The Levitical Offerings - General Remarks

Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland

Part 1 of 7 of the series The Levitical Offerings

1. GENERAL REMARKS

When God delivered the children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, He made choice of them above all the peoples of the earth, Amos 3. 2, and brought them unto Himself, Exod. 19. 4-6. Provided they kept His covenant, they would be His peculiar treasure, and they would manifest this by becoming unto God a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Now a priest is one who draws near to God, Exod. 19. 22. It may be that as a ‘kingdom of priests’ God intended Israel to act as mediator between Him and the nations, as will be realised in the millennium, Zech. 8. 13,23. Again it may mean that God wanted the children of Israel to be His subjects, and as individuals to draw near to Him; possibly the latter is the true meaning. With this end in view, God gave Israel the ceremonial law with its multiplicity of offerings, that they might know how correctly to approach Him.

There seems to have been a priesthood in Israel before the exodus from Egypt, but not from the house of Aaron, Exod. 5. 3; 19. 22. These priests had been chosen by the Israelites themselves. God prohibited them from approaching Mount Sinai, 19. 24, thus indicating that He was about to set them aside, and establish instead the Levitical presthood.

This present study is concerned with the functioning of this Levitical priesthood, vested particularly in the sons of Aaron. It is our purpose to consider how they functioned, and how the various details of their offerings pointed forward to that great focus of all history and of all sacrifices, the work of Christ on the cross - since all Scripture speaks of Him, John 5. 39. We shall note also how the offerings provide instruction for the walk and service of the believer today. This study demands that we appreciate exactly what the various offerings meant to the children of Israel themselves. How did they regard these instructions from God? What did they express by their gifts? What did God wish to teach them?

The offerings are a parable for our instruction, but before we can learn its lesson we must first thoroughly understand the parable itself. We must know the literal meaning before we can appreciate the typical teaching. If we can comprehend something of the needs of the Israelite supplied by the many Levitical offerings, we will realise something of the greatness of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. His sacrifice took the place of all their offerings, and has accomplished what all the blood that flowed from Jewish altars could never achieve. He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, Heb. 9. 26.

Let us then take up our position alongside the Israelite of 1490 b.c., uninfluenced at first by the later knowledge that the New Testament imparts. These offerings were appointed by God as a means of approach to Him. Whilst they did not render perfect the worshipper in the sight of God, they formed a basis for atonement - a going on with God. Their great variety made the Israelite realise his shortcomings, and the great distance between God and him.

We first examine the various technical terms used in connection with the Levitical offerings, and what these terms meant to the Israelite.

1. General Terms

Corban, lit., something brought to God - a general expression for the bringing of an offering. It was used in connection with all the offerings except the trespass offering. The Authorised Version rendering ‘offering’ is rendered ‘oblation’ in the Revised Version. The Septuagint equivalent is the Greek doron., a gift; see Mark 7. 11. This is the word used of the gifts of the princes of Israel, Num. 7, and suggests that the Levitical offerings were holy gifts.

Zebach, lit., a slaughtered animal, usually translated in the Authorised Version as ‘sacrifice’. It is frequently used in association with the peace offering; e.g., a sacrifice of a peace offering. Lev. 3. 1. The Septuagint usually translates it thusia -something slain, but the Greek word covers a wider field than the Hebrew, being used also of the meat offering.

2. Blood Offerings

‘Olah, lit., what ascends, that is, something ascending to God. The Authorised Version usually gives ‘burnt offering’. The Septuagint translates it often by holokautoma - what is wholly burnt. Thus two fundamental ideas are suggested by these titles: (i) worship ascending to God, and (ii) the sacrifice was all for God.

Shelem, lit., a salvation offering, for deliverance either received or expected. The Authorised Version rendering is ‘peace offering’. The Septuagint translates it by thusia soteriou, lit., an offering of deliverance. Three distinctions are seen in this offering, according to its purpose, Lev. 7. 12-16: (i) as a thanksgiving - for salvation received, (ii) for a vow - an offering on the fulfilment of an expected salvation, Lev. 22. 21; Acts 21. 26, and (iii) a voluntary peace offering - simple rejoicing with God. The fundamental idea in the offering was that of giving thanks to God.

Chattath, lit., an offering for missing the mark. The Authorised Version rendering is ‘sin offering’. Sin and the sin offering are often expressed by the same Hebrew word (see Lev. 4. 3, where ‘sin’ and ‘sin offering’ are the same word). The Septuagint translates it by hamartia, sin. The fundamental idea in this offering was that of reconciliation to God.

'Asham, lit., an offering for one guilty of a fault, Lev. 5. 6. The Authorised Version renders it ‘trespass offering’, and the Revised Version ‘guilt offering’. Trespass is a wrong done, sin the doing of it. The trespass is the stain left. This distinction is well seen in Leviticus 4. 3 R.V., where the priest is said to have sinned so as to bring guilt upon the people (see also Num. 5. 6, 7). The same Hebrew word is sometimes rendered ‘trespass’ and ‘trespass offering’. It is used of (i) guilt - the wrong done, (ii) the debt, (iii) the compensation for the debt, and (iv) the sacrifice for the debt - that which sets the offerer free. The Septuagint translates it by plemmeleia, lit., out of tune - the false note that spoils the harmony. The fundamental idea in this offering was giving satisfaction to God and to man.

3. Bloodless Offerings

Minchah, lit., what was apportioned, that is, to God. It is first found in Genesis 4. 3, 5, describing the offerings of Cain and Abel. It is used of a present, Gen. 32. 13. The Hebrew word is used for (i) an offering in general, (ii) a present, and (iii) the technical term for ‘meat offering’, a.v., or ‘meal offering’, R.v. The Septuagint translates it by thusia, a sacrifice, something offered to God, but not necessarily slain. The fundamental idea in this offering was the presentation to God of His portion.

Nesek, lit., what is poured out, or poured upon another offering. The Authorised and Revised Versions both render it ‘drink offering’. It is used for (i) drink offerings in general, for example, of oil, Gen. 35. 14, of blood, Ps. 16. 4, and (ii) the technical term for the ‘drink offering’ of wine poured on burnt offerings and peace offerings (but never on a sin offering or trespass offering). The Septuagint translates it by sponde, what is poured out. The fundamental idea behind this offering was giving joy to God.

4. Ritual Offerings

The following terms, not offerings in themselves, are used to describe the treatment of part of the offerings.

Terumah, lit., something raised, or lifted up as a present. It is used of (i) an offering presented to God, for example, when Israel was told to give to God the things necessary for the construction of the tabernacle, Exod. 25. 2, and (ii) the technical term for the raising toward heaven of the shoulder of the peace offering, afterwards eaten by the priest, Lev. 7. 32. The Authorised Version gives ‘heave offering’. The Septuagint translates it by aphairema, what is taken away. The fundamental idea behind this ritual was the reception from God of that which was first offered to Him. It was also an acknowledgement that God’s throne is in heaven.

Tenuphah, lit., a waving, what is waved to and fro. The Authorised Version uses ‘wave offering’. It is used of (i) an offering of gold to God, Exod. 35. 22, and (ii) the technical term for waving the breast of the peace offering, Lev. 7. 30, the ram of consecration, 8. 27, the leper’s trespass offering, 14. 12, the sheaf of firstfruits, 23. 11, and the loaves at Pentecost, 23. 17. The Septuagint translates it aphorisma, what is set apart. The fundamental idea was the display before God of what was appreciated. Possibly it symbolised the giving of the offering first to God (because waved toward the altar), and then its transference to the priest from God (because waved away from the altar). Some see in it a suggestion that God is everywhere, just as the heave offering acknowledges that He is in heaven. Or, was it waved for man to see? Compare the ritual of the jealousy trial, Num. 5. 25.

In these offerings only the best should be given to God - the male rather than the female animal. It had also to be mature and physically perfect, Mal. 1. 8.

Six Main Offerings

There were six main offerings prescribed in the ceremonial law: (1) the burnt offering, (ii) the meat offering, (iii) the peace offering, (iv) the sin offering, (v) the trespass offering, and (vi) the drink offering. Different combinations of these offerings were used in the various services of the tabernacle, for example, (i) the daily offerings, (ii) the offerings at the set feasts, Lev. 23, and (iii) the offerings in connection with special occasions, namely, the consecration of the priests, the Nazarite vow, the cleansing of the leper, the person defiled with an issue, the parturient woman, and the jealousy trial. These offerings were designated ‘the bread of God’ because they consisted of that which was the food of the Israelite, but which instead of eating he offered to God, Lev. 21. 6. They were also called ‘the holy things of the children of Israel’, 22. 15.

These six main offerings are divided into three groups: (i) the sweet savour offerings, namely the burnt and the peace offerings, (ii) the expiatory offerings - the sin and the trespass offerings, and (iii) the supplementary offerings - the meat and the drink offerings, both of which were added to other offerings. The meat offering is also included amongst the sweet savour offerings.

We are impressed by the multiplicity and comprehensiveness of these offerings. They reminded Israel of the complexity of their relations with Jehovah, of His absolute holiness, and their own sinfulness. Conscious of their uncleanness and defilement, they craved mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation through the offerings. In them, they expressed their need of atonement and their desire to have access to God; they realised what calling on God demanded, and what fellowship with Him meant. They thus acknowledged that all that they had they owed to God, and sought in return to yield themselves fully to Him.

How all this magnifies the grace of God in Christ! All these offerings find their anti-type in the Lord Jesus Christ. His one sacrifice at Calvary covered all the requirements of these multitudinous offerings; yea more, His sacrifice far exceeded these. It needed no repetition; it was once for all; it perfected them that were thereby sanctified; it stands out in contrast to the continually recurring Levitical offerings, which, so far from removing sins, were constant reminders to the children of Israel of their sinfulness. Let us also appreciate Christ as the Offerer and as the Priest. As the Offerer, He offered Himself without spot to God, Heb. 9. 14; 10. 5-10. As the Priest, He offered one sacrifice, and entered heaven with His own blood, 9. 12-14; 10. 11-12; 12. 24.

May we become daily more conscious of our sinful tendencies, of the holiness of God, and what drawing near to Him entails. Let us rejoice that the sacrifice of Christ has met all God’s demands, enabling us to draw near to God in full assurance of faith.