When I was in college I worked part-time for an attorney’s office. One of my various tasks was to take the law book updates that came in daily and to insert them into the books. It wasn’t a hard task – the pages were numbered systematically, so it was usually as simple as finding the pages by page number, pulling out the old ones, and inserting the new ones. The hard part came when you had to actually read through a part of a page for some reason. It turns out that law books can be extremely boring reading (at least, for a non-lawyer). Unfortunately, when it comes to reading the Bible, the Old Testament Law is sometimes the same way. We decide we’re going to read the Bible, we start in Genesis, we do well until the end of Exodus, then we call it off 1 or 2 chapters into Leviticus. Number and Deuteronomy never really had a chance. Even so, there is a lot of benefit to understanding the Old Testament Law, and by skipping through these few books, we miss out of some of the richest Biblical typology to be found.
Today’s lesson from the Online Bible College was over the Biblical typology of the sacrificial system instituted in the Law of Moses. The lesson starts out by making the point that, regardless of whether you are reading the Old Testament or the New Testament, you will find one common question being answered: How can a sinner live in fellowship with a holy God? In the very beginning of Genesis, with Adam and Eve, we see sin and death enter the world and the huge divide arise between God and humanity. And from that time, the greatest need of humanity is to find a way back across that divide. But humanity couldn’t ever bridge the gap – only God could do that, and the way He demonstrated is “bridge” was through blood sacrifice.
We see the recurring redemptive act of blood sacrifice throughout Scripture, even before the Mosaic law was put into place. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God clothed them with the skins of animals (requiring the animals’ deaths). When Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to the Lord, Abel’s blood sacrifice of an animal was accepted, while Cain’s offering of “fruits of the soil” were not. When Noah left the ark after the Flood, he built an altar and offered burnt offerings to the Lord. Altars were built and animal sacrifices were offered by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And my lesson points out that, though it is clear that sacrifices “were understood to be required by the Lord, Israel is later explicitly instructed by God to offer blood sacrifices, firstly as a part of the Passover ceremony, and then secondly as part of the code of Mosaic Law.”
Once the Law was handed down from God to Moses, a system was put in place to ensure proper sacrifices were made. There were 5 main sacrifices listed in the Law:
- Guilt offering (Leviticus 5:14-19) – a mandatory animal sacrifice to atone for the acts of sin committed by a person
- Sin offering (Leviticus 4:1 – 5:13) – a mandatory animal sacrifice to atone for the sinner (the internal, sinful nature of a person)
- Fellowship offering (Leviticus 3; 7:11-21) – a voluntary animal sacrifice offered as an expression of thanksgiving to God
- Grain offering (Leviticus 2; 6:14-23) – a voluntary offering of the first-fruits of one’s possessions or wealth (not animals)
- Burnt offering (Leviticus 1) – a voluntary animal (or grain) sacrifice, as an offering of worship to the Lord
Notice that some of the sacrifices were mandatory, while others were voluntary. The guilt and sin offerings were compulsory because they deal with the sin barrier between a person and God. Interestingly, these two are not described as producing an “aroma pleasing to the Lord.” The other 3 sacrifices are all described as “pleasing to the Lord,” and were more positive in nature.
New Testament Fulfillment
As you become more familiar with the sacrifices listed in the Law, it’s not hard to start putting the puzzles pieces together as to how the sacrificial system serves as a Biblical type of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, as well as the daily offerings and sacrifices we are called to give to this day.
The mandatory sacrifices of the guilt offering and the sin offering dealt with sin and sinners. The reason blood sacrifice was required was that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus’ death on the cross also dealt with sin and sinners – his shed blood was better than the shed blood of animals, in that He was a perfect sacrifice, totally without the blemish of sin. “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14). Because of the perfection of Jesus’ sacrifice, it was a once-for-all sacrifice – we no longer need to make this sacrifice for the atonement of our sin.
The voluntary sacrifices are repeated continuously under the New Covenant. Today, these would include:
- Praise and thanksgiving (the fellowship offering) – “let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” (Hebrews 13:15)
- Tithing and give money (the grain offering) – Paul speaks of this kind of offering when he said “I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:18)
- Our whole lives (the burnt offering) – Paul tells us what this looks like in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
As you can see, the New Testament does not do away with the need for the Old Testament. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. In Christ, the sacrifices required to be made have already been made. And in Him, we can continue to live in a way that offers the sacrifices God truly wants from us even today.