Summary: Looking at the sacrificial system in Leviticus chapters 1-10, we discover why God provided a way to deal with sin through animal sacrifices and why this system was replaced by Christ's once and for all sacrifice of himself at the cross.
Leviticus Series #2
The Sacrificial System
CHCC: June 20, 2010
Today we’re going to look at the first part of the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. This book outlines the details of the Laws that God’s Nation would follow. Last week we talked about how the People of Israel told Moses, “We will do everything the Lord God tells us to do!” But God knew better. He knew those good intentions wouldn’t last any time at all. So the first system God instituted for His People was a system of Sacrifices for sin.
Let’s start with just a quick fly-over of the first 10 chapters of Leviticus:
Knowing that the people would sin, God put in place a way for their sins to be forgiven. Chapters 1-5 of Leviticus command several kinds of sacrifices that would make the unholy people appear holy in God’s sight.
· Burnt offerings (chapter 1) were voluntary in nature and were offered for payment of sin in general
· Grain offerings (ch.2) were also voluntary and were meant to show honor and respect to God in worship
· Fellowship offerings (ch. 3) are also voluntary and used to express gratitude to God
· Sin offerings (Ch. 4) are mandatory, and meant to make payment for unintentional sins or uncleanness, neglect, or thoughtlessness.
· Guilt offerings (Ch. 5) are also mandatory and meant to make payment for sins against God and others. A sacrifice is made and the injured person is compensated
Chapters 6-10 contain instructions to the priests and Levites for administrating these offerings. Then the historical record tells of the ordination of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood and the beginnings of their ministry in the newly built tabernacle.
Chapter 10 gives the account of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, who offered unauthorized fire on the altar --- and the Lord himself struck them dead. This serves as a reminder that this Levitical Law was not to be trifled with. Everything was to be done exactly as God commanded … in every detail.
Try to imagine what it was like for the average Jew living during the time of the Levitical Law system. Suppose we could go back in time as an investigative reporter to interview a Jew as he exits the tabernacle:
“Excuse me, Mr. Jew, you seem very relieved compared with the way you looked when you entered the tabernacle just a short time ago. What’s your secret? What makes you feel so much better about the past year of sinning? Did you promise Yahweh that you’d do better this coming year --- that you would turn over a new leaf?”
The Jewish man responds, “No, nothing like that took place.”
Slightly confused, you press on to discover the truth. “Well, did you carefully name off each sin and ask Yahweh to cover your sins?”
“Certainly not!” the Jewish man exclaims.
“Well then, what exactly made you feel relief from guilt for all the sins you committed over the past 12 months?”
At this point any well-educated Jew would give the same response: “What made me feel better? The blood of bulls and goats that covered my past sins, of course! Yahweh has always demanded a BLOOD sacrifice for sins, and now --- because of the animal I brought to offer as a sacrifice --- my sins are covered!” (The Naked Gospel, Andrew Farley, p. 106)
This is God’s system. It has always been the case that one thing brings forgiveness of sins --- namely, blood --- nothing else: Hebrews 9:22 says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
1. The Repetitive Sacrifices
The book of Leviticus details a complex system of continual, repetitive sacrifices. A huge number of animals had to be killed in order to satisfy the rigid requirements of the Levitical Law. A Jewish Priest was more like a Butcher than like what we think of as a Priest.
He spent day after day in strenuous labor --- with a sharp knife --- dispatching, gutting, skinning, cleaning, quartering, and finally burning a variety of sacrificial animals. It was dirty, grimy, smelly, and backbreaking work. A priest had to be physically fit in order to be able to perform Tabernacle duties (That’s probably why they were instructed to retire at age 50!)
First he offered sacrifices for himself and his family. Then he offered sacrifices for other people. The blood involved in this messy work soaked the ground and was splashed against the tabernacle furniture. The quantity of blood required for this purifying work would make the squeamish sick to their stomachs. The bleating of dying animals would terrify young children. No doubt, this whole matter of animal sacrifices would be repulsive to modern sensitivities.
We don’t spend our days around animals like ancient Jews did, but for a person in a pastoral economy built on the value of cows, sheep, oxen, goats, domesticated birds, and other animals, all of this sacrificing had an economic impact. You literally watched a portion of your livelihood going up in smoke.