By Dr. Mark Scott
Someone rightly said, “Exodus is about getting God’s people out of Egypt while Leviticus is about getting the Egypt out of God’s people.” How were God’s people supposed to act once they left Egypt? Leviticus held the answer, and it was “in holiness.” The third book of the Bible may not rate high on a Christian’s favorite Bible books list, but it was off the charts for our Jewish forefathers. Many Jewish boys had Leviticus memorized by age 12. There was no sacred/secular polarization. Every commandment mattered and was intended to teach something about God’s holy nature.
We find ourselves just days away from the celebration
of Christmas. For many the observance of this special day involves the giving of gifts. Some gifts are just right and some, not so much. Our text marks out what gifts are acceptable to God and what gifts are unacceptable to him. Yes, we can learn even from the negative examples.
Acceptable Offerings Are Perfect
While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, he also received many other instructions from the Lord (for example, instructions about building the tabernacle and the laws concerning offerings). Many of these are contained in Leviticus. In fact, the first seven chapters of Leviticus are almost exclusively about various kinds of offerings that God’s people were to give to him.
The message about acceptable offerings was intended for those serving the community of faith as priests (Aaron’s family) but also for all the Israelites and the foreigners as well. The offerings could be one of two types: Burnt offerings primarily symbolized complete devotion to God since they were totally consumed on the altar (Leviticus 1:3-17). Fellowship offerings primarily symbolized the connection between priests and all the rest of God’s people since both groups partook of them (7:11-21, 31-34).
But the most significant thing about the offerings is that they were to be perfect. Four times in our text the word defect is used (ESV has “blemish”). This word appears 91 times in the Old Testament and is usually translated “without blemish, perfect, upright, complete, or whole.” Whether the offering was from the flock or the herd and whether it was to fulfill a vow or just a freewill offering, it was to be without defect. This teaches something about the character of God—that he is perfect. This also teaches something about approaching God—that he cannot be approached flippantly. We must come before him with a pure heart.
Acceptable Offerings Are Different
God went out of his way to draw a distinction between his people and “the nations.” While Israel was united with the nations by virtue of sin, they were different from the nations by virtue of their calling (Leviticus 20:24, 26). The instructions about blemished offerings continue in this part of our text. The people were not to offer the blind, the injured or maimed, or anything with warts or festering or running sores. Neither were they to offer an animal whose testicles are bruised, crushed, torn or cut.
Blemished offerings were sometimes offered by the nations that did not know the Lord. God’s laws for Israel make better sense when they are contrasted with the laws and ways of other nations. For instance the Lord said not to cook a goat in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19). That law seems so strange to us. But when we realize that the Canaanites did that regularly, we see why God did not want his people doing the same thing, lest his people be assimilated by nations that surrounded them. God’s people were to be different, so their offerings had to be different as well.
Acceptable Offerings Are Salvific
More important than the art of the offering is the heart of the offering (or the one making the offering). God’s name, his character, and his saving work matter more than the animal used or the contrast to the nations around. Because of God’s saving work (brought you out of Egypt) the people are to keep God’s commands and follow them. God attaches his identity (I am the Lord) to Israel’s obedience. God attaches his holiness to Israel’s acceptable offerings.
The nations would watch Israel offer their sacrifices and conclude something about Israel’s God. God’s people are the only Bible some will ever read. Acceptable offerings in the Old or New Testament point people to God. Let us be careful what our behavior broadcasts to others about our Savior (Romans 2:24).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.