Old Testament Sacrificial Offerings


The Old Testament could be said to revolve around a system of sacrificial offerings, mitigated by priests, during rituals, to atone for the sins of Israel. That is, in itself, a pretty broad statement, but there is much more to it than that. Yet that is what a lot of people still see, but is that the real message behind the sacrifices?

The following offerings—the Burnt Offering, the Grain Offering, the Peace Offering, the Purification Offering, and the Reparation Offering, should not really be viewed as legalistic rites one must perform to earn God’s grace. The Prophet Samuel said, “to obey is better than sacrifice,” (1 Sam 15:22), and Jeremiah likewise negates Burnt Offerings for atonement and says that disobedience results in calamity (Jer 44:23). Rather, the sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a means of grace by which one who unintentionally sinned might make reparations for that sin without paying with his or her life, or with the life of his or her child. The system, when complied with, was a willing outward expression of a person or community’s inward desire or committment to restore the broken relationships between humanity and God.

And this same Law applied to everyone who sinned unintentionally, whether a native – born Israelite or a foreigner residing among them.

But it is important to note at the onset that there was no sacrifice for intentional or deliberate sin.

The specific “sin” sacrifices described below apply only to “unintentional” sin. One cannot help but see that the Law in itself, was given as a means that was utilized by God, to bring His Nation of Israel into an awareness of God’s holiness and their own humanistic fallen nature, that violated God’s holiness on multiple levels. Jesus Himself alluded to this when He spoke about the sin of adultery.

Matthew 5:27-28 NASB
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Jesus said that everything within the Law and Prophets could be summarized within the two great commandments.

Matthew 22:34-40 NASB
But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Notice the first two words, “you shall”, which is the direct opposition of “you shall not”.

“But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel. (Numbers 15:29-30, NIV)

Therefore being put to death or cut off for deliberate sin in the Old Testament is not to imply that each offender could not be forgiven by faith, what it does imply is that it could not, be forgiven by the Mosaic Law.

It should also be noted that according to Hebrews 9:7 NIV, even the Day of Atonement only covers “sins of ignorance”:
“But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.”

And this shortfall of the Law was noted. Observe what Luke records in Acts 13:39 NIV “Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.”

The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was a means of grace by which the relationship between God and humanity begins to be restored. It was a temporary covering over until that which was perfect, the Lamb of God, without blemish, as promised, would arrive.

Put yourself in the place of an average Israelite who desired to follow and love God. As one became aware of what was considered sin, that which was holy and that which was not holy, what would happen next? There would have to be an expanding awareness of the gulf between one’s self and our Holy God.  And what would follow next? The awareness that we, are totally unable to maintain or sustain God’s standard of holiness, in ourselves, by ourselves.

And who do we need?

Job 19:25-27 NASB
“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
“Even after my skin is destroyed.
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.
My heart faints within me!”

Galatians 3:24 NASB
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”

Ultimately, the sacrificial system was inadequate, and none could repay the debt of life that was owed until Christ defeated death once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). In the age of the Church, we live in light of Christ’s meritorious sacrifice for us while also offering our own lives as a living and holy sacrifice (Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:5).

1. Burnt Offering

The first offering is the olah, literally, “an offering of ascent,” commonly called the Burnt Offering. The purpose of the Burnt Offering was for general atonement of sin and expression of devotion to God. The instructions for the Burnt Offering are given in Lev 1:3-17. The offering could be a bull (Lev 1:3), sheep or goat (Lev 1:10), or dove or pigeon (Lev 1:14). The animal was to be burnt whole overnight (Lev 6:8-13), though its skin was given to the priest (Lev 1:6). The Burnt Offering was likely the earliest type of atonement offering in the Old Testament (Job 1:5, Genesis 8:20). The primary contrast between the Old Testament Burnt Offering and the Canaanite Burnt Offering was that the Canaanites would offer children as burnt sacrifices for their own atonement. Although this does occur during the worst of Israel’s history (Judges 11), God made it clear that He would not accept children as burnt offerings (Genesis 22), and the instructions given in Leviticus explicitly limit the type of animals to be offered as burnt sacrifices to bulls, rams, and birds.

2. Grain Offering

The second type of offering in the Old Testament is the minchah, or Grain Offering. The purpose of the Grain Offering was a voluntary expression of devotion to God, recognizing His goodness and providence. The instructions for the grain offerings are given in Leviticus 2. Generally it was cooked bread—baked (Lev 2:4), grilled (Lev 2:5), fried (Lev 2:7), roasted, or made into cereal (Lev 2:14)—though always seasoned (Lev 2:13), unsweetened, and unleavened (Lev 2:11). Unlike the whole Burnt Offering, only a portion of the offering was to be burnt (Lev 2:9). The remainder went to the priests for their meal (Lev 2:10). Although the minchah was instructed to be a freewill offering of grains, it appears that earlier freewill offerings expressing devotion to God and gratitude for His goodness and providence may have been the “first fruits” of livestock (Genesis 4:4).

3. Peace Offering

The third offering is the shelem, or Peace Offering. This category, first discussed in Leviticus 3, included Thanksgiving Offerings (Lev 7:12), Freewill Offerings (7:16), and Wave Offerings (Lev 7:30). The offering could be cattle (Lev 3:1), sheep (Lev 3:7), or a goat (Lev 3:12). It could be male or female, but must be without defect. If it was a Thanksgiving Offering, it could also include a variety of breads (Lev 7:12). The purpose of the Peace Offering was to consecrate a meal between two or more parties before God and share that meal together in fellowship of peace and a commitment to each others’ future prosperity. The portions unsuitable for eating were given to God (Lev 7:19-27). Depending on the type of Peace Offering, the breast may have been given to the High Priest (Lev 7:31) and the right thigh may be given to the priest officiating the meal (Lev 7:32). The rest of the meal was to be eaten within one day by the fellowship of parties (Lev 7:16), and the leftovers were to be burnt after two days (Lev 7:17).

4. Sin Offering

The fourth offering was called chattath, literally “sin” or “sin offering.” This offering is sometimes seen as an offering of atonement for unintentional sin (Lev 4:2-3, 4:20). Similarly, it is sometimes viewed as guilt offering, removing the consequences for lack of perfection (Lev 4:13-14, 4:22-23). As an atonement offering, it contained elements of a Burnt Offering (Lev 4:25), yet at the same time had elements of a Peace Offering (Lev 4:26). Conversely, some of the “sins” for which one needed atonement were not moral sins but rather matters of ritual impurity (Lev 5:1-5). As such, some have proposed the term “Purification Offering” instead of “Sin Offering.” The primary purpose of this offering is not to atone for sins but rather to purify oneself for re-entering the presence of God. The elements of a Purification Offering could be any of the elements of the previous three types offerings, though unlike the Peace Offering, the meal was not to be shared by the one offering the sacrifice.

5. Guilt Offering

The fifth and final offering was the asham, traditionally translated “Guilt Offering.” Unlike the English word “guilt” this does not refer to a matter of one’s conscience but rather to something one owes on account of a “sin.” Other suggestions for the name of this offering are the “Trespass Offering” or the “Reparation Offering.” The purpose of this offering was to make reparations for one’s sin. As such, this offering had a specific monetary value, and one who owed another on account of a debt due to a “sin” could repay it in silver rather than by sacrificing a ram (Lev 5:15). In addition, a 20% fee was assessed and given to the priest who mitigated the debt (Lev 5:16).

I know, my apology for the lengthy post but this post barely scratches the surface and there is so much more to see within the various types of sacrifices and what they point to in Christ. I will provide a couple of additional post links I have put together on the sacrifices below, should you wish to look into this further:


Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!


  1. Thank you for this highly informative post brother. You’re right it shouldn’t be interpreted legalistically. I want to go more indepth with studying the offerings and the law in the OT sometime in the near future

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