I spoke last night at a Christian Ladies’ Bible Study. I love speaking to Ladies’ Bible Study groups. I get to speak in about 50 churches a year, which I also enjoy. But the commitment level of women who attend a Bible Study group blows the average church attender out of the water.
Let me give you an example. I bring books with me to sell, books about Jewish insight into the Bible. At a typical church of 200 people I sell only twice as many books as I do to a Ladies’ Bible Study group of 15 women! Do the math. That means a woman who attends a Ladies’ Bible Study is 1200% as likely to buy a book than your average church member.
Anyway, I digress. These ladies had been studying Leviticus, but with little direction. They needed some help. I think the most important topic I clarified for them are the sacrifices of Israel, myth and fact. So, here is a quick lesson (don’t assume you know what I am going to say) on that subject. You may be surprised and I do hope some will challenge what I say. This is not the standard Christian understanding, though the main principle here I’ve found to be taught in some synagogue courses.
MYTH: Every time you sin, you have to offer a sacrifice.
REALITY: Sacrifices for the sins of the entire nation were offered twice a day. Individuals mostly brought sacrifices only at the three annual pilgrim festivals.
MYTH: Women and non-Jews could not directly bring their sacrifices to God, but were restricted to areas outside the tabernacle.
REALITY: Women and non-Jews were not restricted, but brought their sacrifices just like Israelite men (Levit. 12:6; Num. 15:27-29). It was the leadership of the Second Temple, not God, who began keeping women and non-Jews out.
MYTH: The priest slaughtered your animal, cut it up, and offered the blood on the altar.
REALITY: You slaughtered your own animal and cut it up. The priests caught the blood and dashed it against the altar.
MYTH: The sacrifices were cruel and bloodthirsty.
REALITY: Unless you are a vegetarian, your meat-eating leads to the same kind of animal slaughtering. Modern animal slaughtering is actually more cruel, with mass production outweighing consideration of the animals.
MYTH: The sacrifices were a primitive way to worship God.
REALITY: The sacrifices were an awe-inspiring way to worship God, bringing you closer to God than any other activity.
MYTH: The sacrifices are a thing of the past, never to return. They have been replaced and surpassed by the sacrifice of Yeshua.
REALITY: The sacrifices are part of our future. Paul offered sacrifices in his day (Acts 21:26). The temple will be rebuilt and sacrifices will again be offered in the days of Yeshua’s kingdom (Ezek. 40:39). The sacrifices at the temple served a different purpose than the cross.
MYTH: The sacrifices brought forgiveness to the offerer.
REALITY: The sacrifices kept the sanctuary clean so God could dwell there.
VERY IMPORTANT: This last point is the most important of all. The temple sacrifices did not make the worshipper clean or forgiven. I learned this from Jacob Milgrom’s epic commentary on Leviticus (yes, epic!). The sacrifices made an atonement “on your behalf.” Many translations miss the subtlety. Many interpreters assume that the sacrifices were for forgiveness.
The essential theology of the temple sacrifices can be seen in two verses from the Torah:
Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst. Leviticus 15:31
Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. Leviticus 16:16
We learn from these verses two important things:
1. The sins of the people in the land pollute the temple and altar. That is, all the sins and uncleannesses travel like pollution through the air and stain God’s sanctuary in Jerusalem.
2. The sacrifices cleanse the sanctuary (temple and altar). By regularly cleansing them, the people avoided defiling the sanctuary so badly that God would leave.
From this, we learn that the temple sacrifices were not like the sacrifice of Messiah (see Hebrews 10:4). If the sanctuary needed to be kept clean just so God could dwell with man, how will man ever dwell with God? That will take something different than the temple sacrifices. It will have to clean us, not just the sanctuary. That’s what Yeshua did.
Meanwhile, when Yeshua returns, the temple will stand again. There will be sin on the earth. The temple sacrifices will resume. The temple will need to be kept clean until that day when all sin is put away forever.
The sacrifices are misunderstood. The truth is far better than the misunderstanding.