Altogether, the Rabbis had eleven public sacrifices, or what they called the daily sacrifices. Of course there were additional sacrifices for the Sabbath, the New Moon, the Passover sacrifices, the lamb when the sheaf was waved, the Pentecostal sacrifices, that brought with the two loaves, New Year’s, Atonement Day sacrifices, and those on the first and last day of Tabernacles.
There were also private sacrifices that were classified as those on account of sins by word or deed; those on account of what concerned the body (such as various defilements); those on account of property (firstlings, tithes); those on account of festive seasons; and those on account of vows or promises. There was also another division of sacrifices as those being due, or what was prescribed, and those being voluntary.
Holy and Less Holy
But much more important than what kind of sacrifice, was the arrangement of Most Holy and Less Holy ones which is founded on scripture (Lev. 6: 17; 17: 1; 14: 13). Certain meat offerings, and all burnt, sin, and trespass sacrifices were Most Holy, as well as all public peace offerings. When any of these offerings were to be sacrificed in one of the Most Holy Places, they must be slain at the north side of the altar; and they were either not partaken of at all, or else only by the Priests, and then only within the Court of the Temple. The skins of the Most Holy sacrifices belonged to the priests, except those that were wholly burnt. It is interesting to note that of the ten comparative degrees of sanctity in sacrifices, the first belonged to the blood of the sin offering.
Any offerings slain in the Less Holy places were to be slain at the east or south side of the altar, and the person that was offering the sacrifice could keep the skin of the animal, with the only exception being a first offering.
All sacrifices, though, had to be brought and sacrificed before actual sunset. The flesh could stay burning during the night as long as the actual offering took place during the daylight hours.
The Acts of Sacrifice
The Rabbis believed that the following five acts must be done by the offerer of the sacrifice: the laying on of hands, slaying, skinning, cutting up, and washing the inwards. The other five were strictly priest functions: catching up the blood, sprinkling it, lighting the altar fire, laying on the wood, bringing up the pieces, and all else done at the altar itself.
The whole service must have been very solemn. One would most certainly have had to go through a purification process before doing the first five acts for sacrifice. Depending on what type of sacrifice – Most Holy or Less Holy – he would either enter into the Temple by the northern or southern gate. The sacrifice was even placed to face the west, where the Most Holy Place in the Temple was. Every single act that a person did when offering a sacrifice meant something particular. This was never to be done without much inward preparation.
Laying on of Hands
The women could bring their sacrifices into the Great Court; but they could not perform the second rite – that of laying on of hands. This meant that they had to delegate another to represent them, and could have very early pointed to the substitution of Jesus sacrificing himself for our sins. This rite was always accompanied by confession of sin and prayer. As was commanded, the sacrifice was turned toward the west while the person laid their hands between the horns of the sacrifice. And if the sacrifice was brought by more than one, each person had to lay on his hands. If the offerer stood outside the Court of the Priests on the top of the fifteen Levitical steps, or within the Gate of Nicanor, his hands at least must be within the Great Court, or the rite was not valid.
If a person under vow had died, his heir-at-law took his place. The only public sacrifices in which hands were laid on were those for sins of public ignorance.
In all private sacrifices, except firstlings, tithes, and the Paschal lamb, the offerer laid hands on the animal and repeated the following prayer: ‘I entreat, O Jehovah: I have sinned, I have done perversely, I have rebelled, I have committed ________; but I return in repentance, and let this be for my atonement (covering)’.
According to Antiquity, in peace offerings there was praise offered to God instead of a confession of sins.
Another thing that was closely connected with the ‘laying on of hands’, was ‘the lifting and waving’ of certain sacrifices. In this rite the priest would put his hands under those of the offerer, and move the sacrifice upwards and downwards, right and left, forwards and backwards. The lamb of the leper’s trespass offering was waved in this manner before it was slain in Lev. 14:24. This practice just depended on what was wrong with the person offering the sacrifice.
Sacrifices Slain by Priests Only
Under ordinary circumstances all public sacrifices were slain by the priests. especially those of the leper. The Talmud declares that the offering of birds, so as to secure the blood, was the most difficult part of a priest’s work. The Rabbis had a variety of rules that had to be observed by the priest who caught up the blood. Everything was designed so that it could be properly sprinkled for the sacrifice.
The priest was to catch up the blood in a silver vessel pointed at the bottom, so that it could not be put down, and to keep it constantly stirred so that the fluidity of the blood could be preserved. The sacrifice of the red heifer was different with the priest catching the blood directly in his left hand, and sprinkling it with his right towards the Holy Place. In the case of a leper, one of the two priests received the blood in the vessel, and the other in his hand, from which he anointed the purified leper.
The Application of the Blood
According to the difference of sacrifices, the blood was differently applied, and in different places. In all burnt, trespass, and peace offerings the blood was thrown directly out of the vessel or vessels in which it had been caught. The priest went from one corner to the other corner throwing the blood so that each time two sides of the altar were covered. Any blood left after these two ‘gifts’ (as they were called) had been given, was poured out at the base of the altar, which drained out into the Kedron Valley.
In all sin offerings, the blood was not thrown, but sprinkled, with the priest dipping the forefinger of his right hand into the blood and sprinkling it from his finger by a motion of the thumb. According to the importance of the sin-offering, the blood was so applied either to the four horns of the altar of burnt-offering, or else it was brought into the Holy Place itself, and sprinkled first seven times towards the veil of the Most Holy Place, and then on the four horns of the golden altar of incense, starting at the northeast corner.
Finally, on the Day of Atonement the blood was sprinkled within the Most Holy Place itself. From all sin-offerings the blood of which was sprinkled on the horns of the altar of burnt-offering certain portions were to be eaten, while those whose blood was brought into the Holy Place itself were wholly burnt. In the sacrifices of firstlings, of tithes of animals, and of the Paschal lamb, the blood was neither thrown nor sprinkled, and only poured out at the base of the altar.
In the Talmud there was a saying that ‘when the blood touched the altar, the offerer is atoned for’. After this followed the ‘flaying’ of the sacrifice and the ‘cutting up into his pieces’. All this had to be done in an orderly manner. The ‘inwards’ and ‘legs’ had to be washed and dried with sponges, and the separate pieces of the sacrifice were brought up by various priests. In the case of a sheep or a goat: six priests carried the sacrifice, one more the meat-offering, and another the drink-offering (8 in all). While in that case of a ram, twelve priests were needed; and in that of a bullock twenty-four priests were needed for the service.
Next the sacrificial salt was applied, and then the pieces were first thrown haphazardly and then arranged in order upon the fire. Whatever was laid upon the altar was regarded as ‘sanctified’ by it, and could not be again removed, even though it should have become defiled.
The term used here is not the term that we usually think of for this word. This word means ‘causing to smoke’, and the rite symbolizes partly the entire surrender of the sacrifice, but chiefly means its acceptance on the part of God. Thus the sacrifice consumed by a fire which had originally come down from God Himself, would ascend ‘for a sweet savor unto the Lord’.
It is definitely true that the New Testament view of sacrifices is entirely in accordance with that of the ancient Synagogue. At the very core of every sacrifice was the principle: THERE IS NO ATONEMENT EXCEPT BY BLOOD. The following is a quote from the Jewish interpreter Rashi for Leviticus 17: 1 1: ‘The soul of every creature is bound up in its blood; therefore I gave it to atone for the soul of man – that one soul should come and atone for the other.’ Moses ben Nachmann’s thoughts for same verse are: ‘I gave the soul for you on the altar, that the soul of the animal should be an atonement for the soul of the man.’
There are also Rabbinical statements that ‘the offerer, as it were, puts away his sins from himself, and transfers them upon the living animal:’ and that, ‘as often as any one sins with his soul, whether from haste, or malice, he puts away his sin from himself, and places it upon the head of his sacrifice, and it is an atonement for him.’ This may have been why every one who had anything to do with the sacrifice of the red heifer or the goat on the Day of Atonement was rendered unclean; since these animals were regarded as actually sin-bearing. According to Rabbinical expression, the sin-bearing animal is on that ground expressly designated as something to be rejected and abominable.
There was a quotation that the Priests in the Synagogue stressed to the people who worshipped there, and this aptly applies to us today: ‘Properly speaking, the blood of the sinner should have been shed, and his body burned, as those of the sacrifices. But the Holy One – blessed be He! – accepted our sacrifice from us as redemption and atonement. Behold the full grace which Jehovah – blessed be He! – has shown to man! In His compassion and in the fullness of His grace He accepted the soul of the animal instead of man’s soul, that through it there might be an atonement. He that brought a sacrifice be required to come to the knowledge that that sacrifice was his redemption.’
Below is a chart that will help to clarify some of the details about each offering. There must have been a huge amount of information that had to be remembered by each of the priests as they had to make sure they carried out exactly the right procedure that pertained to each offering.