Levitical Sacrifices and Offerings
"Without shedding of blood, there is no remission..."
There are several terms used in the Bible to describe the act of sacrifice. The first has to do with something given or offered to God, and is used particular with regard to bloodless offerings. Examples are the use of the word "gift" in Gen. 33:13-21; 43:11, etc.; the word "tribute" in 2 Sam. 8:2,6; 1 Kings 5:1 and 2 Kings 17:4; and the word "offering" in 1 Chron. 16:29 and Isa. 1:13.
The other type is the bloody sacrifice, in which the shedding of blood is the main idea, as opposed to the whole burnt offering which is completely burned. The Greek word qusia (thusia) is used for both the animal in the sacrifice and for the act of burning, whether literal or figurative. In the New Testament, a sacrifice (or offering) is `olokautwma (holokautoma), which means "wholly consumed (Latin holocaustum). See Acts 21:26; 24:17; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:5; Mark 12:33; Heb. 10:6,8.
Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God (Gen. 4:3,4). Cain's offering was "of the fruit of the ground," and Abel "of the firstlings of his flock and the fat thereof". Then, Noah expressed his thanks for deliverance from the flood by offering burnt sacrifices on an altar he had constructed. The patriarchs consistently built altars and offered sacrifices, particularly in places where God had revealed Himself to them. As Edersheim has put it, in his book The Temple, "Indeed, to sacrifice seems as natural to man as to pray; the one indicates what he feels about himself, the other what he feels about God. The one means a felt need of propitiation, the other a felt sense of dependence."
In the Pentateuch, the fundamental idea of sacrifice is that of substitution; and under the Mosaic law the offering of sacrifice was a covenant duty, with the materials of the offering and the ceremonies described in minute detail. The ground on which the legal offering of sacrifices is based is the commandment, "None shall appear before me empty" (Exo. 23:15), or "Appear not empty before the face of Jehovah". That is to say, "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee" (Deut. 16:16,17).
No religious act in the Old Testament was complete unless accompanied with sacrifice; the system was designed by God with the intention of awakening a consciousness of sin and uncleanness and of showing the possibility of obtaining the forgiveness of sin and becoming righteous before God.
The presenting to God a gift of a portion of the results of one's labor implied a surrender of the person to God. But man is unholy and sinful, and is thus unable to surrender himself to the holy God. Therefore, laying the hand upon the head of the animal was a symbol of transferring to the victim of the sacrifice the sinfulness of the offeror. The animal thus took the place of the offeror and became his substitute; and the killing of the animal pointed out the necessity of death of the man whose sin alienates him from God.
However, sacrifices, as such, had no power in themselves to heal the rupture between God and man, because an animal cannot make an adequate satisfaction for the sin and guilt of man. When Jesus Christ, the sinless and righteous God-man, voluntarily offered Himself on the Cross, He fulfilled the Law of sacrifices and ordinances; and the typical meaning of each sacrifice and offering was brought out in full.
The rest of this study is devoted to a description of the Mosaic sacrifices and offerings, including a study of the materials used in each offering, the ceremony employed in making the sacrifice, and a brief discussion of the spiritual meaning, the typology, of each.
THE CLASSES OF LEVITICAL SACRIFICES
There were two classes of sacrifice in Old Testament times.
The first class was those sacrifices offered to enable a person to enter into communion (fellowship) with God. These are known as propitiatory offerings and included the sin and trespass offerings.
The second class was intended to be offerings made by believers in fellowship; and these included the burnt offerings, peace offerings, thank offerings, votive offerings, freewill offerings, and meal and drink offerings.
Keep in mind that when several sacrifices were offered on the same occasion, the propitiatory offerings were offered first, followed by the burnt offerings, and then the peace offering. The meal and drink offerings were offered with the burnt offerings, or by themselves.
MATERIALS USED IN SACRIFICES
With respect to the materials used in the sacrifices, they were divided into two classes: the blood sacrifices, in which an animal was killed, and the bloodless offerings, the "meal" (vegetable and mineral) and drink offerings.
Animals offered included oxen, sheep, goats, and turtledoves or young pigeons. The pigeons were used by people who could not afford the more expensive animals (Lev. 5:7; 12:8) and to serve as lesser sin offerings. Both male and female cattle could be offered (Lev. 3:1-6), but among the sheep and goats special prominence was given to the male animal (Num. 15:5 ff; 28:11 ff). The animal had to be at least eight days old (Lev. 22:27; Exo. 22:30), although sheep and goats were usually offered when a year old (Exo. 29:38; Lev. 9:3), and oxen when they were three years old. Any animal offered had to be free from any blemish (Lev. 22:20-24).
Vegetables offered were grain, olive oil, wine, salt, and incense, which was partly vegetable and partly mineral. The grain was offered roasted in the ear or as fine flour, to both of which incense and oil were added (Lev. 2:1-15), or as unleavened bread or biscuits. The bread was either baked in an oven, baked in a pan, or fried in oil; in each case the flour was mixed with oil.
All of the animal and vegetable offerings had to be salted (Lev. 2:13; Eze. 43:24; Mark 9:49). Neither leaven nor honey were allowed in any offering made to God by fire (Lev. 2:13).
The animals and meat offerings selected for sacrifice were from the ordinary food of the Hebrews, in order to express gratitude for blessings bestowed and to pray for continuation of His goodness. As these offerings were the fruit of their life and work, and presenting them showed a consecration to God of their life with all its ability and energy.
THE METHOD OF PRESENTATION OF THE SACRIFICES
In animal sacrifices, the animal was brought to the door or the tabernacle, near the altar. The person bringing the animal placed his hand on the animal's head, then killed it at the north side of the altar (Lev. 1:4,5,11; 3:2,8; 6:25; 7:2). When the sacrifice was part of the regular services on festive occasions or offered on behalf of the whole people, the animals were slaughtered and cut up by the priests.
Once the animal was slain, the priest caught the blood in a vessel, and depending on the nature of the sacrifice, sprinkled some of it either on the side of the altar, on the horns of the Altar of Incense, or on the Ark (Day of Atonement). The remainder of the blood was emptied at the foot of the great altar. (Exo. 29:12; Lev. 4:17 ff)
The animal was then skinned and cut into pieces by the offeror (or priest), and either entirely burnt on the altar or just the fat burnt on the altar, with any remainder being burnt outside the camp. This "burning" amounted to cooking the animal, and the animal was then eaten by the priests, or by the priests along with the one who had brought the animal.
If the sacrifice was a bird, the priest wrung off the bird's head and allowed the blood to flow on the side of the altar. He then threw the viscera on the ash heap beside the altar, and the head and body were burnt on the altar (Lev. 1:15).
If vegetable offerings were being made at the same time as burnt offerings, part of the flour and oil, some of the ears of corn and the cakes, along with the incense, were burned on the altar, the remainder going to the priests, who were required to consume it in the court of the tabernacle without leaven (Lev. 2:2ff; 6:9-11; 7:9ff; 10:12ff). If the offering was a thank offering, one cake was presented as a wave offering (see below) to God, and was given to the priest who spilled the blood (Lev. 7:14), the remainder of the offering being eaten by those who presented it.
THE SIN OFFERING
The sin offering was first directly commanded in Lev. 4. "If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them", then that conduct would required a sin offering. The idea is that some sins are unintentional, "in error", and may have been committed through ignorance, hurry, lack of consideration, or carelessness, in other words, sins which came from human weakness, as opposed to sins which are deliberately and knowingly done in rebellion against God and His commandments. [The penalty for presumptuous sin was to be cut off from among God's people (Lev. 15:30).]
The effect of the sin offering was forgiveness of the sin and cleansing from the pollution of sin (Lev. 4:20,26,31,35; 5:10; 12:8; 14:20; 16:19). Its presentation assumed that the offeror was conscious of sin; and the laying on of the hands was understood to mean that the sin was to be transferred to the animal (Lev. 4:4,14).
The soul was brought into fellowship within divine grace through the pouring out of the blood of the sacrifice, analogous to the death of Christ on the Cross. The burning of the fat on the altar was an offering of a "sweet savour" to God, and was symbolical of the handing over to God the better part of man, that which is capable of cleansing and renewal, in order that it might be purified by the fire of God's holiness and love.
The Material of the Sin Offering
The material to be offered was determined by the nature of the offense and by the position, or rank, of the one making the offering.
A young bullock was offered for a sin of the whole congregation (Lev. 4:13), for a sin of the high priest (Lev. 4:3), for the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:3), and for the consecration of priests and Levites to their offices (Exo. 29:10,14,35; Num. 8:8).
A he-goat was offered on new moon and annual festivals (Num. 28:15,22,30; 29:5,11,16,19), at the dedication of the tabernacle (and Temple) (Num. 7:16,22; Ezra 6:17, w/8:35), and for the sin of a prince (Lev. 4:23).
A she-goat was offered for a sin by one of the common people (Lev. 4:28,32; 5:6).
A she-lamb of a year old was offered for the cleansing of a leper (Lev. 14:10,19) and when a Nazarite was released from his vow (Num. 6:14).
A pigeon or turtledove was used for purifying a woman after childbirth (Lev. 12:6), for a man or woman who had protracted issues of blood (Lev. 15:14,29), and for a Nazarite who had been defiled by contact with a dead body (Num. 6:10). A bird was also used as a substitute for a lamb in the case of poverty, for an ordinary offense (Lev. 5:7).
Method of Presenting the Sin Offering
If the offering was a bullock offered on behalf of the high priest or of the whole congregation, its blood was taken into the Holy Place and sprinkled seven times toward the inner veil, then upon the horns of the altar of incense. The remainder was poured at the foot of the altar of burnt offering (Lev. 4:5ff). If the animal was a ram, a she-goat, or a lamb, the blood was merely put on the horns of the altar of burnt offering.
On the Day of Atonement, the high priests took the blood of the sin offering made for himself (the bullock) into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it on the Mercy Seat of the Ark. He then returned to the altar and took the blood of the goat offered for the sins of the congregation into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it in the same manner.
In all cases, the next step was to separate the fatty portions of the animal and burn them on the altar (Lev. 4:8-35).
In those cases in which the blood was sprinkled either in the Holy Place or in the Holy of Holies, the flesh, along with the skin, head, and all other parts of the animal were carried outside the camp (later, outside the city of Jerusalem) to a clean place where the ashes of sacrifice were usually placed, there to be consumed by fire (Lev. 4:11ff; 6:23; 16:27). In the case of other sin offerings, the flesh was eaten by the priests in the holy place (Lev. 6:26; Num. 18:9,10).
Any earthenware vessel from which the priests ate was broken; copper vessels were scoured. Garments on which blood had fallen were washed (Lev. 6:27,28).
Typology of the Sin Offering
The sin offering presents Christ atoning for the guilt of sin (Heb. 13:11,12). It shows Christ as actually burdened with the believer's sin, standing in the sinner's place as his substitute. This offering tells of the Lord's death as presented in Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and 1 Peter 2:24. It carefully guards the holiness of Him who "was made sin for us."
THE TRESPASS OFFERING
The trespass offering was also a propitiatory offering, but it was made for a special offense, while the sin offering was made for the person of the offender. "In fact, the trespass offering may be regarded as representing ransom for a special wrong, while the sin offering symbolized general redemption" (Edersheim, The Temple, p. 100ff).
The trespass offering was a ram, which was valued by a priest according to the shekel of the sanctuary (Lev. 5:15,18; 6:6; 19:21). In the case of a leper or a Nazarite, this offering was a lamb. These offerings were offered for the following offenses:
In this offering, the skin of the animal and any meat offering
went to the officiating priest, except that portions that were
mixed with oil or were dry were divided among all the priests.
Special burnt offerings were required:
Freewill burnt offerings were made on any solemn occasion such
as the dedication of the tabernacle or the Temple (1 Kings 8:64).
In all of the baked meal offerings, an "omer", or
sheaf of grain, was made into ten cakes, except for the high priests'
meal offering of twelve loaves, representing the twelve tribes
of Israel. In presenting the meal offering, the priest brought
it in the gold or silver dish in which it had been prepared, then
transferred it to a holy vessel, putting oil and frankincense
on it. Standing at the south corner of the altar, he took a "handful"
that was to be burned, put it in another vessel, laid some of
the frankincense on it, carried it to the top of the altar, salted
it, and placed in on the fire. The rest of the offering belonged
to the priests, except in the case of the twelve loaves of showbread
and loaves offered at the consecration of priests, which could
not be eaten but were entirely burned (Lev. 6:16ff; 6:20-23).
THE RED HEIFER OFFERING
The whole ritual shows the fact that the Holy Spirit used the
Word of God to convict the believer of sin, thus making the believer
conscious that the guilt of sin was to be borne by Christ in His
sacrifice. Instead of losing hope, the convicted believer confesses
the unworthy act and is forgiven and cleansed (John 13:3-10; 1
New Moon Offerings
Feast of Trumpets (or seventh New Moon)
Feast of Passover
In addition, on the 2nd day of the feast, the first sheaf of the
new harvest (barley) was offered by waving, not burning. With
this sheaf was offered a male yearling lamb, two measures of flour,
and 2 1/2 pints of wine.
After the above was presented, the new meal offering, "two
wave loaves", baked with leaven, were offered. With these
were offered seven yearling lambs, one young bullock, and two
rams (burnt offering); a he-goat (sin offering); and two yearling
lambs (peace offering).
The Feast of Tabernacles