RULES FOR SACRIFICES Leviticus 1–7
“If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, he is guilty” (Lev. 4:27).Sacrifice and offering symbolize the worship of a people who fall short, who find forgiveness and, finding it, enjoy fellowship with the Lord. In these chapters a variety of sacrifices and offerings speak of that relationship.
Definition of Key Terms
Sacrifices. Animal sacrifice was an element in Old Testament worship before God gave the Law to Moses. God Himself made history’s first sacrifice, killing two animals to provide clothing for Adam and Eve after they sinned (cf. Gen. 3:21). The sacrifices described in Leviticus 1–7 go beyond sacrifice for sin. The burnt offering symbolized complete dedication, and the fellowship offering symbolized intimate relationship. Each sacrifice called for the worshiper to lay his hands on the head of his offering, identifying himself with it in surrender of life to God. What a healthy reminder for us. Jesus gave His life that we might be forgiven. But, as His people now, we should not live the life He redeemed for ourselves. Instead we should gladly commit ourselves to live for the Lord in dedication and holiness.
God gave Moses detailed instructions for the community on burnt offerings (1:1–17), grain offerings (2:1–16), fellowship offerings (3:1–17), sin offerings (4:1–5:13), and guilt offerings (v. 14–6:7) (see chart on page 72). God then gave Moses instructions for the priests who made these offerings (v. 8–7:21). Israel was not to eat animal fat or blood (vv. 22–27), and was to give parts of sacrificed animals to the priests (vv. 28–38).
Understanding the Text
“Bring as your offering” Lev. 1:1–17. The whole burnt offering was a voluntary sacrifice. It symbolized the commitment of the worshiper to God. It is an expression of thanks, an indication of the worshiper’s desire for fellowship with the Lord. The shedding of blood speaks of atonement—of a covering for sin. But one thing set this offering apart. The entire animal, not just part of it, was to be consumed by fire. For you and me too, dedication is voluntary. Salvation is ours when we accept Christ, the one Sacrifice of whom the entire Old Testament system speaks. But we have responded to Jesus fully only when we decide to dedicate our lives to the Lord too. Paul was probably thinking of the Old Testament whole burnt offering when he wrote in Romans 12:1, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual worship.” “His offering is to be of fine flour” Lev. 2:1–16. The grain offering was to be ground fine, not whole or coarse. And it was to be mixed with olive oil, crushed from the fruit of that tree with great stones. This offering, which was to be prepared by the worshiper, symbolizes the work of our hands. Atonement was by animal sacrifice, reminding us that nothing a person can do is sufficient to pay for his sins. Blood must be shed, a life surrendered. The grain offering reminds us that once atonement is made, what we do does count. We can use our redeemed life to work for Christ and His kingdom. “A fellowship offering” Lev. 3:1–17. The Hebrew word is shalom, “peace.” The basic sense of this powerful Hebrew term is “wholeness” or “well-being.” The fellowship offering is a celebration of the inner harmony and peace experienced by a person who is right with God. As such it was an expression of thankfulness and joy (cf. 7:12–13). The family of the worshiper ate parts of the sacrificed animal together. The symbolism is powerful, picturing the family as guests at God’s table. To be served food in the Middle East was an honor and a mark of friendship. By serving food the host became obligated to protect his guests. Thus the fellowship offering reminds us how complete God’s welcome is. We find wholeness and well-being in the presence of our God. And He fully commits Himself to those who approach Him with faith. SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS
*Thank offerings (Lev. 7:12; 22:29), votive offerings (Lev. 7:16–17; Num. 6:17–20), and freewill offerings (Lev. 7:16; 22:8; Num. 15:3) are types of fellowship offerings. “He must bring to the Lord” Lev. 4:1–5:13. The sin offering is not voluntary. Whoever sins—an anointed priest, the whole community, a leader, or an ordinary member of the community—the same procedure must be followed. It must have been difficult for some to bring the sin offering because as a public act this offering served as an open admission of sin. Leviticus 5:5–6 makes God’s requirement very clear. “When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.” It seems particularly difficult for Christian leaders to follow the principle expressed here. Even unintentional sins, with which this passage deals, are not to be hidden but are to be dealt with openly. Sometimes Christians worry that if others see their faults, they will doubt the Gospel. And so these Christians put on masks, pretend they’ve done no wrong, make excuses, and generally refuse to deal even with the unintentional ways they may have fallen short or hurt others. This chapter, with its repeated affirmation, “They must bring,” reminds us that dealing with personal sin is not an option in the believing community. It is a basic requirement for a healthy relationship with God. “He is guilty” Lev. 5:14–6:7. The guilt offering picks up the theme of the sin offering. If a person violates any of the Lord’s commandments “even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible.” The guilt offering serves as a penalty for wrongdoing. On the one hand, God is to be repaid for misuse of any holy thing. For instance, a person who used the Lord’s tithe to meet current expenses violated that “holy thing.” The money used was to be repaid, plus an additional fifth, and as a penalty an animal was to be brought as a guilt offering. On the other hand, if someone sinned against another person, he or she was to make full restitution, plus an additional fifth, and then as a penalty bring an animal as a guilt offering. The guilt offering reminds us that we are responsible for our actions and for the harm we may do others, even when the harm is unintentional. “Give Aaron and his sons this command” Lev. 6:8–7:21. Moses gave the priests specific instructions on how each offering was to be made. “Say to the Israelites” Lev. 7:22–36. Two elements of the sacrificial system are emphasized in these words to the whole community. No one was to eat the fat or blood of animals (see Lev. 17). And the people are to be sure that the priests receive their share. “These, then, are the regulations” Lev. 7:37–38. People centuries later have argued about who invented a sacred history to justify these practices. These two verses tell us unequivocably that it was Moses. How? The verses are in the form of an ancient Mesopotamian colophon, a form used in the second millenniumB.C with which Moses would have been familiar. This form was not used centuries later, when some have suggested the biblical documents were actually written. These verses are as clear an indication of Mosaic authorship and date as is the copyright page of a modern book that bears the date and place of publication.
“I Didn’t Mean To”(Lev. 4:1–5:13)
“Be careful; you might hurt somebody,” Sue warned nine-year-old Sarah, who was running through our house with Maximillian, our schnauzer pup. Sure enough, next time around, Sarah barreled into her mother, hurting Sue’s back. “Sarah!” Mom cried. “That hurt me.” Sarah’s answer? “I didn’t mean to.” That excuse, “I didn’t mean to,” has sneaked into a lot of popular theology. Right now one of my friends has experienced serious persecution from a well-known Christian leader whose excuse is, “I didn’t mean to hurt him.” His theory is if the acts which caused harm were not performed as a conscious, intentional violation of God’s known will, no sin was involved. And, therefore, he is not responsible for the damage he’s done to a brother’s career. Brenda, a very immature Christian in one of our Bible study groups, carried it even further. She argued that if a young person took contraceptives on a date, he or she was planning to have sex, and that was a sin. But if “it just happened,” without planning, it wasn’t sin! That’s “I didn’t mean to do it” theology carried to absurdity! This passage of Leviticus calls on us to reevaluate our view of sin and of responsibility. Again and again the text says, If anyone “sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the law’s commands,” he is guilty. We are fully responsible for our actions, for our unintentional violations of God’s Law, and for any unintentional hurts we inflict on others. In God’s sight, these are sins. Why does God make such a point in this passage of unintentional sins? First, because God wants us to accept responsibility for what we do. We can’t be close to God or to others if we keep on excusing sinful acts by whining, “But I didn’t mean to do it.” Second, God makes a point of these sins because, when we confess them and make right the harm we’ve done, God is ready to forgive. It’s hard for Sarah, just nine, to realize that she needs to accept responsibility and say, “I’m sorry. I won’t run in the house anymore.” She’d rather make that excuse, “I didn’t mean to do it.” Actually, we know she didn’t mean to hurt her mom. But mean to or not, she did cause harm. Learning to be responsible for such acts is essential if Sarah is to grow up to be a mature and loving person, and learn to think ahead how to avoid causing hurt. It’s hard for grown-ups too. We often say honestly, “I didn’t mean to do that to you.” But what we learn from this passage is that, “I didn’t mean to” is no excuse. So let’s accept responsibility for our actions. Let’s practice confessing our unintentional sins and faults. And let’s grow to that new level of spiritual maturity which follows.
When are you most likely to think or say, “But I didn’t mean to”? How else might you respond in that situation?