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The Sacrificial System

The Sacrificial System

The primary responsibility of the priests was to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the Israelites – for individuals, for families and for the nation. The offering of animal sacrifices has been traced back to Adam; there, God took the skins of animals to make clothing for Adam and Eve. The sacrificial offerings, from the time of Adam to the death of Christ, are recognized as a covering for sin in anticipation of the day when the death of Christ would permanently wash away sins. The practice of offering sacrifices was so widespread at the time the Law was given that the Gentiles were offering sacrifices to their idols.

Because of the tremendous influence that the Gentiles had over God’s chosen nation, God, through the law, restricted and refined the sacrificial services for Israel. The new rules and procedures given to Israel were patterned after and were symbolic of God’s blueprint in heaven for the eternal salvation of man. The Gentiles were offering sacrifices of their own design, including humans, to appease their pagan gods. These gods were created through their own vain imaginations. It is amazing how closely Satan imitates yet distorts the meaning of the things concerning God the Creator.

God’s first requirement was that sacrifices be brought to the door of the tabernacle. “This is the thing which the Lord has commanded, saying: ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel who kills an ox or lamb or goat in the camp, or who kills it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting to offer an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, the guilt of bloodshed shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people'” (Lev. 17:2b-4). The penalty was very severe for those who disobeyed the law relating to the offering of sacrifices. Since the sacrifices of Israel were in direct contrast to those offered by the Gentiles, God wanted his people to know that there was a significant difference in meaning.

Any animal brought to the Lord must be a male who is at least eight days old and must be without blemish. “When a bull or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall be seven days with its mother; and from the eighth day and thereafter it shall be accepted as an offering made by fire to the Lord. Whether it is a cow or ewe, do not kill both her and her young on the same day.” (Lev. 22:27-28). “You shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish from the cattle, from the sheep, or from the goats. Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable on your behalf.” (Lev. 22:19-20). God required that the animals be perfect because they were symbolic of His son who was perfect.

The Law required that the man who was offering the sacrifice place his hand upon the animal’s head to signify the acceptance and identification of his offering. The priest would then slay the animal, sprinkle the blood upon the altar, and burn a portion of the flesh upon the altar. Special significance was placed upon the shed blood. “‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’ Therefore, I said to the children of Israel, ‘No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood'” (Lev. 17:11-12). Also, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the blood was sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark for the atonement of national sins (Lev. 16:1-34).

Not all of the flesh of animals was burned. Therefore, the priests, and sometimes the person making the sacrifice, were allowed to eat the remaining meat. This remaining meat, stale bread from the table of showbread, and food sacrifices provided food for the priests. However, some of the remaining sacrifices were used in communal meals with the Lord, and the common people were allowed to eat a portion of the meat and food sacrifice.

Five types of offering: burnt offering, meal offering, peace offering, sin offering and trespass offering, are described in the first seven chapters of Leviticus. The first three are classified as sweet savor offerings and represent the perfection of the sacrifices before the Lord. The last two are classified as non-sweet savor offerings as God looks upon the sins of the one making the offering. The offering of the sweet savor offerings seems to follow the pattern given in the Passover (Ex. 12:1-20) where an animal is slain first and then a meal (bread) offering follows. Scripture is clear that both the burnt offering and the peace offering must be followed by the meal offering (Ex. 29:38-46, Lev. 7:8-15). Scripture is less clear on the sin and trespass offering where the specific offering is required for individual sins and trespasses (Lev. 4:1-7, 5:1-19, 6:24-7:10).

God required a continual burnt offering upon the altar. “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs of the first year, day by day continually. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight”. “This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet you to speak with you” (Ex. 29:38-39, 42). In addition to the continual burnt offering required by the priest on behalf of the nation, it is very clear from the first chapter of Leviticus that individuals also offered burnt offerings. All the flesh except the skin, which was eaten by the priest, was burned as a sign of complete dedication and consecration to God.

A peace offering (Lev. 3:1-17, 7:11-21, 28-34) was made on a voluntary basis as a communal meal to express peace and fellowship between man and God. The animal without blemish, male or female, could be from a herd of cattle or a flock of lambs depending upon the wealth of the one making the sacrifice. The blood was sprinkled upon the altar, the fatty portion was burned upon the altar, the breast and right shoulder were to be eaten by the priest, but the person who was making the sacrifice, along with his family, ate the remainder of the animal.

The meal or cereal offering ( Lev. 2:1-16, 7:12-13), signifying ones homage and thanksgiving to God, followed all burnt and peace offerings. Unleavened bread, made of flour or grain and mixed with oil and frankincense, was divided into two portions. One portion was burned on the altar and the priest ate the other. Many of the sacrifices and rituals were required in the purification process. The offering of a burnt offering, a peace offering, and a meal offering were required in the consecration ceremony of the priests. After assuming office, they kept ceremonially clean by washing their hands and feet at the bronze laver. Individuals who became defiled by body and skin conditions were required to bring sacrifices as part of their cleansing ritual (Leviticus chapters 12-14). Certain animals and all carcasses were unclean and anyone having contact with them became unclean until evening. All these rituals and ceremonies of purification were required to remind the people of who they were – a chosen nation married to a Holy and perfect God.

It was the practice of some Gentile nations to offer human sacrifices. God clearly warned His people that this was forbidden. “Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given some of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name” (Lev. 20:2b-3). Molech was the national god of the Ammonites, and required the offering of human sacrifices – usually a child. God required the life of only one as a human sacrifice – His only begotten Son, made of the “Seed of Woman’, who became the “Lamb of God”.