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Leviticus 1-6: Offerings

Original Publication Date
November 1, 2015
Updated
Jan 10, 2023 1:23 AM
Tags
LeviticusChapter StudySacrificeOaths and Vows
Bible References
Leviticus 1-6
Status
Done
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Table of Contents
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on November 1, 2015 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.

Introduction

Chapters 1-6 of Leviticus detail the different types of offerings the Israelites can give to God. These offerings include the burnt, peace, meat, sin, and trespass offerings. Each of these serve a different purpose and required a different gift for God. Some were for voluntary praise and thanks, while others were required on specified occasions.

Burnt Offerings

Burnt offerings were voluntary. If a person chose to give this type of offering, it required the sacrifice of an animal. The animal could be of the herd (cattle), of the flock (sheep or goats), or of the fowl (turtledoves). Animals for burnt offerings were brought to the tabernacle door (generally) and then totally consumed—with the exception of the hide (see Leviticus 7:8)—at the altar. Giving the entirety of the animal symbolized complete dedication of the offerer to God.

Type
Animal
Specifications
Herd
Bull
• Male • Without Blemish
Flock
Sheep or Goat
• Male • Without Blemish
Fowl
Turtledove or Young Pigeons
—

Cattle, Sheep, and Goats

For offerings of the herd or of the flock, the offerer was to place his hand on the head of the sacrifice, symbolically transferring the guilt and sin of the offerer upon the animal. This was a foreshadowing of Jesus who took upon Himself the sins of all mankind at the cross. After laying his had on the animal, the offerer was to kill the sacrifice, and the priests were to sprinkle the blood around the altar. The hide was to be removed and given to the priest. The animal was to be cut into pieces, and laid upon the altar. The head was placed atop the body parts, and the fat placed at the very top. Both the inner parts and the legs were to be washed in water before being burned.

God specifies that a bull was to be brought to the door of the tabernacle, but an offering of the flock (sheep or goat) was to be killed on the North side of the tabernacle.

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When I originally wrote this post I didn’t consider the location difference for the offering for cattle versus the flock to be significant. Looking at it now, my first thought is to ask why these animals to be offered in different places. There are a few passages suggesting The Most High is in the North or comes from the North. Another connection is that Messiah is symbolized by a Lamb and a lamb is part of the flock which would be sacrificed in North. Neither of these feels “right” as an interpretation at the moment, however. For now, I am leaning toward practicality; it would have been much more work to carry a bull from one place to another than it would be for a sheep or goat.

Turtledoves

Offering of the fowl was slightly different since birds are smaller and contain less blood. As such they were to wring the neck of bird, then wring the blood beside the altar. The offerer is not told to place his hands upon the head of the bird, though considering the offerer would likely have to carry the bird to the priest, it is possible this sufficed as the transferal of sins. Birds were not to be cut or split into pieces before being placed on the altar, probably because they were much smaller and could fit onto the altar in one piece.

The allowance of fowl as an offering was one of God's many provisions to ensure the poor were included in His plan for salvation. Larger animals are more expensive to buy or keep—after all, they require land for grazing. Fowl on the other hand were numerous; a person could easily catch one without needing to “raise” or maintain several of them. They would also have been much cheaper in the marketplace.

Meat Offerings

Contrary to what one would think, meat offerings required neither flesh nor blood. Meat can refer to the edible part of something, like the meat of a fruit, and this was the common usage ancient times. Fortunately for us, these offerings were also known as grain offerings, which makes more sense in our language today. I’ll likely refer to them as grain offerings throughout the blog for clarity.

Grain offerings were to consist of fine flour with oil and frankincense poured upon it. In place of the burnt offering’s symbolism of touching the head of the animal, a handful of the flour was to be taken to be burned by the priests. Whatever was left over, the priests were to keep for themselves. If the offering had been baked, it was not to contain leaven (or honey). Baked offerings were to be unleavened cakes or wafers anointed with oil.

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Leaven often symbolizes sin in the Bible, thus it makes sense that leaven is not to be contained in a sacrifice meant to be holy and atoning.

Green ears of corn, which could be offered as a firstfruit, were to be dried by the fire before given. A portion of the oil was to be placed on the offering and the offering was to be burned with all the frankincense upon it.

God forbade the inclusion of leaven or honey in any offering burned in the fire. It is speculated that God forbade these from being burned on the altar because leaven symbolized evil and honey was often offered to pagan gods.[1] Mark 5:15, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, and Galatians 5:9 all discuss the evils of leaven (or yeast) and how it spreads, seeming to support the idea that it cannot be burnt for symbolic purposes.

In contrast, salt was to be offered with every offering—in the New Testament (Matthew 5:13) we are told that God’s people, the followers of Messiah, are to be the salt of the Earth.

Peace Offerings

Though peace offerings could be the sacrifice of a male or female animal, they still had to be without blemish. All of the fat, both kidneys, and the caul above the liver were to be removed for offerings. The fat and organs were to be burned upon the altar by Aaron's sons (the priests). Lambs required the addition of the rump from the backbone. The blood of the sacrifice was to be sprinkled on the altar. God officially declared blood off limits from man's diet after the flood, but He reiterates the point here, adding a prohibition of fat. These two parts of the body belonged to God, and thus, God commands the Israelites to refrain from eating such things as a perpetual statute.

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There are lots of studies on the effect of fats in a person’s diet. Generally speaking, there are three types of fats: trans fat, saturated fat, and unsaturated fat. The fat that comes from red meat (as would be in a peace offering) is saturated fat, though small amounts of trans fat occur in meat as well. From what I gathered from a brief survey of studies, saturated fats have mixed results on a person’s health—unlike trans fat (processed, small amounts in meat) which is very bad for you and unsaturated fat (veggies and fish) which is good for you.

Sin Offerings

Sin offerings were given by those who ignorantly sinned against God's commandment; note that while there was a trespass offering for those who knowingly trespassed against someone, no provision was given for those who knowingly committed a sin against God (breaking the 10 Commandments). It is possible that this is because most sins that people would purposefully commit (murder, blasphemy, etc.) carried a death sentence as punishment. This offering allowed for the repenting sinner to be forgiven just as calling upon the blood of Jesus allows for repenting Christians to be forgiven.

Priests

The priests were to sacrifice a bull, and its blood was to be sprinkled before the vail seven times, as well as, on the horns of the altar of incense. The remaining blood was to be poured by the altar of burnt sacrifices. Like with the peace offering, the fat, kidneys, and caul were to be burned. The skin and flesh of the bull were to be carried to a clean place outside the tabernacle grounds and burned there; this was also were ashes were poured out. Applying the blood to the furnishings represented purification of the sanctuary, which became unclean when the priest sinned.

Congregation

If the Congregation of Israel, that is to say the entire community, sinned unknowingly, they were to bring a young bull to be sacrificed. The elders of the community were to place their hands upon the bull's head to transfer the sin of the community and then the priest would perform the sacrifice. The blood was sprinkled before the vail seven times, placed on the horns of the altar of incense, and poured by the altar of burnt sacrifices. Following the protocol of the priests' sin offering, the fat, kidney, and caul were to be burned, while the flesh and skin were to be carried to the clean place.

Rulers & Kings

If a king or ruler of Israel committed a sin unknowingly, he was to bring a young, male goat without blemish. The blood of this offering was placed on the horns of the altar for burnt offerings, and beside the same altar. As with most sacrifices, the ruler was to place his hand on the goat's head to transfer the sin. God commands that the fat be burned in accordance with the fat burning instructions of the peace offering.

The Common Man

Commoners who sinned could bring a young female goat or a young female lamb; regardless, the sacrifice was to be without blemish. The sinner was to place their hand on the sacrifice's head, then the sacrifice was performed. Blood was placed on the horns of the altar and beside the altar, and the fat of the animal was burned on the altar.

Trespass Offerings

God lists several examples for what constitutes the need for a trespass offering. One such reason was failure to tell something seen or heard while under oath. The person lying (or omitting the truth) was to bear the iniquity of the sin, too. Similarly, touching something that was is defined as unclean by God made the toucher unclean as well; this included touching man's uncleanness (bodily emissions like blood or semen). Failure to uphold an oath whether good or bad is another reason for trespass offerings.

Breaking promises and vows is a very important matter to God, this is visible throughout the Bible and manifests in us. Everyone hates when people break their promises; often this act is seen as betrayal. Here, God was reminding the Israelites (and now us) to think before they jumped into promises and oaths. While taking an evil oath was clearly a bad thing that God would not condone, failure to keep the evil oath meant the oath taker was a liar and not a man/woman of their word, which was also bad. If someone committed one of these infractions, they were to take a trespass offering to God.

God provided three options for this offering in order to accommodate the poor. The initial requirement was a young female from the flock (lamb or goat). If the person could not bring something of the flock, they were required to bring two turtledoves or two pigeons. In this instance one bird was to be a sin offering, and the other a burnt offering. If the person was unable to do either of these, they could bring a tenth part of an ephah of fine flour. Since it was a sin offering, they were not to place oil or frankincense. Similar to the meat or grain offering, the priest was permitted to keep the leftovers of the flour.

References and Footnotes

  1. Holman Bible Publishers. The Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 178. 2014

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