This article will examine Leviticus 9 and its meaning and relevance to us today.
Many Christians today groan when they hear the book of Leviticus because it’s so unfamiliar and strange to us. It’s hard to relate, and let’s face it, it’s where we usually lose steam in our yearly Bible reading plan. However, the book of Leviticus is full of amazing truth if we would only do the work of studying it. This passage is no different. Leviticus 9 tells us of the foreshadows of Christ in the Old Testament institution of the Levitical priest. It shows us our need for atonement has not changed from Old to New Covenant, but rather, it has been fulfilled fully in Christ.
Before we jump into our text today, we’re going to need to get some context because we’re jumping into the middle of an unfolding story. It’s sort of like if you step into a conversation halfway through – you may not know exactly what is going on unless we backtrack a little.
CONTEXT | Out of Egypt, onto Sinai
God rescued His people from slavery in Egypt by miraculous signs and plagues that devastate the false gods of Egypt and humble the proud Pharaoh who thought himself a god. God then makes His covenant with His people at Mount Sinai and gives them His Law. On Sinai, the burning inferno of the presence of God on the mountaintop makes the people beg for Moses to mediate between them and God so that they are not consumed by His holiness. God gives them very specific instructions on the construction of His tabernacle – the place where He would dwell with them.
The Answer to a Problem
At the end of Exodus, the tabernacle was completed and we read:
“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34-35)
After all that work to build the tabernacle, they are not able to enter it! This is the tragedy we find ourselves in at the beginning of the next book – Leviticus.
Here’s the problem, God is Holy and sinful people cannot approach a Holy God without being consumed. How can they enter into the tabernacle to have fellowship with this Holy God? Not only that, this Holy God who set a massive mountain on fire and shook its foundations with His very presence – that God is going to dwell in our camp!? Like, we’re going to be neighbours? Talk about a scary neighbour! How can unholy people dwell together with a Holy God without being consumed? The book of Leviticus seeks to help find the resolution to this problem. The book opens off this way,
“The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting…” (Leviticus 1:1)
God calls out to Moses from inside the tabernacle to tell him how they can enter. He’s about to give instruction to His people about what they need to live in His presence.
What follows is seven whole chapters on sacrifices in meticulous detail. And let’s be honest here, this is the point in your Bible reading plans where the struggle gets real!
The High Priest
Just before our text today, in chapter 8, we read of the seven-day ordination ceremony for Aaron and his two eldest sons. Moses dresses them in their priestly garments which connect them both to the tabernacle and to the people. In Exodus 28 we see that their garments are made from similar materials as the tabernacle. They also had two onyx stones, one on each shoulder, with the names of the 12 tribes on them – symbolizing that the priest bore the burden of the people as he represented them. The 12 tribes were also on the precious stones on his breastplate – close to the priest’s heart. They were to not just carry the burden of the people but also care for them, they had to be close to his heart.
“Aaron will bear the judgment of the Israelites on his heart before Yahweh continually” (Exodus 28:30).
Verse 38 says that the High Priest was also to bear their guilt.
Lastly, they offer sacrifices for their sins. According to Exodus 29:35, they would have offered 7 bulls in this week of ordination. Seven full days of making sacrifices for atonement for the new High Priest. In the Bible, that number 7 represents completion – and here it is representative of complete atonement for sin for the priest. How humbling for Aaron!
1 On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel, 2 and he said to Aaron, “Take for yourself a bull calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish, and offer them before the LORD. 3 And say to the people of Israel, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both a year old without blemish, for a burnt offering, 4 and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil, for today the LORD will appear to you.’” 5 And they brought what Moses commanded in front of the tent of meeting, and all the congregation drew near and stood before the LORD. 6 And Moses said, “This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.” 7 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded.” 8 So Aaron drew near to the altar and killed the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself. 9 And the sons of Aaron presented the blood to him, and he dipped his finger in the blood and put it on the horns of the altar and poured out the blood at the base of the altar. 10 But the fat and the kidneys and the long lobe of the liver from the sin offering he burned on the altar, as the LORD commanded Moses. 11 The flesh and the skin he burned up with fire outside the camp. 12 Then he killed the burnt offering, and Aaron’s sons handed him the blood, and he threw it against the sides of the altar. 13 And they handed the burnt offering to him, piece by piece, and the head, and he burned them on the altar. 14 And he washed the entrails and the legs and burned them with the burnt offering on the altar. 15 Then he presented the people’s offering and took the goat of the sin offering that was for the people and killed it and offered it as a sin offering, like the first one. 16 And he presented the burnt offering and offered it according to the rule. 17 And he presented the grain offering, took a handful of it, and burned it on the altar, besides the burnt offering of the morning. 18 Then he killed the ox and the ram, the sacrifice of peace offerings for the people. And Aaron’s sons handed him the blood, and he threw it against the sides of the altar. 19 But the fat pieces of the ox and of the ram, the fat tail and that which covers the entrails and the kidneys and the long lobe of the liver— 20 they put the fat pieces on the breasts, and he burned the fat pieces on the altar, 21 but the breasts and the right thigh Aaron waved for a wave offering before the LORD, as Moses commanded. 22 Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 23 And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. 24 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
From this passage, firstly we learn that in order to have fellowship with God, we must see that…
1. We Need A High Priest
Previously, Moses had acted in a priestly role for the people as a temporary arrangement until Aaron is installed as Israel’s High Priest. The people could not bear to interact directly with the LORD – it was a dangerous thing to step into His presence unworthily.
Elsewhere we read that if the priest entered the Most Holy place in an unworthy manner he could be struck dead. Imagine if the Israelites, in all their uncleanliness and sin, were to collectively come into the presence of God! Thus, they needed a representative from among them. The High Priest had to be like them to be a proper representative for them. He also had to be one who would take his purity seriously in order to represent them before their Holy God.
The High Priest must:
1A. Prepare the people to encounter God (v.4 & 6)
Notice the occasion for our passage. Twice it tells us the reason why God has commanded what is happening in our text. It says,
“for today the LORD will appear to you.” (v.4b)
“And Moses said, “This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.”” (v. 6)
All of the sacrifices are because the people are about to come into close contact with the glory of the LORD. The priest himself must also prepare himself. Note verse 2: “Take for yourself a bull calf for a sin offering…”
Even though Aaron had just spent a whole week sacrificing bulls and animals for his purification during his ordination ceremony, there is yet again a need to offer sacrifice. This serves to emphasize to us the fallenness of human priests and their ongoing sinful condition. But here in our text, even after 7 days of sacrifice symbolizing complete atonement, Aaron still needed sacrifice! The OT sacrifices were not effective to take away the sin.
And so, they prepare to offer their own sacrifices, and then those on behalf of the people.
The Lord was going to appear to them. This was a crisis! How can a sinful people stand before a Holy God? These people had seen the LORD atop the mountain at Sinai in blazing fire, thunder and earthquake. They had seen His hand rain plagues, pestilence, fire and judgment against what they thought were the mighty pagan gods of Egypt and made them look like a joke! What were they going to do if they were to stand on their own in this God’s presence?
To prepare them to encounter the LORD, someone must offer a sacrifice. Something must stand in their place.
1B. Make atonement and intercession (v.7)
Look at verse 7,
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded.”
I wonder if there was some fearful trembling here in Aaron as he drew near to the altar of sacrifice? I wonder if his heart raced or if his mind wondered if these would work to shield him and the people from the awesome presence of Yahweh?
He draws near to make atonement. What is atonement?
As sinful and fallen creatures, we are separated from our Holy God. Atonement is derived from Anglo-Saxon words meaning “making at one”. Literally, “at-one-ment” must be made to bring us back together and reconcile the broken relationship between God and man. Atonement is how we, as sinful human beings, are brought back together with God. This was the function of the sacrifices. They atoned for sin. They bore the just punishment of sin in the place of the worshipper. The innocent substitute took the place of the guilty.
Aaron, as Israel’s High Priest offers these sacrifices of atonement both for himself and for the people. In this way, Aaron also acts in an intercessory role. What is intercession? It is the:
“act of intervening or mediating between differing parties, particularly the act of praying to God on behalf of another person… The priests had intercession as part of their job description (Joel 2:17; cp. 1 Sam. 2:25).”
Remember the problem – the Holy God of Israel is going to dwell among their tents in the camp in His tent – the tabernacle. That same God who set Sinai ablaze is the same God they’ve sinned against! How can unholy people dwell together with a Holy God? They needed a High Priest to plead on their behalf (intercede) and offer sacrifices to atone for their sins.
We need a High Priest because we are all sinners who must stand before a Holy God. Are you prepared to meet the LORD? Do you realize that your sin separates you and God?
Secondly, we learn that in order to have fellowship with God, we must see that…
2. Sacrifice must be made (v.8-21)
Look with me at verse 8,
“So Aaron drew near to the altar and killed the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself.”
Then in verse 12 he kills the burnt offering. Note that Aaron offers a bull calf and not just a bull which was what the law for the sin offering required in Leviticus 4. I wonder if this brought him back to his grave sin of leading the people to the idolatrous worship of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32? Now, as he is being instated as Israel’s High Priest to lead them in the worship of the True God, he must put to death a calf knowing that he should have received the judgment for such a sin.
Let’s take a brief look at what these sacrifices are. Vern Poythress comments,
“The worshipper has raised the animal himself or paid for it with his earnings, so that the animal represents a ‘sacrifice’ in the modern sense of the word. It costs something to the worshipper, and a part of the worshipper’s own life is identified with it. The worshipper lays his hands on the head of the animal, signifying his identification with it. He then kills the animal at the entrance way into the courtyard, signifying that the animal dies as a substitute for the worshipper.”
We live in a time and place where we’re so removed from the slaughter of animals. Our meat comes in the neatly pre-packaged form at the grocery – so perhaps all of this talk of slaughter and blood is strange and even repulsive to us. In Trinidad growing up, it was common to see the slaughter of cows for Ramadan by Muslim friends or other livestock in the fresh markets. Let’s put ourselves in the Biblical text and try to imagine the sight, sounds and smells.
On certain important days, sometimes hundreds of sacrifices would be made. You would have either raised an animal and tended for it, or bought it with hard-earned money and brought it to the tabernacle or later the Temple. You would have heard the sound of the animals bleating, the smell and sight of the animals and their blood – and no small amount… a lot of it! You would have felt the animal you were bringing to the altar – the coarse fur and warm skin as you laid your hands on its head. Imagine the sensory overload! But all of this would have communicated to Israel the high cost and serious nature of approaching the Holy God in worship. It would show to them in vivid sight, sound and smells what their sin requires.
This may be gross or repulsive to you to imagine – but that’s sort of the point. This is what the results of our sin looks like.
2A. The Meaning of the Sacrifices
Though we don’t live under the Old Covenant any more, these sacrifices are still relevant to us because they reveal something about the unchanging character of God in relation to sin and His people. There are many different types of sacrifices in the Old Testament. We’ll take a look at 5 main ones here. Three of them deal with atonement. Some were for general sinfulness and some were for specific sins.
Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1)
This was an offering used to make atonement. It was required to be an animal without blemishes or defects. As with most of the sacrifices, the worshipper would lay their hands on the head of the animal to be slaughtered which symbolized the animal bearing their guilt. They were saying, “it should be me.” This was the only sacrifice that would be wholly burnt up – signifying total destruction and judgment. Because of the substitution of this innocent animal, the worshipper is not destroyed in judgment for their sin.
Sin Offering (Leviticus 4)
This offering also was for making atonement for sin. The emphasis here was on punishment for sin and cleansing from the defilement of sin. The punishment is borne by the animal in place of the worshipper. The sacrificial animal wasn’t burned on the altar in its entirety, in fact, most of the animal was carried outside of the tabernacle premises and burned in a clean place outside of the camp. The sacrificial blood was used to cleanse the furniture in the tabernacle, signifying the pollution of sin. As we read the descriptions of the sacrifices it seems like blood is everywhere. Here we see that sin has far-reaching consequences. The curse of sin extends everywhere and thus the blood must be applied everywhere!
Guilt Offering (Leviticus 5)
This offering, sometimes called the trespass offering, was also connected to atonement and was required when another person had suffered loss because of the worshipper’s sin. The emphasis here was on the removal of guilt and making restitution or payment for wrongs committed against another person. In addition to the sacrifice, the worshipper also had to pay back the value of whatever they had defrauded plus an additional 20%. This showed the Israelites that becoming right with God also involved making things right with others.
Grain Offering (Leviticus 2)
The grain offering, sometimes called the Food Offering, is eaten by the priests and not the worshipper. There is no animal death in this sacrifice, but the main idea behind it is giving back to God in gratitude a portion of one’s produce. We find a similar concept in tithing and giving of offerings to the church today.
Fellowship Offering (Leviticus 3)
This was sometimes called the Peace Offering. In this offering, the worshipper eats most of the animal and it signifies restored fellowship – enjoying a meal in the presence of God. This offering was often accompanied by a feast – it was a cause for rejoicing in the fellowship of God and His people. It is only if we have peace with God that we can enjoy right fellowship with Him and others. We will see the New Testament expression of this today in the Lord’s Supper – a meal reminding us of what brought us back into communion with God and each other.
Look with me now from verses 15-18,
“Then he presented the people’s offering and took the goat of the sin offering that was for the people and killed it and offered it as a sin offering, like the first one. And he presented the burnt offering and offered it according to the rule. And he presented the grain offering, took a handful of it, and burned it on the altar, besides the burnt offering of the morning. Then he killed the ox and the ram, the sacrifice of peace offerings for the people.”
2B. The Order of the Sacrifices
Note the order of these sacrifices.
First, Aaron presents the sin and burnt offering for himself. He needed to be forgiven of his sin first. Then he presents the sin and burnt offerings for the people. They needed to be forgiven of their sins. Then the grain offering is offered – this was the expression of gratitude for God’s gracious provision. Finally, the peace offering is offered, showing the enjoyment of restored fellowship with God for His people. This is the same order that we come to God in worship today. First, we must be forgiven. Then, that leads us to gratitude for God’s gracious provision and finally our enjoyment of restored fellowship with God and with one another.
They offer every kind of sacrifice on Aaron’s first day in office except the guilt offering. “This indicates that the purpose of these sacrifices was not to atone for specific sins, but for the general sinfulness of the nation, to dedicate the whole people to the worship of God according to his appointed means, and to pray for God’s blessing on them.”
2C. The Response in Worship
We read from verse 22,
“Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.”
I’d shout and fall on my face too if I saw that! But this shout is not one of fear, it is one of joy and celebration. The fire of God consuming the sacrifice was his approval and acceptance of it. The people rejoice because they now know that the solution to their problem has been ratified. God had warned them that he would appear to them. Through the ministry of the High Priest and the sacrifices God gave to them, they can dwell safely with God.
“Spontaneous and heartfelt praise is thus a feature of true worship common to both testaments. So is the aspect of fear. In ancient Israel “they fell on their faces.” Similarly on the day of Pentecost we read, “fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43). Hebrews reminds us to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28f.).”
Lastly, from this passage, we learn that in order to have fellowship with God, we must see that…
3. Christ Fulfills it All
As we wrap up, let me ask you this – what priests and sacrifices are you looking to?
Today there are many different ways people go to the wrong priests or the wrong sacrifices to solve the problem of how they can stand in the presence of a Holy God.
Perhaps you’re a Christian young man or woman who’s caught in an addiction to pornography, or lust, envy, or greed that you can’t shake. You love the LORD, yet you keep falling into it. What do you do? You beat yourself up, and you make promises of sacrifice – “If I do that again, I’ll sell my XBOX, I’ll never watch TV again, I’ll cancel my internet…” Perhaps you even literally beat yourself up, starve yourself or punish yourself by saying – I’ll never talk to a girl again until I can kick this addiction. I’ll never do… fill in the blank. Or perhaps you’re making sacrifices for your career, for kids, for the sins of your ancestors or family to make things right again. What are you doing at that moment?
You’re looking for atonement. You’re seeking a sacrifice that can take away your sin and guilt and make things right again.
Another example is the need for a priest to mediate for us. Many people today look to “priests” without knowing it. Maybe it’s the cultural or religious guru, or Oprah, or the life coach or social media influencer that you follow. You look to them to show you the way to the good life, to peace and restored fellowship. In Roman Catholicism, it is actual priests that supposedly can intercede and make sacrifices for the people through the Mass. They repeatedly offer these sacrifices. They repeatedly offer their advice, their self-help tips, their 7 ways to a better you or perfect marriage and what happens?
It’s never enough. It’s a rat race. We’re spinning laps on a hamster wheel quickly getting tired and going nowhere fast!
The book of Hebrews urges Jewish Christians who are tempted to go back to the Old Covenant system of sacrifices and tells them “don’t go back! Look to Jesus!” And to you and I it says, don’t go back to those priests and sacrifices that cannot atone – God has provided!
God has provided! Jesus is our…
3A. Great High Priest
He knows our weaknesses and can help us. Like what the High Priest’s garments symbolized, Jesus carries our burdens, bears our guilt and holds us close to his heart. Jesus is our Great High Priest who sympathizes with us.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Each time the High Priest died, they had to be replaced again and again. Unlike those other High Priests, he never dies and has to be replaced. Jesus is our Great High Priest who sympathizes with us and ever lives to intercede for us!
“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:23-25)
Jesus is the greater High Priest we’re looking for. He intercedes for us – he prays on our behalf… and do you think that the Father will not answer his petitions for us?
3B. Substitutionary Sacrifice
Not only is Jesus the greater High Priest, he’s also the substitutionary sacrifice who perfectly atones for sin.
“He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:12-14)
The argument being made here is that if that’s what those old sacrifices purified for a while, how much more will the blood of the sinless Son of God assure us of our pardon?
If the main reason you’re thankful that we don’t live in the Old Covenant and have to follow all these laws and sacrifices from Leviticus is that you find it gross or extremely inconvenient – you’ve missed the point.
The messiness and revulsion you feel when imagining the sacrifices tell us how serious an offence our sins are to a Holy God. And in the same way, when we look at the sacrifice of the Cross we are shown the gravity of our sins and the great cost of our redemption – they cost God the life of His perfect Son!
The sacrifices of Leviticus had to be repeated daily, a constant reminder to the people that their sins needed to be atoned for. Just imagine the monotony of it – raising an animal, keeping it spotless, bringing it to the tabernacle, slaughtering it, only to know that the next day and the next year you’re going to have to do it over and over again.
The High Priest ministering in the Holy of Holies had no place to sit down – he was always on his feet, doing the work. There were always more sacrifices, more blood to throw at the altar, and more rams and bulls and sheep to slay. Yet we do the same thing with our own failed sacrifices to save ourselves. Our promise to do better next time. Our self-flagellation and punishment. We do it over and over again, hoping to relieve a guilty conscience but it never does! We offer these sacrifices again and again knowing deep down we’ll have to do it again.
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:11-14)
Jesus prepares us to stand before a Holy God because after he offered himself on that Cross and was raised victoriously ascended to Heaven and SAT DOWN! It’s done. “It is finished,” he cried. He is the substitutionary sacrifice who perfectly atones for sin once and for all!
No more need for sacrifice. No more blood must be spilled.
Oh, weary sinner, tired of repeating the same sacrifices over and over… or going to confession and partaking of the Catholic Mass over and over… never sure that it’ll be enough – always knowing it’ll be repeated. Let this wash over your soul. Jesus has offered his ONCE FOR ALL SACRIFICE that has done away with sin’s punishment, guilt and curse for all those who put their faith in him alone. And just like the blessing came after the sacrifices are completed in Leviticus 9, Jesus Christ comes “to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
Jesus Christ is the greater Prophet – the greater Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18:18. He is the great High Priest. He is the sacrifice – the innocent and spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He’s the sin offering outside the camp (Hebrews 13:13). He’s the burnt offering to God (Ephesians 5:2). He’s the guilt offering because “it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt…” (Isaiah 53:10). He’s our peace and fellowship with God. He is the true temple – the place where God dwells with humanity – the Word made flesh tabernacling among us (John 1:14). He is true Israel – the LORD’s faithful servant who is called out of Egypt, passes through the waters and tested in the wilderness (Matthew 2:13–15; 3:13–4:11). He’s Abraham’s promised Seed. He is the Seed of the woman who crushes the serpent’s head. He’s the true Davidic King who forever reigns on His throne.
Indeed, Jesus communicates the blessing of God to us – for all the promises of God in the Old Testament, Paul says they find their “yes” and “amen” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). As we wrap up this sermon series of Good News in the Old Testament, I hope you see that, as Jesus said on the way to Emmaus, all the scriptures speak of him. He is everything.
Do you know this Jesus? Do you trust him? Is he everything to you? Do you live like it?
Only then can we agree and sing the words of that famous hymn,
“Before the throne of God above I have a strong and perfect plea A great High Priest, whose name is Love Who ever lives and pleads for me My name is graven on His hands My name is written on His heart I know that while in heaven He stands No tongue can bid me thence depart No tongue can bid me thence depart
When Satan tempts me to despair And tells me of the guilt within Upward I look, and see Him there who made an end to all my sin Because the sinless Savior died My sinful soul is counted free For God the just is satisfied To look on Him and pardon me To look on Him and pardon me”
I pray that Christ would be your Great High Priest today and evermore.