by Walter A. Boyd, N. Ireland
All of the offerings of Old Testament days had significance and lessons for Israel in their day, and for us their significance and lessons are understood in how they portray the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as the true Deliverer, Reconciler and Atoner by virtue of His once-for-all offering on the cross. Heb.13.12 conveys this truth by saying: “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate.” The words “Wherefore Jesus also” indicate that the Old Testament offerings must find their fulfilment in Christ; the necessity of fulfilment could only exist if there was a Divinely designed correspondence between the type and the Anti-type. That concept of inherent correspondence is found in the Saviour’s words, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Matt.5.17,18. His words show us that the complete fulfilment of the offerings is found in Himself; this assures us that a study of passages that may be regarded by some as obscure has great spiritual benefit. These offerings only can do symbolically what Christ is and does actually in His Divine excellence.
While all of the offerings and sacrifices point forward to the one Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, it is to be noticed that different words are used to describe those Old Testament types. Two well-known words are “sacrifice” and “offering”, e.g. Heb.10.5. These words distinguish between the action of offering up to God (“offering”) and the thing that is offered (“sacrifice”). Very often the word “sacrifice” has the idea of the forfeiting of the life of the victim behind it. The word “offering” has the idea of the presentation of that forfeiture of life to God, and in some cases it is used where there is a presentation to God, but not of a life, as in the non-blood sacrifices, like the meal offering, the drink offering etc. A third word is frequently used as “burnt offering” in English (see Heb.10.6); these two words translate a single Greek word to convey the idea of a sacrifice that is offered by being wholly consumed by fire.
This chapter will deal with the drink offering, Num.15.1-13; 28.1-8; the offerings used in the cleansing of the leper, Leviticus chapters 13 and 14; the offerings on the Day of Atonement, Leviticus chapter 16 and Numbers chapter 29; and the wood offering, Neh.10.34; 13.31. The sacrifices were foreshadowings of what Christ would do in His once-for-all sacrifice at the cross. However, we must not make the mistake of assuming that the Old Testament sacrifices only had symbolic value to those of that day, or that they had no real effect in the forgiveness of sins. Lev.4.31 and 5.18 state clearly that on the basis of a sin or trespass offering the offerer would be forgiven: “it shall be forgiven him”. Actually forgiven; sin fully cleared: not some kind of symbolic or hypothetical removal of sin. The sacrifices of that day were not some kind of temporary forgiveness until a better method would arrive when Christ died.
How then can we solve the problem apparently created by Heb.10.4: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins”? Or by Heb.10.11: “sacrifices, which can never take away sins”? The solution lies in the fact that the Epistle to the Hebrews, as quoted, is dealing with the removal of sins from before God. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were adequate for forgiveness to man, on the basis of the sacrifice by the “Lamb … foreordained before the foundation of the world” 1Pet.1.19,20, that those Old Testament sacrifices foreshadowed. God pardoned the sins of His Old Testament people on the basis of the sacrifice by the Lamb of God Who had yet to come. In His once-for-all sacrifice God would validate all the forgiveness that had been granted through atonement in the Old Testament types.
Notwithstanding the fact that the drink offering and the burnt offering are both recorded as being in practice long before the Law of Moses was instituted, the drink offering is, perhaps, the least well known of all the offerings. This may be because the instructions for it are not as specific and detailed as for the main offerings.
The interested reader will derive benefit from making a study of the various aspects of the drink offering that we will not have space to cover here: The original drink offering by Jacob in Genesis chapter 35 (which shows it was in use before the giving of the Law); the drink offering by Gideon in Judges 6; the drink offering as a supplement to the offerings that marked the completion of the Nazarite vow in Numbers chapter 6; the drink offerings that were used in the Feasts of Leviticus chapter 23: Firstfruits, vv.9-14; Pentecost, vv.15-22; Tabernacles, vv.33-43. It would be interesting to trace the occurrences of the drink offering in the later books of the Old Testament: 2Kgs.16.13; 1Chr.29.21; 2Chr.29.35; Ezra 7.17; Ps.16.4; Isa.57.6; Jer.7.18; 19.13; 32.29; 44.17,25; Ezek.20.28; Joel 1.9,13; 2.14. There are also two instructive references to the drink offering in the New Testament, Phil.2.17; 2Tim.4.6.
In the Old Testament days, the most widely used drink offering would have been the one that accompanied the continual burnt offering, as detailed in Ex.29.38-42. The children of Israel were commanded to offer “two lambs of the first year day by day continually. The one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning; and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even.” Each lamb was to be accompanied by a meal offering and a drink offering, Ex.29.39.
The drink offering was to be “the fourth part of an hin” (approximately 1 imperial gallon or 3.7 litres) of “strong wine”, which was “poured out unto the Lord” Num.28.7. It was to be “strong wine”, which, being the very best quality, not watered down, would correspond to the animals without blemish in the burnt offerings and the fine flour in the meal offerings: only the very best would be accepted by God. Wine is that which brings joy, Ps.104.15, and as an accompaniment to the burnt and meal offerings it speaks to us of the joy that the Father derived from the work of Christ (burnt offering) and from the Person of Christ (meal offering). There was equal pleasure to the Father in both the life and death of His Son.
According to Ex.30.9 the burnt offering, meal offering and drink offering were not to be offered on the altar of incense in the holy place. The proper place was upon the altar of burnt offering in the court, where the sacrifice offered gave man a way of approach to God. What joy and delight God gets from the sacrifice of His Son that has given man a means of approach to Him! God derives pleasure from the fact that His purpose has been fulfilled by His Lamb when He made “His soul an offering for sin” Isa.53.10; that truth is impossible for us to fully comprehend. God derives pleasure from the death of Christ Who “hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” Eph.5.2. God’s eternal purpose in the provision of a way for sinful men to approach Him has been fulfilled: God can come out in grace to men and offer forgiveness of sins that have barred them from His presence. God’s original desire to commune with His created beings, Gen.3.8a, and later to “dwell among them” Ex.25.8, can now be realised through the sacrificial death of His Son.
The practical implications for us today are explained by the apostle Paul’s use of the picture of the drink offering in Phil.2.17, where he is willing to have his service among the saints in Philippi regarded as the crowning act of a sacrificial life. The drink offering was the last act to accompany the burnt offering before the lamb or bullock was consumed by the fire. The apostle writes to the Philippians from a prison cell and in a very touching way tells them that, like his Lord, Phil.2.5-8, he is willing to bring joy to God by being “poured out unto the Lord”. He is willing to pay the supreme price for his service in the gospel. He uses the same language in 2Tim.4.6 as he contemplates death. A life poured out to the Lord is the only reasonable service we can offer to Him. We are not our own, we have been bought with the price of the blood of Christ, 1Cor.6.19,20, therefore, daily we should be pouring out our lives in sacrificial service to the Lord instead of using them to satisfy ourselves. Paul contemplates his death as that which will bring glory and pleasure to the Master, and includes the Philippian saints in it by saying, “I joy and rejoice with you all” Phil.2.17; he rejoices and they rejoice. There is mutual joy in mutual sacrifice; Paul and the Philippians share in the participation and common delight of pouring out their lives for the One Who saved them.
Just as God found delight in the drink offering that was poured out upon the burnt offering, He will find pleasure when you and I present our lives to Him in absolute surrender, Rom.12.1. And the wonder of Divine grace is that we will find joy in it! True joy for us is found in sacrificial living for God, and that brings joy to Him. This is a truth for us to implement in a self-centred and narcissistic world that emphasises living for self.
As with other parts of our study, space dictates that we can make only brief comment upon the procedure for the diagnosis of leprosy as described in Leviticus chapter 13; a personal study of that solemn chapter will be beneficial, and is recommended. We will also omit much of the procedure used for the leper’s cleansing and concentrate on the offerings associated with his cleansing as outlined in Leviticus chapter 14.
Most liberal commentaries say that the segregation of the leper was purely for reasons of hygiene and prevention of the spread of disease. Had that been the case, the separation of the leper from the camp would have been sufficient without imposing the stringent conditions of these chapters. However, one of the lessons to be observed is that what leprosy speaks of (sin) is defiling and requires cleansing as well as healing. The disease of sin and defilement by sin, while connected, are separate matters. The leper’s cleansing was provided by items which, in various ways, speak eloquently of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is clear from Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 that the ceremony performed for the cleansing of the leper was not his actual healing. Healing had already been granted by the mercy of God and the ceremony was a testimony to that fact.
The cleansing of the leper is a picture of the cleansing that a believer requires when there has been an outbreak of sin in the life. This is not a picture of the initial cleansing of salvation or cleansing from daily defilement. It is the cleansing of a condition that resulted in the person being cut off from the camp of Israel, and is a picture of what is required when a believer falls into a sin that requires excommunication from a company of the Lord’s people. Restoration in such a case requires a specific procedure and is not treated as something casual or insignificant. The leper is not said to be healed, but rather, “he is cleansed”. This emphasises the defilement brought by sin. Just as the leper was healed by God and cleansed by the priest, so too in our day, forgiveness is granted by God and cleansing administered by our great High Priest. Just as certain criteria had to be met before a man was pronounced unclean and removed from the camp, so too, certain criteria had to be met before he was declared clean and brought in again. The priest, as a God-appointed leader, was responsible before God and thus accountable to God, for ensuring that in both the removal from the camp and the subsequent re-instatement the criteria stipulated for each had been rigorously adhered to.
The first part of the procedure for cleansing is on day one, when two birds that were not designated as either sin or burnt offerings were used, Lev.14.1-8a; also used were “cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop” Lev.14.4. At the end of seven days, during which he was “abroad out of his tent” Lev.14.8b, the person to be cleansed shaved all the hair off his head, beard and eyebrows and washed his clothes and body in water, Lev.14.9. The final procedure was on the eighth day when he brought “two he lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish”. One of the lambs was for a trespass offering, one was for a sin offering and one was for a burnt offering, Lev.14.10,12. There were also “three tenth deals of fine flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and a log of oil” Lev.14.10. Where the leper concerned was poor and could not provide as much as that, then provision was made for him to bring a lesser offering of “one lamb for a trespass offering … one tenth deal of fine flour mingled with oil for a meat offering, and a log of oil. And two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, such as he is able to get; and the one shall be a sin offering and the other a burnt offering” Lev.14.21,22.
The diagnosis of leprosy pronounced upon either a man or a woman, Lev.13.2,29,38, emphasised to its subject two solemn truths about their disease: defilement and death. For acceptance by God and to accomplish cleansing they must avail of two birds “alive and clean” Lev.14.4. The description “clean” indicates that they were birds which, in the Law of Moses, were permissible for offering, such as turtledoves or pigeons. The fact that the birds are alive deals with the death brought upon the subject by the disease, and that the birds are clean deals with the defilement. Thus we see in the birds that Christ, Who deals with sin in the life, is both ‘living’ and ‘clean’.
The use of “cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop” with “an earthen vessel” and “running water” Lev.14.4,5, combine to give the complete teaching of the offering. These items were also used in the purification by the red heifer in Num.19.6. While these items had a practical use in the cleansing procedure, there is a deeper teaching that is beautiful. They give us varied aspects of the Person of Christ in His resurrection power. The cedar wood and hyssop, which are contrasted in 1Kgs.4.33 as the loftiest and the humblest of plants, present a lovely picture of the Person of Christ Who is essential for the cleansing of defilement and removal of death. The lofty One Who humbled Himself is now exalted to highest glory, Phil.2.6-9. Scarlet (‘double-dyed crimson’1) speaks of the work of Christ in sacrifice; the exalted Saviour Who once suffered to provide the only remedy for sin. His Person and work are combined in dealing with the defilement and death caused by the disease of sin. The red dye was obtained by crushing desert worms and collecting their blood. Double-dyed crimson was procured by dipping the item in the dye twice, which rendered it indelible. Such is the depth of the stain of sin but the death of Christ was sufficient to eradicate that permanent stain. Isa.1.18 says that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Double-dyed (scarlet) can be washed “white as snow”.
- 1 Spurrell, H. “A Translation of the Old Testament Scriptures from the Original Hebrew”; Lev.14.4.
An earthen vessel directs our minds to the sinless One Who “took part” of human nature that “through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” Heb.2.14,15. A lowly earthen vessel with no style or grandeur but with a definite function, is what brings Christ to mind in the procedure for cleansing of the leper; such was He. The “running water” (‘living’, Newberry margin) was water that had life-giving properties; it had not stagnated, it was fresh and clean. This speaks of Christ as the living One Who imparts spiritual life and vigour. Had the leprosy not been healed and cleansed the subject would have ended in weakness and death. The apostle Paul describes a similar condition when he tells those in Corinth who were sinning that, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and some sleep” (‘are fallen asleep’, Newberry margin), 1Cor.11.30.
It is most instructive that everything used in the procedure for cleansing is connected with death. A bird is killed over water that is in an earthen vessel. The living bird, cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop are all dipped into the water mixed with the blood of the slain bird in the vessel. The one to be cleansed is sprinkled seven times with the water that contains the blood and is pronounced clean. The living bird with wings that were dipped in water and blood is then released to fly into the heavens. The procedure up to this stage started with death (a bird killed) and ended with life (the living bird released into the air). How vivid the picture as it relates to the Person of Christ in crucifixion and resurrection: the blood of a slain bird, an earthen vessel, living water, scarlet, hyssop and a living bird rising in power into the air, all combined to provide cleansing. It is significant that the Gospel writer who takes us into the tabernacle and gives glimpses of Israel’s feasts is the only writer who tells us that there was blood at the cross, and that it was combined with water, Jn.19.34. 1John chapter 1 explains that when a believer confesses sin he is cleansed, v.9, on the basis of “the blood of Jesus Christ” v.7, Who is ‘the Word of life” v.1. How appropriate the words by Augustus Toplady:
- Rock of ages cleft for me,
- Let me hide myself in Thee!
- Let the water and the blood
- From Thy riven side which flowed
- Be of sin the double cure,
- Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
The shaving of his hair taught the leper that he was wholly affected by the defilement of the disease, and that there must be a complete severance from what is produced by the flesh. The truth of Romans chapter 6 says that since “we be dead (have died) with Christ … Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body” Rom.6.1-13.
The final procedure, which took place on the eighth day, took place at the door of the tabernacle, where the animals for sacrifice and the subject to be cleansed were presented “before the Lord” Lev.14.11. Everything was done openly before the people and under the scrutiny of God. There were no shortcuts, no doubtful dealings: everything must be according to the instructions. God views forgiveness and cleansing as a serious matter, and it must be done in a righteous way so that the subject can be received back into the camp to enjoy the privileges of the people of God. Not only is the place significant, but the time is also worthy of our notice: the eighth day. The eighth day speaks of resurrection, of a new beginning, and here we are reminded of a forgiven man enjoying the power of the risen Christ for that forgiveness and acceptance. The apostle John tells us that we have the risen and exalted Christ at our disposal: “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And He is (presently) the propitiation for our sins …” 1Jn.2.1,2.
The priest was to take one male lamb for a trespass offering, and afterwards sacrifice a sin offering and burnt offering without specifying which animals are to be used for them. In the directions for the primary offerings, Leviticus chapters 1-7, a burnt offering was to be a male animal only, and a female animal could be used for a sin offering, Lev.4.27,28. The order here is a trespass offering, then a sin offering, after that a burnt offering and then a meat offering. The trespass offering before the sin offering indicates an acceptance by the subject of culpability for a sinful act. The trespass offering and sin offering before the burnt and meat offerings indicates that sin must be dealt with before we can approach God in worship. When sin enters the life of a believer it immediately affects his worship.
The male lamb to be used for the trespass offering is to be “brought near” Lev.14.12 (Newberry margin), and together with the log of oil they are to be waved “for a wave offering before the Lord”. This is the only occasion when a trespass offering is used as a wave offering. The wave offering is usually restricted to peace offerings or in the consecration of the priests. What is held up in the hands of the priest for the Lord to look upon (the trespass offering) is that which deals with the trespass that springs from a corrupt nature and demonstrates what will empower him to live in victory and freedom over its power (the log of oil): the Holy Spirit. After having been waved before the Lord, the lamb for the trespass offering was killed in the same place as the sin offering and burnt offering, Lev.14.13. The priest then applied the blood of the slain lamb in the same way as the blood of the ram of consecration: to the right ear, thumb and great toe, Lev.14.14. This indicates that sin (pictured in the leprosy) has affected consecration, thus the cleansed leper’s consecration must be re-affirmed. Oil is sprinkled seven times before the Lord, Lev.14.16, to teach us that consecration by the Spirit is before the Lord and that He is satisfied with it. The oil was then applied to the parts that had been touched by blood, Lev.14.15, to teach us that cleansing is accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit. How solemn that lesson! Sin causes a believer to lose the power of the Holy Spirit for consecrated service. But how sweet the second lesson, that a cleansed leper is given the full rights of the service of a consecrated person: blood and oil are applied to the same parts of the body as in the consecration of the priest, Lev.8.23,24. This shows us that restoration and cleansing by the grace of God are complete and permit such a one to engage in service and worship again. While there will always be practical considerations to be observed in the ‘rehabilitation’ of a restored believer, we need to be careful that we do not deny the power and grace of God in restoration. Too often restoration carries an element of punishment that manifests the grievance of men and the legality of man-made laws, more than reflecting the grace of God and the teaching of His Word.
Lev.14.19,20 give the final instructions for a sin offering and a burnt offering to complete the cleansing of the leper, with the resounding declaration: “He shall be clean”. We should never lose the significance of those four words: the cleansed leper is assured, on the authority of God’s declaration, that he is clean. So, too, a restored believer is clean. He should be afforded every possible help and encouragement to start anew for the Lord without being shackled by our memory of his past sin. When God declares that he is clean, he is clean! Don’t keep looking back. While lessons should be learned from history, the future should not be shackled by it.
As in the primary offerings, where a person is poor Divine grace makes provision for him to avail of cleansing by reducing the animal requirements, Lev.14.21ff. God does not make it difficult for someone to avail of the cleansing power of the sacrifice of Christ, nor should we. We should encourage every believer who has sinned, whatever their perceived status, to make haste for cleansing, in the confidence that it is available.
The cleansing of the leper and the various offerings associated with it (trespass, sin, burnt, meat) show us that there is a gradual and progressive knowledge of the value of the Person and work of Christ in the restoration of a sinning believer. He is required for the cleansing of a believer when he sins as much as for the initial conversion of a sinner.
The ritual and offerings involved in the special ceremony of the Day of Atonement are found in Leviticus chapter 16, and some additional offerings, because it is a ‘festal’ day, are given in Num.29.7-11.
The title “Day of Atonement”, or more accurately ‘Day of Atonements’ as it is a Hebrew plural, which indicates the fulness of what is involved, is used to teach the full atonement that was procured on the day: it was atonement in the fullest measure. That title, by itself, sets this day and its offerings apart from all others: it was unique in its fulness. In that connection, note the embracive terms used in Leviticus chapter 16 to emphasise fulness or completeness: “all their sins” v.16; “all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins” v.21; “all their iniquities” v.22; “all your sins” v.30; “he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle … for the altar … for the priests … and for all the people of the congregation” v.33. On this day a complete provision is made for every aspect of their need: a sacrifice for both sinners and sins. It is also remarkable that, in the context of fulness, the three words used throughout the Scriptures to describe sin are all included in Leviticus chapter 16: “sins”; “transgressions”; “iniquities”.
However, even with all those indications of fulness it was only “for all their sins once a year” v.34. It had an inbuilt incompleteness: it had to be repeated every year. The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus at Calvary is in glorious contrast: it was “one sacrifice for sins for ever” Heb.10.12.
When an individual burnt offering was offered, it was an atonement for the offerer alone, Lev.1.4, but on the Day of Atonement the offerings made were for the whole nation. That is another aspect of the fulness of the atonement procured on the day. However, that does not mean that the atonement took universal and immediate effect regardless of the attitude of the Israelites towards it. Lev.16.29-31 stipulates that they were to “afflict their souls and do no work”, thus indicating an attitude of repentance, otherwise judgment followed. Lev.23.29,30 makes it clear that the benefits of the atonement procured by sacrifice were entirely conditional upon their observance of both parts of the command in Lev.16.29-31: they must afflict their souls and do no work. There is demanded from the people an attitude of genuine repentance and adherence to the work of atonement made of their behalf. This twofold message to Israel is akin to the twofold aspect of the gospel message: “repent ye, and believe the gospel” Mk.1.15; “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” Acts 20.21.
It is to be noted that the requirements for the Day of Atonement are introduced in Lev.16.1,2 with the concept of the judgment of God. Nadab and Abihu had no substitute for their sin and thus had to bear their own penalty. Sin brings death, and God is giving Israel’s high priest a picture of how His wrath can be appeased. Some discuss whether expiation or propitiation are involved in the picture before us: both are involved, removal of sin (expiation) and satisfaction for sin (propitiation of Divine wrath). Lev.16.22 is the only place in the Old Testament where it is explicitly stated that man’s sins are borne by an animal, and since Isa.52.13-53.12 show that the Servant of Jehovah (the Lord Jesus Christ) is the only Person in the Old Testament to bear the sins of others, we must conclude that the Anti-type to Leviticus chapter 16 is the Servant of Jehovah of Isaiah’s prophecy.
The procedure for the Day of Atonement centres around offerings for the priest and offerings for the people: the “young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering” for Aaron and his household, Lev.16.3, and “two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one for a burnt offering” for the people, Lev.16.5. There are eleven important things to consider briefly: the selection of the animals for the offerings; the slaying of the animals; the burning of incense within the vail; the sprinkling of the blood of the sin offerings before the Lord; the sprinkling of the blood of the sin offerings upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering; the procedure for the live goat; the offering of the two burnt offerings; the burning of the fat of the sin offerings upon the altar of burnt offering; the burning of the flesh of the bullock and goat outside the camp; the repentance and acceptance of the sin offering by the people; the additional offerings for the day.
The Selection of the Animals for the Offerings – Lev.16.3-11
The offerings for the procedure of the day were in two categories: sin offerings and burnt offerings, with the burnt offering having its usual accompaniment of a drink offering. Within each of those two categories there were two offerings made:
- A sin offering for the priest and his household, consisting of one young bullock, Lev.16.3,11.
- A sin offering for the nation, consisting of two young male goats, Lev.16.5.
- A burnt offering for the priest and his household, consisting of one ram, Lev.16.3.
- A burnt offering for the nation, consisting of one ram, Lev.16.5.
As with the requirements for every animal for sacrifice, it must be an animal without blemish, and Lev.16.3 stipulates that the bullock selected for the priests’ sin offering is to be a “young bullock” (‘a son of the herd’, Newberry margin). Thus our minds are directed to the strength and vitality in the sinless One Who offered Himself upon the cross.
In addition to the required spotlessness of the animals, the high priest was to “wash his flesh in water” before he put on the “holy garments”: “the holy linen coat … the linen breeches upon his flesh … a linen girdle, and … the linen mitre … these are holy garments” Lev.16.4. You will notice that the various garments as listed are described as “holy” at the commencement and conclusion of the list in Lev.16.4. The priest, by washing and by what he wore, was brought into conformity to the standard required by the work in which he engaged: spotlessness. This prefigured our Saviour and His work on the cross; it prefigured what He is intrinsically, rather than what He became. Eternally He is “without blemish and without spot” 1Pet.1.19. The high priest in Israel was being made figuratively what Christ is actually.
In addition to selecting the bullock for his own sin offering, the priest had to differentiate between the two goats for the nation’s sin offering. To make this selection, “He shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat” Lev.16.7,8. The two goats are made to stand at the gate of the tabernacle court, where Aaron casts lots to decide which goat will die and which one will act as the scapegoat. Having done that, he will then “bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering” Lev.16.9. To support the concept of one goat being Godward and the other manward, some will say in relation to the casting of lots that in one case it was Jehovah’s lot and in the other it was the people’s lot. Scripture does not speak thus of the second goat; it is not described as the people’s lot (manward) but simply as the “lot for the scapegoat”. The scapegoat was Godward as much as the slain goat, for it was “to make an atonement with him, and let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness” Lev.16.10. All are agreed that the truth of atonement is primarily Godward, therefore the scapegoat is shown in Lev.16.10 to be Godward rather than manward. The Newberry margin makes this even clearer by stating that “the scapegoat shall be made to stand alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him …”; the scapegoat is “made to stand before the Lord”, thus it is stated as being primarily Godward. Sin has defiled the people and the tabernacle; God has been outraged and is ‘wrathful’ by that defiling sin, and for it there must be propitiation (satisfaction for sin) and expiation (removal of sin).
It is important also to observe from two things said about the goats in Lev.16.7: “And he shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord”. The two goats were not only necessary for the sin offering but both aspects of the atonement as portrayed in the goats have equal standing before the Lord. Note, also, that the goat allotted to be the scapegoat is made to stand before the Lord at the gate of the tabernacle to demonstrate that it is “alive”. The emphasis on the life of the goat cannot be missed, see Lev.16.10,20,21. The fact that it is “alive” is essential to its function as the scapegoat: just as the other goat must die so that blood is sprinkled, similarly, this goat must be alive to be able to perform its function.
The two goats represent two aspects of the Saviour’s work of atonement. They correspond to the two statements in Jer.31.34 made in relation to the New Covenant: “I will forgive their iniquity” (slain goat whose blood is sprinkled on mercy seat) and “I will remember their sins no more” (live goat which bore the nation’s sins into a land uninhabited). The blood of the slain goat provided the basis for atonement, and the living goat provided the blessings of atonement (removal of sins). As with all the offerings in Leviticus, no single type can adequately and completely portray the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, thus the truth of these ‘shadows’ must be combined to receive the full teaching concerning the atonement. The action of the scapegoat in carrying the sins into the wilderness did not rid one individual of their sins. The scapegoat removed the sins from before God. Sins were not removed from before men until they repented and availed of the provision made by the both goats. See further at “The Procedure for the Live Goat” below.
The Offering of the Animals – Lev.16.6-11
The word “kill” cannot be missed when reading the book of Leviticus; it appears more often in Leviticus than any other book of the Pentateuch. In this, we are reminded of the stark reality of sacrifice, for in the burnt offerings and sin offerings on the Day of Atonement life is forfeited. This annual event of providing atonement for the nation was costly, the bullock and goat must die, Lev.16.9,11. That reminds us of the dreadful cost of sin, “death by sin” Rom.5.12, and also that the only way sin’s effect can be reversed is by the forfeiture of the life of a spotless sacrifice. This brings before us the cost to the Lord Jesus to provide atonement: “He is the propitiation (atonement) for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” 1Jn.2.2. The problem was great: “the sins of the whole world”; but the provision was greater: “He is the propitiation for” them. The New Testament knows nothing of limited atonement or its pseudonym, particular or definite redemption: atonement is for “the whole world”. So it is that in Lev.16.33 the atonement provided in the sin offering of the two goats was “for all the people of the congregation”.
Since the two goats comprised the sin offering for the nation and did not make two sin offerings, what procured atonement (satisfaction to God for sin and removal of sin) was jointly demonstrated in the death of one goat and in the life of the other goat. The goat that is slain is the one on which “the Lord’s lot fell” Lev.16.9, indicating that it was God Who was in control of the death of the goat: He made the decision about death. Can we ever fathom the depth of meaning in the words of Isaiah: “and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” 53.6, or “He hath put Him to grief: When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin” 53.10? Notice that the scapegoat is to be “presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness” Lev.16.10. The goat that is presented alive is included in, indeed essential to, the atonement. While acknowledging that many respected brethren take a different view, it is the conviction of the present author that to say propitiation (atonement) is pictured in the slain goat and substitution is pictured in the live goat is not according to the order of Leviticus chapter 16 and leads to a mistaken understanding of the sacrifice of Christ. Atonement (“propitiation”, to use the New Testament word) is obtained by combining the actions of both goats. The verb used for ‘atone’ (kipper) in this context has often been given the misleading meaning of ‘to cover’. R. Laird Harris2 points out in an insightful paper that its most frequent use in the Old Testament “in most instances speak of the ritual atonement by blood … The ritual symbolically represents substitution … The usage of the root gives the definition: ‘to atone by paying a ransom’. In the O.T. this was symbolised by sacrifice.” This corroborates the assertion that it is misleading to say there was substitution in one goat but not in the other. There was substitution present in both the blood of the slain goat and the action of the live goat, as the word “atonement” which conveys the idea of substitution, is used of both goats.
- 2 Harris, R. Laird. “Exegetical Notes – The Meaning of ‘Kipper’, ‘Atone’”, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 04:1, April 1961, accessed online.
The Burning of Incense within the Vail – Lev.16.12,13
After the bullock for the priests’ sin offering has been slain, the priest takes a censer of burning coals from the altar of burnt offering in the court, and with his hands full of incense which has been beaten small (finely ground) he goes inside the vail and sprinkles the incense upon the coals in the censer. The reason given is that “the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not” Lev.16.13. A fragrant cloud of smoke arises to mingle with the Shekinah, and thus protect the priest in the presence of God. Failure to do so will result in death: “that he die not” Lev.16.13. The typical picture of Christ is beautiful and ought to provoke worship in our hearts. The One Who suffered being “beaten small” coming into contact with the fire of judgment from a holy God, creates a fragrance to be appreciated by God and a means of giving man’s priestly service acceptance in the immediate presence of God.
The Sprinkling of the Blood of the Sin Offerings before the Lord – Lev.16.14-16
With incense creating a fragrant cloud in God’s presence the priest would stand before God and sprinkle the blood of the slain bullock “upon the mercy seat eastward” Lev.16.14, and then “before the mercy seat” seven times. The seven times suggest its completeness: what the blood does, it does completely. Thus, in the holiest the priest learns the wonderful privilege of communion with God in His immediate presence through the blood of a slain sacrifice. Access to God and acceptance by God were on the basis of the sprinkled blood of sacrifice.
Today, we have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” Heb.10.19. Not only that, but to complete the teaching from the typical picture, Heb.9.24-26 tells us that “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that He should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” On the basis of the value of the blood He shed once-for-all at Calvary, our great High Priest has entered heaven, having put away sin. How great is the completeness of His sacrifice!
The place where blood was sprinkled is most instructive. It must be “upon” the mercy seat and “eastward” Lev.16.14. It was sprinkled upon the mercy seat, and thus satisfied the demands of God Who dwelt between the cherubim above the mercy seat and ark that contained the Law that man had broken. It was on the mercy seat “eastward”, that is, it was nearest the priest as he walked into the holiest, thus meeting the needs of a fallen man as he approached God. The blood of sacrifice is shown to have a twofold effect, Godward and manward. Sprinkled blood comes between a holy God and the broken Law; sprinkled blood also comes between a failing man and the same broken Law. This double effect is further seen in the items that are sprinkled with blood. The mercy seat in the tabernacle structure, Lev.16.14, and the altar of burnt offering out in the court, Lev.16.18,19, are both sprinkled with blood. (See the following section).
The Sprinkling of Blood of the Sin Offerings upon the Horns of the Altar of Burnt Offering – Lev.16.18,19
When we compare the procedure for the normal sin offering to the sin offerings on the Day of Atonement, there is a significant omission. In the normal procedure for a sin offering on other days of the year, the blood which remained over after the ritual of sprinkling was poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering, see Lev.4.18. That was symbolic of the truth that the death of Christ is the foundation of our acceptance with God and service for God. There is no mention of the blood being poured out on the Day of Atonement. The emphasis on the Day of Atonement is upon the sevenfold sprinkling of the blood of sacrifice on the mercy seat and on the horns of the brazen altar. The main lesson from that is the completeness of the activity of the sprinkled blood. Acceptance with God (blood sprinkled seven times before the mercy seat) and acceptable worship and service for God (blood sprinkled seven times on the horns of the altar of burnt offering), are completely provided for in the blood of Christ. He is our access as we approach God and our acceptability as we worship God.
The Procedure for the Live Goat – Lev.16.20-22
Scripture states that the second goat is to be “presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him” Lev.16.10. Since the two goats together form a single sin offering, there can be no atonement without the live goat. Two birds were necessary for the cleansing of the leper and, similarly, two goats are necessary for the atonement. The question of faith by the Israelite comes in relation to the sin offering combined in the two goats. This is a point of prime importance in the interpretation of the typology of the day, for it assures us that we are to see a likeness to Christ in the goat that departs of equal proportion to the goat which died.
The truth transferred to the New Testament is that the death of Christ as an offering for sin is, at one and the same time, propitiatory and substitutionary. And just as the atonement was for “all the iniquities of the children of Israel”, so too the substitution was likewise comprehensive for all; the sin offering provided by the two goats combined was for the sins of the whole nation. It cannot be that in the same sin offering one goat provided one thing and the other goat provided something different. Exactly the same sins were confessed upon the head of the scapegoat (“all their sins” Lev.16.21) as were atoned for by the sprinkled blood of the slain goat (“all their sins” Lev.16.16). There was not one individual less in those represented by the hands laid upon the head of the scapegoat than was represented in the blood that was sprinkled upon the mercy seat. The blood of the slain goat and the burden on the live goat combined in a sin offering for exactly the same people’s sins. It was after these two acts were completed that the Israelite was expected to exercise faith. The exercise of faith in Christ is not substitution; substitution was finalised at the cross. To argue that Christ becomes the substitute at the moment of conversion, is to argue that Christ repeatedly becomes the substitute as sinners down the ages trust in Him. For that to be the case, it would mean the sacrifice of Christ has an ongoing aspect throughout the dispensation, which is a doctrine every believer will find abhorrent and avoid.
The second goat is “to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness” Lev.16.10. The Newberry margin gives ‘goat of departure’ for “scapegoat”. The goat that is emphasised as “alive” in Lev.16.10 provides for the removal or taking away of sin from before the Lord. When the blood of the slain goat had been sprinkled in the holy place, and the tabernacle (‘the tent’, Newberry margin), and the altar, the high priest “shall bring the live goat: and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel …” Lev.16.20,21.
Notice again that the fact this goat is alive is stated twice (“live goat” Lev.16.20, 21): its life is essential to its function. Rom.4.25 is suggestive as to how we should interpret the typology of the live goat: “Who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification”. The death and resurrection of Christ were both necessary to provide a means of forgiveness for our sins. His death (slain goat) was necessary for our atonement and His resurrection (live goat) was equally necessary for our justification. To effectively deal with the sins of the nation both goats must perform their required function. For one goat that function is to enter into death and provide blood that will be sprinkled on the mercy seat as an atonement. For the other goat that will have the sins of the nation confessed upon its head and carried out of sight, it must exercise its life and take a journey to a realm that has until then been “not inhabited” Lev.16.22. “Not inhabited” is translated by the N.E.T. (New English Translation) as ‘inaccessible’. Just as there can be no atonement for Israel without the two goats, similarly, the death and resurrection of Christ are both essential. His death and resurrection belong together inseparably, for “together they constitute the basis of justification”3. The words of 1Cor.15.17 corroborate the truth of the indispensable nature of the resurrection in God’s plan of salvation: “and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” In the same way that the two birds of Leviticus chapters 13 and 14, which are the other dual type of Christ in the book of Leviticus, represent Christ in death and resurrection, so too, the two goats of Leviticus chapter 16 present the same double aspect of truth. The atonement that satisfied God was fully provided in the shed blood of Christ; when He said, “It is finished” and “bowed His head and gave up the ghost” Jn.19.30, the work of propitiation was eternally complete. When the angel said “He is risen”, Matt.28.6, he was speaking of the assuring truth that God was satisfied by the blood that was shed, and had accepted it as the basis for the removal of sins.
- 3 Nygren, Anders, “Commentary on Romans”, Fortress Press, PA, 1980, p.184.
An important feature in the ritual of the Day of Atonement to be noted carefully, is that the same sins that were provided for by the blood of the slain goat are provided for in the carrying away of sins by the scapegoat. The blood of the slain goat deals with “all their sins” Lev.16.16, and the scapegoat deals with “all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins” Lev.16.21. This is a fact clearly discernible in the chapter, and another reason it cannot be said that the blood of the slain goat is a picture of the propitiation of Christ for the whole world, whereas the scapegoat is a picture of substitution for those who will believe. To bifurcate the sin offering of the two goats and make one represent less than the other is to limit an aspect of the work of Christ, and thereby to limit His sin offering. There must be both propitiation and substitution in the death of Christ in equal measure. If you use the picture of the one goat to limit the scope of its substitution, then you must also limit the scope of propitiation in the other goat, for both goats dealt with exactly the same sins.
The blood sprinkled upon the mercy seat and the confession of sins upon the head of the scapegoat did not mean automatic blessing for the individual; there had to be repentance and acceptance of the sacrifice, Lev.16.29,30. Universal provision does not mean universal application. There are three truths in the Atonement by Christ that need to be clearly distinguished: its extent; its intent; its application. By the extent, it is meant that atonement provided for the whole world; not just the value of the sacrifice of Christ but the actual extent of atonement made. By the intent, it is meant that atonement is intended for the whole world: what the sacrifice of the two goats represents, the death of Christ, is intended by God for the whole world. By the application, it is meant that those who receive Christ as their Saviour receive salvation that brings at that moment the blessings of the atonement. The intent takes us back into eternity: it is eternal; the extent takes us back to the cross: it is historical; the application takes us back to the moment of faith and salvation: it is personal and spiritual. Things in Scripture that seem similar must be distinguished and their differences recognised, otherwise we end up denying the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. Conversely, to force a man-made distinction that Scripture does not make is also wrong and results in denying the plain teaching of the Scriptures. The idea of unlimited propitiation/particular substitution, which sounds good until it is examined by Scripture, can be traced back to some early brethren. However, historicity does not constitute orthodoxy; it is a view that when examined in light of Scripture does not convey the truth accurately and results in diminishing the extent of Christ’s provision. Unlimited propitiation/limited substitution cannot be applied to the Day of Atonement for two compelling reasons: firstly, the slain goat and the scapegoat were required to comprise one sin offering; and, secondly, if in the one sin offering there is a picture of two aspects of the death of Christ, they must be equal and co-extensive, for the slain goat was “for all the congregation of Israel” Lev.16.17, and the scapegoat was for “all the iniquities of the children of Israel” Lev.16.21. Exactly the same people are encompassed in the scope of both goats. This emphasises the truth that the two goats combined to provide one offering that was intended for the whole nation.
The Offering of Two Burnt Offerings: for the Priest and for the People – Lev.16.23,24,26
After the procedure of sacrifice is over, the priest changes his garments from the white linen garments to the full garments of colour and comes out of the tabernacle. He then offers a burnt offering for himself and a burnt offering for the people. Note the fulfilment of the chronological order in the type: death (slain goat) and resurrection (live goat) are past and the next duty is to offer two burnt offerings. The word for “burnt offering” is from the Hebrew word holahi, which means ‘ascending offering’ (see Newberry margin). Aaron offered two ‘ascending offerings’, one for himself and one for the people. After death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus said to Mary in the garden: “I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; to My God, and your God” Jn.20.17. He spoke of the ascension in a twofold way when He said that He would ascend to His Father and God and to the disciples’ Father and God; this is pictured in a burnt offering for the priest and a burnt offering for the people on the Day of Atonement; everything was prefigured in the correct order: death, resurrection and then ascension.
The Burning of the Fat of the Sin Offerings upon the Altar of Burnt Offering – Lev.16.25
The fat of the animal spoke of its excellency; this was burned and thus arose in a sweet savour (‘savour of rest’) to God. It is the Divine excellency of Christ that enables God to find ‘rest’ in the atonement at Calvary. There had been many sin offerings in the history of Israel, but they could never take away sins, Heb.10.11, but in the Saviour’s work on the cross God finds satisfying rest in an ‘excellent’ sacrifice for sins; truly “It is finished” Jn.19.30.
- Because the sinless Saviour died,
- My sinful soul is counted free,
- And God the just is satisfied
- To look on Him and pardon me
- (Charitie L. Bancroft)
The Burning of the Flesh of the Bullock and Goat outside the Camp – Lev.16.27,28
The first mention of a sin offering in the Old Testament is the bullock offered for a sin offering on the day of the consecration of the high priest, Ex.29.14. The ritual for all sin offerings thereafter was to follow the first one. The first sin offering, Exodus chapter 29, the regular sin offerings, Leviticus chapter 4, and now the annual sin offerings on the Day of Atonement, Leviticus chapter 16, all had the carcase of the slain animal carried outside the camp and burned. The rule was that when blood was brought into the holy place, the body must be taken outside the camp.
This is explained in relation to the Lord Jesus by Heb.13.11,12: “For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate.” The writer to the Hebrews is careful to mention both the blood of Christ and the body of Christ. So too, the Gospel writer is careful to record the fulfilment: “And He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull … where they crucified Him … the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city …” Jn.19.17,20. Interestingly, as pointed out earlier in this chapter, John is the only Gospel writer to make reference to blood at Calvary, Jn.19.34.
The Repentance and Acceptance of the Offering by the People – Lev.16.29-34
God gave directions for the provision of atonement to deal with the grievous effects of sin, but man must avail of it. The sacrifices on the Day of Atonement were the basis of forgiveness but were not the actual blessing of forgiveness. That blessing could only be enjoyed by those who obeyed the instruction to afflict themselves and cease from work.
It is most interesting that the two truths of atonement and substitution are pictured in the nation’s sin offering of the Day of Atonement, for 1Tim.2.6 teaches that Christ’s death was a substitutionary ransom for all. Both ransom and substitution are co-extensive and co-exist in the death of Christ in 1Tim.2.6, as both propitiation and substitution are co-extensive and co-exist in the typical sin offering of Leviticus chapter 16.
Some will object that this is ‘Universalism’. Such an objection shows a misunderstanding of both the truth of substitution and the error of Universalism. In answer to that false charge, firstly, to define the truth of Biblical substitution with an English dictionary is to limit the value of the death of Christ to only those who avail of its provision. That is not what the New Testament teaches: His death was for ‘all’ in its widest sense. It is not only for ‘all who believe’ or ‘all who are chosen’, but His death is for all who believe and also all who don’t believe. It is incorrect to imply that there is a hypothetical fulness in the value of the atonement of Christ (enough for the whole world) by virtue of the fact that He is a Divine Person, but that there is a limit imposed on the atonement by the intention of God by ‘secret decree’ to save only certain ‘chosen’ ones. Secondly, to date the truth of substitution to the moment of personal faith is to keep adding an element to the work of Christ post-Calvary. What was done by the Saviour for the sins of the world was done about two thousand years ago and stands complete since then. When I believed in Him for salvation, the Substitute became my Saviour; the Saviour did not become my substitute. Thirdly, the error of Universalism says that everyone will eventually be saved; the Bible clearly shows that this is not the case: Lk.16.23; Rev.20.15 are only two of many relevant passages. The idea that the death of Christ provided unlimited propitiation but limited substitution is not effective in countering the errors of universalism or limited atonement.
The fact that Christ made a provision for all does not mean that all will be saved. There are two things required for the salvation of a sinner: the death of Christ and the sinner’s personal faith in Christ. The work of Christ does not, of itself, save a sinner; it provides the means whereby the sinner can be saved. The death and resurrection of Christ do not save the sinner but make every sinner ‘savable’ by making the provision for his salvation. On the Day of Atonement, the individual Israelite had to avail of the provision in the sin offering by his repentance, Lev.16.29. The atonement provided by the sin offering in the two goats stood complete and available for every Israelite, and indeed for any “stranger that sojourneth among you” who desired it.
In Leviticus chapter 16, it is only after the ritual of the day has been completed and they are instructed to afflict their souls and cease from work, that it is stated: “For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” Lev.16.30. This shows that the provision for sins and the cleansing from sins were to be understood as two separate truths. The cleansing enjoyed by the sinner was on the basis of the provision made by the sacrifices. Lev.23.29,30 add to that with this solemn warning: “Whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people.” The work of atonement stood complete in the sacrifices offered and the blood sprinkled, but it must be applied by the individual, and if not applied the Divine sanction that had been announced would fall upon him. The sacrifice of Christ has made salvation available for all men, but only the individuals who avail of it by faith will be saved.
So a gospel preacher can tell an audience indiscriminately that Christ died for their sins. There is a clear New Testament example for us, when the apostle Paul reminds saints in Corinth of the message he had preached to them before they got saved, that Christ died for their sins, 1Cor.15.1-3. He had no hesitation in preaching that message to people who were not saved. And we can tell any sinner or audience that Christ died for their sins. The only reason for not doing so would be if, as ‘Reformed Theology’ teaches, there are some for whose sins Christ did not die.
This brings us back to the idea of unlimited propitiation that is intended by God for ‘all’ but limited substitution that is intended by God for a lesser number of people known as ‘many’. That doctrine means there are sinners, those who make up the difference between the two terms ‘all’ and ‘many’, for whom there is no substitutionary provision in the death of Christ. The unlimited propitiation is, therefore, hypothetical with no possible effect for certain sinners and not an actual truth for every sinner to hear and believe. That is just another way of placing a limit on the atonement provided by Christ.
The Additional Offerings for the Day of Atonement – Num.29.7-11
On the Day of Atonement (the tenth day of the seventh month), in addition to the offerings that were particular to that day, there were the morning and evening burnt offerings with their meal and drink offerings that were offered every day throughout the year. Added to these were the ‘festal offerings’, that is, offerings that were made on special feast days, as prescribed in Numbers chapter 29. The ‘festal offerings’ for the Day of Atonement are detailed in Num.29.7-11.
These additional offerings served to remind Israel that they depended entirely upon God for everything: their redemption from Egypt, their salvation in the wilderness, their final settlement in the land, their preservation in the land and their continuing service to God. This truth of dependence upon God was continually exhibited throughout the year, but especially so on feast days. A greater number of burnt offerings, meal offerings and sin offerings were made; this would emphasise to us our total dependence upon Christ for everything, and accentuate God’s provision for us in Him. This gives a prominence to the claim that these Divine mercies make upon us to dedicate all we are and have to the Lord.
“And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law” Neh.10.34.
“Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good”. Neh.13.30,31.
It would be entirely wrong to think that since there are only two verses in the Scriptures referring to the wood offering, or because it is mentioned last in our chapter, indeed last in this volume, that it is the least important. Indeed, a strong argument could be made for saying that this is the most important offering of all! If the wood offering had not been supplied by the people to the tabernacle, there would have been no fire for the altar and thus none of the other sacrifices could be offered. Without the wood offering Israel’s whole system of sacrifices and worship would have quickly come to a halt. So, in a sense, the wood offering was the most important of all; all the others depended upon it.
We can look at this offering in two ways: practically and typically. Taken practically it speaks of our service for the house of God: Israel had to “bring it into the house of God” Neh.10.34. Any service that we render or sacrifice that we offer should be in the sphere of the local assembly, which is “the house of God” 1Tim.3.15. This most essential offering was also very plain: just wood from cut-down trees. No particular trees are specified, so it is assumed that any tree would do. There seems to be something very ordinary and non-descript about wood as an offering. There is a sameness about it: wood every day for the altar. You and I have the opportunity to offer every day in assembly life that which will ensure worship ascends on the altar; the worship varies but the ‘wood’ is always the same. We should never think that we need to add some variety to the fuel for our worship; it was just wood, always wood, nothing else but plain wood will be accepted for fuel for the altar. Do not be tempted to improvise or ‘improve’; God will be displeased.
When considered typically, we should allow the Scriptures to explain themselves. What is the typical teaching in the wood? Ps.1.3 tells us about the perfect Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is “like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” The wood speaks of our meditation upon Christ in incarnation: the sinless perfection of His holy humanity, etc. There was no particular type of wood or species of tree commanded: it was sufficient to bring wood of any kind. It might have been wood from the acacia tree, a fruit tree, a cedar tree or any of the trees mentioned in the Scriptures. So, too, in our worship we can present various aspects of the incarnate Christ. The acacia tree speaks of the indestructible nature of Christ in His humanity; the fruit tree speaks of Christ in His fruitfulness; the cedar tree speaks of Christ in His majesty. There is plenty of ‘wood’ to be found by meditation upon His Word.
There could be no excuse for not having wood; it was easily accessible to everyone. An understanding of the Person of Christ is easily accessed by everyone; it is in the Scriptures. A little branch was wood, in the same way as a huge log; we can bring whatever ‘wood’ is accessible to us and in whatever size we have strength to carry. Some have the ability to present a larger, heavier piece of wood than others, but it all speaks of Christ.
The wood must be placed first upon the altar, Lev.1.7; the offering could not ascend to God unless placed on the wood. So, too, our worship will ascend to the pleasure of God’s heart when based upon an appreciation and grasp of the Person of His Son.
The fire that consumed the wood and the sacrifice on the altar was indicative of the acceptance of the offering by God. Our worship is accepted in Christ. That is why we present our prayers and praises in His Name. He is our acceptance before the Father and makes our praise and worship acceptable before God.
Nehemiah appointed by lots that the wood should be brought by the priests, the Levites and the people: none was exempt. So too in assembly life, none is exempt: each must bring an appreciation of Christ when we gather together. Those in leadership, and those not, must bring ‘wood’ to assist the worship. Likewise, male and female must bring ‘wood’. The wood offerings were to be brought “at times appointed” Neh.10.34. There was nothing haphazard, it was provided regularly. The wood was supplied “year by year”; it was done continually. What a challenge for us! Do we bring an appreciation and spiritual grasp of Christ to every assembly meeting on every occasion?
The five main offerings, the accompanying offerings, the associated offerings, the altar on which they are offered and the wood upon which they burn all speak of one glorious Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. May we get to know Him better and love him in greater measure.
The study of these offerings is not the study of merely religious antiquities or ancient national rituals in Israel: they were given by God to help us understand the greatest sacrifice of all, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each of the offerings that we have considered in this chapter, as with every offering of the Old Testament system, has a link to the altar of burnt offering. The altar is central to every offering. Thus it is that the One of Whom the altar speaks, the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, has a central part in the understanding of these offerings. The symbolism in the altar joins with the symbolism in the offerings to give us a composite picture of the greatest of all offerings, the Person of Christ. Just as the altar of the Old Testament was essential for every offering, so too the Person of Christ is essential to the New Testament understanding of the offerings. The altar of burnt offering portrayed His twofold nature, His holy humanity through incarnation and His atoning death by crucifixion.
The smoke of the daily burnt offering rose continually as a savour of rest to God. We can think of no clearer illustration of the truth that the spiritual sacrifices offered by the people of God in our day rise only upon the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ: “we have an altar” Heb.13.10.
The tabernacle, the altar, the animals offered and the priest who offered all combine to give us a variegated picture of the fulness and fragrance of Christ our Saviour.