Every unprejudiced reader of the Bible would see that sacrifices constituted the center of the Old Testament. Not only were they a huge part of the Jewish everyday life, they have been around from the earliest pages of the Bible itself. In the Old Testament to sacrifice was as natural as to pray; the first indicated what man felt about himself, the other what man felt about God.
The Idea of Substitution
The fundamental idea of sacrifice from the beginning of the Old Testament is that of substitution. This idea implies many of the bigger things in the Bible such as atonement and redemption, punishment and forgiveness. The firstfruits go for the whole products; the firstlings for the flock; the redemption money for that which cannot be offered; and the life of the sacrifice, which is in its blood, for the life of the sacrificer. Since the life was in the blood, man was strictly prohibited to partake of the blood in any way. Our word ‘atonement’ means covering with a substitute that takes the place of and is accepted by God.
All the sacrifices of the Old Testament were symbolic of the One whose Priesthood was perfect, and who on a perfect altar brought a perfect sacrifice, once for all. Jesus was a perfect Substitute and is a perfect Mediator for us in our every need.
The Paschal Lamb
The regular sacrifices had to be done over and over again because of sin. But there was one sacrifice which, even under the Old Testament, required no renewal. It was when God had entered into covenant relationship with Israel. At this Israel became “the people of God”. Then Moses sprinkled the blood of the covenant on the altar and on the people in Exodus 24. It was on the grounds of this covenant-sacrifice that all others rested. The rest of the sacrifices were either sacrifices of communion with God, or else they were intended to restore that communion that had been broken or dimmed through sin against God. The Sin and Trespass Offerings were meant to put a person back into communion with God, and the Burnt and Peace Offerings were meant for just worship and communion with God.
In order for these sacrifices to be relevant, though, there had to be shedding of blood for remission of sin. Every service and every worshipper had to be symbolically purified by blood in order for the sacrifice to be pleasing to God.
Bloody and Unbloody Offerings
The meat offering was only brought alone in two instances: the priest’s offering, and that of jealousy. Leviticus 5:11 also tells what is done to be done in case of extreme poverty. “If, however, he cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, he is to bring as an offering for his sin a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering. He must not put oil or incense on it, because it is a sin offering.” Because there could be a substitute in cases of poverty, this just further proves the substitutionary character of sacrifices.
The Requisites of Sacrifice
There were prerequisites already set up by God for the people to follow as they brought in animals for their sacrifice.
They should be brought of such things, in such place and manner, and through such mediatorial agency as God had appointed.
Every sacrifice must be of such things as had belonged to the offerer. Nothing else could represent him or take his place before God.
All animal sacrifices were to be free of blemishes. The Rabbis at this time had come up with 73 blemishes that an animal could have and be considered unworthy of sacrifice.
All unbloody offerings had to be without any leaven or honey in them. Both of these things resembled fermentation or corruption.
Salt was to be added to all sacrifices because it represented incorruption.
The fire represented all the good things that would be left when the bad ones, or stubble, were burned up.
The Creatures Appointed
In Scripture there were three kinds of four-footed beasts appointed for sacrifice: oxen, sheep and goats. There were two kinds of birds: turtle-doves and young pigeons. The pigeons, except in a few certain purifications, were only allowed as substitutes for other sacrifices in case of poverty. No direction was given as to what the age of the regular pigeons should be, but the turtle-doves had to be fully grown, and the domestic pigeons had to be young birds.
As to the oxen, sheep, and goats, there were various sacrifices that varied according to their different ages and sex. The Jews talked about twelve sacrifices in the Scriptures. In the end there were so many different kinds that it was hard to keep up with what went with what. It was hard to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest because of all their rules and regulations. In the next text we will go into all the different sacrifices of the Rabbis and what they entailed.
Below is a drawing of most of the animals that could be sacrificed for an offering. They could only use the ones that God had already ordained for them to use.