Sprinkle; Sprinkling

sprin'-k'-l, sprin'-kling (zaraq, nazah; rhantizein): The first word means "to toss" or "scatter abundantly," e.g. in handfuls, as dust on the head (Job 2:12) or blood from a bowl (Ex 9:8). The other Hebrew word is used of sprinkling with the finger (Le 14:7; 16:14, etc.). In the account of Jezebel's death the word is used in its literal meaning of "spurt" (2Ki 9:33).

Sprinkling (blood, water, oil) formed an important--if not the essential--part of the act of sacrifice. A consideration of the chief passages in the Old Testament will reveal the prominence and the significance of sprinkling as a feature of the sacrificial act. The significance of the sprinkling of blood is seen in the account of the establishment of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel (Ex 24:6-8). Half the blood was sprinkled on the altar as representing the Deity, while the remainder was put into a basin and then sprinkled on the people. This ceremony is a survival in a modified form of the communal meal in which the tribal god and his worshippers sat together and participated in the same food, and in this way came to possess the same life. The two-fold sprinkling of blood resulted in the establishment of an inviolable bond (Nu 18:17; 2Ki 16:15). In the account of the consecration of Aaron and his sons (Ex 29:16,20-21) the blood of the ram of the burnt offering was sprinkled on the altar, while the blood of the ram of consecration was put on the altar and sprinkled on Aaron and his sons and on their garments. Water of purifying was sprinkled on the Levites at their ordination (Nu 8:7). Lev gives detailed information in regard to sacrificial sprinkling. In the case of burnt offering the blood was sprinkled round about upon the altar (Le 1:5,11). The same practice obtained in the case of peace offerings, whether ox, lamb or goat (Le 3:2,8,13). When a sin offering for sins inadvertently committed was made, the priest dipped his fingers in the blood and sprinkled it seven times before Yahweh, before the veil of the Holy Place (Le 4:6). Elsewhere (Le 16:11,15) we read that Aaron took the blood of the sin offering and sprinkled it with his finger upon the mercy-seat, eastward, 7 times (see also Nu 19:4). Sprinkling constituted part of the process of purification. But it is obvious that the sprinkling, even in this case, was a religious act, and not part of the actual physical cleaning. A simple kind of sprinkler was made by fastening a bunch of hyssop to a cedar rod by a piece of scarlet thread or wool and then the patient was besprinkled 7 times (Le 14:7), while oil was sprinkled with the finger, also 7 times, before Yahweh (Le 14:16; see also Ex 12:22; Nu 19:18; Ps 51:7). The house in which the leper lived was disinfected in the same thorough manner (Le 16:34).

In the case of persons who had contracted uncleanness through contact with a corpse, sprinkling with the "water of separation" was part of the process of cleansing. The water of separation consisted of the ashes of a red heifer (slain for the purpose) mixed with running water (Nu 19:1-22). A sprinkler was used as in the case of the leper (Nu 19:18). The final sprinkling--on the 7th day--was followed by a bath (Nu 19:19). The "tent" in which the corpse lay, together with all the contents, were thoroughly disinfected.


According to Ex (9:8,10) the plague of "boils and blains" was caused through the sprinkling of ashes ("soot" the Revised Version margin) in the air toward heaven, which settled on man and beast and produced the eruption. The narrative gives no clue in reference to the connection between the ashes and the eruption, but the religious character of the act is obvious. By means of it, the assistance of the Deity was invoked. According to primitive thought, there was no necessary connection between the religious act and the consummation devoutly wished for. The purpose of the religious observance was to influence, or bring pressure to bear upon, the Deity so that He might exert Himself on behalf of the worshipper. It is evident that sprinkling as part of the act of worship was believed to be religiously effectual. It was not symbolical nor morally significant. It was a religious act. It is not denied that in some passages sprinkling is symbolical. According to Ezek (36:25) the restored community will experience moral and spiritual renewal. There will be a "new heart" and a "new spirit." The sprinkling with clean water is the outward symbol of the inward lustration. In Isa 63:3 the sacrificial allusion is obvious. The conqueror who strides triumphantly from Bozrah is "besprinkled" with the life-blood (or juice) of his victims. In Isa 52:15 "sprinkle" is a doubtful rendering. There is no apparent connection between bodily disfigurement and national purification. the Revised Version margin renders "startle" (literally, "cause to spring"). The exalted dignity of the "martyr" will excite the wonder of kings and peoples.

In 1 Pet 1:2, "sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" is used figuratively of its cleansing efficacy (compare Heb 9:13-14; 10:22).

T. Lewis

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