Qorban (Offering, gift)
The Hebrew noun qorban gives prominence in the Old Testament to the word ‘sacrifice’, and the nature of that sacrifice. It occurs some eighty times, and apart from two occurrences in Ezekiel, Ezek. 20. 28; 40. 43, the remainder are confined to the books of Leviticus and Numbers. Whilst most of the other words used in the Old Testament relating to the word ‘offering’ either mean to offer sacrifice or refer to the process of drawing near to God, qorban highlights the value of the sacrifice that is actually brought to enable access to God. Put simply, qorban emphasizes the value of the gift or sacrifice being made, rather than simply the process or the mechanics of approaching God.
The title of the book of Leviticus in Rabbinic times was ‘torat kohanim’, meaning ‘instruction of [or “for”] the priests’; hence its Greek name Levitikon, which roughly translated means, ‘things relating to the Levities’. In Judaism, however, the book is traditionally known as vayikra meaning ‘and He (the Lord) called’, which is a straight lift from Leviticus chapter 1 verse 1. This helps us to understand why, when Israel was redeemed out of Egypt, its immediate need was no longer redemption, but atonement, Exod. 12. How could a sinful nation now approach an infinitely holy God? Hence the provision of the Levitical sacrifices by God, and His gracious invitation to draw near to Him with prescribed offerings. And it is the value of these offerings that is then mirrored in the various Levitical offerings, where the word qorban is used to describe the burnt offering, Lev. 1. 2, 3, 10, 14, the meal offering, 2. 13, and the peace offering, 3. 6, 7, 12, 14, etc. Interestingly, the same word qorban is also translated ‘oblation’ when it refers to the meal offering, 2. 4, 5, 7, 13, the first fruits, 2. 12, and the peace offering, 3. 1, highlighting again that the emphasis is on what is being offered to God.
In the first of the two occurrences of qorban in Ezekiel, in chapter 20 verse 28, we read that when God brought Israel into the Promised Land they saw any high hill or any leafy tree as giving them an opportunity to create pagan shrines where they presented offensive and idolatrous sacrifices, provoking God to anger. God’s anger here is targeted at the sort of sacrifice offered, which in the context of the preceding verses may well have been child sacrifices making the offence even more heinous.1 Conversely, in the second reference to qorban in Ezekiel, it is linked to the future temple where the sacrificial flesh is prepared on stone tables in the inner court, Ezek. 40. 43. In terms then, as Averbeck states, ‘Overall, qorban is one of the most important terms for understanding the gift aspect of the nature of offerings and sacrifices in the Old Testament’.2
In the Septuagint (LXX) the word qorban is usually translated by the Greek word doron, as in Genesis chapter 30 verse 20, where Leah attributes the birth of her son Zebulun as a choice gift from God. In Proverbs chapter 4 verse 2, the word is used of a son who receives good instruction from his father. It is this Greek word doron that is then carried over into the New Testament to generally translate the words for gifts or offerings, as in Luke chapter 21 verses 1 to 4, where the gifts to the temple are evaluated by the Lord. This is a salutary measure of our giving to the Lord – what we hold back from Him! There are many other references in the New Testament, but one important and exceptional text is found in Mark chapter 7 verses 11 to 13, where the Greek word doron is transliterated as Corban. Here our Lord is in dispute with the Pharisees and certain of the Scribes over the question of honouring the fifth commandment, Exod. 20. 12. These men circumvented this legal requirement by gifting the money that should have been used to support their parents to the temple treasury and declaring it to be a sacred vow to the Lord or Corban. This vow could not be revoked, and so parents could simply be left destitute in their old age. Ironically, though, there were provisions whereby the donor could loan the money back from the temple during their lifetime to use as they pleased! It is little wonder then that our Lord condemned such a practice, declaring that it made the word of God null and void, Mark 7. 13. The value of the gift to God was clearly devalued by men. When we consider the value of God’s gift to us in the person of His blessed Son, 2 Cor. 9. 15, what value do we place on our giving to Him? Are we like Abel, prepared to give our very best to God, or do we merely give a token offering, Heb. 11. 4?
Ezekiel chapter 20 verses 18 to 27 is a difficult section to interpret. Craigie provides a very insightful interpretation when he writes, ‘Ezekiel implies that one of the commandments of God was interpreted by Israel to establish the practice of child sacrifice. He is almost certainly referring to Exod. 22. 29: “You shall give the firstborn of your sons to me”. Taken in context, of course, the verse does not command child sacrifice; animals were sacrificed in place of children. But to twisted minds, already warped by the powerful influences of the pagan religion which they so frequently espoused, the command could take on a completely different light. And so the horrifying picture emerges of worshippers devoutly sacrificing children, deceiving themselves in the belief that they were fulfilling the intent of the divine law’, Ezekiel, Peter C. Craigie, The Daily Study Bible Series, pg. 149.
Nidoitte, pg. 980.