In the first blog post on Leviticus, I actually wrote about Exodus, and how understanding the relationship between God and Israel in Exodus motivates Leviticus. We finished that post asking the question, will things go okay for Israel now that God is dwelling in the middle of their camp?
This week I want to look at the sacrifices, the way these are a good and a bad thing for Israel, does it help them to dwell with God safely? At the end of the post, I will also look also at how we can better apply this section to us today as Christians.
If you haven’t already done so, I would advise you to read Leviticus chapters 1-6:8, before continuing on in this post. Try and read it all in one sitting, don’t stop and worry about the details, just read for the overall flow and theme of the section. This makes Leviticus much easier to read. You could try listing all the positive and negative things in Leviticus for Israel, and whether this solves their problem, and see if you come up with the same or different ideas to me. Either way, I would love to hear your thoughts.
What is going on in this section
At the start of Leviticus, God has just descended into the tabernacle, and so the Israelites need to be protected from His Holiness, or they will perish. The book starts with a section on how to make offerings. God explains to Israel how to make burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings.
Colouring: The heading for the good things about sacrifices are in green, and the bad things are in blue. The application for Christians is not coloured.
Sacrifices that please
Offerings may not seem like a solution which allows Israel and God to safely dwell together, but God says these sacrifices will please him. Therefore, if we were Israelites, these instructions would be pretty important. The offerings are being given to God, and by following the rules around offerings, we would know that God will see our sacrifices as acceptable:
He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord.4 He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. (Lev. 1:3b-4)
And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. (Lev. 1:9b, see also 1:13, 1:17, 2:2, 2:9, 3:5, 3:16)
This passage shows that the offerings are acceptable and pleasing to God! This is a huge blessing and privilege that Israel receives: the ability to please God. If Israel pleases God, then they are not in danger of God’s wrath. This helps us to understand how God is going to dwell with them when they disobey his covenant and sin.
This is unpacked a little more clearly if we focus on two offerings in particular – sin and guilt offerings.
Sacrifices not death
The cost of sin is death. Israel is still under Adam’s curse and living in a fallen world. These offerings provide an atonement for Israel’s sins, through payment of a death of an animal, and this will keep them safe from God’s holiness while He dwells with them:
So the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin, and he shall be forgiven. (4:26b see also 4:20, 4:31, 4:35, 5:6, 5:10, 5:13, 5:16, 5:18, 6:7)
It wasn’t long ago they disobeyed him in Exodus, and now God is providing a means whereby the death for their sin is not their own. If I was them, I would be so relieved.
So we see the sacrifices deal with the Israelite’s internal heart problems in a way that allows them to be a relationship with God, and please Him. If they sin, they can make a sacrifice and the death for that sin will not be their own. This sounds great and very promising.
The thing with these sacrifices is, as you read this section, it becomes increasingly apparent that a lot of sacrifices will be needed because they only can provide a temporary solution. Imagine how many times you would need to kill an animal to stay alive in God’s presence. I am surprised there were any animals left in Israel! This is because the offerings are there to keep Israel safe, and able to be in a relationship, but only sufficient to atone for a specific transgression; once you have killed your sheep for one sin, if you sin again, you are in just as much trouble as before you killed your first sheep.
As you can see, this means that, while there is a system of sacrificing, repeatedly making sacrifices must have been really expensive. If the cost of sacrifices was not enough, the code and procedure for sacrifices are not exactly simple. If you wanted your sacrifice accepted it had to be done correctly. I wonder how joyful Israel felt about these many, many sacrifices that they needed to make.
Sacrifices for unintended sins
I think we can easily believe that the sin offerings are a get out of jail free card for Israel. However, when you read this section, you realize that the sins that the sacrifices are meant to appease are unintentional sins:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord‘s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them (Lev. 4:1-2 see also 4:13, 4:22, 4:27, 5:1-4, 5:14, 5:17, 5:18)
Israel is still supposed to obey God’s commandments, he has never said: go do what you like, and then rock up with an animal at my tent once you get a bit of time. What God did do, was enable them to can make a sacrifice so that they can live, when they fail unintentionally. This means that they are still in trouble if they intentionally ignore God’s commands and willfully disobey.
The other thing about unintentional sin though is, does anyone realize all their unintentional sins? What happens to an Israelite if they don’t remember one of their sins, and get atoned for it? Are they in danger from God again?
So while the sacrifices definitely are helping Israel to stay in God’s presence; it seems that they alone are not enough to keep Israel safe from God while he dwells with them (which is probably why Leviticus is longer than 6 chapters).
Sacrifices for Christians?
Possibly the hardest thing about Leviticus is realizing that it has just as much to say to us as to Israel!
First, let’s cover the difference between us and Israel in the number of sacrifices:
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Heb. 10:8-14)
We have one sacrifice made on our behalf, but instead of an animal, it is the Son of God! We can live in God’s presence and in a relationship with him, for Jesus has died for us. Because Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, it deals with all sin, the unintentional and the intentional, the past and the future. Our deal is so much better than Israel’s! They had to be obedient and follow the law to be safe. We can live free from the law, and still be safe, for we have been perfected for all time! Like Israel, we do not need to die if we are in a relationship with God and mess up, because of the cross. This is so reassuring, as we know that we cannot live up to God’s standard.
You probably noticed that the author of Hebrews says that God never took pleasure in offerings, and this seems in direct contradiction to Leviticus. To see this is not the case, we need to look at Psalm 50:
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9 I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
10 For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills...
14 …Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:8-10,14-15)
What Psalm 50 tells us that God is setting up a system in Leviticus where the animal being sacrificed is not so important, but that this should remind Israel to look to God – the intentions and the heart matters. The Psalm goes on to say they do not care for God and his words. It is no good killing animals if your heart is not turned back to God in thanksgiving, and relies on him for deliverance. This is also reiterated by the writer of Hebrews in verse 8, the sacrifice was offered according to the law (because they were told to), therefore not because their hearts are turned to God. This then is consistent with the rest of scripture, for, in Romans, Paul says people are always saved by faith. The aim of the sacrifices then was to remind Israel to have faith in God for their deliverance, because faith pleases God. We too need to always remember to rely on God and have faith in Jesus.
We are also told, like Israel, that we can please God through sacrifice:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)
We are a living sacrifice, that pleases and is acceptable to God, how much better is that! I personally feel really challenged and encouraged to do this, as I mentioned earlier this is a privilege that God has given us, not a burden.
Israel remained safe in God’s presence, and in a relationship with him, because they made offerings that pleased God, and atoned for their sin. We are also able to be in a relationship with God and safe, for the sacrifice of Jesus atoned for our sin, and enabled us to be pleasing to God. Now we able to be a living sacrifice that is acceptable to God.
I am pretty amazed at how kind God is to enable our a safe relationship with Him.
Before next post
Next post we shall be looking at a section about the priests in Israel so try to read 6:9-10:20. Again, try to think about how this enables God and Israel to dwell together safely. List all the good and the bad things in this section for Israel. Then use them to answer what is the same and what is different for us as Christians.
(All scripture quoted from English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)