Monday, July 9, 2007

Leviticus 1-6: Sacrifices and Burnt Offerings

So like Homestar Runner last summer, I seem to have skipped June. Now that I'm working more-or-less full time, it's been a little more challenging for me to make time for my reading. I will endeavor to post a blog at least once a week though.

There are three parts of the Old Testament that are really, really hard to get through: Ezra and Nehemiah, the Minor Prophets, and Leviticus through Numbers, where we are now. I think, though, that what you get out of these more difficult passages depends on what you put into it.

The first six chapters of Leviticus go over every kind of sacrifice that the Israelites were to make and what they were for. For the most part it's kind of repetitive, but don't skim or you'll miss some interesting things. Here are my observations from reading:

  • I've always wondered why you're not supposed to cut up the birds in sacrifices. All the other animals you chop up and dissect, but the birds you pretty much just pluck. If you can remember back to Genesis 15, Abraham didn't cut the birds when God made a covenant with him. Is that because they're too small?
  • What is it with God and leaven? No grain offering could have any leaven (or honey or oil) in it. I find that very interesting. Is this because it points back to Passover, when they weren't supposed to have leaven because they couldn't wait for the bread to rise? Does leaven symbolize something bad as it does in the Gospels when Jesus talks about the "yeast of the Pharisees"? Or was leaven actually bad for them, like how the unclean animals were potential health risks?
  • God specifically says several times that the fat of the animal is not to be eaten but is part of the offering to the LORD. I'm not sure why that is, but it immediately reminded me of Daniel 1, when Daniel and his friends refused to eat the king's food - the meat they were served would have been mostly fat. Leviticus tells us why: it was considered sacred. I find that really interesting, although again I don't know why this was the case. Was it another dietary thing? Was it more than that?
  • Leviticus 4:3 says that if a priest sins unintentionally, he brings guilt on the people. Does that mean there's such a thing as being guilty for what somebody else did? But if this happens, the people aren't the ones who have to make a sacrifice and repent; only the priest has to do that.
  • Chapter 4 is about sins that were committed unintentionally and what you have to do about them once you're aware that you did something wrong. This tells me that motive is not the determining factor in what counts as sin. I like to say that sin is breaking a relationship more than it is breaking a rule, and that's true, but thinking that way can lead to believing that as long as your motives are good, it doesn't really matter what you do. But according to this chapter, you can be guilty without even knowing it. We can do things with a clear conscience and still be hurting God.
  • I find it interesting that if a leader sins unintentionally, he must offer a male goat as a sacrifice, but if one of the common people sins unintentionally, he must offer a female. Not sure why that is either. There are a few other times when male or female is specified; most of the time the gender of the animal doesn't matter.
  • In chapter 5 it says that if you swear thoughtlessly to do evil or to do good, you become guilty. I think this is referring to making promises you don't intend to keep. What do you think? Apparently our words are important to God. A promise isn't something to be taken lightly or to be made lightly. If you promise to do something, do it. Your word is your bond.
  • God makes a provision for poor people, and he makes a provision for really poor people. If you can't afford a lamb, you can offer birds. If you can't afford birds, you can offer a little bit of flour (probably everybody had some of that).
  • 6:9-13 states several times that the altar has to have a fire burning continually. This is a very important point. The whole purpose of this sacrifice stuff is to show us the price of our sin and to remind us that we need a mediator to make things right between us and God. But we don't just need that mediator when we lie in court or steal something or whatever; we need it all the time. The fire is a constant reminder of our sinful state, of a relationship that has been broken.

All of this talk about sacrifices makes me think of Hebrews 10, which has this to say about the sacrificial system:

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,
After saying above, "SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them" (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, "BEHOLD , I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL." He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

What's cool about Leviticus is that ultimately, it points to Christ, who acted as man, priest, and sacrifice in His death on the cross. When we read all this stuff about burnt offerings, we're really reading about Him. It's kind of exciting to find connections like that.

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