More on the OT Sacrificial System


I have already posted a series on the Tabernacle wherein one of the posts was dedicated to the different types of sacrificial offerings. As I mentioned previously, I am going through the Old Testament again using the Amplified Bible and I can’t help but sense the importance of God’s revelation to His people about Him dwelling among them. To many who have read the Bible, Leviticus and Numbers have a tendency to be a bit of a speed bump that are quickly read over to get to the “story” parts where the various characters of the Bible are expounded upon. Big mistake. I’m not knocking anyone, I’ve done it myself.

I’ve read through the Bible a number of times but this particular time I am specifically looking for that communion thread, that reaching out from God to His people, wherein He is earnestly endeavouring to communicate what is required for the congregation to be in His presence and most importantly, to have Him be in their presence. Notice I’m not talking about the priesthood, or the Levites, or the warriors, but just the common congregation of Israel.

When the tabernacle was finally constructed and the cloud symbolizing God’s presence settled on the tabernacle (Exod. 35-40). Yet sinfulness on the part of the people clearly remained a continuing problem. The entire contents of Leviticus deal in one way or another with this problem. Now that the tabernacle was there among the people, sacrifices had to be instituted to provide access to the presence of God and to remove the defilements arising from Israel’s sin (Lev. 1-5). Priests had to be given instructions on their role in presenting the sacrifices (Lev. 6-7). They had to be installed and provided with a special holiness in order to present the sacrifices to God (Lev. 8-10). The people as a whole had to keep separate from uncleanness in order to approach the tabernacle (Lev. 11-16). Gross defilements could be expected to receive severe penalties (Lev. 17-20). The priests had to observe even more rigorous standards for cleanness and separation than did the common people (Lev. 21-22). In addition, special care had be taken for holy days and seasons and for holy things (Lev. 23-27).

In short, the entire contents of Leviticus are in principle related to the tabernacle and to the obligations of purity that derive from it. Leviticus sums up the matter in the words, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2; cf. 1 Pet. 1:16). The people could not survive alongside the tabernacle unless they respected the holiness of God and maintained holiness among themselves. Or, to put it another way, now that the people themselves had in some sense become a dwelling place of God through the erection and consecration of the tabernacle, they had to maintain practices exhibiting the principles of God’s dwelling. Such principles are all fulfilled in Christ as the final dwelling place of God.

The Sacrifices

But how do sacrifices fit into this general principle? They are the means for cleansing and removing defilement of the people and of the tabernacle itself. Thus they are a central means for maintaining the holiness of the people and the tabernacle, and thus ensuring that the earthly things continue to reflect the holiness of God. Special sacrifices must be presented when individual Israelites have sinned, even unknowingly, and when the priest or the whole community has sinned (Lev. 4). The animals must be without blemish or defect, signifying that God requires perfection. The worshiper places his hand on the animal, signifying his identification with the animal, and then the animal dies in his place (note the parallel with Gen. 22:13-14). The blood represents the life of the animal (Lev. 17:14). Blood is placed on the horns of the altar, and once a year on the atonement cover in the most holy place (Lev. 16). The blood has power to cleanse the tabernacle from defilement. Since the blood signifies the life of the slain animal, it testifies that the animal has been slain and that the value of the death is applied to the designated object. The fat of the animal, representing the sweetest and best part, is burned on the altar to signify its being given to the Lord. The rest of the animal may be burned or eaten by the priests or partially eaten by the worshiper, as the case may be.

But the animal sacrifices are ultimately inadequate. Israel goes on sinning year by year, and new animals must be presented year after year in the same repetitious ceremonies (Heb. 10:1-4). Are you bored by the repetitious descriptions in Lev. 1-9 of how each animal is sacrificed or the descriptions in Num. 7 of the offerings of the tribes? There is more food for thought in these passages than we suspect, but in a sense we are meant to be bored. It goes on and on. The process never suffices. Animals could never be an adequate substitute for human beings made in the image of God. The very inadequacy of these sacrifices confirms the inadequacy associated with the tabernacle structure. They are only copies of the heavenly realities. We are supposed to learn from this.

Their inadequacies have only one remedy. God must provide the ultimate sacrifice (Gen. 22:8). The guilt of the whole land will be removed in one day by the Branch, the son of David, who is simultaneously high priest (Zech. 3:8-9; cf. Isa. 11:1). A fountain–a permanent supply of bubbling up water–will be opened to cleanse them from sin and iniquity (Zech. 13:1). A man will die like a sheep, as a guilt offering for the iniquity of the people (Isa. 53:4-8, 10). But afterwards he will be satisfied with new life (Isa. 53:10-12).

When a priest or the whole community sins, the tabernacle itself is defiled, not merely the bronze altar, because the priest functions in the tabernacle and the tabernacle stands in the midst of the community as a whole. Thus the blood of the sin offering is placed not on the horns of the bronze altar, as is usual with a sin offering, but on the horns of the altar of incense (Lev. 4). The blood is also sprinkled on the curtain separating the inner and outer rooms. Such a procedure shows that defilement from the priest or community reaches up to heaven itself, to the very entrance of God’s throne room, signified by the act of sprinkling the curtain. It defiles the highest point of the ascending smoke of the offerings into the sky, signified by the horns of the altar of incense in the holy place. The holiness of God takes on a deeper meaning as does the necessity of being holy because I am holy is clarified. I can’t help but understand how absolutely impossible it is to achieve and maintain this standard and the utter necessity for a better way.

The Old Testament thus reaches out in longing for Christ who brings an end to its frustrations and brings to accomplishment its promises. Christ is the final offering to which all the animals sacrifices look forward. As the Bible puts it, you were redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Pet. 1:20). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:24-25).

Sin matters. Being holy matters. Jesus matters. I marvel at the beauty of God’s revelation and the reason why it is only through Jesus that we can stand in the presence of God and not from our own works.

Acts 4:12 NIV “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!


  1. Only through Jesus can we stand before God. That says it all, Bruce. The teachings on the tabernacle and sacrifices are so rich and full. Inexhaustible, and this post really highlighted that!


  2. Hello Bruce how do I request for a permission to use the image above for my gospel content on youtube?


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