In consideration of the fact of the holiness of God and the depravity of mankind that caused a break in the fellowship between God and mankind, God made a provision for the restoration of this fellowship and gave to Moses instructions for the ancient sacrifices that illustrated what was to come in the person of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and so the Levitical offerings were introduced to His people.
Sacrificial offerings are spontaneous expressions of reverence and gratitude that a person feels toward God, and with such gratitude and reverence there was also the thought of securing a continuance of God’s favour and mercy, conscious of the idea of propitiation and substitution, that blood is the symbol of life and its shedding the symbol of the offering of one’s life. (from New Unger’s Bible Dictionary)(originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (C) 1988.) Both Old and New Testaments confirm that sacrifices were presented as a symbolic gesture. Man was obligated, because of his sin, to present offerings by which he gave another life in place of his own, these substitutes pointing forward to the ultimate substitute, Jesus Christ . (from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary)(Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers) Therefore, the ceremonial infliction of death upon a living creature usually by the outpouring of its blood, and the presentation to the Deity as an appeal for the pardon of sin is an act of religious worship.
PURPOSE IN SYMBOLISM – It was an ancient heathen notion that a sacrifice provided food for the Deity thus showing honour to Him. The Israelite, who was constantly prone to idolatry, no doubt rose no higher than this misconception. In Psalm 50 vs. 9-13 God explains the true meaning of the sacrifice; the offerings symbolize gratitude, loyalty, and trust and this is “the food for God”. This is the bread that we should offer. “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” . In “gratitude” to God we “Sacrifice thank offerings….” ; our “loyal1y” is to “…..fulfil your vows….” ; and to “trust” God is to “….call upon me….” . In the passage 1 Chron.16:8-36 we see further of what it is to present Gratitude, Loyalty, and Trust to God. In verses 8-10 we read in relation to gratitude, “Give thanks unto the LORD……… Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.” (NIV). In respect to loyalty, “make known among the nations what he has done.” (NIV) , and for our trust in God; call on his name;….. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles….. He is the LORD our God……. He remembers his covenant forever…. The end result is that we should glorify God .
THE MEANING OF THE SYMBOLISM – “In reality, Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary became, that “bread of God,” which the ancient sacrifices symbolized. Christ’s sacrifice was not regarded as satisfying Divine justice (though it did this), but as satisfying Divine love; because it was the supreme expression of the perfect love of the incarnate Son of God, in His becoming “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Expositor’s Bible) “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Thus, wherever we read of the sprinkling of blood upon the altar, this is the meaning to be applied. Christ was the antitype, who should accomplish the atonement in reality, The blood makes atonement for the soul, not in virtue of the monetary value of the victim, but by reason of the fact that “the life is in the blood” – the life of an innocent victim instead of the life of a sinful person. Therefore we must recognize that every one of these offerings was intended to typify our Lord Jesus Christ in His redemptive work, considering that He said: “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Thus each time the Israelite looked toward the Tabernacle or Temple, and saw the rising smoke from the altar of sacrifice, he would be reminded of the symbolism. The blood of an innocent victim slain on the altar made atonement for sins, remission of sin was accomplished and a soul ransomed from the enslavement of Satan. (ATONEMENT: to make amends: to reconcile enemies. REMISSION: forgiveness of a debt or penalty. RANSOM: value paid for one’s release. (Oxford Dictionary)
THE DOCTRINE OF ATONEMENT – Three principles of atonement are given in Lev.4:4: Substitution – “the bull”; Identification – “lay his hand on its head”; Death – “slaughter it”. For atonement to be made, the blood of the sacrificial victim had to be applied in various ways and places: to the altar of burnt offerings, the altar of incense, sprinkled inside the Holy Place in front of the curtain, and in two instances on individuals: (1) On the Priests for their consecration , (2) On a leper for cleansing . It was the divine plan of God that all of this should be a picture of the real atonement that should be accomplished by His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and this, of course, was the purpose of His incarnation ; and was divinely ordained for our reconciliation . Unlike the sacrifices, the atonement was made only once; the Old testament sacrifices “covered” sin from the eyes of a Holy God, but Christ’s sacrifice “cleansed” our sin for ever, . Our atonement was accomplished by the blood of Christ, “he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” , and we are further taught by the scriptures that Christ’s blood cleanses from sin “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” .
THE RITUAL – The ritual of the various sacrifices is divided into six parts: (1) Presentation of the sacrifice. (2) Identification with the sacrifice. (3) Killing of the sacrifice. (4) The sprinkling of the blood. (5) Burning of the sacrifice. (6) The sacrificial meal. Variations of these occur in the different sacrifices, giving a distinctive character to each sacrifice.
CONCLUSION – With these guiding thoughts in mind let us examine each of these offerings. However, one caution needs to be added: “we are not to imagine that every minute circumstance pertaining to each sacrifice, in all its varieties, must have been intended to point to some correspondent feature of Christ’s person or work. We shall frequently see reason to believe that the whole purpose of one or another direction of the ritual is to be found in the conditions, circumstances, or immediate intention of the offering.” (Expositor’s Bible)