Category Archives: An introduction to the Levitical offerings

The offerings detailed for us in the early chapters of the Book of Leviticus have great interest to belivers wishing to have an appreciation of the sacrifice of Christ.

An introduction to the Levitical offerings

 
Those believers who wish to gain an appreciation of the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary, would do well to begin their study in the tenth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
 
Hebrews 10:1-25 brings to a close the main body of teaching in the epistle concerning the sacrifice of Christ. The passage may be divided into seven sections as follows:

Section one, verses 1-4, the situation under law as regards the worshippers, and sins are remembered.

Section two, verses 5-10, Christ as the offering, and a quotation from the Psalms, giving Christ’s words.

Section three, verse 11, the situation under law as regards the priests, and sins are not removed.

Section four, verses 12-14, Christ as the offerer.

Section five, verses 15-18, the situation under grace as regards Christ, and sins are removed and not remembered, and a quotation from the prophets giving the Spirit’s witness.

Section six, verses 19-22, the situation under grace as regards the worshippers and their approach to God.

Section seven, verses 24-25, the situation under grace as regards the worshippers and their attitude to their profession and their fellow-believers.

Since the passage begins with the word “for”, it presents to us the answer to an unspoken question which may have been something like the following: “Given that the work of Christ at Calvary is once for all in character, and that when He comes the second time it will be “without sin”, 9:28, or in other words, apart from any thought of having to deal with sin, what if believers sin in between their initial faith and His return?”

The answer is found in these verses, as it sets out for us the fact that God’s will now is to bless men on the established basis of the sacrifice of Christ. That sacrifice has sanctified believers once and for all, verse 10. And those thus sanctified are perfected for ever, verse 14. Moreover, the Spirit of God testifies that this is so in the words, “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more”, verse 17. It was one of the characteristics of the Levitical sacrifices that they caused a remembrance of sins, verse 3. Now all is different, for God pledges, not to forget sins, (for things forgotten may be recalled later), but to deliberately and positively remember our sins no more. He remembered them once against Christ at Calvary, and His sacrifice dealt so effectively with them that the matter of sins does not have to be brought up again, as far as believers are concerned.

Given that we owe our all to His sacrifice, we do well to have an intelligent appreciation of it in its varied aspects.

In verses 5-10 of Hebrews 10,the Lord Jesus is represented as speaking in the language of Psalm 40:6-8. Now that psalm is initially about David, for two reasons. First, because the title of the psalm is “To the chief musician, a psalm of David”. “Of David” can signify either one or both of two things. Those two things are that the psalm is written by David, and that it is about David, in the first instance. The second reason is that in verse 12 David admits to having iniquities, so the first reference is clearly to the psalmist. Only in a limited way, and within Divinely indicated boundaries, can the psalm be applied to Christ. To see how that application is made we must first of all see how it relates to David personally.

Clearly, according to verses 1-5, David had experienced a great deliverance, and he is deeply thankful to God. He realises that bringing an offering as thanksgiving is one option open to him under the law. But he is a prophet, with insight into the mind of God, and he knows that to bring an animal sacrifice is not the best way of showing his gratitude; rather, he should surrender himself to God’s will. This will be in line with the teaching of the other prophets. For instance, Samuel asked Saul, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams”, 1 Samuel 15:22. Micah spoke to the same effect, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:6-8. During the ministry of the Lord Jesus, a scribe said, “there is one God; and there is none other but He: and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”. The verdict of the Lord Jesus on this remark was that the man had answered discreetly, that is, sensibly and prudently, and that he was not far from the kingdom of God, Mark 12:32,33.

David has grasped this principle, and therefore resolves to present himself as a living sacrifice, vowing to do God’s will, and to delight in the doing of it, Psalm 40:6-8. This will be much better than mere religious observance, which may be carried out by unbelievers. Accordingly, like the Hebrew servant of old, who pledged to do his master’s will for ever, Exodus 21:1-6, David will allow his ear to be digged, or opened, so that it is ready to hear the commands of His God.

So delightful to the heart of God are David’s words, that He uses them to tell us of His Son in Hebrews 10. The Spirit takes up David’s expressions, and gives them a fresh dimension, so that they may more fully express Christ’s resolve. We see this in the following ways:

First, David had come to do God’s will as one whose name was in the book that God keeps of those who live upon the earth, see Exodus 32:32; Psalm 139:16. Christ, too, is real man, but unlike David, He had come into the world from His Father, being “that eternal life, which was with the Father, and as manifested unto us”, 1 John 1:2. When David signified his willingness to do God’s will, he did so as a mature man, whereas Christ came to do God’s will from the very outset.

Second, the stipulation with regard to the Hebrew servant was “if he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself”, Exodus 21:3. But those words may be rendered as the Newberry margin, which reads, “if he come in with his body, he shall go out with his body”. David had expressed his readiness to respond to God’s commands by having his ear opened, but Christ’s words were, “a body hast Thou prepared Me”. It is true that by having his ear opened David was ready to serve with his body, but with Christ there is the more precise and inclusive statement. The use of the word body in Hebrews 10 is all the more pertinent, because we are sanctified by the offering consisting of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, verse 10. (the word ‘offering’ in that verse is a noun, not a form of verb). And His suffering is compared with what happened to the bodies of beasts in Hebrews 13:11,12.

Third, the word David used for “opened” is translated in Psalm 22:16 as “pierced”, in the expression, “they pierced my hands and my feet”. This shows how far the Lord Jesus was prepared to go in service to God, for He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”, Philippians 2:8. Sincere as David was, no doubt, he could never match the service of Christ.

Fourth, the word David used for “opened” can not only mean pierced, but also prepared. This meaning the writer to the Hebrews takes up, and applies to Christ. His body was prepared in a way David’s never was, for He was born of a virgin, and consequently, tendency or ability to sin was absent from Him. Such a preparation was vitally important, for He could not be a suitable sacrifice without it.

Fifth, as one born into the world, David’s name was in the book of the living. Christ, however, was not only mentioned in another book, but was the subject of it, for as Peter said, “to Him give all the prophets witness”, Acts 10:43. More particularly, the book of the law, which contains the details of the sacrifices, when read in the light of New Testament revelation, is seen to be written about Him.

Sixth, the only option open to David after he had realised that the better way of showing gratitude was to surrender himself to the will of God, was to offer his body in service. This service, however, despite David’s good intentions, would be marred by sin to some degree or other. With Christ’s service, however, there was perfection, for He loved His God with all His heart, understanding, soul and strength, and He could be typified by sacrifices that were “without blemish”.

Seventh, David knew that God was not deriving pleasure from the sacrifices, and knew they were not what God’s final will was, but he could do nothing about rendering them obsolete and taking them out of the way, and establishing that which did please God fully. That was beyond him. It was not beyond Christ, however, for He had complete insight into His Father’s will, and set about the task of establishing that which would satisfy Him eternally. He does this in such a thorough way that the old sacrifices are rendered obsolete.

We might ask why God was not pleased with the sacrifices, since He instituted them. The answer is found in the comment the writer to the Hebrews makes at the end of verse 8, “which are offered by the law”. Mechanical observance can never please God. He looks for a heartfelt, energetic, purposeful carrying out of His will. And this was what marked Christ- “I come to do Thy will. O God”, are His words. And the force of the expression “to do” is that He will do willingly, intelligently, and from the heart. It is the same expression as is found in Galatians 3:10, “all things that are written in the book of the law to do them”. Not outward observance, such as can be noticed and approved of by one’s fellowmen, (see Matthew 6:2,5,16; Philippians 3:6), but inward resolve, which only God can see. Such is the attitude of Christ as He takes upon Him the form of a servant, Philippians 2:7, putting His body at the disposal of the one to whom He was subject.

The sacrifices of old time were of four sorts, as verses 5 and 6 list them. There were sacrifices proper, a reference to the peace offering. Then offerings, meaning the meal offering. Then the burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin. Each of these foreshadows a particular aspect of Christ, as He was in the world for God, and as He went to Calvary in submission to His will. The peace offering tells of one who is in perfect harmony with His God and Father. The meal offering prefigures God’s Ideal Man, whose life was so pleasing to His Father, and presented such a contrast to the lives of those around Him. The burnt offering told of Christ’s utmost devotion, whose commitment to His Father’s interests was total. The sin offering tells of one who, although He knew no sin, nevertheless was made sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

It is important and instructive to notice the order in which the offerings are detailed for us in the early chapters of Leviticus. There is first the offering that was wholly burnt upon the altar, (except the skin of the animal). The burnt offering was reserved by God for Himself. Even the giving of the skin to the priest who officiated supports this, for as he offered up the carcase he was acting as a holy priest, offering up to God, but if he wore the skin when he was not officiating at the altar, then he was acting as if a royal priest, showing forth to men the excellencies of what had been offered in sacrifice, see 1 Peter 2:5,9.

Only when the heart of God has been satisfied by the burnt offering can the sin offering be introduced. This is worthy of notice, for as we come together to remember the Lord, and as we engage privately in worship, we should be careful to observe this Divine order. It is possible for us to be very self-centred in our worship, concentrating on those things which bring benefit to us, and neglecting the way in which the sacrifice of Christ was an act of devotion to His Father, totally apart from the benefits it brings to us.

Of course it is true that the Lord spoke of the cup as being the New Covenant in His blood, which was shed for many for the remission of sins, Matthew 26:28, but that does not mean that this should be our only thought as we come together. After all, His command was to remember Him, calling Him to mind in all the acceptableness of His person, concentrating on Him. If the Spirit should prompt us to combine that with some aspect of His sacrifice for sins, then none dare gainsay that. But to come together with the intention of focussing only on our blessings, is to betray ignorance of the true nature of the gathering, and is to deprive our God of what it is He looks for from us.

It goes without saying that this will demand that our hearts and minds be full of Christ as we come together. We cannot fill those hearts and minds with the things of self and the world during the hours of the week, and then come together and expect to have something to offer. The psalmist spoke of the things which he had made, Psalm 45:1.

This is not to say that we should come together with prepared prayers, nor that we should be content with reciting the same things week after week, but it does mean that we shall have at our disposal thoughts of Christ which, if appropriate to the way the meeting is proceeding, may be suitably offered to God, and to which a hearty “Amen” can be added by all in the company. This will result in a freshness that is the very essence of Spirit-led worship.

We deceive ourselves if, with barren hearts, we come together and fill the time with hymn-singing, and go away thinking we have worshipped at a high level. After all, the hymns we sing are the spiritual exercises of others, which we may adopt in moderation, just as the ministry in the upper room closed with a psalm. We should not rely on them to mask our own lack of exercise.

May the Lord exercise our hearts in this matter, that week by week as we come together, and at our private devotions, we may have that to offer which gratifies His heart, as we remind the Father of the excellencies of His Son. The words of Joseph to his brethren are appropriate in this connection, “Go tell my father of all my glory”, Genesis 35:13.

It might be helpful if we note a series of contrasts between the burnt offering and the sin offering. Both speak of Christ, but we ought to be alert to the different emphasis of each, so that as we engage in worship, whether individually, or collectively in the assembly, we may do so with intelligence. The Lord Jesus made clear that true worshippers not only worship in spirit, but also in truth, John 4:23,24. His statement is full of meaning, and part of that meaning is that true worship is not now concerned with physical sacrifices, (although we should remember that part of Christian worship has to do with the giving of material assistance, Hebrews 13:16), but rather with the spiritual truths they set forth.

ACCEPTANCE OR FORGIVENESS

In the burnt offering there is a question of acceptance, for the acceptableness of the offering was transferred to the offerer when he laid his hands upon it. How gratifying it must have been to read the words “it shall be accepted for him”, Leviticus 1:4. How much more gratifying for us to know that because of Calvary God has caused believers to be accepted in the Beloved, Ephesians 1:6. All that the Father finds delightful about His Son is attributed to His people; we are graced in Him.

The sin offering was different, however, for now the unacceptableness of the offerer is dealt with by being transferred to the offering, so that atonement for sin can be made. The apostle Paul had this side of things in mind when he wrote “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him”, 2 Corinthians 5:21. These words are an echo of what is stated in Leviticus 16:9, where the words “offer him for a sin offering” can be literally rendered “make it sin”. Who can tell what it meant to Christ to be made sin; to be reckoned by God as if He were sin itself, and to be treated accordingly?

THE FIRE MAKING OR DESTROYING

In the burnt offering the fire is said to make the offering, for it is “an offering made by fire”, Leviticus 1:9. As the flame fed upon the carcase, there was caused to ascend heavenwards that which spoke to God of Christ. As the flame progressed from one part to the other, (for the parts of the animal were laid in order, not at haphazard), the varied excellencies of Christ came before the Father in all their acceptablenes. The head would tell of His intelligent devotion; the legs His patient progress; the inwards His heart-affection, and the fat His energetic determination to please His Father in all things. At Calvary these things that had been so delightful to His Father during His life, were now surrendered in holy sacrifice.

With the sin offering, however, the flame consumed the carcase, destroying it so that it was utterly done away. This is what Christ has done by His sacrifice, for “once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, Hebrews 9:26. The expression “put away” meaning to abolish or destroy. Hebrews 13:11,12 interprets the fire for us. It was nothing less than suffering. The bodies of beasts burnt outside the camp find their counterpart in Jesus suffering without the gate. With this difference, however, that the animal was dead when it was burnt, but Christ suffered before He died, and in those hours of darkness upon the cross endured what no tongue can tell. Every faculty was alert and alive to the pain. His senses not at all dulled by sin as with us. He endured unimaginable horrors at the hand of His God because of our sins. The penalty was not one whit lessened because it was The Son who was paying the price. The wrath was not less fierce because of who it was that suffered under it. God said He would spare Israel “as a man spareth his own son that serveth him”, Malachi 3:17. Yet here is the Son beyond all sons, who had served beyond all others, and He is not spared! As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:32, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

VOLUNTARY OR COMPULSORY

The burnt offering was a voluntary offering, for “of his own voluntary will” is the language of Leviticus 1:3. Christ came willingly to Bethlehem, stooping to take the servant’s form and to be made in the likeness of men. His willingness took Him further still, for He humbled Himself even unto death, and that the death of the cross, Philippians 2:8. His devotion was unmistakeable, for coming into the world He said, “Lo, I come, (in the volume of the book it is written of Me,) to do thy will, O God”, Hebrews 10:7. Christ went willingly to Calvary, for although men “led Him away”, it is also true that He “went forth” to that place to do the Father’s will, John 19:16,17.

The sin offering was compulsory, however, for “let him bring”, is the decisive and immediate requirement of God, Leviticus 4:3. Sin made its demands on Christ, and He would not rest until the obligation laid upon Him to settle the matter to His Father’s glory was accomplished. He could say “But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do”, John 14:31. That He has satisfied every Divine requirement regarding sin is seen in the fact that He has sat down on the right hand of the One whose will He had promised to do, Hebrews 10:12. He who is the brightness of Divine glory, and the exact expression of the essence of God, had purged sins in such a glorious way that He could sit Himself down on the right hand of God in all His majesty with the utmost confidence, Hebrews 1:3.

SWEET SAVOUR OR INTENSE DISPLEASURE

The burnt offering was a sweet savour offering, God’s nostrils being delighted by that which spoke to Him of Christ. When Noah offered his burnt offerings after the flood, it is said that the Lord smelled a sweet savour, Genesis 8:20,21. Literally these words could be rendered, “a savour of rest”, or “a soothing fragrance”. After looking upon all the turmoil and unrest of the pre-flood world, God could at last rest in what spoke to Him of Calvary. After all the distress to His heart, when men’s imagination was only evil continually, how soothing for Him to enjoy the fragrance of Noah’s sacrifice, anticipating as it did the effects of the work of Christ.

The sin offering was not like this, however, for there is no mention of a sweet savour with it. Sin is hateful to God, and gives Him no pleasure. Surely it gave God no pleasure to judge His Son. It is true that Isaiah said “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him”, Isaiah 53:10, but this means that it was God’s good pleasure, His determining will, to do this thing. Much as a convicted criminal may be “detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure”. We may be certain that Queen Elizabeth derives no enjoyment from that situation, but it is her sovereign pleasure nonetheless. Because Christ was made sin, He must needs be treated by God as if He is that detestable thing. From that standpoint there was no pleasure for God in the matter.

NEARNESS OR DISTANCE

The burnt offering was burnt on the altar, which became known because of this as the altar of burnt offering, Exodus 40:29. This was the place where God promised He would meet with His people, Exodus 29:43. The altar becomes the point at which God, sacrifice, and people meet. Such is Calvary, for did not the Lord Jesus say, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me”, John 12:32?

The major part of the sin offering, however, was burnt outside the camp, the place of rejection. So the burnt offering emphasised the nearness of Christ to the Father as He undertook the work of sacrifice, whereas the sin offering highlighted the distance at which Christ was put because of our sin. As the prophet said about Israel, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear”, Isaiah 59:2.

HEAVENWARD OR DOWNWARD

The burnt offering was lifted up onto the altar, the blood was sprinkled round about upon the altar, and a sweet savour ascended up from the altar, so everything was elevated heavenwards. Now the “burnt offering gospel”, is the gospel of John. It is that gospel which emphasises the relationship between the Son and the Father typified so wonderfully by the burnt offering. The gospel, too, which tells of the upward journey of Christ via the place of sacrifice.

He speaks to Nicodemus of ascending to heaven, John 3:13, then speaks of being lifted up on the cross, as the brazen serpent had been lifted up, verse 14. He speaks of giving His flesh for the life of the world, then asks, “What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?” John 6:51,62. He refuses to allow Mary to touch Him, because He was not yet ascended to the Father, John 20:17. (Her contact with Him must be a spiritual one, forged once He had returned to His Father and sent down the Spirit from thence). Yet His conversation with Mary took place in the garden of the place where He was crucified, John 19:41, thus linking the sacrifice and the ascending together. He speaks of His ascent in the place of His sacrifice. Just as the angel who appeared to Manoah and his wife ascended up in the flame of the burnt offering, Judges 13:20, may we not say that in a grander way, Christ has ascended in the flame of His sacrifice? Yet John does not record the ascension, as if to indicate that the return of Christ to heaven was to him a foregone conclusion.

With the sin offering, however, all was downward. The animal was burnt on the ground, (except the fat which was burnt on the altar), the blood was poured out at the base of the altar, (except what was sprinkled before the vail, or on the altars), and the fire consumed the carcase until all that was left was a heap of ashes on the ground. How low Christ was prepared to go for us! Not content with descending to earth, He humbled Himself still further to the depths of suffering at Calvary. But He who went so low, has been taken up so high, for the same God and Father who required His obedience, has “also”, as well as doing that, highly exalted Him, Philippians 2:9.

Whilst all these things are true, it is also instructive to notice that God was careful to preserve the integrity of the person of Christ even in these Old Testament illustrations. God is a jealous God, jealous of His own glory and that of His Son.

So we find that the sin offering is killed in the same place as the burnt offering, on the north side of the altar, and before the Lord, Leviticus 4:24. The same place witnessed the death of two very different sorts of sacrifice. Calvary, too, witnessed the death of one who combined in His person the burnt offering aspect of things and also the sin offering side.

Again, we find that although the major part of the sin offering was to be burnt up outside the camp in the place of rejection and loneliness, the fat was to be burnt as a sweet savour on the altar of burnt offering, Leviticus 4:8-10.

Yet again, we read that the sin offering was to be burnt where the ashes of the burnt offering were poured out, in a clean place, Leviticus 4:12. The ashes of the burnt offering had been collected with due ceremony and deposited in a clean place outside the camp, Leviticus 6:11, and it is in this selfsame place that the sin offering was burnt, so that when the fire had done its work, a pile of ashes remained that was a mixture of burnt offering ashes and sin offering ashes. Could anything more graphically preserve the integrity of Christ, in that even when dealing with sins in the place of abandonment, He was associated by God with that which spoke of full acceptance? God spared not, but it was His own Son that He spared not. God gave to the horrors of Calvary, but it was His only begotten Son that He gave, John 3:16.

May the Lord help us to have an enhanced appreciation of these things, so that we may offer to our God the intelligent and adoring worship He so much desires from our hearts. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ”, 1 Peter 2:5.

There is also a contrast between the sin and trespass offerings. The latter dealt with that which had offended God’s nature, whereas in the trespass offering it was God’s government of the nation which had been contravened.

In the sin offering the value of the offering demanded depended on the degree of responsibility of the sinner. With the trespass offering proper, however, (as opposed to the special case of the trespass offering for a sin offering in 5:1-13), the offering required was the same for all, with the degree of trespass against God or man being reflected in the amount of monetary compensation that had to be paid.