Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Leviticus is full of animal sacrifices and regulations relating to sacrifices. Seriously, have you read Leviticus before? It’s like sacrifice city. Not only that, but there are sacrifices in the other books of the Bible too; in Israel, it was very dangerous to be a sheep, cow, or goat. In fact, there are so many sacrifices for so many circumstances, Moses’ brother Aaron runs into an oddly comical problem which we’ll talk about in a little bit.
But first though, to be sure, there are a lot of sacrifices in the Old Testament Law. There are sacrifices for the sins of the priesthood, “If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the Lord a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed” (Leviticus 4:3). There are sacrifices when the whole community sins, “When they become aware of the sin they committed, the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the Tent of Meeting” (Leviticus 4:14). Of course there are sacrifices for when a normal person sins too, “When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect” (Leviticus 4:28). But there’s more than just sacrifices for sin. There is a sacrifice for having children,
When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering (Leviticus 12:6).
There is also a sacrifice for use in the cleansing of a person with an infectious skin disease,
Then the priest is to sacrifice the sin offering and make atonement for the one to be cleansed from his uncleanness. After that, the priest shall slaughter the burnt offering and offer it on the altar, together with the grain offering, and make atonement for him, and he will be clean (Leviticus 14:19-20).
There is even a sacrifice for a woman’s monthly period,
When she is cleansed from her discharge, she must count off seven days, and after that she will be ceremonially clean. On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priests at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the Lord for the uncleanness of her discharge (Leviticus 15:28-30).
And there are many more sacrifices that I won’t list today. During the times before Christ, the Israelites had a sacrifice for every occasion. Actually, the writer of Hebrews makes note of this when he writes, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
This over-abundance of sacrifices left Israel with a problem; there were too many sacrifices, literally. Consider this, Israel was pretty big even when they left Egypt and they only had a few priests and one place of worship. Only part of the sacrifice went to God, whereas the rest of the cooked meat belonged to the family of Aaron. This is where we find an angry Moses,
When Moses inquired about the goat of the sin offering and found that it had been burned up, he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining sons and asked, “Why didn’t you eat the sin offering in the sanctuary area? It is most holy; it was given to you to take away the guilt of the community by making atonement for them before the Lord. Since its blood was not taken into the Holy Place, you should have eaten the goat in the sanctuary area, as I commanded” (Leviticus 10:16-18).
It just so happened that when Moses decided to pop in for a visit to the priests that Eleazar and Ithamar had not eaten the community’s sin offering. Moses was irate since this seemed as though they didn’t care about the people’s cleanliness. This was probably an especially nerve-wracking rebuke from Moses considering that earlier in the chapter Eleazar and Ithmar’s brothers were killed by God for messing up holy things. However, soon Aaron jumped in to defend his sons,
Aaron replied to Moses, “Today they sacrificed their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, but such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?” When Moses heard this, he was satisfied (Leviticus 10:19-20).
Aaron explained that because of the rules (and he notes that this has happened before), his sons were left in a weird situation. They had their own sin offering (which they weren’t supposed to eat) and the sin offering of the people (which they were supposed to eat) on the same day. In short, there were too many sacrifices and nobody was really sure what to do about them. So, Aaron had developed a solution to this problem which was certainly wiser than anything he had done prior to this moment in the Bible: he would burn the community’s sin offering just as his sons had burned their own. That way, they stayed true to their own sin offering, while at the same time performing their needed duties. One suspects this sort of thing happened a lot considering how confident Aaron (who usually cowered in front of Moses) was in his decision. But honestly, in the Old Testament Law, there were too many sacrifices. If you weren’t sacrificing an animal, you were probably doing something wrong.
Thank God for our Lord Jesus. For his death on a cross brought an end to the sacrificial system by placing all of our sins and uncleanness onto God wrapped up in skin- and the Lord is big enough to hold all of our sins. The writer of Hebrews records what happened when Jesus came on the scene,
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here am I, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:8-10).
As you can see, God didn’t like sacrifice, although he had commanded us to sacrifice for our sins and for being clean (as that was the Law); our propensity for sin disgusted him. Rather, God wanted people to be clean, something which an animal sacrifice was only able to do temporarily. We’re even told in Hebrews 10:3-4 of those early animal sacrifices, “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” So instead, the Lord offered himself to be sacrificed in our stead so that we may be made clean once and for all (even while still having sin in our lives). Jesus also solved the problem that Aaron and his sons ran into, for we read,
Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:27-28).
Whereas Aaron and his sons had to sacrificed for their sins, Jesus was perfect; therefore he is able to continually be a sacrifice for us since he himself was without sin.
Therefore I am confident in telling you that nobody is perfect. In fact, the Bible says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). However, no matter how messed up we may be, no matter where we are at in our lives, or how bad we’ve been, Jesus loves us and desires to purify us. For “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So come to Jesus and let him make you clean. Even if you’re already saved, Jesus can still cleanse you.