We saw in yesterday’s post that God established one law to be observed by natural born Israelites and aliens from other nations which wanted to become part of God’s chosen nation. God referred to his one law as follows:
And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you. (Exodus 12:48-49 KJV)
God purposed to teach his people several things from this one law. The basic principles he wanted to establish were the following:
1) First, God established that he is a holy God and that he may not be approached by anyone stained with the filthiness of the sins of the flesh. First, in order to teach this principle, he commanded Moses to build a tabernacle. The tabernacle itself was built in three sections, and outer court where the general public of Israel could offer their sacrifices, a “holy place” behind a veil which only priests could enter into in order to minister to God, and a “most holy place” behind a second veil symbolizing actual identification with and perfection before God. Concerning this tabernacle Hebrews says,
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. 8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
2) Second, the one law established a system of sacrifices which prophetically portrayed five different spiritual goals and potential realities. God gave instructions concerning these five specific and different types of sacrifices in Leviticus 1-5.
a) The fifth offering, the one introduced in Leviticus chapter five, is the first one we apprehend in our approach to God. It is the “trespass” offering one makes because he is ashamed of his sins. It is the offering of repentance for sin. This is the first thing that person does when he comes to true faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.
b) Leviticus chapter four deals with the “sin offering,” and offering made for having committed “unintentional” sins. The fact that a sin offering was made, however, implies that the offeror had recently come into a knowledge of his sin. This speaks of the ongoing nature of our relationship with God. “To whom much is given much is required.” (Luke 12:48) As a believer continues his journey with God he will come to understand more of God’s truth. With truth comes accountability. Mature believers are responsible for greater holiness before God than the babe in Christ.
c) The peace, the grain, and the burnt offerings, those offering commanded in Leviticus 3, 2, and 1 all teach about God’s sovereignty. God requires us to obey Him, yet He wants us to do so willingly and not under compulsion. The idea of willing obedience presents us with another one of the great tensions or mysteries of Scripture, man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty. This also brings us to the distinction between the Old and New Covenants. Under Moses’ law, or the Old Covenant, strict obedience to God’s Law established fellowship with God. This covenant failed and history proves that man cannot obey God from his own strength. On the other hand, the New Covenant teaches that fellowship with God, by faith in Jesus Christ, brings us into obedience to Him. God Himself, sovereignly by His Spirit, moves us to believe in and obey Him. At this time, however, even under the New Covenant we cannot perfectly obey God. We still live in carnal bodies of flesh.
The third altar sacrifice is the “peace offering” and was offered as “food, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma” to God. (Lev. 3:16) This offering corresponds to a believer’s trusting walk with God in the assurance of faith that he stands clean before God. Having repented of all known intentional and unintentional sins, as represented by the trespass and sin offerings, he now walks in peace with God. Leviticus 7:11-21 reveals that the peace offering was offered for “thanksgiving,” (vs. 12), or as a “vow or voluntary offering.” (vs. 16). Davidwrites, “I will freely sacrifice to You; I will praise Your Name, O Lord, for it is good.” (Psalm 54:6) Hebrews proclaims, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (Heb 13:15) The peace offering foretells true praise and worship of God, offered thankfully and voluntarily by His own people. The peace offering also speaks of the purpose, or goal, of true worship, which is to convey our love to our Beloved.
d) Moses announced the grain offering second in Leviticus, but this is now the fourth offering we will study. The grain offering represented both a voluntary and a mandatory offering. The firstfruits aspect of the offering, Lev. 2:12-16, had to be offered by each Israelite according to Exodus 23:19 and 34:26. Other grain offerings could be made as freewill offerings. These were made by free choice, not compulsion. The grain offering, therefore, speaks of voluntary obedience to God. It means that we desire the ways of God from our heart! When the grain offering was offered voluntarily, not like a tithe or a tax, it became a “sweet aroma to the Lord.” (Lev. 2:2). This conveys the preciousness in God’s sight of the one who willingly lays down his life for his God in a life of joyful obedience. However, the mandatory firstfruits offering “shall not be burned on the altar for a sweet aroma.” (Lev. 2:12) Mandatory obedience does not bring the same reward or render the same “flavor” as willing obedience. This is one lesson of law versus grace, the Old Covenant versus the New Covenant. “And the law is not of faith, but `the man who does them shall live by them.’” (Gal. 3:4) Does the life of grace, then, nullify the law? Paul asked this same question and answered emphatically, “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:31) The law is holy and good, says Paul. It is an instructor that teaches us the ways of God and leads us to Christ. (Gal. 3:24)
When we must obey a strict set of rules to please God, we find ourselves under law, but this is not bad or evil. It simply is not the best way. One of the purposes of the law is to train us to want to live God’s way. It is when we voluntarily obey God because we love Him and His ways that we fully live by grace and faith. This was as true in Old Testament days as it is in New Testament times. This ability to voluntarily obey, however, comes from the Holy Spirit. Grace describes life by the Spirit of God and comprises a major theme of Paul’s books. Before we believed in Jesus as our Savior, we possessed no power to serve God. We owned no independent desire to obey Him. After we believed in Him and received the “earnest” of the Holy Spirit, however, we held within us the seed of the power to obey Him. The problem then became one of exercising our own will to obey Him by and through His power in us. God desires that which indwells our spirit, the Holy Spirit, to affect our souls (mind, will, and emotions). The voluntary nature of the grain offering represents a transition in the Christian life from mandatory obedience to Gods Law to voluntary obedience. Here we learn that we obey Him because we desire to obey Him. Ultimately this desire even comes from God and evidences His sovereignty over us because it originates from the Spirit within us. Now we find that we want to obey Him because our will aligns with His. We come to know His ways as right, full of peace, and the best way to live.
This also illustrates the difference between the Old and New Covenants. Under the Old Covenant we approach God and can only fellowship with Him by obeying His commands. In
the New Covenant we obtain fellowship with God by faith in Jesus Christ. Then He gives us His gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us to begin to obey His commands. In other words, obedience does not bring fellowship, but fellowship brings obedience. Even so, God still requires our wills to become molded to His. In essence our “free will” becomes His will and
ultimately we will only do what we see our Father doing. This is the mystery of sanctification and growing in Godliness.
e) Moses first expounds the burnt offering in Leviticus 1. The burnt offering was the only offering wherein fire consumed the entire body of the sacrificial beast. Nothing remained to be eaten. The burnt offering represents an offering for God’s consumption alone, but Psalm 50 makes it clear that God is not really concerned about eating cattle and sheep. The Law is prophetic and so is every single offering God required.
“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. 4 He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. 5 Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6 Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, 7 and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9 but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering[a] with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. (Leviticus 1:3-9)
Believers presented this offering “at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting” because it specifically represented Jesus Christ. Jesus is, was, and always will be our only way into the tabernacle of God. The fact that the offeror “lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering” symbolized the transfer of the offeror’s sin to Christ and Christ’s atonement to the sinner. This offering also made a “sweet aroma” to God because of the voluntary nature of Christ’s sacrifice that it represented. This offering does not represent our initial salvation, but instead denotes the goal of our faith which is conformity to the image of Christ. We reach this goal only through faith in Christ’s atonement and the gift of the Holy Spirit working out His salvation through us. We must never lose sight of this truth.
The burnt offering represents total identification with Christ. It is a picture of offering ourselves as living sacrifices to God, of voluntarily giving up our lives (souls) in this world so that we may gain a better a resurrection. (to be continued…)