While reading through the book of Leviticus it becomes very easy to get lost in the deluge of sacrifices. Some sacrifices require sheep, others goats, others grain. Some are completely burned on the altar, while with others only part is burned. Some include a feast while others are trying to atone for sin. It sometimes becomes difficult to try and make sense of it all and thus Leviticus becomes a blur of useless information instead of an understanding of the holiness of God.
The first of the four main sacrifices in the book of Leviticus is the burnt offering. The burnt offering was unique in that it was the only offering to be completely burned on the altar as a sacrifice to God. The purpose of the burnt offering was to provide a way for sinful, impure creatures to come into the presence of God. No one could approach a holy God without a way to atone for sin. Because the consequences for sin were so great, a blood sacrifice had to be made to atone for sin, a substitute had to be offered in place of the worshiper. The burnt offering reminded worshipers that their presence in the sanctuary was only on the basis of atonement being made for their sin. This atonement was so important that it was not only made when worshipers came to the Temple to present themselves to God but was also made twice a day and during holidays and feast days to atone for all the people and for the camp of Israel. If God was going to be in their midst, atonement had to be made.
The second major offering was the grain offering. This offering was unique because it involved only grain or flour, no animals were killed during this sacrifice. And while a portion of the offering was burned on the altar, the remainder was given to the priests as a meal. This sacrifice was also unique because of its purpose. The grain offering was not designed to take care of sin but instead was an act of devotion towards God. The grain offering was a way for the worshiper, who had been cleansed of sin and accepted by God, to show one’s dedication to God. The offerer acknowledged through this offering that everything he or she possessed was a gift from God and this was now a way to return a portion to God as a reminder that God is the provider of all things. The main idea is that those who have been reconciled to God and have experienced access to God will freely give of what they have to represent their dedication to God.
The third major offering was the peace offering. The peace offering was a shared meal in which the offerer celebrated with the priests and the community the blessings of being in a peaceful relationship with God. The very best of the sacrifice would be burned on the altar for God but the rest of the sacrifice was to be shared with the community. This was a feast, it was a celebration, a joyous occasion in which the community could come together to celebrate a right relationship with God. It was one of the highlights of Israelite worship because it involved a community celebration. Sometimes this was made as a thank offering, a public declaration of what God had done. Sometimes it was performed as part of a vow. And other times it was simply a freewill offering, an offering made because the worshiper wanted to celebrate relationship with God. The peace offering was not just a chance to party, it was a holy meal, eaten in the presence of God, as a sign of fellowship and communion with the Almighty.
The final major sacrifice was the purification offering or the sin offering. This was an offering that was specifically made in order for the cleansing of sin to take place or to deal with the defiled conditions of a sinful world. It is sometimes called the purification offering because it did not deal solely with personal sin, but also with defilement in general, such as what would take place with uncleanliness. However, whether the problem was uncleanliness or personal sin, God was making a way to cleanse and purify the worshiper. This offering revealed the seriousness of sin. Sin was a problem in society and needed to be dealt with. The sin offering provided for that as a means through which the offerer could acknowledge his sin before God and make atonement for it. The priest would take some of the blood from the sacrifice and sprinkle it before the altar to cleanse sin. Sometimes the priest would even take part of this offering and burn it outside the camp in order to demonstrate the seriousness of sin and how it needed to be eradicated from their presence. If the offering was because of a committed sin, often restitution would need to be made which typically involved a monetary offering included with the sacrificial offering. The other interesting thing about the sin offering was that the more important one was in society the higher the cost of the offering. For instance, a priest had to offer a bull while a common Israelite need only bring a sheep. This was a reminder that sins committed by leaders affect the community in different ways and thus need different atonement.
Four main sacrifices; burnt, grain, peace, and sin. All of them were important, whether it was to find acceptance before God, to show dedication to God, to celebrate peace with God or to atone for sin. Often these sacrifices would be given at the same time. For instance, one might present a burnt offering, a grain offering, and a sin offering all at the same time. All of these sacrifices were reminders of the holiness of God. And ultimately, all of these sacrifices find their fulfillment in the sacrifice of Jesus who provides a more perfect way for access to God. Jesus became the whole burnt offering allowing us to stand before God. Jesus’s blood atoned for our sins and cleansed us from our unrighteousness. And we celebrate our renewed relationship through the covenant meal, the Eucharist, where we join God at the table and feast to our renewed relationship.