The Levitical Offerings
This is another of Archie Naismith’s articles on the Levitical Offerings. Our brother served the Lord for many years in India. His ministry was a blessing there; it has also been a blessing in Britain, United States of America and Canada.
The sin-offering and its laws occupy more space in the records of the early chapters of Leviticus than any of the others. In the order of presentation to God, the sin-offering took precedence over the others at the priests’ consecration, the cleansing of the leper and on the day of atonement. Cain, chagrined and enraged because his offering was unacceptable to God, was told that a sin-offering was available for him, crouching at his very door. The wages of sin is death, and sinful acts must be paid for either by the sinner or by an innocent substitute. In order to make forgiveness possible sin must be expiated: atonement must be made.
The sin-offering was the divine provision, not for wilful or presumptuous sins but for sinful acts committed ignorantly or inadvertently. Only one sacrifice for sins, that of the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ‘once for all,’ can bring forgiveness for wilful sin of which all have been proved guilty. Only that perfect sin-offering of which the millions of Israel’s sacrifices for sins were typical can bring pardon for wilful sin. If that is rejected or despised there is no other sacrifice for sins available.
A true and devout Israelite was liable to be overtaken in some sinful act, and so is a true believer; therefore let us heed the warning, ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.’ God’s provision of the sin-offering for sins of ignorance displays His absolute holiness, His perfect equity, His impartial justice and His matchless grace. Ignorance does not nullify guilt in the sight of a holy God, though it may palliate it. For the murderer or adulterer or desecrator of the sabbath day no sin-offering was available to the nation of Israel. For such, as for the Gentile who trangresses God’s holy law, a more adequate provision, a better and a perfect sacrifice, was necessary.
Sin is a heinous thing in the eyes of Him Who cannot look on iniquity and will by no means clear the guilty. It is God’s defiant enemy, raising a rebel hand against His revealed will, trampling under foot His righteous laws, and invoking His wrath and curse.
Like the other offerings, the sin-offering must be entirely without blemish. It must be killed: its blood must be shed and sprinkled before the Lord: and the blood ‘made atonement for the soul’ of the offerer who had brought it and penitently laid his hands on his head. The animal or bird selected for the offering might be a bullock, or a lamb, or a male or a female kid, or a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons, according to the status or wealth or poverty of the offerer.
The teaching in the Letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that the daily and frequent sacrifices offered under the Jewish economy could never take away sins. A better covenant based on a better and final sacrifice offered by a better Surety, and negotiated by a perfect infallible Mediator, has been ratified by the blood of Jesus. The offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all has brought perfect satisfaction to a righteous and holy God, and by its finality and efficacy brings pardon from an offended God to all who in faith approach Him on that ground. In Hebrews 10:10-19 seven proofs of the perfection of that sin-offering are enumerated.
1. The sacrifice for sin at the Cross never need be repeated: that offering was once for all, and all who approach God by it are sanctified (v.10).
2. Jesus, our great High Priest who offered Himself a sacrifice to God, is now seated in evidence of a finished work, and in contrast to the unfinished ministrations of Israel’s priests who stood daily in the performance of their priestly duties; for no chair or stool was provided for them in the tabernacle.
3. The place our Lord Jesus occupies, as Adonai, the Sovereign Lord at the right hand of God who said, “Sit Thou on My right hand until I make thine enemies Thy footstool” (Ps.110-1) would never be assigned to one in whose ministry there was the slightest flaw or defect (v.12).
4. The glorious Person, our Lord Jesus Christ, as He occupies that throne of honour, does not contemplate a return to earth to add something to the efficacy of that sacrifice He offered for sin on Golgotha’s tree. He is there in anticipation of the day when all His enemies will be finally overthrown and become the footstool of His feet (v.13).
5. Not only is His work for us as our Sin-offering complete, but His work in those whom by His death He has sanctified is perfect: He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified (v.14).
6. The affirmation of the Holy Spirit is that in terms of the new covenant the sins of those who have been sanctified by faith have not only been forgiven but also forgotten, and on their hearts and minds God’s holy law has been inscribed (vs.15-17).
7. The way into the holiest of all, closed to the nation of Israel, is open to all who come by faith through the blood of Jesus, whether they be Jew or Gentile, and they are invited to come boldly as purged worshippers (v. 19).
THE OFFERERS of the sin-offering might belong to one or other of four classes according to their responsibility. When in Scripture the order is from the greatest to the least, the order is that of responsibility: when from the lowest upward, the order is that of grace. In the case of the sin-offering a priest, entrusted with the performance of sacred rites and ceremonies and therefore more responsible than the rest of the congregation, must bring an offering of the highest value, a bullock. A priest could be overtaken in a fault and defiled by sin, and for his purification, forgiveness and continuance in service, a sin-offering must be brought. When Israel had sinned and the whole congregation was guilty before the LORD, they, represented by the elders of the congregation, must bring a bullock. Expressions of regret or remorse, however genuine they might be, were insufficient: a bullock must be slain and its blood sprinkled before the LORD. Woe to the nation that transgresses or rejects the laws of God and spurns His provision for it!
Next in order God deals with the sin of the ruler occupying a responsible administrative position in the congregation of the LORD. ‘He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God:’ but he too might fall into sin. Whether he transgressed in an official capacity or in his personal life, he had lowered his dignity and brought dishonour on the name of the LORD by his sin, and he must bring a male kid of the goats as his sin-offering. Psalm 51 is the language of a ruler, King David, who had committed grievous sins and with sorrow and grief had penitently to bring his sin-offering to the altar and place his hands on its head. When his sin came to his knowledge, he cried out, “I acknowledge my transgression; and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight. — Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” The sin of the individual man, woman or youth, not necessarily coming before the notice of others yet just as serious in God’s sight, was to be expiated by the offering of a female kid,
THE OFFERER must bring his offering to the priest and present it as the divine provision to meet the requirements of a holy God. He must lay his hands on the victim’s head, thereby transferring his guilt to the sinless offering that was to die instead of him. The repentant sinner likewise, relying on the blood of Christ to meet his need, can say,
“My faith would lay its hand on that dear Head of Thine
While like a penitent I stand and there confess my sin.”
The offering was slain by the priest who sprinkled its blood on the horns of the altar of incense in the holy place, and on the horns of the altar of burnt offering in the tabernacle court where it was exposed to the view of all the people. After the sprinkling of the blood the offerer stood forgiven and accepted by God.
When the blood of the victim was taken into the holiest of all, as on the great day of atonement, the body was burnt in a place outside the camp. Referring to this, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews adds, “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate, Let us therefore go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:12,13). In other cases the flesh of the offering became the food of the priests.
A special provision was made for poverty. If one who had committed a sin could not afford a kid, that person might offer a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons as a sin-offering. For her purification after the birth of Jesus, Mary His mother brought just that offering in accordance with the law of the Lord, an evidence of her poverty and one of the signs of the poverty that our Lord Jesus Christ who was infinitely rich, accepted when He became Man.
If an Israelite was extremely indigent and could not even afford the turtle doves or young pigeons, he might, if he had committed a sin, bring as his sin-offering what was really the equivalent of a meal-offering which, as already noted, was a type of Christ in the perfection of His life and service and in the intensity of His suffering during His life. This presents a difficulty in light of the statement, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission.”
The words of Sir Robert Anderson in his book The Gospel and its ministry may help us to understand this provision for the sinner who was extremely poor:
“If the Israelite redeemed by the paschal lamb, and standing within the covenant which secured to him the efficacy of the blood upon the mercy-seat, should be too poor to bring the appointed sacrifice for his trespass, divine compassion will reach him in his poverty: his meal-offering shall be accepted for a sin-offering and his sin that he hath sinned shall be forgiven him.”
“The sinner’s sense of sin, and his appreciation of the Sin-bearer, may be utterly inadequate and poor, and men may set him down as spiritually bankrupt; and yet if Christ be the ground on which he comes, divine grace will reach him. But divine grace is no excuse for human presumption.”
C. A. Coates has called this “the feeblest measure of exercise in which the offerer does not realize that his sin has necessitated the death of Christ. He does not measure it in its true gravity nor realize that his sin is such a solemn thing that death is the penalty; but he has a sense that he has done wrong and he has also a sense of the perfectness of Christ.”