Sacrificial Offering (Life in Leviticus 1)

There are certain books of the Bible that people tend to avoid. Somewhere near the top of that list for many is the Old Testament book of Leviticus. For those who are participating in Through the Bible 2011, we have run full speed into Leviticus this past week. This week and next, I will write two posts on the important life-giving concepts found in Leviticus that are important for us today.

Sacrifice and Offering in Leviticus

The first seven chapters of Leviticus deal largely with different forms of sacrifice and offerings for the people of Israel. Here we encounter the five major sacrifices and offerings to be made at the tabernacle:

  1. The Burnt Offering
  2. The Gift Offering (or cereal offering)
  3. The Peace Offering (or well-being offering)
  4. The Purification Offering (or sin offering)
  5. The Reparation Offering (or guilt offering)

Many readers are turned off by Leviticus precisely because it rolls right into the specific outline of how these different offerings should be made. The key idea behind all of these offerings is that sacrifice and offering are the means by which the Israelites draw near to God and maintain right relationship with God. There are many facets to these different offerings and sacrifices that we should pay attention to, but the big picture on them is that they connect people to God relationally. Without the offerings and sacrifices, relationship with God cannot be maintained.

A central motif to the sacrificial system, though not present in all of the individual offerings, is the idea of blood. Blood is all over the place in these early chapters: splashed on the altar (1:11; 5:9), sprinkled before the altar (Lev 4:6), rubbed on the horns of the altar (4:7), and put on the priest’s ears, hands, and feet (8:24). Leviticus is a blood-drenched book. We read why blood is so central later on in Leviticus 17:11:

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that make atonement for one’s life.

Blood is the source of life. Blood is how atonement is made because sin is costly and life must be given for atonement.

Christ as Our One Sacrificial Offering

It is not hard to jump from Leviticus to the New Testament. We simply have to follow the trail of blood from the offerings and sacrifices in Leviticus to the cross of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews talks of it in this way:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming….It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins….But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God…For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:1, 4, 12, 14)

You see, Jesus is the sacrificial offering who fulfills all the needs outlined in the Leviticus guidelines. His is the life given that restores us. His is the blood shed that atones for us. He is the One Sacrifice that replaces the many offerings made through time. He is the One who restores us to relationship with the Living God.

The life that we find in Leviticus is in the blood. It is a picture of the life to come through the blood of Christ.

2 thoughts on “Sacrificial Offering (Life in Leviticus 1)

  1. I really appreciate your commentary on Leviticus. I think you are correct when you say that a lot of people avoid this book. I have studied Leviticus and the sacrificial system in great detail over the past couple years and I would like to offer a couple more details which, hopefully will help us all appreciate the centrality of Jesus in the written record of the sacrificial system. There are tons of linguistic details like this, but I will only mention a few:

    1) In Leviticus 1:5, the “young bull” (NIV) is ben habaqar in Hebrew, which literally means “SON of the herd.” This “Son of the herd” is also the description of the blood sacrifices offered by Aaron the High Priest in the first corporate worship service of Israel in Moses’ tabernacle (Leviticus 9:2). Even though no one alive today has seen the Mosaic sacrificial system, it is amazing how vivid the offering of a Son as a blood sacrifice is when one reads the original Hebrew text. And notice that when the first corporate worship service begins in Leviticus 9 (after all the priests have been ceremonially cleansed prior to chapter 9) it is the High Priest who first draws near to God to offer a Purification offering and a Burnt offering so that the remaining “body” of God’s worshipers could draw near. Jesus is our High Priest who goes before us and opens up the way of salvation sacrificially (Hebrews 2:10-17).

    2) There are many conflicting interpretations to be found among fallen men, but my own studies have found that in every corporate worship service of Israel there were three mandatory blood sacrifices: (1) Purification offering, (2) Burnt offering, and (3) the Peace offering.
    The remaining two sacrifices (Reparation offering and cereal offering) were extremely meaningful, but voluntary. Also, when the worshiper drew near to God in worship the three mandatory sacrifices were always in a specific order. The Purification offering (sin offering) always came first. A faithful worshiper of the Lord did not offer a Burnt offering or a Peace offering before a Sin offering. Also, the worshiper did not offer a Peace offering before a Burnt offering.

    3) This sets a basic pattern for the corporate worship service of Israel: First Sin needs to be dealt with and the sinner purified (symbolically) by the “Son of the herd.” Second, the worshiper draws near to God with a Burnt offering to offer everything he is and has of himself to God. Perhaps a better translation of the “Burnt” offering is an “Ascension” offering, because in Hebrew the word ‘Olah has nothing to do with burning. Rather it means “to ascend” or “to climb.” Thirdly, the worshiper fellowships with God with the most intimate meal offered in the sacrificial system. All of the people partake of the altar when the peace offerings are offered. I believe this is but a foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, of which the Lord’s Supper under the New Covenant is also a foretaste of the same, only with Jesus as the one and only blood sacrifice that has come and accomplished redemption for His Bride.

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