God Moves Towards Us

Bible Study With Jairus – Leviticus 1

God’s Care for Young Believers.

When we read Leviticus, we are often discouraged by its complexity and the excessive details of the sacrificial system. However, if we look at this from another angle, every minute detail is necessary to truly depict the gentleness of God’s character and the depth of his love.

When we want to get to know a historical figure, we read his biography. If we only read a few hundred words of the introduction, we will have a limited understanding of this person. However, if we read a detailed biography which contains millions of details about the person’s experiences, we will know a lot more about this individual.

The same is true for Leviticus. The details of these offerings form a biography and image of God himself. As we read Leviticus chapter 1, we pay special attention to details. For instance, why do sacrificial cattle and sheep have to be male, but sacrificial birds do not specify a gender? Why do all parts of a bird except its crop and feathers need to be burned? Why are they put in the ashes of cattle and sheep? Why did the priests pull the bird’s head off and burn it at the altar until the bird’s blood flowed at the side of the altar? Why do priests have to sacrifice birds, whereas Israelite citizens perform these actions themselves on the cattle and sheep?

It is difficult for people to differentiate the sex of the pigeons or turtledoves. Even professional breeders have a hard time differentiating their genders. In addition, those who offer birds as sacrifices are poor people. They symbolize people who do not have enough strength and are poor spiritually. God takes special care of them, giving them a low bar to meet. He does not request special details such as gender specifications. If a poor person finally managed to afford a turtledove, but then found out it was a female one and the sacrifice required a male one, it would naturally cause him a lot of trouble. In addition, God does not require the person to do the slaughtering; the priests help them out. It reminds me of how we treat newcomers in the church. When we invite them to join our services, we do not request them to bring food to a potluck. Instead, we go the extra mile to help them. We may even give them a ride to and from church. We are just grateful they can attend. Their presence in the service is already a sacrifice for them, and we don’t require additional sacrifices. This is a beautiful picture of God’s love, full of gentleness and warmth.

When we are young spiritually, we are not yet capable of the discernment necessary to offer sacrifice. We need the help of others. However we should not stagnate here. We can start by offering pigeons and turtledoves, but we need to continually grow spiritually so that we become capable of offering cattle and sheep as well. At first, it’s ok to rely on others (such as a pastor or priest), but as we grow, we will be able to offer more advanced sacrifices all by ourselves.

Burnt Offering

The burnt offering is the first sacrifice recorded at the beginning of Leviticus. In verse 1, the Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. These words about sacrifices come straight from the Lord’s heart. These sacrificial laws are not just dry regulations, but a description of God’s character and heart. Christ is the manifestation of God, and these sacrifices are a description of Christ himself.

When Abraham offered Isaac, he offered him as a burnt offering. This sacrifice was a prelude to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Just as Isaac abandoned himself completely to the will of God, Jesus willingly offered himself as a sacrifice to obtain God’s favor. Therefore, the different animals used for burnt offering in this chapter– bulls, rams, turtledoves or pigeons–are all pictures that point to Christ as the sacrifice.

Christ being our sacrifice has the same effect for all of us: it saves us from sin and death. However, we differ in the amount to which we personally experience the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice. For example, we know that Christ provided salvation for us, but have not accepted this salvation. Or we may have accepted his salvation, but are not living in the full experience of his love. This is a very important point.  

In Verse 2, God says, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord , you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.” Clearly, God is pleased with either goats or sheep as offerings. In verse 14, God says that if someone uses a bird as a burnt offering, he must offer turtledoves or young pigeons. However, birds do not seem to be God’s first choice. Using a bird is a special exception for poor people. Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, must have been poor, because she and Joseph offered a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons as burnt offerings (Luke 2:24).

In Verse 3, it says, “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish.” This offering represents Christ.  A bull without blemish and defect points to the strength of Christ’s flawless life. The burnt offering is burned completely without anything left over. This shows that Jesus Christ offered himself fully to God. This is the first sacrifice God asked Moses to prepare. This points to the fact that God will use Jesus Christ as a sacrifice to save us. The sin offerings and trespass offerings mentioned later are needed for the full experience of salvation.  However, if Jesus Christ had not first offered himself as a sacrifice to complete God’s salvation plan, we would not have the opportunity to use him as a sin offering and a trespass offering later. We would have no way to enter into the beautiful reality of the peace offering: having peace with God.

In God’s eyes, time does not exist. Revelation 13:8 says that Jesus Christ was “the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made.” NLT Furthermore, in 1 Peter 1:20, God says that Jesus was “foreknown before the foundation of the world”. From these verses, we understand that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is eternal and transcends time.  God made the first move in solving the problem between God and man when He planned Christ’s sacrifice before the world even began. That is what John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”.

The tabernacle of Israel represents the heavenly tabernacle. The most holy place in the tabernacle is a type of the most holy place in heaven. God lives in the Holy of Holies, where people could not enter in the Old Testament. Only the high priest could enter the holy of holies, and only once a year.

A way needed to be opened so that people, including the high priest, could enter the holy place to meet God. The way God provided was through the sprinkling of blood. When the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat in the Most Holy Place, Moses could meet with God and hear His voice. God was present on the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant under the glorious gaze of cherubim (Numbers 7:89).

In the Old Testament, the blood of the sacrificed cattle and sheep was used, but in the New Testament, the blood of the flawless lamb of Jesus Christ atones for sin. Because of the blood of Jesus Christ, we can come to the throne of grace without fear to receive mercy, grace and help in time of need (Hebrew 4:16). Therefore, without God’s initiative to send his son Jesus Christ as a flawless sacrificial lamb, we would not be able to enter the most holy place to get close to God. By preparing Jesus Christ to be the sacrificial lamb, God made the first move to open his hidden, holiest place to us. God meets us through the salvation of Christ. That is the reality of Christ as burnt offering.

God and Man Move Towards One Another through Sacrifice.

After the burnt offering is the grain offering. The grain offering points to Jesus Christ becoming flesh and giving his life as a sacrifice.  Grain offerings signify human nature, so this sacrifice signifies that Christ became human and put on human flesh. We would not have had a sacrificial lamb if Jesus had not come to earth. Without Jesus Christ becoming flesh, God’s sacrifice would not have been completed in time to achieve salvation for us. Hebrews 10:5 says, “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.’” From this verse, we can see that God prepared a body for Jesus so he could come in the flesh and become our sacrifice.

The peace offering points to peace with God. Through it, we see that God and humans are finally reconciled. God prepared Jesus Christ as a sacrifice (grain offering), and we offer Christ as a sin offering and a guilt offering. Through these sacrifices, we are enabled to meet God. This is the reality that the peace offering points to. Peace offerings come in a lot of different forms, including total sacrifices, as well as heave offerings and wave offerings that the priests were allowed to eat.

Imagine God coming out of the Holy of Holies to see us. He has prepared his son as a burnt offering and grain offering for our salvation, to cover our sins. But if we want to enter from the outer court outside the tabernacle into the Holy of Holies to meet God, we must first go through the sin offering and guilt offering to remove our sins. At this very moment, when we meet God, we experience the peace offering. We meet God near the Mercy Seat, where Moses met and listened to God under the gaze of the glorious cherubim. When God saw the blood on the mercy seat, he forgave Moses’ sin. God only saw the blood, rather than seeing Moses’ sin.

The order of the five basic sacrifices in Leviticus (burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering, sin offering and guilt offering) indicates that God comes out of the Holy of Holies into the outer courtyard and meets us through these sacrifices. By means of the various sacrifices, He meets people in different situations. If you are a sinner wandering in the world, like the prodigal son in Luke chapter 15, He will meet you through the sin offering. If you have experienced forgiveness but need more sanctification, God will meet you through the guilt offering. If you want to experience more encounters with God and to hear from Him, God will meet you in the peace offering. As you experience more transformation through Jesus Christ, God meets you in the grain offering.  If you want to experience Jesus Christ’s total commitment to God, God will meet you in the burnt offering.

God comes out of the Holy of Holies and meets people in their circumstances through these sacrifices. We, in turn, experience the blessings of the sin offerings, guilt offerings, peace offerings, grain offerings, and burnt offerings as we get progressively closer to God. This is the spiritual meaning of the order of the five different sacrifices in the first five chapters of Leviticus.

However, chapters 6-7 mention the five different sacrifices in a slightly different order. Here, the order is burnt offering, grain offering, sin offering, guilt offering and peace offering. The regulations for the peace offering were placed at the end of the list. In my personal opinion, this means that both God and man take the initiative to move towards one another, and the final peace offering is the place where God and man meet.

A simple parable speaks to the shared initiative of both God and man. The story says that prayer is like digging a deep tunnel through the mountain of our suffering. Whenever we dig one foot, God also digs a foot from his side. When we give up and stop, God does not continue to pursue the answer to our prayers. We may feel that we did all the work, but in reality, God was also working the entire time to answer our prayers. If we persist in praying and don’t give up, we will meet halfway eventually. This story reflects the truth that both God and man must move towards one another, which is the basic lesson of the sacrifices.

Going on to Maturity

Let’s continue to learn about the details of the burnt offering so that we can understand its spiritual meaning more clearly.

Verse 3 says that the bull must be offered at the entrance of the tent of meeting so that the individual may be acceptable before the Lord. This verse shows that we must experience Christ as a sacrifice before we can enter the tent of meeting, which is the dwelling place of God. Though the burnt offering represents the initiative of God (lamb slain since the foundation of the world), it also shows our own initiative to enter his presence by way of the sacrifice.

Verse 4 says that the Israelites who are offering the burnt sacrifice have to lay their hands on the cattle’s head to show that they are united. In this way, the sins of the Israelites are transferred to the cattle.  Similarly, when we offer Christ as a sacrifice, we must be united with Christ. Christ then takes away our sins.

Verse 5 says that the Israelites themselves should kill the bulls before the Lord. Practically, God gave this command because it was difficult for the priest to kill so many bulls for so many Israelites. Spiritually, it also signifies that everyone must take the initiative to receive salvation for themselves. Though God has prepared Christ as our sacrificial lamb, we still must accept Him in order to receive salvation. Our initiative is necessary.

The second half of the verse says that Aaron’s sons, the priests, would bring the bull’s blood and sprinkle it against the sides of the altar at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Verse 6 says that the Israelites would flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. Verse 7 says that the priest would put fire on the altar. Verse 8 says the priests would arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that was on the fire on the altar. Verse 9 says that the Israelites should wash its entrails and its legs with water. The priest would burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

We must pay attention to the specific details here. The priest serves God, but the priest and the Israelites each shared the responsibility for the sacrifices. The Israelites would kill the bull, lay their hands on its head, skin it and cut it into pieces. The priest would sprinkle blood, place wood on the fire, place the sacrifice on the wood, and burn the sacrifice on the altar. Just as God took the initiative to meet us and we also take initiative to God, every Christian has their own individual responsibilities in service.

When we mope around, relying only on God’s initiative and the help of the priest (or today’s Priest or pastor), we are living in spiritual laziness. Spiritual laziness is a great problem for church members today. D L Moody once said that he had never seen a lazy man get saved. In today’s church, many Christians only attend church to listen to sermons. They are “Sunday Christians”; during the week, they never read the Scriptures, pray, or offer any sacrifices to God. Although such Christians can meet God, they are all living in the outer courtyard.

In Verse 10-13, the Bible gave instructions about offering sheep and goats as burnt offerings. Sheep and goats must be without blemish, just like the bull. Verse 11 specially instructs worshipers to kill the sheep on the north side of the altar. After that, he would cut it into pieces, with its head and fat, and wash the entrails and legs with water. The priest’s job was sprinkling the blood against the sides of the altar, putting the sacrifice on the firewood of the altar, and offering the sacrifice on the altar. The same basic principles that we saw with the last burnt offering also apply to this offering. However, please note that this passage does not mention laying hands on the sheep to identify with it. This shows that to a certain extent, this worshiper’s experience of Christ is not as mature as the one who offered the bull.

The person who offers birds as a burnt offering is even more immature (Verse 14-17). The worshiper’s only job is bringing the turtledove or pigeon; the priest does the rest. The priest would bring the bird to the altar and wring off its head and burn it on the altar (vs. 15). Its blood would be drained out on the side of the altar.  The priest would remove the bird’s crop with its contents and cast it beside the altar on the east side, in the place for ashes (vs 16). The priest would tear the bird open by its wings, but not sever it completely (vs 17). And the priest would burn it on the altar, on the wood that was on the fire. This burnt offering was a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

These images are very thought-provoking. In many churches, most Christians are only mature enough to offer birds as sacrifices. That is, they attend Sunday Services, but all other responsibility for their growth is shouldered by the pastor. Years have passed since they came to know Christ, yet they have not matured spiritually. This is not God’s ideal wish for us. God desires that we offer the bull, but if we really can’t afford to offer the bull, we can offer the sheep instead. If we can’t offer sheep, we can offer birds. In his mercy, God meets us in our differing degrees of spiritual growth. However this is not God’s ultimate goal for us. God hopes that we can experience the growth and maturity of life in Christ, and that we can continue to advance to the Holy of Holies to meet Him.

But didn’t Jesus’ own mother offer a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeon as a sacrifice when Jesus was circumcised at eight days old? Yes, that’s right. However, remember that when Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross, the sacrifice offered was no longer a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Nope. He became the flawless Lamb of God.

To sum up, Christ has become the sacrifice through which we receive salvation. However, we each experience that salvation to varying degrees. We need to experience more of the of Jesus Christ’s salvation and move closer to him. Our experience of Jesus’ salvation is our spiritual sacrifice to God today. As we offer ourselves freely and lovingly to God, He will be satisfied by the fragrant offering of our lives.