You might have had a sense of deja vu as we read through this evening’s passage, because it might have seemed very familiar to you. Haven’t we gone though all of these sacrifices already? The burnt offering; the grain offering; the sin offering; the guilt offering; and the fellowship offering. Haven’t we studied these things before? Didn’t we read about these offerings recently?
You’d be right to think that, because we have studied these things before. In chapter 1 we read about the burnt offering; and here it is again in part of chapter 6. In chapter 2 we read about the grain offering; and here it is again in another part of chapter 6. In chapter 3 we read about the fellowship offering; and here it is again in part of chapter 7. In chapter 4 we read about the sin or purification offering; and here it is again in part of chapter 6. In chapter 5 we read about the guilt or reparation offering; and here is is again in the opening of chapter 7. All the offerings which we read about in chapter 1 to 5 are repeated again in chapters 6 and 7. So, there’s not a whole lot of new material in today’s reading; and it all seems very familiar to us. And perhaps we wonder to ourselves:
What’s the point? What’s the point in repeating the same material so soon? Why are these instructions repeated like this?
The answer is that chapters 1 to 5 are written for the laypeople; whereas chapters 6 and 7 are for the priests. Look back to verse 2 of chapter 1 where the Lord instructed Moses to speak to the Israelites and say to them:
When any of you brings an offering to the Lord….
These instructions are for the Israelites who want to know when they should bring an offering to the Lord and what kind of offering they should bring. Then take a look at verse 8 of chapter 6, where the Lord said to Moses:
Give Aaron and his sons this command….
Aaron and his sons were the priests. These instructions are for the priests who want to know what to do with the offerings which the people bring to them.
So chapters 1 to 5 are directed at the laypeople; chapters 6 and 7 are directed at the priests.
But, of course, there’s still a lot of overlap and even duplication between the two sets of instructions. So there’s not a lot of new material in today’s passage. Nevertheless, there are a few new things for us to note.
Firstly, we have instructions for the burnt offering. The burnt offering, you might recall, was offered every morning and every evening by the priest on behalf of the whole community. An animal was slaughtered in place of the people and burned before the Lord. Well, we learn from verse 8 that the burnt offering was to remain on the altar throughout the night and that the priests had to keep the fire burning continuously; it must not go out. The Bible does not explain why this was the case; but the commentators have suggested a number of different reasons. For instance, it represented how the Lord was to be worshipped continuously. Or it represented how the people were to dedicate themselves continuously to the Lord. Or it represented their continual need of forgiveness from the Lord. Furthermore, we learn from this section that when it was time for the priest to remove the ashes of the offering, he had to change his clothes and take the ashes out of the camp. The clothes he wore in the Tabernacle were holy and could not be taken out of the Tabernacle.
We don’t learn very much new about the grain offering, which was a kind of tribute or thanksgiving offering which the people brought to the Lord and which the priests were allowed to eat. However, we do learn in verses 19 to 23 that the priests had to bring a grain offering to the Lord whenever they were ordained. They were also to bring this offering every day afterwards to give thanks to the Lord for his kindness to them and to express their devotion to him. When a layperson brought a grain offering, the priest was allowed to eat it; but when a priest brought a grain offering, they were not permitted to eat it, but it had to be burned.
The instructions about the sin or purification offering — which was an offering to purify the Tabernacle from the stain of their sin — tell us that if any of the blood from the sacrifice is spattered on a garment, the garment needed to be washed. Furthermore, the pot that was used to cook the meat needed to be either destroyed if made of clay or washed thoroughly if made of bronze. You see, the blood of this sacrifice was to be used for the one purpose of cleansing the Tabernacle from the guilt of their sin. So, it wasn’t to be applied anywhere else: and if it got on your clothes or in your cooking pot, you had to remove it, because that was an illegitimate use of this precious blood.
The reparation offering was about making up for your sins by repaying the Lord or repaying your neighbour for taking what belonged to them. The instructions in chapter 5 for this offering were quite sparse. And so, more details are given in chapter 7 about what to do with the blood and with the meat.
The instructions in chapter 7 for the fellowship offering are concerned with eating the fellowship meal. We learned in chapter 3 that part of the meat of this offering was burned before the Lord. However, from this chapter we learn that part of the meat was eaten by the priest and part of it was eaten by the worshipper and his family. They could enjoy this fellowship meal together, because God had pardoned them for their sins and there was peace between God and his people.
And we learn from verses 15 to 17 that the meat needed to be eaten promptly: either on the day of the sacrifice or on the next day. Whatever was left on the third day had to be burned up. We’re not told why this was the case. One suggestion is that since the sacrifices symbolise the perfect sacrifice of the Lord Jesus who was raised on the third day, then the meat of this sacrifice had to be consumed by the third day. Another is that it encouraged the people to share the meat so that more people could enjoy this fellowship meal before the Lord.
In verses 22 to 27 there are instructions forbidding the eating of blood and fat. And verses 28 to 36 explain what portions of the fellowship offering had to go to the priest. Verses 37 and 38 summarise the previous verses.
The Work of Christ
While there’s a lot of overlap and duplication between chapters 1 to 5 and chapters 6 and 7, there are still some lessons for us to learn.
Firstly, it’s important that we remember that these sacrifices point to Christ and his work. The burnt offering points to the work of Christ who died as a ransom to set us free from the death penalty which we deserve. The grain offering points us to our grateful response to God for what Christ has done for us. The fellowship offering points to the peace we have with God because of Christ. The sin or purification offering points to how we’re cleansed from our guilt by the shed blood of Christ. The guilt or reparation offering points to how Christ has paid for our sins by his death on the cross. Each sacrifice points us to some aspect of Christ’s work on the cross for sinners.
Once and for All
Secondly, the Old Testament priests had to offer the same sacrifices over and over again. For instance, they had to offer the burnt offering every morning and every evening. And every morning and evening, they had to offer a grain offering for the people and for themselves. They had to take other offerings and offer them on different occasions throughout the year. The Old Testament priests were working all the time, offering the same sacrifices repeatedly. And they offered the same sacrifices repeatedly because the Old Testament priests were only filling in until the true High Priest arrived. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it:
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
The Old Testament priesthood pointed to Christ, who is the true High Priest who offered for all time one sacrifice for sins.
God of Order
Finally, the detailed instructions which God provided for the people and for the priests show us that the Lord cares about how we worship him. We’ll see this even more clearly in chapter 10 where we read how Aaron’s sons were struck down by the Lord for offering him unauthorised fire. That is, they tried to approach him in worship in a way that he had not approved.
God cares how we worship him and how we approach him. And so, in Old Testament times he gave the people and the priests careful instructions about how to worship him and what offerings to bring him and what to do with those offerings and when and where to eat the meat of the offerings. And we’re taught the same lesson in the New Testament, where the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that our God is a consuming fire; and so we only worship him acceptably when we worship him with reverence and awe. And, of course, one of the problems the Apostle Paul addressed in his first letter to the church in Corinth was their disorderly worship. And so, he had to write to remind them that God is not a God of disorder, but of peace. He also taught them that everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
People today like to think that they can approach the Lord any way they like; and that spontaneity and freedom are the marks of true spirituality. But throughout the Bible, God has revealed himself as a God of order. And so, in the Old Testament he gave the Israelites these detailed instructions about how to worship him so that they might obey him and worship him in a fitting and orderly way. And since he does not change, and since he’s the same yesterday, today, and for ever, we need to remember and believe that the God we worship wants his people to worship him with reverence and with awe and with order.