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.

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