Ecclesiastes Podcast

Leviticus 1:2-3

Leviticus is largely about directions for sacrificial ceremonies and worship, and might seem hard for the modern reader to relate to. However, the New Testament reveals the great extent to which the entire Tabernacle enterprise symbolizes eternal truths that are as relevant to the New Testament believer as to the Old.

In particular, the New Testament book of Hebrews says that all the Tabernacle items are copies of the real thing in heaven. It further discusses the meaning of the priesthood and sacrifices, all of which look forward to Jesus Christ’s ministry on behalf of a fallen race.

Chapter 1 begins with God calling to Moses from the Tabernacle. This comes following all the instructions at the end of the book of Exodus that describe many details for how to construct the proper earthly dwelling place for the Suzerain (Ruler) God who redeemed Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Now that the Tabernacle has been constructed, God’s presence occupies the spot between the cherubim (over the ark of the covenant). God explains to Moses how to properly perform the services and sacrifices that will be carried out in the courtyard of the Tabernacle.

The first sacrifice given is the burnt offering sacrifice. In Hebrew, the word translated “burnt offering” is “Oleh” which means “to ascend.” The ancient Israelites visualized the gift (or offering) ascending by means of the fire and smoke to God, thus calling it an ascension. God permits three types of animals for burnt offerings:

1. Male Cattle

2. Male Sheep or Goats

3. Pigeons or Doves.

God declares He wants to be worshipped a specific way. The way He directs. The typical way religious worship transpired in this era centered around moral justification for perverse behavior and transactional manipulation. This can be seen in Leviticus 18, which lists typical behavior seen in Egypt and Canaan. That list includes a startling array of incestuous practices, as well as sex with animals. Pagan worship often included sexually immoral practices. Pagan worship also promised transactional blessings, giving people the illusion of control. The two alternative approaches to choose from are “love God and love others” (the result of obedience to God’s way) or “be god and exploit others” (the result of following the pagan way).

This can be seen in Jeremiah 44:18, where the people claim that when they worshipped the “queen of heaven” they got what they wanted. Worship of the LORD God was totally different. The Suzerain God’s promised blessings were largely interwoven with His commands. A community that practices His command to love one another as they love themselves would be greatly blessed through mutual collaboration, encouragement, and care for one another. This requires setting aside fleshly desires or seeking moral justification, but rather seeking to serve the best interest of others. The worship of the True God presumes He knows what is best for us, and it is in our best interest to seek and obey His ways. This contrasts with pagan worship that presumes we know what is best for ourselves, that it is in our best interest to seek a means to fulfill our appetites.

God commands Moses to speak to the sons of Israel and declare which types of animals He accepts as offerings. Sacrificial land animals can be chosen from cattle (the herd), as well as sheep and goats (the flock). Later in this chapter the types of sacrificial birds are listed. Three details are given for burnt offerings of the flock or herd. They 1. Must be an unblemished animal, 2. Must be a male, and 3. Must be offered in front of the Tabernacle.

God directs Moses to speak or relay the following information to the sons of Israel. God is honoring the request made by the Israelites, that He would speak to them indirectly through Moses: “Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die” (Exodus 20:19).

Throughout scripture, we see God raise up a prophet, or a judge, or a deliverer to relay His words to His people. Today we have the words of all the Old Testament prophets and judges as well as the words of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. Jesus was the “prophet like Moses” whose coming was foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”

Deuteronomy 18:15 is fulfilled in Jesus. He spoke the words of God directly, human to human. As opposed to God speaking from Mount Sinai, which terrified the people. Further, Jesus is the word of God made flesh (John 1:1).

The information God directed Moses to speak to the sons of Israel related to sacrifices, and begins with the introduction: When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD. The Hebrew word for offering here is “corban” which is a gift intended as a sacrifice to God. It comes from the Hebrew root “carav” which means to “draw near.” The Hebrew the word “cherubim” also shares this same root.

Jesus uses the Hebrew word “corban” in Mark 7:11: “But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God),”

Mark, the author of the gospel of Mark, left the word “corban” untranslated to show us that in the time of Jesus, in a Greek-and-Aramaic-speaking society, the Hebrew “corban” was an important rabbinic technical term, necessary to retain.

The only land animals permitted to be sacrificed as an offering were to be from the herd or flock. The herd would refer to cattle, the flock to sheep or goats.

Sheep and goats are both considered flock animals, yet their behavior is quite different. A sheep has an instinctive nature to follow a shepherd or a lead animal (such as a donkey). Goats, on the other hand, are independent, stubborn, and can be destructive. We are often likened to sheep in scripture, with Jesus as our good shepherd. Upon Jesus’ return, He will divide the nations as goats and sheep are divided (Matthew 25:31-33.)

Leviticus 1:3 describes three requirements for a burnt offering:

1. You must have the right animal (a male from the herd or flock)
2. in the right condition (without defect) and
3. it must be offered in the right place (the doorway to the tent of meeting).

The sacrifice was presented before the LORD (and accepted or rejected by the priest) at the doorway of the tent of meeting. It was within the tent of meeting, in the holiest place, where God’s presence dwelt. The bronze altar for burnt offerings was also conveniently located at the doorway to the tent of meeting so that after the sons of Israel presented their offering before the LORD and slaughtered it, the priest could promptly arrange the body parts on the altar in preparation for the burnt offering.

This likely symbolized Jesus, who offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice, as the Lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He was male. Jesus was without defect, without sin. He was “lifted up” on the cross, as the altar was elevated (John 3:14-16, Exodus 38:1). Jesus’ sacrifice opened the way for each person to spiritually enter the true Holy of Holies in heaven (Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 10:19-22). The cross could represent a type of altar with a sacrifice upon wood.

The animal was presented at the doorway to the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. This could be said another way, “That he may be accepted to come near into the presence of the Lord.” In ancient culture, if you were going into the presence of a dignitary or king, you would not want to be empty-handed. A gift of honor would usually accompany a person approaching an earthly king. How much more the King of Kings?

God provided a way for His inheritance, the Israelite people, to draw near to Him despite their sins. The burnt offering (offering of ascension) provided an atonement so that the people could enjoy fellowship with their King (Leviticus 1:4). As the book of Hebrews points out, these sacrifices had to be offered continually: the people would have to eventually return for further atonement in the future after more sins were committed. But Jesus addressed both issues. He offered Himself, which is the ultimate atonement, and now is available to be approached directly to receive forgiveness for sins to restore fellowship (1 John 1:9; Hebrews 10:19-23). He also wrote the Law on the hearts of New Testament believers through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31.

Biblical Text:

2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock. 3 If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD.