Burnt OfferingsThis type of sacrifice was wholly burnt. None of it is eaten by anyone; the fire consumed it all. In fact, the fire was never extinguished: “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out” (Lev. 6:13).
The worshiper brought a male animal—a bull, lamb, goat, pigeon, or turtledove (depending largely upon the worshiper’s wealth)—to the door of the tent or temple. The animal had to be without blemish. The worshiper then placed his hands upon the animal’s head and it was “accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4). The laying of hands was a ceremonial act whereby the worshiper blessed or prepared the sacrificial animal. The animal was then killed at the door. Immediately, the priest collected the animal’s blood and sprinkled it about the altar. (Priests never drank the blood.) Next, the priest quartered the animal, offered its head and fat on the altar, then washed the legs and entrails in water and offered them. Any remains might be cast aside into the ashes. (For example, this was done with a bird’s feathers.)
Besides placing the animal on the altar, the priests were responsible to maintain the fire. They could not permit the ashes to build up in the bottom of the altar, but put them beside the altar at various times. Later, they took the ashes outside the camp or city “unto a clean place.” They changed their clothes to do this.
Later in Israel’s history, the burnt offering became a continually offered sacrifice: “This is the offering made by fire which ye shall offer unto the Lord; two lambs of the first year without spot day by day, for a continual burnt offering” (Num. 28:3). As this passage indicates, two animals were sacrificed each day, one at morning and one at evening. This was done to atone the people’s sins against the Lord (Lev. 6:2). The burning symbolized the nation’s desire to rid itself of these sinful acts against God.
Cereal OfferingsThe Israelites sacrificed cereals or vegetable produce in addition to animals. These crops might have been offered independently of the burnt offerings, or along with them. The Hebrew word for “oblation” (minha) sometimes refers to these cereal offerings; at other times, minha referred to other types of sacrifice.
Leviticus 2 mentions 4 kinds of cereal offerings and gives cooking instructions for each. A worshiper could offer dough from wheat flour that has been baked in an oven, cooked on a griddle, fried in a pan, or roasted to make bread. (The last method was used for the offering of first fruits.) All cereal offerings were made with oil and salt; no honey or leaven could be used. Oil and salt would not spoil, while honey and leaven would. In addition to these cooked ingredients, the worshiper was to bring a portion of incense (frankincense). He might also bring portions of the uncooked materials (raw grains, salt, and oil) with the offering.
Worshipers brought cereal offerings to one of two priests, who took it to the altar and threw a “memorial portion” (either of the bread, cake, wafer, or uncooked ingredients) on the fire. He did the same with all the incense. The priest ate the remainder; but if the priest himself was making a cereal offering, he burned the entire sacrifice.
The cereal offering’s purpose appears to have been similar to that of the burnt offering—except in case of the “corn” offering, which was linked to the offering of first fruits (Lev. 2:14). The offering of first fruits seems to have been intended to sanctify the entire crop. The “corn” offering substituted for the rest of the crop—emphasizing that all of the crop was holy unto the Lord.
Peace OfferingsA ritual meal called the “peace offering” was shared with God, the priests, and sometimes other worshipers. It involved male or female oxen, sheep, or goats. The procedure was nearly identical to that of the burnt offering up to the point of the actual burning. In this case, the beast’s blood was collected and poured around the edges of the altar. The fat and entrails were burned. Then the remainder was eaten by the priests and (if the offering was voluntary) by the worshipers themselves. This sacrifice expressed the worshiper’s desire to give thanks orpraise to God. Sometimes, he was required to do this; at other times he might do so voluntarily.
The required offerings made included unleavened cakes. The priests had to eat all but the memorial portion of the cakes and the remainder of the animal on the same day the sacrifice was made.
When the offering was voluntary, the regulations were not so strict. The worshipers did not need to bring cakes and could eat for two days, not one. The priest’s portion was limited to the breast and right thigh of the animal, while anyone who was ceremonially clean could eat of the rest.
Jacob and Laban offered this kind of sacrifice when they made a treaty (Gen. 31:43 ff.). Some scholars call this a “vow offering”; “Thank offerings” and “free-will offerings” followed the same general pattern. Saul’s sacrifice (1 Sam. 13:8 ff.) fell into the latter category ; although he” forced himself’ to do it, he certainly was not required to do it. (In fact, Samuel chastised him, saying that it was illegal.) The vow and thank offerings were required, while free-will offerings were voluntary.
Sin OfferingsSacrifices for sin “paid off’ or expiated a worshiper’s ritual faults against the Lord. These were unintentional faults. “And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, if a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them” (Lev. 4:1-2, italics added). Moses instructed various people to offer different sacrifices in these cases:
Sins of the high priest were atoned with the offering of a bull. The blood was not poured on the altar, but sprinkled from the finger of the high priest 7 times on the altar. The fat from the entrails was burned next. The remainder was burned, not eaten, outside the camp or city “unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out.”
Sins of leaders in the community are atoned with the offerings of a male goat. The blood was sprinkled only once, then the remainder was poured around the altar as in the burnt offering.
Sins of private individuals were atoned with female animals: goats, lambs, turtledoves, or pigeons. If a person could not afford one of those, an offering of grain was acceptable. The procedure for offering the grain was the same as in the cereal offerings.
It would be impossible to name all the ways a person might commit an unintentional sin against God. Some had moral implications. Others, like those of lepers (cf. Luke 5:22 ff.), were purely ceremonial. Another example of sacrifice for a ceremonial fault would be the offering that a woman made after she gave birth, in order to recover her ceremonial cleanliness (Lev. 12). Offerings for the nation and for the high priest covered all these in a collective way. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the high priest sprinkled blood over the ark of the covenant itself. This was the ultimate ritual of atonement.
Trespass OfferingsThe trespass offering was similar to the sin offering, and many scholars include it in the former category. It differed only in that the trespass offering was an offering of money. This sacrifice was made for sins of ignorance, connected with fraud. For example, if the worshiper had unwittingly cheated another of money or property, his sacrifice must be equal to the value of the amount taken, plus one-fifth. He offered this amount to the priest, then made a similar restitution to the former property owner. Therefore he repaid twice the amount he had taken plus 40 percent (Lev. 6:5-6).
All of these sacrifices related directly to either expiation (guilt removal) or propitiation (keeping God’s favor). They remind us again of the two strong emotions in all of worship: awe and thankfulness.