Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Levitical Sacrifices: The Grain (Meal) Offering

In this post, we'll look at the grain, or meal, offering discussed in Leviticus 2, 6:14-23, and 22:21-22. Again, I recommend reading these passages before diving into this post!

How was the offering performed? What was offered?

The Hebrew term for the grain offering, “minha” or “minchah” (Strong’s 4503, meaning literally “gift,” “tribute,” or “offering”),  is actually a general term that is used throughout the Old Testament, sometimes in reference specifically to the grain offering, occasionally serving as a general term for a sacrifice, and often used to describe tribute or a present (for example, Jacob’s present to Esau when he returned to his homeland in Genesis 32:13).

The grain offering was commanded to be offered twice daily along with the burnt offering and drink offering, once in the morning and once at twilight (Exodus 29:39-41). There were several different options when giving a grain offering, seemingly more dependent on personal preference than on wealth, status, or occasion. These options included unbaked flour, unleavened cakes or wafers baked in the oven, in an uncovered pan, or in a covered pan. 

Specific grain offerings were required for the offering at the Feast of the Firstfruits, or the wavesheaf offering (see Leviticus 23:10, Numbers 15:17-21), and at the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:20). 

In every case excepting Pentecost and the “grain offering of jealousy” (Numbers 5:11-26), the ingredients of the offering were the same (flour, oil, frankincense, and salt), and the forbidden ingredients were the same (leaven and honey). Let's look at these required and forbidden ingredients in more detail.
  •  Flour (ground grain): grain, or meal, was the substance of life for much of history. Making bread was a daily task for the women prior to leaving Egypt, but it appears their supplies of flour ran quite low after the Exodus. God provided manna for them daily, but this was not what they were told to offer—they were told to offer grain, from their own dwindling stock and store. At this point, it is possible that grain was more precious to the Israelites than livestock.
  •  Oil (probably olive oil): serves as a sort of preservative in bread, in a way. Oil prevents bread from drying out (think French baguettes after sitting out for a day—no oil). It was not commonly used in bread-making, however, as most bread was made with water as the liquid instead of oil. Oil was an expensive commodity, likely especially in the wilderness years, when the Israelites would not have had a consistent source of olive oil to purchase or harvest.
  • Frankincense: one of the most precious perfumes, known for a rich, sweet scent that was brought out by fire. It was commonly used as an incense, as it was in this case.
  • Honey: a commonly used sweetener that did not do well in heat. If subjected to fire, honey was known to spoil and ferment.
  • Salt: an expensive, but commonly used, preservative. Was used to keep food from spoiling so quickly, as well as to season it.
  • Leaven: used to expand dough prior to baking it through the process of fermentation. The Israelites likely kneaded bits of old dough into the new dough to leaven it. This process was not allowed during the Days of Unleavened Bread starting at the time of the Exodus.

Notably, the one time that leaven was allowed to be incorporated in a grain offering was in the offerings of the firstfruits on Pentecost (which were wave offerings, and were not burnt on the bronze altar – see Leviticus 2:12, 7:13, 23:15-21).

When the offering was given, mixed or drizzled with oil, it first needed to be divided into two parts: the “memorial portion,” which was usually only a small portion (a handful of the offering of flour, for example), was burned on the bronze altar, along with the frankincense and salt. This portion was the “sweet aroma” to God. The remainder of the offering was given to the priests as their portion (Leviticus 2:10; 6:16,18; 7:9-10).

What did the offering mean to the Israelites?

“It is most holy of the offerings to the Lord made by fire,” proclaims Leviticus 2:3. The Israelites would have understood is holiness differently than we do today, however. As discussed in the burnt offering section, the whole nation of Israel was holy to God, as long as they kept His law and maintained their ritual cleanliness. The priests and Levites were set aside as a special subset of God’s holy people, however. They were set aside by God for a specific purpose—the maintenance of His Tabernacle/Temple, sacrifices and offerings, and helping the lay-people to understand and keep the law. This offering focused not only on God, but also on the priest as the mediator, who offered the grain offering and was commanded to keep the majority of it for his own consumption (and that of the other priests). Therefore, in giving the grain offering, the people not only sought to please God, but to give to others.

As was previously mentioned, grain was a staple of life in OT times, but during the wilderness years, the children of Israel likely had very little access to grain. Along with the grain offering is discussed the offering of the firstfruits, which would be offered when they “came into the land” that God was giving them (Leviticus 23:10). But the offering wasn’t postponed until such a time as they had field of their own. It would have been an offering given in faith that God would indeed bring them into this Promised Land and they would indeed grow their own crops and make their own bread again—but for now, they would have to depend on manna from God. Dependence on God seems to be the theme of this offering from the beginning.

When they did come into the Promised Land and begin giving grain offerings of their own fields, the theme of dependence continued. The Promised Land may have had a more favorable climate then than it does today, but even so, a farmer must take his planting and his harvest year by year and day by day. As the apostle James wrote, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain” (James 5:7). They depended on God to help their crops produce, and then offered to Him the fruit of their labor. They had to do their part in manual labor, and God had to do His part in blessing the land. The fruit of that joint effort had to go to God first, then to the priests (the mediators between the people and God), and then to the farmer and his family.

When was it performed in the Bible?

The first recorded grain offering was the offering given along with a burnt offering on the bronze altar at the dedication of the newly built Tabernacle (Exodus 40:29, Numbers 7). Grain offerings were offered in combination with burnt offerings and peace offerings at the consecration of the priestly ministry (Leviticus 9:4,17),  the dedication and cleansing of the Levites (Numbers 8:8), and the dedication of Samuel as a servant of the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 1:24).

As previously discussed, they were an important part of the festivals, including the Feast of Firstfruits and Pentecost, but also at each of the other Feasts (Leviticus 23:37, Numbers 28:16-29:39), as well as new moons and Sabbaths (Numbers 28:9-14).

Grain offerings were offered in combination with sin offerings and burnt offerings in the ritual cleansing of healed lepers (Leviticus 14:19-21), and in combination with burnt offerings, sin offerings, peace offerings, and drink offerings at the fulfillment of the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:15).
The “grain offering of jealousy” offered by a husband when he believed his wife to have been unfaithful was a very special case (Numbers 5:11-28). The man who brought this offering to the priest was not allowed to put any oil or frankincense on it because it was “an offering for remembering, for bringing iniquity to remembrance” (Numbers 5:15). Why was a grain offering used? Why was an offering given at all, until after her sin or lack of sin was known? I cannot tell, but there is a purpose for everything God does.

Upon entering the Promised Land, grain offerings became a required part of each burnt offering and peace offering (Numbers 15:1-21).

What lessons can we learn from this offering today? What symbolism does it contain?

The ingredients of the grain offering are deeply symbolic.

  • Flour: The grain, ground finely into an even powder, represents Christ, whose body was bruised and broken for us (Psalm 22:14-15). The fineness of the flour may represent his evenness of character, according to Jukes (The Law of the Offerings by Andrew Jukes). Jesus described Himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:32-35, 48-51), and advised His disciples on the night of the Passover to “take, eat” of the unleavened bread, symbolizing His body (Matthew 26:26).
  • Oil: Oil is a common symbol in the Bible, representing the Holy Spirit and power (Acts 10:38, Matthew 25:1-13, Luke 4:18).
  • Frankincense: Incense in the Bible usually represents the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8). Here, it may be more completely understood in contrast with the other sweet ingredient which was forbidden: honey. As was noted previously, fire (which typically signifies trials in the Bible, compare 1 Peter 4:12), has a very different effect on these two ingredients. For frankincense, fire makes the sweetness even sweeter, whereas for honey, the extreme heat of fire can spoil and ruin its chemical makeup. The contrast between the two displays firstly the attitude of Christ when He went through the fiery trials of His life and of His crucifixion, and secondly the attitude during trials that we should strive to have. Honey could represent a person whose attitude is corrupted and becomes selfish and ungodly during the heat of trials.
  • Salt: Salt is symbolic of faithfulness and God’s enduring covenant promises (Ezekiel 43:24, Mark 9:49, 2 Chronicles 13:5), whereas its foil, leaven, is representative of hypocrisy, malice, and wickedness—on the whole, covenant-breaking (1 Corinthians 5:7-8, Luke 12:1).

The leavened “wave loaves” of the Pentecost grain offering provide clear symbolism: they represent the members of the Church, the firstfruits of God, with our human nature and tendency toward sin, despite having God’s holy Spirit and desiring to obey Him. All of our offerings to God, all of our self-sacrifices, are mixed with sin, since we are human and imperfect. Thankfully, He has made allowance for our imperfections (Romans 7:14-20).

Like the burnt offering, the entire grain offering is completely consumed; however, unlike the burnt offering, not all of it is consumed by burning on the altar. God is given a “memorial portion” first, and then the remainder is given to the priests. We discussed the burnt offering’s focus on God as being representative of the “first and great commandment,” loving God with all our heart, mind, and strength. The shift of focus in the grain offering from God to the human priests may help us understand the underlying lesson of the offering. The self-sacrifice is still complete, but now is not only sacrifice to God, but through God to serve our fellow man. If the burnt offering is the first and great commandment, then the grain offering is the second which is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Levitical Sacrifices: The Burnt Offering

Fair warning: These posts are more of study papers than blogs and will be quite lengthy! I tried to cut down as much as possible, but they say the shorter the paper the better you have to understand the topic, and I'll admit, I don't understand this topic well enough to summarize yet!

In this first post we'll look at the Burnt Offering described in detail in Leviticus 1, 6:8-13, and 22:18-20. I highly recommend reading those passages before you start reading this post. :) If you have a question, an answer, a disagreement, or an agreement, feel free to comment!

How was the offering performed? What was offered?

The burnt offering, in Hebrew “olah” (Strong’s 5930a, meaning “whole burnt offering”) or “kalil” (Strong’s 3632, meaning “entire,” “perfect,” “whole,” or “a holocaust”), is the first and most commonly referenced offering in the Scripture. It appears it was often given jointly with one or more of the other offerings, such as the grain offering (Numbers 7:87), drink offering (Numbers 15:10, 2 Chronicles 29:35 – this offering is not enumerated as one of the main categories of offerings in Leviticus, likely because it was never given independently, but appears to have usually consisted of wine), peace offering (Leviticus 3:5), or sin offering (Numbers 29).

When the burnt offering was given individually, it was a voluntary offering (Leviticus 1:3). The burnt offering was commanded to be given twice daily, once in the morning and once at twilight (Exodus 29:38-39, Numbers 28:3, 2 Chronicles 31:3, Ezra 3:3), and was an important part of Feast day and Sabbath offerings (Leviticus 16:5, 23:37, Numbers 10:10, 28:10, Ezra 3:4-5).

A burnt offering was always a male animal, but God provided several different options for sacrifices with varying values, so that the burnt offering would be affordable for almost anyone (note that even more affordable offering option are given for the sin offering, so that anyone could afford to offer the involuntary sacrifices to atone for their sins)—they could offer a bull, a sheep, a goat, a turtledove, or a pigeon (see Leviticus 14:22,31). The important thing was that the animals were “without blemish” (Leviticus 1:3,10).

The worshiper did much of the work in preparing the burnt offering. The steps involved in the offering of bulls, sheep, and goats were as follows:
  1. The Israelite man brought the animal to the door of the Tabernacle.
  2. He laid his hand on the head of the animal, identifying himself with it.
  3. The Israelite killed the animal.
  4. The priests took the blood of the animal and sprinkled it on the bronze altar (also known as the “altar of burnt offering” – Exodus 38:1).
  5. The Israelite skinned the animal (the skin was then given to the priests as their portion – Leviticus 7:8) and cut it in pieces, which are given in detail:
    1. The head
    2. The fat
    3. The organs
    4. The legs
  6. The Israelite washed the legs and innards of the animal.
  7. The priests placed all the pieces of the animal, except for the skin, on the altar, and burned it completely. The sacrifice was to be kept burning all night on the altar until morning, and only then were the ashes to be removed from the altar and placed beside it (Leviticus 6:9-10).
The steps are different in notable ways when the offering was a bird. The worshiper was much less involved in the gory details of the sacrifice, and actually was only required to bring the bird to the Tabernacle. The priests did the rest of the work. They wrung off the head of the bird, drained its blood on the side of the bronze altar, removed the crop and feathers, split the bird almost into two pieces at the wings, and then, just like the bulls, goats, and sheep, the bird was placed on the altar and burned completely.

What did the offering mean to the Israelites?

Aside from being the first offering discussed in Leviticus, the burnt offering had a rich history going back thousands of years, of which the Israelites would have known, including the offerings of Noah following the Flood and Abraham’s famed Mount Moriah sacrifice. A few of the Leviticus 1-7 sacrifices may have been new to the Israelites, but this was certainly not one of them.

Livestock were an important commodity, both in the wilderness years and upon settling in the Promised Land. The Israelites were shepherds at the time of their settling in Egypt, and brought their flocks and herds with them to Egypt in the days of Joseph (Genesis 46:32). They then took the much-multiplied, generations-later offspring of those original flocks and herds with them out of Egypt in the Exodus (Exodus 12:32,38). Thus, it seems that even in the wilderness years, the children of Israel did not have a livestock shortage. However, making this voluntary sacrifice meant taking  one of your best animals and giving it to God—watching it be killed and then completely burned up.

Sacrifices were common in Old Testament times, and were an important part of many different religious rituals, possibly as a result of Satan’s corruption of the sacrifices given to God by Noah, from whom all the nations were descended. Pagan religions of the day gave burnt sacrifices, including human sacrifices, to gain the attention and favor of their gods. Burnt offerings to the true God seem to represent something more specific—complete devotion to God.

Like the other voluntary offerings, the burnt offering was intended to be pleasing to God (Leviticus 1:9,13,17). However, one word that is used to describe the burnt offering’s purpose is not used to describe any of the other voluntary offerings: “atonement” (Leviticus 1:4), the Hebrew word “kaphar” (Strong’s 3722, meaning “to cover over” or to pacify, appease, or forgive). There is no mention of sin, and also no mention of forgiveness (as is specifically stated in the involuntary offerings, cf Leviticus 4:20), but rather “acceptance” of the burnt offering “on his behalf”—it was sacrificed instead of the offerer.

The Israelite who brought the animal laid his hand on its head to identify himself with it, just as we will see was done with the animals offered as sin offerings, but instead of attaining forgiveness of sins, the intent was to bring himself closer to God in devoted worship. This “atonement” may have also been atonement for the uncleanness, both physical and spiritual, that separated them from God.

The Israelites alone among the nations of the OT were a holy people to God. Physical and spiritual uncleanness was illustrated as making the Israelites physically or spiritually unholy, as unholiness (uncleanness) was understood in OT times. There was clearly no sin involved in a woman undergoing her monthly cycle, for example, but the physical uncleanness was symbolic for the spiritual uncleanness that comes from sin, both active sin and sin of the heart, and their need to be “at one” with God. A whole burnt offering, sacrificing entirely to God a sinless, unblemished animal in the place of oneself, showed God complete devotion and desire to live according to His law despite the internal war with law-breaking (Psalm 119:8-9, Romans 7:21-23).

The specific parts of the animal which were enumerated also would have been symbolic to the Israelites. The parts of the body in those days were associated with different parts of the whole of the person—the head would have been associated with the thoughts, the legs with the actions (the “walk”), the fat with the general strength and vitality, and the innards with the feelings and emotions. This concept is reminiscent of the calls to ultimate devotion to God in Deuteronomy:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

“What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Looking back to the sacrifice of Abraham their forefather would have supported this concept. In the other voluntary offerings, others were able to eat significant portions of the animal or grain that was offered, and thus not only God benefited from the “sweet aroma” of the offering, but His people were also able to physically benefit from the offering. Not so in the case of the burnt offering, however. 

The Hebrew words for the burnt offering emphasize the wholeness and entirety of the burning of the offering. Nothing was left for the offerer, or even for the priest, aside from the animal’s skin. God is the clear focus in the offering, and the burnt offering was likely given as a result of wanting to show complete and total devotion to Him.

When was it performed in the Bible?

The first recorded animal sacrifice, given by Abel in Genesis 4:4, may have been a burnt offering or a peace offering.

The sacrifices of Noah after the flood do appear to be burnt offerings, though we see that he offered all kinds of clean animals instead of just the five options God later enumerated for the Israelites. Notice God’s response:

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.’ (Genesis 8:20-22)

Abraham’s famed burnt offering of the ram, which took the place of his son, is another telling passage in understanding the meaning of the burnt offering. God’s command to Abraham, which the omniscient reader understands to be God “testing” Abraham, was to “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2-3). We are spared the details of Abraham’s thoughts and emotions, and are only told of his follow-through without hesitation. Again, notice God’s response:

Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

Abraham’s obedience in his willingness to sacrifice his only son was clearly a type of the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ—a heart-rending sacrifice both on God’s part and on Jesus’s. Abraham kept nothing back from God, and was even willing to give up the most important thing in his life, the son that he had spent a century waiting for. According to Hebrews, Abraham had complete trust that the One who gave him his son would be able to bring him back to life again (Hebrews 11:17-19). Again, God’s response to Abraham’s sacrifice (in this case, his willingness to follow through was equivalent to if the sacrifice of Isaac had actually taken place, except that human sacrifice, which is abominable to God, did not actually occur) is in the form of a promise. God had made promises and covenants with Abraham in the past, but this one is the climax—God’s blessing on Abraham is no longer dependent on anything that Abraham or his descendants do. It is now unconditional.

In the examples of Noah and Abraham, we see that burnt offerings are deeply entwined with the important covenant promises. When they showed their complete devotion to Him, He in turn showed His devotion to them—His creation and His people.

When Moses requested of Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go out of Egypt, he originally requested that they might go out to offer “sacrifices [i.e., peace offerings] and burnt offerings” to God (Exodus 10:25).

The commanded offering of the firstborn, following the climactic plague of the death of the firstborn in Egypt and the institution of the Passover, was likely a burnt offering, though it may have been a peace offering, or possibly could have been either at the discretion of the owner (Exodus 13:1,11-16, 22:29, 34:19-20).

Other examples of times when burnt offerings were offered include the consecration of the priesthood (Exodus 29:25, Leviticus 8:28), at the ratification of the Old Covenant (Exodus 24:4-6), as part of certain purification rituals, usually along with a sin offering (Leviticus 12:6, 14:20, Numbers 6:11), in conjunction with sin offerings given for the congregation of Israel (Numbers 15:24), in times of trouble when God’s favor was requested (Judges 20:26, 1 Samuel 7:9) the consecration of the Tabernacle (Numbers 7), upon the occasion of bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:17), the consecration of the Temple (1 Kings 8:64, 2 Chronicles 7:1), to stop plagues (2 Samuel 24:25), as part of national rededication (2 Chronicles 29:27), and as part of Holy Day offerings, feast days, Sabbaths, and new moons (Leviticus 16:5, 23:37, Numbers 10:10, 28:10, Ezra 3:4-5, Ezekiel 5:17).

Burnt offerings were also used by the children of Israel in idol-worship (Exodus 32:6, 2 Kings 3:27, 2 Kings 16:15), and by pagans to try to get God on their side (Numbers 23:3).
Saul offered a burnt offering when he was afraid that Israel would be scattered from him, but he missed the point of the offering. He didn’t obey Samuel’s command to wait until he arrived to offer the burnt and peace offerings, and instead did it himself. Samuel’s response on God’s behalf in is very important:

Has 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 heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king. (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

In contrast to the rich blessings God promised to those who offered burnt offerings to Him out of a right heart, God here promises to end Saul’s reign. Instead of offering the burnt offering out of devotion and love for God, Saul offered it out of fear, faithlessness in God, and pride—believing that he could decide for himself what was the right action to take in this situation. He called it bending the rules to keep control. Samuel called it rebellion. (Compare Jeremiah 6:20.)

Saul’s unrighteous burnt offering stands in stark contrast with the right heart with which Solomon offered 1,000 burnt offerings when he was made king. God greatly respected his offerings, and offered to give him anything he desired. His request was proof of his devotion to God and to his people: wisdom, “that I may discern between good and evil—” so that he could make the right decisions and be a godly leader (1 Kings 3:9). God was so pleased with this response that He not only promised to give Solomon what he had requested, but also to give him many blessings that he had not requested. Note that His promise for long life was not unconditional, as God’s covenant with Abraham had been, however:

So if you walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days. (1 Kings 3:14)

Even 1,000 burnt offerings was not enough to prove that Solomon was always going to put God first. As we know, his devotion to God eventually was overshadowed by his love of women, and his desire to please them became greater than his desire to please God.

What lessons can we learn from this offering today? What symbolism does it contain?

The main lesson for the Israelites, of complete devotion to God and desire to obey Him and love Him with all our being, despite our sinful nature, is an extremely important lesson for us today, as well. We must keep nothing back from God—our commitment must be complete, and our self-sacrifice must be entire (2 Corinthians 8:5, Philippians 2:5-8).

We know that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, offering Himself of His own volition as a sweet aroma, well-pleasing to God (Psalm 40:6-8).

Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. (Ephesians 5:2)

In this offering, the facet of His sacrifice that we focus on is His perfection and completeness in devotion to God and to us, as well as the outcome of His perfect sacrifice on our lives. He now lives in baptized members (note the washing of the legs and organs in Leviticus 1:9, symbolizing cleansing through baptism and the Holy Spirit in our lives) of His Church so that we, through Him, may be living sacrifices, also well-pleasing to God (Romans 12:1, Philippians 4:18) to help us overcome our human nature (Romans 7:21-25).

Jesus is also symbolized in the giving of the burnt offering by the priest, as our High Priest and intercessor (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:25, 8:1), who expects from us an offering that is the best we can give, but will give us as much aid as we need in our Christian walk. The many different varieties of animals which could be sacrificed, based on the wealth of the worshiper, are reflective of different facets of the nature of Christ, our spiritual gifts, and God’s expectations of us (Matthew 29:15-30). Note the change in the responsibilities of the poor man offering a turtledove or pigeon—all he had to do was bring his gift to the altar, and the priest took care of the rest. Jesus, our High Priest, will do the same for us if and when we need Him to.

To summarize the burnt offering’s bearing on the lives of modern-day Christians, the so-called “first and great commandment,” as stated by Jesus, quoting from Deuteronomy and simultaneously summarizing the first four of the Ten Commandments, seems fitting:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Levitical Sacrifices: An Introduction

This project started out as an innocent read-through of the sacrifices and offerings described in the first few chapters of Leviticus. As I read through them, even with the help of a commentary, I started to realize just how complex and symbolic the offerings were (and are), and how little I understood about them. More than a month later, I'm still researching and trying to understand! This post and the posts to follow may be somewhat technical, and my interpretations are certainly far from perfect or complete, but I wanted to share the fruits of my study and, hopefully, start some discussion on what these sacrifices mean for us and our relationships with our Creator and our Savior (the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb) today.


The sacrifices and offerings that God formally instituted for the Israelites at Mount Sinai are complex in their individuality and the interconnectedness. The general term translated “offering” or “oblation” throughout the early chapters of Leviticus (and in Numbers and Deuteronomy) is the Hebrew word “qorban” or “qurban” (Strong’s 7133), meaning literally “something which is brought near the altar” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). Each one of the five types of offerings enumerated in Leviticus 1-7 has its own name or names which help to explain its specific purpose in the lives of the Israelites. (These names are, however, sometimes used more generally and sometimes overlap, which can make things confusing!)

When we think of the Levitical sacrifices, we tend to try to skip straight to the symbolism. While the symbolic meanings of the sacrifices is incredibly important, this may mean we miss some of the inherent lessons of the sacrifice in its historical context. As modern-day Christians, it is vital for us to understand why and how Christ offered Himself as the ultimate burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering, sin offering, and trespass offering, and how He can be understood simultaneously as both the offering and the priest. However, the Israelites as a nation didn’t understand the prophetic, symbolic nature of the sacrifices. While they certainly had symbolic meaning in the mind of God from the beginning, it is important to look at them also as the Israelites would have, and understand what they learned and felt as a result of each of the sacrifices.

The first three offerings discussed, the burnt offering, grain offering, and peace offering, are similar in that they are described as “sweet aroma” offerings. These offerings are described as voluntary, or freewill, offerings, the focus of which was not the forgiveness of sin, but the worshiper’s relationship with his Creator. These offerings were frequently offered together in times of celebration, national disaster, and on Feast days. On the other hand, the sin offering and trespass offering (which are difficult to cleanly distinguish and often appear to be used interchangeably) were involuntary. They were required at certain times, including personal or national sin, cleansing of an impurity, and on the Day of Atonement.

For each offering, we will discuss the composition of the offering and how it was performed, the meaning and importance of the offering to the Israelites, examples from the Bible of times when the offering was made, and what lessons we can learn from it today.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or disagreements along the way, please comment! The more deeply I understand these ancient rituals, the more fascinated I am with the mind and the plan of God, and the more I want to talk about it with others.