The Truth About the Sacrifices

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.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Sacrifices and Purity, Theology, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Truth About the Sacrifices

  1. Gene Shlomovich says:

    Derek… great post…. I am trying hard to understand the sacrifices, and so do many of my Jewish buddies…because that’s the issue our Gentile friends often raise against us – they believe that Yeshua replaced all of the sacrifices in the Temple (they ignore Ezek. 40:39 or consider it metaphorical). So, this area is of most importance for me to get a good handle on. I get your points about the Temple needing to be kept clean for God’s presence there.

    However, how would you explain this verse:

    “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood and I have assigned it for you upon the altar to provide atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that atones for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11)

    And also in Hebrews: “And all things are by the law purged with blood, and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22)

    If the blood sacrifices were simply for the cleansing of the temple of people’s sin, why mention the atonement of the souls and remission of sins?

    Also, why would Job offer sacrifices for the (possible) sins of his children if the blood sacrifices were just to keep the Temple clean (although Tanakh says that he offered burnt sacrifices… didn’t look into it deep enough to see if there’s a difference between blood and burnt sacrifices). (Was Job living in a pre-Temple period?)



  2. dishtvdeal says:

    Very interesting about sacrifices. My reaction is that I don’t believe this. However since I have not studied the topic enough, I suspend judgement. The only thing that comes to mind is that each period of time or covenant period if you wish had its own promises, often later promises added to former promises like Abraham’s seed covering the earth.

    I admit my ignorance on this. Not claiming I know it all.

  3. Steve says:

    Hosea 6:6

    For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

  4. I have to differ with you a bit here…I believe that Jesus fulfilled the regulations regarding sacrifice. Otherwise, don’t we preach another Gospel that Christ crucified for us?

  5. Jonathon says:

    Hosea 7

    12I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.

    13They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat it; but the LORD accepteth them not; now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt.

    14For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.

    The reason He doesn’t desire their sacrifices is because they counted his law as strange and forgot their maker.

    Paul said not to sin so that grace may abound. To live in sin and use Yeshua’s name as an amulet against the consiquences will only serve to make him of no affect for us. To live in sin and use the sacrifices to ward off Gods wrath without true repentance and turning toward him makes our sacrificeinto an abomination.

    Imagine a child who is just learning to apologize. When he is truely sorry, he gets hugs. At one point though, usually around 2 or 3, he begins to think of “sorry” as a magical word that will ward off his parents wrath. He shoves his sister on the floor, and when the parent gets stern, says, “sorrysorrysorry!”without meaning it. He gets spanked.

    God desired that child’s mercy toward his sister, not his meaningless ritual apology.

    I hope this lends light, instead of muddying the waters.

  6. Frank Morris says:

    Blood sacrifice was for unintentional sin it is in the Torah. Second thing if one didn’t have money to get it Torah does say there where other ways . Non Jews could bring sacrifice but know it was a commandment for them if there was show me where it is. The book of Micah does speak that there would be a time no temple no sacrifice and it says the offering of there lips they would use. Explain what it is saying? When the third temple is moshiach will be there with animal sacrifice will be there explain what that.

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