey


The Prophetic Critique Of Israel’s Cultic Order

Lloyd R. Bailey

Professor of Old Testament
Duke University

The initiation of Israel’s cultic order, involving designated personnel, sacred space (sanctuaries), calendric celebrations, specified procedure, and holy objects, reportedly took place in the Mosaic Age as a consequence of divine disclosure.1 This we are told, repeatedly, in the canonical traditions which Christians have come to call “Old Testament.” The following is a typical illustration.

The Lord called Moses, and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of cattle from the herd or from the flock...” (Lev. 1:1–2) .... This is the law of the burnt offering… which the Lord commanded Moses on Mount Sinai... (7:37–38).

Many centuries after the time of Moses, the prophet Ezekiel proposed a blueprint for the restoration of worship after the shattering experience of exile. God, he suggested, desires continuation of the old-time religion, although with more specificity as to leadership: “... the sons of Zadok (only)... shall attend to me to offer me the fat and the blood, says the Lord God” (44:15).

Centuries later still, we find that the holy family was attentive to such regulation: “... they [Mary and Joseph] brought him [Jesus] up to Jerusalem... to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord... “ (Luke 2:22–24).

It is curious, then, that one encounters prophetic denunciations such as the following:

Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O House of Israel? (Amos 5:25).

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

It is little wonder, then, that subsequent generations differed as to what was essential to the worship of God and as to the prophetic evaluation of cultus in particular. Equally divergent have been the opinions about the implications of that critique for worship in the present. The present inquiry will focus primarily upon what was said then but with attention to what it might mean now.

Three Categories of Religious Leadership

In ancient Israel...

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