Coming to God on God’s Terms – Leviticus 1

English: High priest offering a sacrifice of a...

English: High priest offering a sacrifice of a goat, as on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; from Henry Davenport Northrop, “Treasures of the Bible,” published 1894 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leviticus is a book that is seldom studied – yet it contains the second greatest command according to Jesus.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Leviticus 19:18.  This is going to be an attempt to put up some reasonable commentary about a book that truly is difficult to understand.  Original material from Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III and edited by standrewscumberland – link to original at bottom.

Leviticus and the second half of Exodus are linked together.  The second half of Exodus deals with the tabernacle.  Then, at the end of the book (the tabernacle, sitting right in the middle of the camp) is filled with the glory of God.  Exodus 40:34-35 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” This tabernacle was sitting right in the middle of Irael and the. Awesome glory of the Lord was filling it.  It was so great that even Moses was unable to enter it.  And if Moses was unable to enter the tabernacle, the the questin that needed to be answered is this: “How is ny other person supposed to relate to this God in the middle of the camp.  That is what the book of Leviticus is all about.

The book of Leviticus can be divided into 2 sections.

  • Chapters 1-16: Teaching on 4 subjects:
  • Chapters 17-27: The holiness code for Israel.

Chapters 1-16

  • Chapters 1-7 discusses regulations about the five great sacrifices.  These are gone over twice; first in chapters 1-5 and a second time in chapters 6-7.The first time, they are described based upon what’s needed for the one who wants to offer a sacrifice (the one who needs to be atoned for, the one who wants to come into fellowship with God, or the one who wants to thank God.)The second time, it describes what are the requirements of the priest who is handling the offering or sacrifice.  This way you not only get a different perspective, but also a fuller understanding of what’s going on.These sacrifices are individual and they were voluntary.  “When any man of you brings a sacrifice….”  This is a personal sacrifice that takes place when a person feels the need.
  • In chapters 8-10, there is the formal initiation of the Aaronic priesthood.
  • In chapters 11-15 there is teaching on what is clean and unclean.
  • In chapter 16, there are the rituals of the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.
6 functions of the ceremonial system.  
  • 1) Help people experience the presence of God.  Three times in chapter 1, it says that God was pleased with the soothing aroma of the sacrifice, and that the believer was found acceptable and was able to draw near to Him. The sacrificial system was designed to allow people to draw near and experience the presence of the Lord.  The purpose of the tabernacle being in the middle of camp was so that the people of Israel would always remember that God was present.

When God was about to destroy the people after the golden calf incident and then relented after Moses’ prayer, he said, “OK, I won’t destroy them, but I won’t go up with them—I’ll clear the way before them, but I won’t go up with them.”  Moses then prayed, “Lord, if You’re not going to go up with us, if You’re not going to be right in our midst, then just kill us here.” (paraphrase).  The tabernacle was the visible proof that God was there and the ceremonial system was the way people could experience that presence.  By doing sacrifices, you got to draw near to the tabernacle, which was near the Holy of Holies, the focal point of the presence of God.

  • 2) Provide a way to give thanks to God.  A thankful heart is a contented heart, and a thankful heart helps people endure times in which things are not going our way.  The people of Israel would need this to endure the many difficult times ahead. One of the quickest ways to ruin your experience of blessing is to not thank God in a tangible way.  The ceremonial system in  one of the five sacrifices, was designed to cultivate thankfulness.
  • 3) Renew fellowship with God.  There was a sacrifice in the first five sacrifices that was specifically designed to allow the believer to renew fellowship with God.
  • 4) Deepen the believer’s prayer life. 
  • 5) Show the need for forgiveness.  As Christians, we see that the ceremonial system also pointed to the way that those sins would be forgiven.
  • 6) Bring the whole congregation into contact with the tabernacle.  This would happen not only during  during the festivals but also at different times during the ordinary course of life. It was an invitation from God: “Draw near to Me, my people, and bring to Me these sacrifices.”
The Tabernacle, Camp, & c.

The Tabernacle, Camp, & c. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now to Chapter 1.

1 The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.

“‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. You are to slaughter the young bullbefore the Lord, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.

10 “‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the flock, from either the sheep or the goats, you are to offer a male without defect. 11 You are to slaughter it at the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall splash its blood against the sides of the altar. 12 You are to cut it into pieces, and the priest shall arrange them, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. 13 You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to bring all of them and burn them on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.

14 “‘If the offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, you are to offer a dove or a young pigeon. 15 The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar.16 He is to remove the crop and the feathers and throw them down east of the altar where the ashes are. 17 He shall tear it open by the wings, not dividing it completely, and then the priest shall burn it on the wood that is burning on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.

Verses 1 and 2 is an introduction to the whole book and especially chapters 1-7.  The people of God are still at Sinai having previously worshiped another god but now having experienced God coming into the tabernacle. God is now speaking to Moses and giving him instructions for how the people and priests are to draw near to Him.

Verses 3-9 are the start of instructions about burnt offerings.  The burnt offerings are also called the holocaust offering because the whole thing goes up in smoke before the Lord.

We have four sections:

  • The introduction (1 and 2).
  • Instruction about the burnt offering of the herd (verses 3-9);
  • Instructions about the burnt offering that comes from the flock (verses 10-13);
  • Instructions about the burnt offering of birds (verses 14-17).

These are all the same offering.  There are different types of burnt offerings which are acceptable from the people of God because of economic status.  Some were rich and could offer a burnt offering from the herd and some were poor and all they could offer is the burnt offering of birds. So God made provision so that everyone in Israel, from richest to poorest, was able to make a burnt offering if they desired.

Now notice again, in verse 1 we read:

“Then the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying,  “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.”

Verses 10-17: 2 lessons

God cares how we worship Him.

The voluntary, personal, and spontaneous nature of these sacrifices speaks of heart motivation to worship God.  This book, just like in the second half of the book of Exodus—was concerned to teach that God cares how we worship Him.  Notice the detail in this first chapter.  God told them where to slaughter the animal; where to put its blood; how to divide it or not to divide it; He went into minute detail because He cares how we worship Him.

The book of Hebrews says that this ceremonial ritual has now been transcended in Jesus Christ, but the principle is still there.  David Peterson, the Anglican Bible scholar defines worship from his study of Hebrews this way:  “Worship is engaging with God on the terms that He proposes, and by the means which only He can provide.”

You could use that definition for Leviticus.  The principle is the same: we come near to God on his terms.  We don’t come in any way we choose.  We come on the basis of the term that He proposes, and through the means which He alone makes possible.  ‘Come to me and I will receive you,” He says, ‘if you come with this burnt offering, with this atoning sacrifice which is to be lifted up to Me.’

We learn here that God cares about how we worship.  That’s not just an Old Testament principle, that’s a New Testament principle.  You can’t say,  “I want to be a friend of God, but you know, I’m just a little iffy about Jesus.  Jesus is a wonderful man, great moral prophet, but I can’t believe that He’s the sinless Son of God and Savior of sinners.  I’ll come to God some other way.”  Worship is engaging with God on the terms that He proposes, and by the means which He alone makes possible.  No man comes to the Father but by the Son, and it is Jesus’ very fulfillment of this sacrificial system that establishes that truth beyond all question of recall.

So there’s the first thing:  God cares about how we worship Him.

The Lord accepts and communes with those who come into His presence through the death of an atoning sacrifice.

Let’s look in some detail at verses 3-9.  Notice three or four things about this passage.

First of all, this burnt offering is sometimes called the holocaust, coming from the Hebrew olah, to refer to this burning, and the smoke going up to the Lord of this sacrifice.  It all goes up in smoke.

This is the only one of the five great sacrifices that is wholly given over to the Lord.  The other sacrifices have parts of those sacrifices that are held back for the priests, or even shared in by the one offering the sacrifice. This sacrifice is wholly given to the Lord.  It is wholly consumed before the Lord, and it is clear that this sacrifice indicates that no one can approach  or be  acceptable to the Lord, without a substitutionary sacrifice.

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord.  He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.” (verse 3)

The main function of this sacrifice was to render atonement or render propitiation or to quit the righteous wrath of God. Yahweh is a God that you cannot commune with in your sin and defilement.  But He made provision through this  sacrifice so one who desired to come into the presence of the Lord and commune with Him could.

 What about the blood of the sacrifice?  The blood is the life force of us and it is the life force of the animal.  Draining the blood assured the death of the animal.

It is significant that there was always two parts to every sacrifice of an animal, the blood and the body.

Jesus on the night in which He was given up said: “This is My body, which is given for you.  This is My blood of the covenant, which was poured out for you.”  Jesus was speaking of Himself and about His death in the terms of the two parts of the Old Testament levitical sacrifice of the burnt offering.  Jesus was explaining His death and the significance of it to His disciples in terms which were unmistakable.  We lay our hands upon that sacrifice as we enter into the tent of meeting, and when we do so, we own that that animal is our property, and that that animal symbolizes us.  It is our symbolic substitute. And that we are offering ourselves symbolically through that animal.

Paul’s wrote in Romans 12:1-2:  “Render yourself as a living sacrifice, acceptable to God….”  Paul is drawing on this very language, out of the book of Leviticus and the Old Covenant sacrificial system.

One final question: Why were there different kinds of offerings?  We have them from the herd, from the flock, and from birds. Two reasons:  one, so that everyone in Israel, rich or poor, could offer; secondly, and just as importantly, because the principle is established in the sacrificial system that no one should come to God with a sacrifice that costs him nothing.  And so, the beginning of the teaching of God of the costliness of the ultimate sacrifice begins here.

May we always be willing to offer God that which cost us!

You can read the original, unedited versin of ths sermon here:

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