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Leviticus 6:8-7:38

As we read at 1:2, the instructions so far given were intended for the people. Now we turn to instructions for the priests, though we will also read later that some of this material (particularly that concerning the peace offering, which, as you remember, the people were able to eat) is again addressed to the people at large (7:23, 29). New material concerns the proper handling of the offerings, how to dispose of what is left over, and particular forms of the various offerings. Great stress is laid on the care with which all is to be done because the offerings were the Lord’s property and so had to be handled with reverence. [Sklar, 126] Because much of what we are about to read reprises the regulations for the various offerings that we have already read, I’m going to keep my textual comments to a minimum.

Text Comment

v.10     Linen had an association with purity in the ANE. Egyptian priests also wore linen. [Levine, 36]

v.13     This is a description of the “continual” burnt offering, not that brought by worshippers to the tabernacle through the course of a day, but the burnt offering offered in the morning and the evening of every day (Exod. 29:38-39). Presumably these were the first and last offerings to be placed on the altar each day. [Levine, 35] There was always a burnt offering on the altar, so the fire would be smoldering all night long. As a result there would be ashes to clear away in the morning and the priests here are told how they are to do that and maintain the holiness of the sacrifice, even its ashes. He would wear his priestly clothes while working at the altar and change when carrying the ashes away. If there is a reason why I don’t wear a clerical collar when I’m out and about, it is found here. In the regulations of Exodus and Leviticus, priests wore special clothing only when ministering in the sanctuary. That the fire was never to go out was a perpetual reminder of Israel’s continual need for forgiveness.

v.16     Usually that area between the door of the enclosure of the tabernacle and the altar itself is called “the entrance of the tent of meeting,” not the “courtyard;” it encompassed a large part of the enclosure to the east of the sanctuary itself.

v.18     The ESV and NIV read “shall become holy.” The context, however, suggests that a more likely translation would be “must be holy.” [Levine, 37; Sklar, 129]

v.23     The regular, daily grain offering of the priest (half offered in the morning, half in the evening), unlike the grain offerings brought by individual worshippers, had to be offered by the high priest and no part of it was to be eaten. A greater holiness attached to this offering because it was for the priests and offered by the High Priest. As we have noted in respect to other regulations, it is not explained why this grain offering could not be eaten.

v.27     Again, translate this as “must be holy” rather than shall become holy, as at v. 19.

v.30     Again the regulations for the priests in respect to the sin offering or purification offering concern its holiness and the scrupulous care needing to be taken to preserve its sanctity. For example, a clay pot, being somewhat porous had to be broken while a bronze pot could be washed. This was a way of assuring that the pot that might contain miniscule remnants of the sacrifice would not subsequently be taken from the sanctuary and used for ordinary purposes. There were states or conditions from which people, priests included, moved back and forth: from impurity to purity, from purity to holiness. Only priests ever entered the most holy state and so they had to take particular care moving into it and out of it, lest the Lord’s things be profaned.

7:2       That is, the animal was butchered on the north side of the altar.

v.10     The uncooked flour or dough was distributed among all the priests, the cooked bread to the priest who was actually serving at the altar at the time. This may have been because the flour or dough would last longer than the baked bread. In any case, as we noticed before, the priests received from the sacrifices of the altar both what might be regarded as income (i.e. the hide) and daily sustenance.

v.11     The last long section of this part of Leviticus, from vv. 11 to 36, concerns the peace offering, the one offering that could be eaten by the worshippers as well as by the priests. For this reason we will read later that these instructions were to be given to the people, not just to the priests. You will notice some variance in the regulations depending on whether the peace offering is a thanksgiving, the fulfillment of a vow, or a freewill offering.

v.14     Remember, no leaven could be put on the altar, but for the meal that would be eaten at the sanctuary the bread was leavened. One loaf went to the priest, the rest were kept for the feast the worshippers would enjoy.

v.18     Again, thanksgiving peace offerings were given in response to some particular blessing or provision from the Lord; vow peace offerings were the fulfillment of a promise to bring such a sacrifice if the Lord had heard his or her prayer; freewill offerings were more general expressions of praise and gratitude. Depending on the type of peace offering the meat had to be eaten on the same day the sacrifice was made or by the next day. Precisely why is not explained.

v.21     Verses 19-21 detail two instances in which the meat of the peace offering was not to be eaten. If the meat had touched something unclean or if the worshipper himself were unclean, the sacrifice was not to be eaten.

For the first time we read of the punishment of someone being “cut off” from his people. Banishment is probably intended. [Levine, 241-242] The severity of the punishment reflects the gravity of the crime.

v.27     Outside of the sanctuary, Israelites could use the fat of such animals for lighting their lamps or perhaps for a kind of polish, but under no circumstances were they ever to eat the fat or the blood. [Wenham, 125] The fat was the Lord’s; to take it would be to dishonor him. [Sklar, 137]

v.30     The wave offering was a portion of an offering presented to the Lord and then eaten by the priest. The priest apparently waved the meat as a liturgical way of offering the meat to the Lord. Again, why some parts of the offering were waved and others not is never explained.

On the Sunday of his resurrection, when he met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we read that the Lord, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets…interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Then during the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension to heaven, we read also in Luke 24, the Lord explained to his disciples “everything written about [him] in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” and “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…”

How we wish we had heard or had a record of that teaching! It is easy for us to imagine that had the Lord left behind a record of what he said to his disciples on that occasion, if we had his own explanation of how to read the OT as a message about him and about what he was to do when he came into the world, there would have been through the ages considerably less disagreement among Christians about how to read the Bible. What we have instead is the New Testament, a record of how the disciples, with the training that Jesus gave them, understood the first 39 books of the Bible as a message about Christ and salvation. The question of how to read the Old Testament as a revelation of Jesus Christ still roils the church today. It has become a controversy in recent years in two of our Reformed seminaries in the United States. The most recent case revolves around a professor who finds teaching specifically about Jesus Christ where most of us have never found it before, for example in the twenty-third psalm.

Now, in general, all Christians agree that the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law, whatever else it was, was certainly an elaborate anticipation of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus, of his death as our substitute on the cross. We have made that point already several times precisely because we can all see this so clearly. Indeed, without all of the sacrificial ritual and the vocabulary that went with it, without all of its elaborate regulations, without priests and offerings, without the sin that brought someone to the tabernacle and the atonement that he or she obtained there, the work of Christ would be incomprehensible to us. It is this liturgical system that provides the interpretative framework by which we understand virtually everything we are taught in the New Testament about how Jesus Christ is our savior and the savior of the world. Imagine if we had no idea about priests or sacrifices, about propitiation or redemption or reconciliation, about the significance of blood, and so on. So much of what we read in the New Testament assumes this framework, from John the Baptist’s “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” to Peter’s “we were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.” Divine holiness, so powerfully asserted in all of these regulations, and the human sinfulness that made them necessary, are the foundation on which this entire mass of activity rests and that is the foundation of the story of redemption in the NT as well. When Paul wants to tell you what salvation amounts to, he starts with sin in Romans 1-5 and along the way talks about how sin is overcome in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And we read this everywhere else in the NT. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” “Ransom,” of course, is the terminology of “atonement” and is taken from Exodus and Leviticus, the kipper word group in Hebrew. When we read in Lev. 1:4 that the burnt offering shall make atonement for him, it is that verb kipper, which occurs some 50 times in Leviticus.

But how precisely are we to understand all of this regulation as a prophecy of Jesus Christ and his atoning work? We know what prophecy is and have many examples of it in the OT. We read already in Genesis 3 of the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent, later in Genesis of the descendant of Judah who would become a king and whose kingdom would be a kingdom of peace and prosperity; later still we read of a king who would come from David’s line, of a servant who would give his life a ransom for many, and so on. Looking back on such prophecies, it is no wonder that there have been a number of people through the ages who have become Christians because they were convinced that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior by the simple fact that his life and work had been so accurately and comprehensively predicted centuries before he arrived in the world. I’ve told you before of the Rev. Richard Ganz of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, at that time a New York psychotherapist, who became a Christian at L’abri years ago when he realized that the text about Jesus Christ he had just heard read in a service, Isaiah 53, had been written 700 years before Christ!

But what we read in Leviticus is not like that. We don’t read about the burnt offering and then get a few verses explaining that all of this pointed forward to the Son of God who would, centuries later, offer himself as the true burnt offering and take away our sin once for all. Never in Leviticus do we get a prophecy like that or an explanation like that. Indeed, I think it goes too far to say that the ordinary Israelite understood the sacrificial system as a gigantic and complex forecast of the coming sacrifice of the Messiah, a way of participating in the triumph of the Savior’s cross and resurrection centuries before the fact. Even the faithful Jews who welcomed Jesus as the Messiah struggled to understand that he had come to die a sacrificial death for sin. Had the sacrificial system always been understood as a prophecy of the Messiah, we would naturally wonder why the believers did not grasp the necessity of his death as soon as they realized he was the Messiah. But the system certainly was an anticipation of the cross. No one who reads the whole Bible can doubt that and it is taught to us explicitly throughout the NT and explicitly and thoroughly in the Letter to the Hebrews. The sacrifices repeated again and again looked forward to the one unrepeated and unrepeatable sacrifice of the cross. Surely that is why shortly after this atonement had been made forever for the sins of God’s people that system of sacrificial worship disappeared with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.

So, while it is clear enough that the sacrificial system did prefigure the work of Christ the question is in what way did it do so. And the answer to that question that has been given in the Christian interpretation of the Bible for many centuries now is the way of typology. While prophecy — we are speaking of prophecy as prediction of things yet to come; it was more than that to be sure, it was chiefly the preaching of judgment and grace — I say, while prophecy is a specific statement of how events will unfold in the future, typology is something else. We have many such explicit predictions of the future that were fulfilled in the course of Israel’s history recorded in the Old Testament, all manner of them: that Israel would wander in the wilderness for a generation, that Israel would dispossess the Canaanites, that Eli’s house would come to ruin, that it would not rain in Israel when Ahab was king, that Israel would be destroyed by the Assyrians, that Judah would go into exile in Babylon and so on. Many such prophecies. Then we have many specific predictions of the coming of the Messiah: that he would be a king, a priest, a prophet, that he would die for the sins of his people, that he would be a descendant of David, that he would rise from the dead, and so on. And we have many, many prophecies of the future kingdom of God that have still not yet come to pass.

But typology is prediction of another kind. It is not prediction in words but in people, in things, and in events.  Shot through the Bible are things that function as prototypes, or patterns, or figures of things to come that define the structure of an unfolding future. [Waltke, And Old Testament Theology, 137] Typology is, therefore, a kind of prophecy, but a very different form of it. When in Hebrews, for example, we read of the priests and sacrifices of the ancient epoch as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things,” that word “copy,” is the Greek word tupos, from which the English word “type” is derived. Tupos was the mark or impression left by an object pressed down into some substance. Paul uses the same term when he says in Romans 5:14 that “Adam was a type of the one to come” and again in 1 Cor. 10:6, and 11 when he writes that the history of Israel in the wilderness was an example for us. “Example” is, again, the word “type.” The Christian concept of typology is based squarely on the actual and explicit statements of the New Testament. Shot through the OT are these marks or impressions or types — embodied or enacted prophecies or anticipations or exemplary patterns — that, important in their own right at the time, also prepare us to understand things to come.

But typological interpretation is no simple matter. Some have no doubt overdone it and found types where there were none; others have no doubt committed the opposite error and found too little typology in the Bible. If the wilderness history is a type, and Paul says that it is — it was, for example, a biblically informed instinct of the African American slaves to see that history as a pattern for believing life: redemption from bondage, then pilgrimage, in turn followed by entrance into the Promised Land — and to sing the type in a spiritual such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and if the tabernacle and its worship, including the priesthood, the sacrifices, and so on, were types, as we read they were in the Letter to the Hebrews, then surely there is more typology in the OT than simply that to which specific reference is made in the New. The typology identified in the New is suggestive of much more of the same. [Cf. Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 219-220]

But questions abound. Certainly God providing a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of his son Isaac is a type. But was Joseph a type of Christ? Many have argued that he was. He was betrayed by his brothers and saved his family from death? But in many ways he does not seem to be a type of Christ, he didn’t offer himself on behalf of his family as Judah did who certainly is a type of Christ. Judah is repeatedly identified as a type of Christ in the Bible. Is Moses smiting the rock a type of Christ being punished in our place? I’ve heard that passage in Exodus 17 interpreted that way several times now in sermons, but I remain unpersuaded. And the list goes on. But of the tabernacle and its sacrificial system there can be no doubt. This is in whole and in its parts a vast anticipation of another priest, another sacrifice, and another atonement.

All of this deep connection between past, present, and future, all of this ordering of the past to prepare for the future is possible, of course, only because God is the Lord of history, because the story of the world is a story with a divine plot, only because God has had the same purpose from the very beginning and all the steps along the way are pointed toward the same final destination. God has woven through the story of the world scarlet threads that, while sometimes less and sometimes more visible, are the part of the entire fabric that connects the beginning to the end.

We have before us in these final regulations governing the five offerings that made up Israel’s sacrificial system an elaborate picture of eternal reality. Such embodiment of one’s view of reality is an irradicably human instinct. Bruce Waltke uses the example of the library of the University of Washington, built, as you will know if you have seen it, as a virtual replica of a cathedral, a house of worship. There are statues, but not of the saints. Voltaire, Rousseau, and other rationalists are celebrated. The God being worshipped is human reason, “its worldview is that of the [so-called] Enlightenment, its prophets are atheists, its bible is Nature, and sanctification is by elitist learning. The function of this monumental architecture is unmistakable: to baptize students in the cult of Secular Enlightenment.” [An Old Testament Theology, 457] (Sad then that the rationalism that the library architecture was designed to celebrate is now functionally dead in the humanities faculties at the University of Washington! They need to tear down the library and build an “Experience Music Project” there on the same site.)

Well the tabernacle was the embodiment of a worldview as well, but not that of the secular enlightenment. In Exodus (25:9) we learn that Moses was instructed to construct the tabernacle exactly according to the pattern that he had been shown. There was a divine plan for the sanctuary. It was important that it be built as it was because it would model the truth about God and man and salvation and human life. In Hebrews (9:23-24) we learn that the tabernacle and temple were patterned after heavenly realities, they were somehow a copy of “heavenly things.” In other words, the sanctuary with its courtyard was itself the embodiment of eternal reality, as was everything that was done within it. It may have been accommodated to the sanctuary architecture of the ancient near east, but the worldview it was designed to express was dramatically was dramatically different from that of the world of that time, revolutionarily different.

Think of what we have read tonight concerning the hows and the by-whoms and the what-thens of the sacrificial system. What is the worldview communicated so powerfully in these rituals? What is the understanding of life that was inculcated, even driven into the marrow of godly Israelites by the constant repetition of this ritual?

  1. Well, there is the holiness of God, a fundamental component of absolute reality, and one that, alas, is slipping from the believing mind and heart in our time. We find all of these rules about not touching this and dumping the ashes there and wearing certain clothes to do certain things, of priests who had to do certain things because lay men and women could not, and so on sort of mystifying. We are perplexed that someone who ate meat with the blood in it would be cut off from his people. Really? “What does a really rare steak have to do with anything besides one’s taste in food?” we ask. “How very unsophisticated of them,” we think. But what was being taught in these practices was the purity and the majesty and the transcendence of the infinite personal God. God may be our friend, but he’s not our buddy! He may draw near to us, kind and merciful as he is, but to do so he must stoop down from a great height. You do not know God as he is unless you fear him as well as love him. It may be that it is precisely because so many Christians no longer are careful to embody reverence for God in their worship that they struggle to comprehend why his holiness should matter so much to them and to the whole world and why we are increasingly struggling to believe in divine judgment. What modern evangelicals like about God is his love, not his distance far, far above us ontologically (that is in respect to his very being) and morally (in respect to his infinitely strict standards of right and wrong). That, in my view, is why kneeling and standing in worship, why what we wear to church, why the serious character of the text and music that is sung in worship, however joyful it may also be, why the language of our corporate address to God in prayer ought to reflect our place as minor servants before a great king; why ministers in robes, and sanctuaries with high ceilings, remain so important. They teach us and bear witness to others that the God we worship inhabits eternity and dwells in unapproachable light. “There is no fear of God before their eyes,” Paul said of the world in his day. It is a perfect description of our world and increasingly of the church in the modern west.
  2. Then there is the sinfulness and impurity of men. Four of the five sacrifices secured “atonement,” which, in the language of the Old Testament, meant forgiveness of sins a point explicitly made on a number of occasions. The sacrifice of an animal, the laying of hands on the animal before it was killed, the blood splashed on the altar, the meat cooking and sending an aroma heavenward, all of this spoke powerfully of the need to secure forgiveness from God. The fact that there was always, morning, noon, and night, a burnt offering on the altar spoke of Israel’s constant need for the mercy of God because of her sin.
  3. But still more, the entire ritual demonstrated the reality of forgiveness and the possibility of sinners being reconciled to God and preserved in that fellowship and harmony even with a God of such impossible purity. The entire system was built on the assumption that God stood willing to extend his forgiveness to anyone and everyone who trusted in him.  As we saw last week, people went away from the tabernacle justified, if we can use the language that Jesus himself used of the man who beat his breast in the temple. The tabernacle was a tremendous engine of divine grace to sinners, God’s mercy pouring into it and out of it all day long as his people worshipped him there. As Israel worshipped Yahweh there, she consumed immense quantities of the grace of God! But it was never exhausted. There was always more for the next day’s sinners.
  4. Then the tabernacle ritual also expressed and beautifully so a concept of true and authentic human life. Think of what that system of ritual required and offered. Repentance and humility were fundamental to the entire system, a sense of the conviction of sin, of guilt before God, of trust in the Lord’s grace, came first. Without that no one would have brought a sacrifice. But woven into that grace and faith were other things. There was gratitude. Already we have gratitude as a principal motivation of believing life, as it will be in the New Testament. The only offering that was not a blood sacrifice among the five, the grain offering, was an expression of gratitude, perhaps of other things as well, but always of gratitude.  Thankfulness was to be an impelling motive in the believer’s relationship with God already back at Sinai. But there was as well happy fellowship with God and with one another. The peace offering was a feast enjoyed by a family and perhaps friends together with priests and Levites in the presence of the Lord. There was a wonderful sense of community and of the joy of salvation to be enjoyed in fellowship with God, in his sanctuary. In other words, the liturgical ritual of the tabernacle was a compression of the holiest and happiest features of human life enjoyed in the context of God’s grace to sinners. An individual Israelite was never alone at the sanctuary. There were others there doing the same things. And, no doubt much of the time, he or she was there with the family, perhaps the extended family. We read in Deuteronomy of the family rejoicing before the Lord at these feasts at the sanctuary.
  5. And then there was the summons to obedience. It was disobedience to any of the commandments of the Mosaic Law that brought a worshipper to the sanctuary in the first place. It was strict obedience to the regulations of sacrificial worship by which atonement was secured. As we read here, disobedience to the regulations nullified the offering. The true Israelite was the obedient Israelite, the man or woman who honored the Law of God in his or her life.
  6. And, finally — though we could certainly go on and on if we had the time — there is the separation from the world on the part of God’s people that was so profoundly demonstrated in the sanctuary worship. This was not Egypt’s worship, not by a long shot, this was not Canaan’s worship at all; these were not the principles by which those other nations worshipped their gods and any Israelite would have immediately understood this. This set them apart from everybody else; their worship was the demonstration that they did not think or live as those around them. And, of course, that is fundamental to a biblical worldview as well and central to the ethical emphasis of the New Testament.

The entire ritual system of the tabernacle, with the priests, the steps of the sacrifice, the blood on the altar, the meat cooking, its being eaten by the priests and the worshippers, and so on was a type. It embodied in dramatic ways truth about God and man, about salvation and the Christian life, about earth and heaven that would be increasingly illuminated  and explained as time passed and then supremely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It still speaks today of a life that we have not yet experienced in its fullness but someday shall. This is one of the amazing and wonderful things about the Bible: wherever you open it to read, you find the same God, the same salvation, the same life, the same hope, the same love. I think we still need this OT revelation, fully to appreciate what it is we have been given in the New Testament, fully to feel the force of it, and fully to understand how to embody it in our own life and our own worship. You’ll never understand the Lord’s Supper as well as you will when in your mind’s eye you see the happy faces of those there in one corner of the sanctuary feasting on bread and roast meat at the conclusion of a peace offering. You’ll never understand the cross as well as when you see in your mind’s eye a man or woman laying hands on the animal whose throat is about to be cut. And you’ll never understand your place in the body of Christ as well as when you can see yourself in your mind’s eye in a long line heading toward a door of the sanctuary courtyard, with brothers and sisters ahead of you and behind you, and all of you slowly shuffling forward while you hold the rope around the neck of the animal you have brought for sacrifice, all of you there for the same reason, to do the same thing, to receive the same gift from God.