Leviticus 1:1-17
A Life Sacrifice

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. "The Lord called Moses and made him look up from the tabernacle of the presence," (verse one). Leviticus begins with those words. The tabernacle of the presence is a place of worship. The details to its construction is written in Exodus just before. Exodus finishes with the tabernacle completed. Leviticus picks up where Exodus leaves off. The Lord calls Moses from the tabernacle constructed. The Lord calls the Israelites to worship through Moses. There the Lord gave Moses instructions on how to offer up sacrifices, that is, instructions related to worshipping Him.

2. Well, it looks like what the Bible is saying here has no nothing whatsoever to do with us. We don't usually bring bulls with us to church. We don't slay bulls and lay them onto the fire. But, when the animals used to be offered up as sacrifices, there was a "set way of offering" them, which has had very important meaning for us. [That's] because "form" is inseparable from "meaning." We must grasp its meaning. Today, while reflecting on the meaning and the way to offer up a sacrifice as written here, we want to think about our being called by the Lord and the worship we offer up each week.

As An Atonement For Sin

3. What the Bible is saying in our passage of scripture for today is the offering up of the sacrifice of "the burnt offering, the holocaust offering." A number of kinds of ways to offer up sacrifices are found in Leviticus. The most general type offering is "the burnt offering." The animal being offered as "the burnt offering" are found in the text here in a number of varieties. The bull is typical and its example is written up in detail. The next example found is that of the sheep, domestic and wild. Many steps go with the example of the sheep, and the text has them briefly. The next example in the text is that of the turtle dove and the domestic dove. If it is unreasonable for a person to offer a bull, he or she will offer a sheep or equivalent. If that's too much for the person, he or she will offer a dove. Situations of a person in economic hardship were treated like that. Both rich and poor were called to worship equally.

4. One thing significant in the offering up of an animal by totally burning it is clearly stated in verse four. "When one places one's hands on the head of the bull that one is presenting, that will be accepted on behalf of the one performing the sin atoning rite," (verse four). As it is written here in the text, we want to remember first of all that the meaning of the "sin atoning rite" has included with it "the totally burnt offering."

5. Rites involving animal sacrifice as we have here written in the text are not in and of themselves unique to Israel. Most anywhere in the world and at any time, many different examples of that can be found. Some races of people would offer up game from the hunt. By doing that, they were performing prayers for victory in the next hunt to come as they gave thanks for the catch they had been given [by the gods]. In other [cases], there are also people with customs of offering up sacrifices of farm animals with the prayer that their livestock would multiple in number. There were a number of peoples who offered up crops with the same kind of meaning [for them].

6. Israel also understood that the fertility of the animals and the abundance of the harvest came from God and were divine blessings. Therefore, they had to seek in prayer for these blessings. But, in the worship of Israel, above all else, they took up the issue of "personal sin" before God. Therefore, they had "the sin atoning rite." Put in other words, this was "a rite in which one had one's sins forgiven [by God]." The main factor in worship, above all other considerations, was that the person had [God] forgive him or her. -- Because unless the person had [God] forgive him or her, the person could not even appear before God to worship in the first place. As a concise example among others, this understanding of one's self is clearly expressed in Psalm one hundred and thirty.


"O Lord, if you remember all my sin
O Lord, who could withstand you?
But, forgiveness lies with you,
Humans [are to] fear and revere you," (Psalm 130:3-4).

8. I would say that the sacrificial presentation of "the sin atoning rite" teaches us what the fundamental human need is. We have need of many things and we often suffer distress unless those needs are met. We think that because of this or that we are going through some suffering or we're "unlucky" with some bad thing happening to us. It may be some economical hardship, it may be suffering due to illness. But, the truly unlucky or disastrous thing to happen to a human being is not in not having one's needs met or lacking in something, but that a person is sinful. Since that is true, what we really need, more than anything else, even before we have all these different needs met by God, is that we have [Him] forgive our sins. For that reason then, both the rich and the poor have taken part in ceremonial rites for the atonement of sin in various shapes and forms; for, whether rich or poor, [we] need forgiveness of sin. To live in our sinfulness unchanged, to live without having God forgive us, and to die still a sinner is truly disastrous and dreadful.

9. So, "the sin atoning rite," which God commanded to Israel, is believed to have had great significance so that people might not take their sin lightly. Please try to imagine the scene where the people as presenters of the sacrifices would actually offer the bull up [to God]. You brought the bull with you, the bull that you had raised yourself by your own tender hand of care. [Then] you placed your hand upon the head of the bull. That [served] as a sign that you and the bull were as one. The bull would take your place as the sinful one. It would bear your sin as a substitute for you. Then, by your very hand you would slice the bull's throat. A great amount of blood would spill and as the bull would squeal and as it suffered it would die. The bull died for you to be forgiven. What we see there in that is the judgment against your own personal sin. You should have been condemned for your sin, you should have suffered and you should have died. But, you were let go and forgiven. [It was] in exchange for the life of the bull.

10. When we consider the cross of Jesus Christ, we mustn't forget there was this kind of worship behind it that the Israelites had been doing [for years]. We tend to think of the cross as merely some symbol without realizing so. But, originally the cross was an instrument [used] in capital punishment. The figure on it, in which Christ was on the crucifix, must have been quite ghastly and gruesome. It is all about God's judgment against sin and our sins that we see in his suffering there. Paul spoke in regard to the cross of Christ by using as a backdrop "the sin atoning rite" in the Old Testament as follows: "God established Christ and made him a sin atoning offering through his blood on behalf of those who believe," (Romans 3:25). We must keep in mind that our worship service can even be a worship service because of the atonement of sin that comes through the sacrifice of God's own son.

As A Sign Of Self Sacrifice [To God]

11. So, when we think of "the burnt offering," we want to take additional note of the fact that the slain bull was dismembered and completely burnt up. "The burnt offering" in the original [Hebrew] language is called "oloh, h{l{[." This is derived from the word for "arise, ascend, go up, gain height, "alah,h'l'[." The sacrifice was burnt totally and all of it arose to God [as symbolized in the rising smoke]. This means that it was totally presented to God alone and nothing of it remained for those involved.

12. This bull is one on which the person had placed his or her hands. To place one's hands on the bull was a statement that the individual is become one with it. To totally present that bull to God symbolically expressed that the worshipper was also presenting himself or herself totally one hundred percent to God. In other words, while the sacrifice was a sacrifice to atone for sin it was also for the worshipper "the person himself or herself being presented completely to God."

13. "Self sacrifice" is different in meaning from "being sacrificial." To dedicate oneself to God as a sacrifice means to place every area that has to do with your day to day life under God's control and to live as God's. What God requires is expressed in an ultimate way by the following words: "Be holy people. I, the Lord your God. am holy," (19:2). As I mentioned to you last week, Leviticus itself shows that. It speaks on many things not only about how to offer up worship but even on how to live from day to day. How we relate to others in the way we live is every bit a concern of God's.

14. But, we know all too well that living as sacrifices offered up to God, "being holy people" in that sense, is not easy to do. Parts in our lives show up where we aren't [living] as God's, where we don't conform to the will of God or we go against God. Even when we're trying to live as sacrifices unto God, our sin becomes all too obvious there too. If we honestly begin thinking of being sacrifices unto God, we will come to see how that that is impossible without the grace of forgiveness of sin which comes through God. Therefore, "the burnt offering" which signifies self sacrifice needs also at the same time the sin atoning sacrifice. For, without the mercy of God, by which he accepts us, our self sacrifice unto Him would be impossible.

15. The following words are written in The Epistle To The Roman Disciples in chapter twelve and verse one. "Because of that then, my brothers, by the mercy of God I exhort you. Present your bodies as holy living sacrifices pleasing to God. This, indeed, is the worship you ought to give." The text here exhorts us to present ourselves to God as offerings. But it urges us "through the mercy of God." The basis for our living as God's is the forgiveness of sin, given to us [as] we seek each week in worship. And based on God's mercy, we present ourselves up to Him and as we seek for our day to day lives to be gifts of sacrifice to God, we go out from here and into the world.

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