Friday, March 02, 2007

Significance of Leviticus

Since we are now well into the reading of Leviticus, let me catch you up on the significance of many of these quite alien practices.

The Sacrifices
There are five main sacrifices in Leviticus, covered in chs 1-5, with some additional priestly regulations for them given in chs 6-7. The general significance of these offerings is briefly: first, the reality and enormity of sin--it must be dealt with; second, the principle of substitutionary atonement. These sacrifices were accepted in the place of the one bringing the sacrifice. Third, sacrifice is available for all. The wealthy could afford to sacrifice cattle, the "middle class" could afford a sheep or goat, and even the poorest could capture birds for sacrifice. Fourth, practicality. This was a system designed not only to afford sacrifice for all worshipers, it was also designed to create the income for the priests, who would not be able to spend their time farming. It also gives no specific requirements as to when or how often sacrifices were to be offered. Thus, those who lived far away from the tabernacle (or later, the temple), could bring sacrifices when they went to the tabernacle for the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Booths/Tabernacles). This seems, for example, to have been the practice of Elkanah (1 Sam 1).

The Whole Burnt Offering
This sacrifice was intended to teach first that no one profits from sin. The whole animal went up in smoke on the altar, and not even the priest received a portion of the sacrifice. Second, it reminds the offerer that sin requires death (see gen 2:17 and Ezek 18:4). That is, the sinner owes God a death, regarding which God is willing to accept a substitute. In the OT of course, those substitutes were the animal, but as Hebrews makes clear, they were only foreshadowings of the death of Christ for the remission of sin.

The Grain Offering
This offering is designed to teach that the sinner owes God a holy life. No leaven, nor honey (both corrupting agents) were allowed with the grain offering. Further, the grain offerings were accompanied by frankincense, which represented the aroma of a life lived unto God. This is the idea behind Paul's reference to "living sacrifices" in Rom 12:1. It is essential to note in this offering that no sinner, however redeemed he may be, lives a life wholly consecrated to God. Hence, the active obedience of Christ (his fulfilling of the law in all its demands) is imputed to the believer's account and substitutes for the failures of the believer.

The Peace/Fellowship Offering
Older translations generally translate this as the peace offering, while newer ones generally translate it as the fellowship offering. Both are adequate translations, and both contain the general idea of the offering. Notice that this is the one sacrifice in which the offerer partakes of some of the offering. This represents the fact that by sin peace/fellowship with God has been broken, and sacrifice is necessary to restore that relationship. This is the idea behind Paul's speaking of the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Cor 5:12-21. Thus the offerer is able to celebrate, by partaking of the offering meal, his restored relationship with God.

The Propitiatory Offerings
In regard to all three of these first offerings, the phrase "a sweet aroma to the Lord" is used. The significance of this phrase turns on the fact that the Hebrew word for nose, and the Hebrew word for anger are the same word. Thus there is by sacrifice a soothing of God's nose, that is, a placating of his anger. The technical theological term for this is propitiation. Hence, Christ fulfills these sacrifices as our propitiation (see Rom 3:25 and 1 John 2:2). These sacrifices are centered on God. They are objective with regard to the believer.

The Guilt Offering
The purpose of this offering is to teach that when man sins, even without intent, such as through ignorance, he incurs guilt. This guilt must be wiped away, and is done so by sacrifice. Christ took upon himself our guilt, thus removing the guilt from us.

The Sin Offering
This offering teaches that man also sins when he fails to live a life fully consecrated to God. This failure must be made up, by sacrifice. Here again, the active obedience of Christ, imputed to the believer, makes up for the believer's failures.

The Expiatory Offerings
These last two sacrifices are subjective with regard to the believer. Notice that the phrase "a sweet aroma to the Lord" is not used with these sacrifices. They are intended to make up for the believer's failures, and to remove the guilt of his transgressions. They operate on the believer, not on God. The technical theological term for this is expiation. Hence Christ's work is both propitiatory and expiatory, taking care of everything that stands between the believer and his enjoyment of fellowship with God.