This chapter describes the event of “the formal inauguration of the sacrificial system at the tabernacle”¹ and “the first services which Aaron conducted”² as high priest.
It consists of a sin offering and a burnt offering for Aaron, and a sin offering, a burnt offering, peace offerings, and a grain offering for the people. I know, so many offerings, and it’s confusing which one is which and what the differences and their purposes are. That’s how I feel every time I read about these offerings in the Old Testament.
Well, they have their distinctions and different purposes for different occasion and people, but after doing a quick research, there are some things I noticed.
The sin offering was performed first in this occasion just as it was in the case of the ordination of Aaron and his sons (Ex. 29; Lv. 8). Aaron was not a perfect man. He had sins. He was a sinner. Yet he had to perform these sacrifices on behalf of the people of Israel. So he had to offer sacrifices for himself first.
The sin offering involved laying on of hands to the head of the animal offered and killing it and putting the blood on the horns of the altar and pouring it out at the base of the altar. The priest’s sins were therefore symbolically transferred to the animal, and by killing the animal, the penalty of the sins, the moral debt which the priest owed to God was paid. The price was life because the wage of sin is death. And blood was the sign and evidence of the payment.
“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).
The sacrifice points to The ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice of Jesus. God is a gracious God. He knows our state, that we are utterly helpless when it comes to our moral capability of doing the right thing and loving sacrificially. Selfishness is the common disease of all human beings that we cannot escape no matter how our technology or science or psychology or even “spirituality” advances. So even from the time of the Old Testament, he offered a way by which our sins can be atoned for, forgiven, so that we’re accepted and renewed into the loving relationship with our Creator and Father God.
The Law of the Old Testament never meant to enslave us in the prison cell of fear characterized by the life of rule-keeping. In actuality, the chronology of the history of Israel shows that the unconditional redemption of the people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt came first, and then the Law was given through Moses. First salvation, and then the Law, is the order. And even the content of the Law largely points to the Messiah who is to come to redeem the people of God from the slavery of sin. The plan has been on God’s mind from the very beginning. (Gen. 3:15)
Yes, the practical purpose of the OT Law was to reveal our sinfulness by showing that no one can possibly obey the Law perfectly. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). However, it doesn’t mean that God’s purpose was to condemn his people by giving the law. Rather, it was simply the preparatory step for Jesus who is the Messiah to come and proclaim forgiveness and salvation to people who were ready to humbly accept it.
“But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:22-24)
The ultimate sacrifice was offered. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who was slain, who knew no sin made him to be sin for our sake, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21) Now no more sacrifice of bulls and goats are needed. No more human “Aaron’s” are needed. Aaron had to offer sacrifice for himself first, and then offer sacrifice for the people. Something far better, infinitely better is available to us now, The High Priest Jesus Christ, which this OT sacrificial system has been pointing to all along.
“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” (Hebrews 10:1)
The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7) On the cross, the Work was finished. (John 19:39) The final transaction has been completely closed. There is no use trying to add to the Work ourselves. We can’t, it’s finished. And even if it wasn’t, we should dare not try to add anything to it. There is nothing we have that is worth the price of our moral debt. It cost the life of Jesus Christ. The only thing left for us to do is receive the gift by faith. And enjoy the loving fellowship with God in thankfulness by voluntary and passionate obedience.
“he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:12-14)
¹Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1579.
²Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), 147.