The most joyous of all sacrifices was the peace-offering. It was the offering of completion, so it always followed the other sacrifices. This was a season of happy fellowship with the Covenant God, in which he accepted the offering as pleasing to Himself, and was the special guest at the sacrificial meal. In peace-offerings the sacrificial meal was the point of main importance.
The Pentateuch designated this as ‘Sevach’, which means slaying in reference to a meal. It is this sacrifice which is frequently referred to in the book of Psalms as the grateful homage of a soul justified and accepted before God. This was an offering of completion and also one of completeness, indicating that there was complete peace with God.
The peace-offerings were either public or private. The two lambs offered every year at Pentecost were a public peace-offering, and the only one which was regarded as ‘most holy’. They were sacrificed at the north side of the altar, and their flesh was eaten only by the officiating priests within the Holy Place itself.
The other public peace-offerings were slain at the south side of the altar, and their ‘inwards’ were burnt on the altar. Then after the priests had received their due, the rest was to be eaten by the offenders themselves either within the courts of the Temple or in Jerusalem.
On one occasion, there were 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep that were offered.
Private peace-offerings could be offered for three reasons:
sacrifices of thanksgiving
strictly voluntary offerings
The first offerings were in general acknowledgment of mercies received; and the last because of the free gift of loving hearts. If it was just a voluntary offering, an animal could be used that had a minor defect in it, but this was the only offering that could be done in this way. Leviticus 22:23 – Either a bullock or a lamb that hath any thing superfluous or lacking in his parts, that mayest thou offer for a freewill-offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted.
What Constituted Peace-Offerings
They were brought either of male (mostly) or female animals, but not of pigeons. As with every other sacrifice, there must be the laying on of hands, confession, and sprinkling of blood, with the latter being done as in the burnt-offering. Then the ‘inwards’ were taken out and ‘waved’ before the Lord, along with the breast and the right shoulder (right leg). In reference to these two wave-offerings, the breast properly belonged to the Lord, which he gave to His priests, and the right shoulder was just given directly to the priests from the people.
The ritual of ‘waving’ was basically just presenting the sacrifice as it was to the Lord, and then receiving it back from Him. The pieces were laid on the priest’s hands as follows: the feet, the breast, the right shoulder, the kidneys, the caul of the liver, and if a thank-offering was made, the bread was put on top of everything.
The following were to be ‘waved’ before the Lord:
the breast of the peace-offering Lev. 7:30
the parts mentioned at the consecration of the priests Lev 8: 25-29
the first omer at the Passover Lev. 23: 1 1
the jealousy-offering Num. 5: 25
the offering at the close of a Nazarite’s vow Num. 6: 20
the offering of a cleansed leper Lev. 14: 12
the two lambs presented with the bread at the first-fruits, at the Feast of the Tabernacles Lev. 23: 20
The last two of these offerings were ‘waved’ before being sacrificed. After the ‘waving’, the ‘inwards’ were burnt on the altar of burnt-offering, and the rest eaten either by priests or worshippers, the longest term allowed in any case for the purpose of being two days and a night from the time of sacrifice. Of course, the guests, among whom were to be the Levites and the poor, must all be in a state of Levitical purity to partake.
These were either brought in conjunction with burnt- and peace-offerings or else by themselves. They were either public or private meat-offerings. The three public meat-offerings were: the twelve loaves of shewbread, renewed every Sabbath, and afterwards eaten by the priests; the omer, or sheaf of the harvest, on the second day of the Passover; and the two wave-loaves at Pentecost.
Four of the private meat-offerings were required by Jewish law:
the daily meat-offering of the high-priest, according to the Jewish interpretation of Lev. 6: 20
that at the consecration of priests – Lev. 6: 20
that in substitution for a sin-offering, in case of poverty – Lev. 5: 1 1,12
that of jealousy – Num 5: 1 5
The following five offerings were purely voluntary and could be of fine flour with oil, and either unbaked, baked in a pan, baked in the oven, or in the form of wafers. All these offerings were to consist of at least one omer of corn. But any large number under 61 omers might be offered. The reason for this was that the public meat-offerings that were done on the Feast of Tabernacles amounted to 61, and all of the private offerings could not be more than that.
In all baked meat-offerings, the ‘omer’ was always made into ten cakes (the number of completeness), except in that of the high-priest’s daily meat-offering. This one must be twelve cakes, symbolizing the number of the tribes of Israel.
Finally, every meat-offering prepared in a vessel had ‘three pourings of oil’. The first one was poured into the vessel, then one was poured to mix with the flour, and lastly, after it was ready the frankincense was then poured upon it.
When presenting a meat-offering, the priest first brought it in the gold or silver dish in which it had been prepared. He then transferred it to a holy vessel and put oil and frankincense upon it. Next he took his stand at the southeastern corner of the altar and took out the handful that was actually going to be burnt. He put it in another vessel and laid some of the frankincense on it. He then carried it to the top of the altar, salted it, and then placed it on the fire. The rest of the meat-offering belonged to the priests. Every meat-offering was accompanied by a drink-offering of wine, which was poured at the base of the altar.
Large Number of Priests Needed
As noted in the above text, it was a very complex set of duties that the priest had to perform. Since there were an abundance of sacrifices made every day because of so many people, there must have always been a large number of priests busy in the courts of the Temple on any given day. This was especially the case at the great festivals. There would be as many as 210,000 people who would come to the Temple to make sacrifices. This would have required multitudes of white-robed priests to properly discharge the duties of the office for so many people.
Tradition has it that on the Day of Atonement there were no less than 500 priests who would assist in the sacrifices. There were so many sacrifices because the people couldn’t get instant forgiveness of their sins like we can today. They had to remember each one and save the actual sacrifice until they went to the Temple. Since they were required to come on certain feast days, they sacrificed for each sin when it might have happened months ago. This is why so many priests were needed at the feast days.
The next text will be on what happened at night in the Temple.