This post is really a follow-up to my post on the tabernacle and its furnishings and how they foreshadow the coming of Christ and are fulfilled by Christ. Today I want to consider how the sacrificial system in the Old Testament served to keep Israel’s sin always before them and remind them of their need for a savior. I also want to look at why we no longer need to offer sacrifices and how Christ fulfilled each type of sacrifice that was required of Israel.
There were five types of sacrifices that were to be offered on a regular basis to the Lord:
1. Burnt offering
2. Grain offerings
3. Peace offerings
4. Sin offerings
5. Trespass offerings
I’ll focus on the burnt offerings for this post. The burnt offerings which I also described in my last post were to be offered twice daily, once in the morning and a second time at twilight. There was to be a “continual burnt offering” to the Lord (Exodus 29:42). In fact, the fire on the altar was never allowed to go out (Leviticus 6:12). This signifies our perpetual need for atonement for our sins because we are constantly falling short of God’s holy standard.
You may also remember that each man was responsible to bring his offering (male livestock without blemish) himself, in person. And each one who brought his lamb, would kill his own lamb after touching its head to signify a transfer of his guilt and that of his family to the sacrificial lamb. Then when the priest took the blood of the sacrificial lamb and sprinkled it around the altar, it was to signify atonement, or the covering of the sins of the one whose lamb was sacrificed in his place.
Did this burnt offering actually atone for the sins of the people? In other words, did these sacrifices save them? Many have wondered why would God have a plan A (law and sacrifices) for Israel and a plan B (grace and faith) for us. The book of Hebrews sheds light on this.
“For the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:19)
“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year, for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1-4)
In other words, the law never perfected Israel, but served to remind them of their sins. Paul says it this way, “The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galations 3:24) Hebrews 11, the famous faith hall of fame explains to us that we are all saved by faith, even Abel, Abraham, Rahab, and all saints who lived before the coming of Christ. Our children’s catechism explains it this way. They were saved by believing in the Savior to come. The Israelites understood that if the sacrifice they offered saved them, then they would have no further need for sacrifices. The purpose of the offerings was to keep their sin continually before them to cause them to repent and trust in God that He would cover their sins. They were believing in the Savior to come.
The Old Testament saints didn’t have the full understanding we have of Christ, but they knew that God would atone for their sins, cover their guilt with the blood of a Sacrifice He would provide.
Remember what Isaac asked Abraham as they climbed the mountain where Abraham would sacrifice his only son, the son of promise? Isaac saw that his father held a knife, wood, and fire. He saw that only the lamb was missing. So Isaac asks his father, “Where is the lamb that we will offer to the Lord?” And Abraham explains to him that God would provide the lamb. And we know how that story ends, God did provide the ram caught in the thicket to be the “scapegoat” for their sins. Abraham named that mountain, “The Lord will provide.” Old Testament saints were saved just like we are, by believing that God Himself would cross the great chasm that our sin has made between us and God. The Lord will provide. That’s what Advent is all about, celebrating the provision of the Lord to save us from our sins. The coming of Christ was the Lord’s provision. It was His only plan from the beginning of time. Jesus was not an afterthought or a plan B. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
- I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.