XLIV. (242) And the law orders the priests to feast on what is offered in the sacrifice for many reasons; first of all, that by this command it may do honour to him who has offered the sacrifice, for the dignity of those who eat of the feast is an honour to those who furnish it; secondly, that they may believe the more firmly that those men who feel repentance for their sins do really have God propitious to them, for he would never have invited his servants and ministers to a participation in such a banquet, if his forgiveness of those who provided it had not been complete; and thirdly, because it is not lawful for any one of the priests to bear a part in the sacred ceremonies who is not perfect, for they are rejected for the slightest blemish. (243) And God comforts those who have ceased to travel by the road of wickedness, as if they now, by means of the race of the priesthood, had received a pure purpose of life for the future, and had been sent forth so as to obtain an equal share of honour with the priests. And it is for this reason that the victim sacrificed as a sin-offering is consumed in one day, because men ought to delay to sin, being always slow and reluctant to approach it, but to exert all possible haste and promptness in doing well. (244) But the sacrifices offered up for the sins of the high priest, or for those of the whole nation, are not prepared to be eaten at all, but are burnt to ashes, and the ashes are sacred as has been said; for there is no one who is superior to the high priest or to the whole nation, or who can as such be an intercessor for them, as to the sins which they have committed. (245) Very naturally, therefore, is the meat of this sacrifice ordered to be consumed by fire, in imitation of the whole burnt offerings, and this to the honour of those who offer it; not because the sacred judgments of God are given with reference to the rank of those who come before his tribunal, but because the offences committed by men of pre-eminent virtue and real holiness are accounted of a character nearly akin to the good actions of others; (246) for as a deep and fertile soil, even if it at times yields a bad crop, still bears more and better fruit than one which is naturally unproductive, so in the same manner it happens that the barrenness of virtuous and God-fearing men is more full of excellence than the best actions which ordinary people perform by chance; for these men cannot intentionally endure to do anything blameable.
XLV. (247) Having given these commandments about every description of sacrifice in its turn, namely, about the burnt offering, and the sacrifice for preservation, and the sin-offering, he adds another kind of offering common to all the three, in order to show that they are friendly and connected with one another; and this combination of them all is called the great vow; (248) and why it received this appellation we must now proceed to say. When any persons offer first fruits from any portion of their possessions, wheat, or barley, or oil, or wine, or the best of their fruits, or the firstborn males of their flocks and herds, they do so actually dedicating those first fruits which proceed from what is clean, but paying a price as the value of what is unclean; and when they have no longer any materials left in which they can display their piety, they then consecrate and offer up themselves, displaying an unspeakable holiness, and a most superabundant excess of a God-loving disposition, on which account such a dedication is fitly called the great vow; for every man is his own greatest and most valuable possession, and this even he now gives up and abandons. (249) And when a man has vowed this vow the law gives him the following command; first of all, to touch no unmixed wine, nor any wine that is made of the grape, nor to drink any other strong drink whatever, to the destruction of his reason, considering that during this period his reason also is dedicated to God; for all which could tend to drunkenness is forbidden to those of the priests who are employed in the sacred ministrations, they being commanded to quench their thirst with water; (250) in the second place they are commanded not to show their heads, giving thus a visible sign to all who see them that they are not debasing the pure coinage of their vow; thirdly, they are commanded to keep their body pure and undefiled, so as not even to approach their parents if they are dead, nor their brothers; piety overcoming the natural good will and affection towards their relations and dearest friends, and it is both honourable and expedient that piety should at all times prevail.