Question. Wasn’t the law of Moses given as a genuine rebuke to Israel and imposed upon them as a punishment for rejection of the higher law?
Response. Admittedly, God does chasten His people for disobedience, but the giving of laws is not a punishment. His commandments are, as Moses said, “for our good always” (Deuteronomy 6:24). Every law is meant to lift and inspire, reconcile and perfect. That principle includes the law of Moses. It was a punishment only in the sense that it was less than they could have received. But it was a means for accomplishing God’s ends, as are all His commandments. As the Lord told the early Saints of this dispensation, if they obey His gospel they will “be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few” (D&C 59:4).
Question. But wasn’t the law of Moses at least a great step backward?
Response. No. It was a great step forward, not as great as Israel could have taken, but a great step nevertheless. We know from the record that Israel was in poor spiritual condition when they came out of Egypt. They had lost the prophetic office, prophecy, and the spirit of revelation and had become steeped in Egyptian tradition and idol worship. The Lord commanded Israel to give up their abominations and idols when He first came to deliver them from Egypt, but the people would not listen: “They did not every man cast away the abominations … [nor] forsake the idols of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:6–8). Had it not been for His mercy and the covenants made with the early patriarchs, the Lord could have justly vented His anger against Israel and destroyed them all (see Exodus 32:7–14). Instead, He blessed them with a law suited to help them grow spiritually, starting from where they were.
Question. Then the turning of the Hebrews to Egyptian gods in the wilderness was not a new experience for them? The golden calf was actually carried there in the hearts of an Israel that was spiritually weak and immature?
Response. Yes. It was a far greater challenge to get Egypt out of Israel than it was to get Israel out of Egypt. Consider, too, that Moses had to use signs to convince not only pharaoh but also Israel. And when signs have to be used as proof of authority, that is the mark of an evil and adulterous generation (see Matthew 12:39). Moses declared, “Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you” (Deuteronomy 9:24).
Question. Then when you said that the law was not a punishment but a means to an end, you meant that it was a deliberate and carefully designed plan to bring Israel to Jehovah?
Response. That, and more. The law not only would bring them to Christ but would also be the means through which a covenant relationship could be developed to increase their spiritual power so that they could enjoy the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, gain a perfect brightness of hope, and have a love of God and a love for all men. And, if they continued to press forward and endure to the end, they would receive the assurance of eternal life (see 2 Nephi 31:20).
Question. I never understood that the law of Moses could do all that. How was it possible?
Response. It is easier to see when we consider the relationship of all the aspects of the law to the spiritual progress of the individual. The problem is that we generally think of the law of Moses as only that part dealing with performances and ordinances.
Question. What are the other aspects of the law?
Faith: Though never referred to directly in these scriptures, this principle is implied since faith is absolutely necessary in all acts to please God and fulfill His purposes (see Hebrews 11:6; Romans 14:23). Amulek clearly taught that faith was a prerequisite to the law bringing one to repentance (see Alma 34:15).
Repentance: The sacrificial systems of Israel were expressly designed to help bring about a repentant attitude by teaching the people of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Then, if they exercised faith in Him and repented of their evil works, their sins were remitted, not by the law of Moses but through their faith in the future Messiah, which was demonstrated by their obedience to the law of Moses (see Mosiah 13:28).
Baptism by immersion: Baptism was the most important outward ordinance of the law, being the means by which the individual established a covenant relationship with Jehovah. Unfortunately, any reference to baptism in the Old Testament has been lost, but from other sources we learn that it was part of the Mosaic law (see 1 Corinthians 10:1–4; 1 Nephi 20:1; D&C 84:26–27).
The law of carnal commandments, or the law of performances and ordinances (see D&C 84:27; Mosiah 13:30): In our day the word carnal has sexual connotations, but the Latin word from which it is derived means “flesh.” Therefore, these commandments deal with actions in mortality. As Abinadi taught, these commandments were designed “to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him” (Mosiah 13:30).
Question. Then the Mosaic law really embraced all the basic principles of the gospel?
Response. More accurately, the Mosaic law is called the “preparatory gospel” (D&C 84:26). Because Israel lost the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, they could not have the fulness of the law of Christ. And when the Lord fulfilled the law, the preparatory gospel was brought under the law of Christ and the carnal commandments were done away.
Question. Can we see these things in the Old Testament as it is today?
Response. Yes, once we know what to look for and how to look. Mormon taught that the converted Lamanites properly understood the law of Moses because they had the “spirit of prophecy” (Alma 25:16; see also v. 15). The spirit of prophecy is the “testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 19:10; see also Alma 6:8). The law of Moses was a “schoolmaster” to bring Israel to Christ (Galatians 3:24); however, it was given in “types, and shadows” (Mosiah 3:15; see also 13:31; 16:14). Only those with the spirit of prophecy can understand these symbolic teaching devices. For, as Amulek said, “Behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice” (Alma 34:14).
The book of Leviticus contains direct revelation from God through Moses to Israel. It was the priesthood handbook of that generation. This fact makes the book of great interest, for whenever God speaks to man He reveals Himself. Through the pages of Leviticus one can come to understand Him and His purpose better. The modern reader may feel the contents of the book are outdated, especially those that deal with blood sacrifice, yet all were designed, as Amulek said, to point to the infinite Atonement of Christ (see Alma 34:14). One scholar noted the following about the various sacrifices and offerings:
“The first point, then, which requires our notice is this:—In each offering there are at least three distinct objects presented to us. There is the offering, the priest, the offerer. A definite knowledge of the precise import of each of these is absolutely requisite if we would understand the offerings.
“What, then, is the offering? what the priest? what the offerer? Christ is the offering, Christ is the priest, Christ is the offerer. Such and so manifold are the relations in which Christ has stood for man and to man, that no one type or set of types can adequately represent the fulness of them. Thus we have many distinct classes of types, and further variations in these distinct classes, each of which gives us one particular view of Christ, either in His character, or in His work, or person. But see Him as we may for sinners, He fills more than one relation. This causes the necessity of many emblems. First He comes as offerer, but we cannot see the offerer without the offering, and the offerer is Himself the offering, and He who is both offerer and offering is also the priest. As man under the law, our substitute, Christ, stood for us towards God as offerer. He took ‘the body prepared for Him’ as His offering, that in it and by it He might reconcile us to God. Thus, when sacrifice and offering had wholly failed,—when at man’s hand God would no more accept them,—‘then said He, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O God: yea, Thy law is within my heart.’ Thus His body was His offering: He willingly offered it; and then as priest He took the blood into the holiest. As offerer, we see Him man under the law, standing our substitute, for us to fulfil all righteousness. As priest, we have Him presented as the mediator, God’s messenger between Himself and Israel. While as the offering He is seen the innocent victim, a sweet savour to God, yet bearing the sin and dying for it.
“Thus in the selfsame type the offerer sets forth Christ in His person, as the One who became man to meet God’s requirements: the offering presents Him in His character and work, as the victim by which the atonement was ratified; while the priest gives us a third picture of Him, in His official relation, as the appointed mediator and intercessor. Accordingly, when we have a type in which the offering is most prominent, the leading thought will be Christ the victim. On the other hand, when the offerer or priest predominates, it will respectively be Christ as man or Christ as mediator.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 44–45.)
The Hebrew word translated “without blemish” means to be sound or whole. In addition to this requirement, all sacrificial animals had to meet two other requirements. They had to be of the category that the Lord declared clean (see Leviticus 11), and they also had to be from domesticated herds and flocks (see Leviticus 1:2).
“In the clean animals, which he had obtained by his own training and care, and which constituted his ordinary live-stock, and in the produce obtained through the labour of his hands in the field and vineyard, from which he derived his ordinary support, the Israelite offered … the food which he procured in the exercise of his God-appointed calling, as a symbol of the spiritual food which endureth unto everlasting life [see John 6:27; 4:34], and which nourishes both soul and body for imperishable life in fellowship with God. … In this way the sacrificial gifts acquire a representative character, and denote the self-surrender of a man, with all his labour and productions, to God.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:275–76.)
This offering was to be “voluntary” (Leviticus 1:3). It was not forced, but served as a free expression of gratitude on the part of the individual. Anything less would violate a basic principle of free will offerings (see Moroni 7:6–10).
To assist Israel in overcoming idolatry, the Lord specified that offerings be sacrificed in one place, “at the door of the tabernacle” (v. 3). This place was specified because it was here (technically, a few yards in front of the door of the tabernacle or temple) that the altar stood on which the sacrifice or a portion of it would be burned. (Note: This verse and the following verses describe the burnt offerings. Other offerings had different requirements. For a complete description of all the various offerings, see the accompanying chart, which was adapted from Edward J. Brandt, “Sacrifices and Offerings of the Mosaic Law,” Ensign, Dec. 1973, pp. 50–51.)
Name of the Ordinance and Type of Offering
Emblematic Objects Used for the Ordinance
Purpose of the Ordinance
This is another name for the ordinance of sacrifice practiced by the patriarchs from Adam down to Israel.
The animal used varied according to the position and personal possessions of the individual, as well as the occasion of the sacrifice: bull, ram, he-goat, turtledoves, or young pigeons (Lev. 1:5, 10, 14; 5:7; Gen. 15:9).
Regularly appointed times:
Seasonally appointed times:
Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, Feast of the Harvest, Feast of the Tabernacles, New Year, and the Day of Atonement
Given for family events—birth, marriage, reunions, etc., and at times of personal need. Most often, private or individual offerings were given during the times of appointed feasts.
Male or female animal without blemish (Lev. 3:1, 12) and cattle, sheep, or goats, but no fowl or other substitutes (Lev. 22:27). The animal was to be meat for a sacrificial meal. The fat and inward portions were burned upon the altar (Lev. 3:3–5), a specified part was given to the priests (see Heave and Wave Offerings), and the remainder was used for meat in the special dinner (Lev. 7:16).
The threefold purpose of peace offerings is suggested in the following titles or descriptions given.
An individual could seemingly give the offering for any of the above declared purposes separately or together.
These were private offerings or a personal sacrifice for family or individuals (see Private Offerings).
Male or female animal or fowl without blemish. The offering varied according to the position and circumstances of the offerer: the priest offered a bull (Lev. 4:3; Num. 8:8), the ruler among the people a he-goat (Lev. 4:22–23), the people in general a she-goat (Lev. 4:27–28), the poor two turtledoves or two young pigeons (Lev. 5:7), and those of extreme poverty an offering of fowl or meal (Lev. 5:11; Num. 15:20–21). The offering is not consumed by fire, but is used by the Levitical priesthood as a sacrificial meal. The meat and hide are for their sustenance and use. (Lev. 6:25–30; 7:7–8; 14:13.)
Sin offerings were given for sins committed in ignorance (Lev. 4:2, 22, 27), sins not generally known about by the people (Num. 15:24), sins in violation of oaths and covenants (Lev. 5:1, 4–5), and ceremonial sins of defilement or uncleanness under the law of carnal commandments (Lev. 5:2–3; 12:1–8; 15:28–30). The purpose of sin offerings, after true repentance on the part of the parties involved, was to prepare them to receive forgiveness as a part of the renewal of their covenants. (Lev. 4:26, 35; 5:10; 10:17; Num. 15:24–29.) This same blessing is possible by partaking of the sacrament today. (JST, Matt. 26:24.)
All other sin offerings were private and personal offerings, most often given at the times of the appointed feasts.
Trespass offerings were given for offenses committed against others: i.e., false testimony (Lev. 6:2–3), forceful and unlawful possession of property (Lev. 6:4), disrespect for sacred things (Lev. 5:16–17), acts of passion (Lev. 19:20–22). The purpose of the trespass offering was to bring forgiveness. (Lev. 6:7.) This was possible after repentance (Lev. 26:40–45) and after fulfilling the law of restitution that required, where possible, that the guilty individual restore completely the wrong and an additional 20 percent (Lev. 5:16; 6:5–17; 27:13, 15, 19, 27, 31; Num. 5:6–10).
All trespass offerings were private and personal offerings, most commonly given at the times of the appointed feasts.
An unleavened bread. Few ingredients were permitted with the basic flour: salt (Lev. 2:13), oil (Lev. 2:5), even incense (Lev. 2:15), but no leavening or honey (Lev. 2:11). However, it could be baked or fried in various ways.
This offering completed the sacrificial meal of the burnt and peace offerings. It was then given to the priests for their service and sustenance. (Lev. 7:8–10.)
This offering was always given with the burnt offerings and peace offerings and could even substitute for a sin offering in the stress of poverty. (Num. 15:28–29.)
The heave offering is the right shoulder and the wave offering the breast of the peace offering animal given in payment by the offerer for the services of the priest.
Whatever the Levites received for their priesthood service—heave or wave offering, meat offering, or tithe (Num. 18)—they were required to offer to the Lord in sacrifice a portion as a memorial offering (Lev. 2:2, 9, 16; 5:12; 6:15; Num. 5:26; 18:26–29).
“Heave” and “wave” refer to gestures of lifting the offerings up and extending them toward the priest who received them on behalf of the Lord.
This memorial offering was a type of peace or thank offering to the Lord, as well as a remembrance of God and service to Him.
The Levites also received the hides of all the animals sacrificed for their labors and services. (Lev. 7:8.)
These were given at the times of burnt offerings and peace offerings.
(Adapted from Edward J. Brandt, “The Priesthood Ordinance of Sacrifice,” Ensign, Dec. 1973, pp. 50–51.)
The laying on of hands was an important part of every sacrifice. “This meant transmission and delegation, and implied representation; so that it really pointed to the substitution of the sacrifice for the sacrificer. Hence it was always accompanied by confession of sin and prayer. It was thus done. The sacrifice was so turned that the person confessing looked towards the west, while he laid his hands between the horns of the sacrifice, and if the sacrifice was brought by more than one, each had to lay on his hands. It is not quite a settled point whether one or both hands were laid on; but all are agreed that it was to be done ‘with one’s whole force’—as it were, to lay one’s whole weight upon the substitute.” (Edersheim, The Temple, pp. 113–14.)
This practice shows that the sacrifice had a dual symbolism. First and foremost, it represented the only sacrifice that could ultimately bring peace and remission of sins, namely that of Jesus Christ. But the laying on of hands showed a transfer of identity; that is, the offerer put his own identity upon the sacrificial animal. Thus, the slaying of the animal implied symbolically one of two things, depending on the kind of offering. First, it implied that the sinful self, the “natural man,” as King Benjamin called it (see Mosiah 3:19), was put to death in order that the spiritual person could be reborn. Paul used this terminology in Romans 6:1–6, and the baptismal font is compared to a grave in Doctrine and Covenants 128:13. Why? Because the “old man” of sin is buried there (Romans 6:6). Second, if it was not a sin offering, the death of the animal would imply a giving up of one’s life, that is, a total sacrifice of one’s self to God.
The word translated “atonement” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover over or hide.” The connotation is not that the sin no longer exists but that the sin has been covered over, or, more scripturally, blotted out before God through His grace or loving kindness (see Alma 7:13). That is to say, the power of sin to separate man from God has been taken away (see Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:276). Thus, the word at-one-ment was used to show that man becomes one with God again.
Of all the elements of the ordinance of sacrifice, nothing played a more prominent part than the administration of the blood of the offering. The manner of its offering was minutely specified by the Lord. Depending on the offering, the blood was dabbed upon the horns of the altar, sprinkled or splashed upon all four sides of the altar, or dumped out at the base of the altar.
The Lord chose blood to dramatize the consequences of sin and what was involved in the process of forgiveness and reconciliation. Therefore, blood symbolized both life (see Leviticus 17:11) and the giving of one’s life. Death is the consequence of sin and so the animal was slain to show what happens when man sins. Also, the animal was a type of Christ. Through the giving of His life for man, by the shedding of His blood, one who is spiritually dead because of sin can find new life. Out of this truth grows a spiritual parallel: “As in Adam, or by nature, all men fall and are subject to spiritual death, so in Christ and his atoning sacrifice all men have power to gain eternal life” (McConkie, The Promised Messiah, p. 259).
The purpose of the shedding of blood was to bring expiation, or atonement (see Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). As noted in Reading 14-5, the Hebrew verb which is translated by the English word atonement means “to cover.” Thus, the smearing, splashing, or daubing of blood “covered” sins and thus brought about atonement. There is a beautiful paradox in the idea that the righteous are those “whose garments are white through the blood of the Lamb” (Ether 13:10; see Alma 5:21). It is the blood of Christ that covers sins and makes us pure so that we can receive at-one-ment with God.
Thus, the blood was a symbol for the whole process by which we become reconciled with God. “From all of this it is apparent that those in Israel who were spiritually enlightened knew and understood that their sacrificial ordinances were in similitude of the coming death of Him whose name they used to worship the Father, and that it was not the blood on their altars that brought remission of sins, but the blood that would be shed in Gethsemane and on Calvary” (McConkie, The Promised Messiah, p. 258).
The unique aspect of the burnt offering was the dividing of the animal into various parts and the washing of the inwards and legs of the bullock in water. Yet it is this very thing which gave this sacrifice its own significance apart from the others. One author described the symbolism thus:
“Man’s duty to God is not the giving up of one faculty, but the entire surrender of all. So Christ sums up the First Commandment,—all the mind, all the soul, all the affections. ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’ I cannot doubt that the type refers to this in speaking so particularly of the parts of the Burnt-offering; for ‘the head,’ ‘the fat,’ ‘the legs,’ ‘the inwards,’ are all distinctly enumerated. ‘The head’ is the well-known emblem of the thoughts; ‘the legs’ the emblem of the walk; and ‘the inwards’ the constant and familiar symbol of the feelings and affections of the heart. The meaning of ‘the fat’ may not be quite so obvious, though here also Scripture helps us to the solution. It represents the energy not of one limb or faculty, but the general health and vigour of the whole. In Jesus these were all surrendered, and all without spot or blemish. Had there been but one thought in the mind of Jesus which was not perfectly given to God;—had there been but one affection in the heart of Jesus which was not yielded to His Father’s will;—had there been one step in the walk of Jesus which was taken not for God, but for His own pleasure;—then He could not have offered Himself or been accepted as ‘a whole burnt-offering to Jehovah.’ But Jesus gave up all: He reserved nothing. All was burnt, all consumed upon the altar.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 63–64.)
The washing of the inwards and legs suggests the need for one to be spiritually pure not only in what he does but also in what he desires (see Ephesians 5:26; Jukes, Law of the Offerings, p. 71).
Taken together, these things reveal the quality of the life the Lord lives. His feelings, thoughts, activities, and whole life were placed in submission to God. At the same time, the sacrifice stressed the idea that only when the offerer yields himself to God is his life sweet or satisfying to the Lord.
Acceptable sacrifices were from these groups: a male ox or bull, a male sheep or goat, a turtle dove or pigeon. The economic situation of the individual determined which animal was sacrificed. That each of these animals was totally acceptable to God is indicative of His mercy. With Him it is not the gift that counts but the intent of the giver’s heart.
The word translated “meat offering” is a Hebrew word meaning “a gift” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “meat,” p. 271). Used in a sacrificial sense, the word refers to a gift of grain, flour, or breads. (One meaning of the word meat is “food.”) Through this offering the individual acknowledged God as the giver of all things and surrendered what had been designated (that is, the fruit of the field) in supplication for power to fulfill his duty. Wheat, or products made from wheat, with the addition of oil, frankincense, and salt constituted each offering (see vv. 1, 13). In each case the wheat had to be prepared in some way. “Fine flour” (vv. 4, 5, 14) required the greatest effort in an age when grain was ground mostly by hand. Thus, the offerer’s time, symbolic of his whole life, was invested in the offering.
The bringing together of the oil, frankincense, and grain in this offering is instructive (see v. 1). Oil was used in the scriptures to symbolize the Holy Ghost (see D&C 45:56–57), grain to symbolize the word of God (see Mark 4:14), and frankincense to symbolize prayer (see Revelation 8:3). As man was meant to live physically by eating bread, so too was he meant to live spiritually in Christ by partaking of the word and Spirit of the Lord through prayer.
Only a portion of the offering was burned (see Leviticus 2:2, 9). This requirement was true of all the offerings except the sin offering and burnt offering. The remaining portion became the property of the priests, and they were allowed to share it with members of their families (see vv. 3, 10). In this way the priesthood was supported by the Lord during their time of service.
Those portions of the sacrifice that were burned were designated as “holy,” whereas those portions to be eaten were designated as “most holy” (vv. 3, 10). The distinction appears to be a safeguard. Little could happen to the portion of the sacrifice that was burned, but the portion that was left, if not carefully guarded, could be desecrated.
The oblation of first fruits was not a sacrifice but rather a gift of thanks and praise to the Lord for the harvest (see v. 12). If the offerer wanted to use a portion of this oblation as a meat offering, the Lord designated how it was to be done (see vv. 14–16).
The prohibition against leaven also extended to honey. The ability of these elements to produce fermentation and spoilage made them excellent symbols of corruption, something which had no place in the refining and purifying effects of the law which the sacrifices symbolized (see Reading 10-7).
“Whilst leaven and honey were forbidden to be used with any kind of [meat] because of their producing fermentation and corruption, salt on the other hand was not to be omitted from any sacrificial offering. ‘Thou shalt not let the salt of the covenant of thy God cease from thy meat-offering,’ i.e. thou shalt never offer a meat-offering without salt. The meaning which the salt, with its power to strengthen food and preserve it from putrefaction and corruption, imparted to the sacrifice, was the unbending truthfulness of that self-surrender to the Lord embodied in the sacrifice, by which all impurity and hypocrisy were repelled. The salt of the sacrifice is called the salt of the covenant, because in common life salt was the symbol of the covenant; treaties being concluded and rendered firm and inviolable, according to a well-known custom of the ancient Greeks … which is still retained among the Arabs, by the parties to an alliance eating bread and salt together, as a sign of the treaty which they had made. As a covenant of this kind was called a ‘covenant of salt,’ equivalent to an indissoluble covenant [Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5], so here the salt added to the sacrifice is designated as salt of the covenant of God, because of its imparting strength and purity to the sacrifice, by which Israel was strengthened and fortified in covenant fellowship with Jehovah.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:295.)
The name of this sacrifice in Hebrew is shelamim, a plural form of shalom, or “peace.”
“The plural denotes the entire round of blessings and powers, by which the salvation or integrity of man in his relation to God is established and secured. The object of the shelamim was invariably salvation: sometimes they were offered as an embodiment of thanksgiving for salvation already received, sometimes as a prayer for the salvation desired; so that they embraced both supplicatory offerings and thank-offerings, and were offered even in times of misfortune, or on the day on which supplication was offered for the help of God.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:299.)
Female animals were allowed to be used as peace offerings (see vv. 1, 6), but they still had to be without blemish. No birds could be used.
Only the fat and kidneys of this offering were burned. This action fulfilled the purpose of the sacrifice since the fat (as noted in Reading 14-7) was indicative of the well-being of the whole animal. It came to represent the consecration of the whole life of the individual to God.
A species of sheep common in the Near East has a very fat tail. This fact seems to explain the Lord’s instructions about the “rump” (v. 9) and implies that the whole tail was to be offered up (see Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “rump,” p. 363).
The Hebrew word chata’t, used for this sacrifice, comes from a root meaning “to miss, not to hit the mark” or “to stumble and fall” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “sin,” p. 395). The word interpreted “ignorance” means “to err” (s.v. “ignorance,” p. 225). Thus, the sins which were expiated by this offering were those committed by mistake, error, or oversight; that is, sins committed unintentionally. In other words, this offering covered those sins which came from weakness of the flesh as opposed to those committed deliberately while in a state of rebellion. This sacrifice illustrates the fact that sin, even when not deliberately committed, places one under the demands of justice. The prophet-king Benjamin explained, “For behold, and also [Christ’s] blood atoneth for the sins of those … who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11).
For this offering, the offerer was allowed to bring many different kinds of offerings (see Leviticus 4:3, 13–14, 22–23, 27–28; 5:6–7, 11–12). From your understanding of the law of Moses, why do you think the Lord allowed so many acceptable offerings to expiate sins of ignorance?
The blood of all offerings was the direct symbol of expiation or atonement (see Reading 14-6). The number seven was a symbol of perfection (the number coming from the Hebrew root meaning “whole” or “complete”, and also, probably, from the idea of the Creation being completed in seven days). Thus seven became a symbol of the covenant. (See, for example, Douglas, New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “numbers,” p. 898.) Through sin, Israel stood in danger of losing their covenant relationship with Jehovah. Indeed, they were sinners and those sins were ever before the Lord. Though Israel might forget them, God could not. Nevertheless, just as unforgettable was the fact that Christ had atoned for those sins which resulted, not from rebellion, but from weaknesses of the flesh. The blood of the sin offering (symbolic of the Atonement of the Lord), when taken within the veil by the high priest, remained there where it was ever present before the eye of God (see Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 153–54).
The horns on the altar of sacrifice and the altar of incense were a symbol of power (perhaps because many animals with horns have greater power; see Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “horn,” 2:827; see also Psalm 75:4, 10; Jeremiah 48:25; Habakkuk 3:4 for examples of the use of horns as symbols of power). Thus, the horns on the altars suggested symbolically that in these two altars there was power to save. (In Luke 1:69 Christ is called the “horn of salvation.”) To put the blood of the sin offering on the horns of the altar of incense signified that the atoning blood had power to make Israel’s prayers to God more effectual.
The offering of the fat and inwards upon the altar demonstrated that the offering itself was acceptable to God. Because this sacrifice represented the effects of sin, however, the offering itself could not come upon the altar. It may be puzzling at first that Christ could be typified as a sin offering. Again, Jukes offered valuable insight into how the sin offering differed from the sweet savor offering (the burnt offering, meat offering, and peace offering).
“Hitherto we have met no thought of Sin in the offerings. The Burnt-offering, the Meat-offering, and the Peace-offering, much as they differed, were yet alike in this, that in each of them the offering was the presentation of something which was sweet to Jehovah, an oblation to satisfy His holy requirements, and in the acceptance of which He found grateful satisfaction. But here, in the Sin and Trespass-offerings, we read of Sin in connexion with the offering. Here is confessed sin, judged sin, sin requiring sacrifice and blood-shedding; yet sin atoned for, blotted out, and pardoned. …
“… The Sin-offering shews that sin has been judged, and that therefore the sense of sin, if we believe, need not shake our sense of safety. Sin is indeed here pre-eminently shewn to be exceeding sinful, exceeding hateful, exceeding evil before God: yet it is also shewn to have been perfectly met by sacrifice, perfectly borne, perfectly judged, perfectly atoned for. …
“… The sweet-savour offerings are, as we know, Christ in perfectness offering Himself for us to God without sin: the others, on the contrary, as we shall see, represent Him as offering Himself as our representative for sin.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 137–39.)
The atoning sacrifice which began in Gethsemane and ended on Golgotha the next day could be thought of as an offering for sin, for that was its purpose. Elder James E. Talmage wrote:
“Christ’s agony in the garden is unfathomable by the finite mind, both as to intensity and cause. … He struggled and groaned under a burden such as no other being who has lived on earth might even conceive as possible. It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing. …
“In some manner, actual and terribly real though to man incomprehensible, the Savior took upon Himself the burden of the sins of mankind from Adam to the end of the world.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 613.)
In other words, to pay the demands of justice, Christ stood before the law as though He were guilty of all sins, even though He was guilty of none. He became a sin offering for all mankind. This sacrifice involved more than the suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. The completion of the sacrifice took place on the cross outside the city walls. Thus, Paul saw in Christ’s sacrifice a fulfillment of the typology of the sin offering being burned outside the camp:
“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. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” (Hebrews 13:11–13.)
The blood of the sin offering for the ruler and common people was not sprinkled upon the sides of the brazen altar but, rather, dabbed upon its horns. The horns symbolized the might and power of Jehovah (see Reading 14-13). Placing the expiating blood upon them suggested that forgiveness could come only through the power of God.
These verses are a continuation of the requirements for a sin offering. The sins specified here as needing expiation are those of omission (failure to report a crime one has witnessed), oversight (unconscious defilement), and rashness (thoughtless oath making).
Though referred to as trespass offerings (see v. 6), this sacrifice should not be confused with the trespass offering proper discussed in Leviticus 5:14–19. The trespass offering here is to atone for those acts which came under the sin offering (ignorance, minor offenses, and ceremonial uncleanliness).
The Book of Mormon prophets taught that those who have not been “born of the Spirit” or “changed from their carnal and fallen state” (Mosiah 27:24–25) are in “rebellion against God” and indeed are “an enemy to God” (Mosiah 16:5; see also 3:19). This fallen or sinful nature, termed the “natural man” (Mosiah 3:19) is a serious state. This “natural man” must be considered in an attempt to distinguish between the sin offering and the trespass offering.
“With our shortsightedness, our inability to see beyond the surface, we naturally look at what man does rather than at what he is; and while we are willing to allow that he does evil, we perhaps scarcely think that he is evil. But God judges what we are as well as what we do; our sin, the sin in us, as much as our trespasses. In His sight sin in us, our evil nature, is as clearly seen as our trespasses, which are but the fruit of that nature. …
“Now the distinction between the Sin and Trespass-offerings is just this:—the one is for sin in our nature [i.e., the “natural man”] the other for the fruits of it. And a careful examination of the particulars of the offerings is all that is needed to make this manifest. Thus in the Sin-offering no particular act of sin is mentioned, but a certain person is seen standing confessedly as a sinner: in the Trespass-offering certain acts are enumerated, and the person never appears. In the Sin-offering I see a person who needs atonement, offering an oblation for himself as a sinner: in the Trespass-offering I see certain acts which need atonement, and the offering offered for these particular offences.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 148–49.)
“In the case of sin—that is, our sinful nature, where no actual robbery or wrong had been committed against any one—justice would be fully satisfied by the death and suffering of the sinner. But the mere suffering and death of the sinner would not make satisfaction for the wrong of trespass. For the victim merely to die for trespass, would leave the injured party a loser still. The trespasser indeed might be punished, but the wrong and injury would still remain. The trespasser’s death would not repair the trespass, nor restore those rights which another had been robbed of. Yet, till this was done, atonement or satisfaction could scarcely be considered perfect. Accordingly, to make satisfaction in the Trespass-offering, there is not only judgment on the victim, but restitution also: the right of which another had been defrauded is satisfied; the wrong fully repaid.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, p. 179.)
The first fire on the first altar made under Moses’ direction was kindled by direct action of Jehovah (see Leviticus 9:23–24). It was the duty of the priest to keep this fire burning, symbolizing the continuation of the covenant which made the ordinance of sacrifice everlastingly valid. Also, as explained in Reading D-5, the fire symbolized the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, which is never extinguished.
Once the fat, kidneys, breast, and upper part of the back leg were removed, the rest of the animal was returned to the offerer. Upon returning home, he used it in preparing a feast to which his family, friends, and the poor were invited. Since the sacrifice served as a major part of this feast, birds were not acceptable because they provided too little meat. This feast became a holy covenant meal participated in with joy and thanksgiving because it represented fellowship with the Lord. The earthly food symbolized the spiritual power through which the Lord satisfied and refreshed His Saints and led them to victory over all their enemies.
All participants shared in this offering. The Lord specified His portion, that which was given to the priest, and that shared by the family. Therefore, all enjoyed the spirit of the fellowship meal just as all partake of the work of Christ in bringing about salvation to the faithful and victory over death and hell.
To knowingly partake of the peace offering while in a condition of uncleanliness was grounds for excommunication (see v. 21). One cannot be in a state of sin and be at peace with God at the same time.
The Lord declared that two portions of the animal would be the priest’s. The first was the heave offering, which was the upper portion of the back leg. The term heave means, in Hebrew, “to lift off or remove.” This portion was given by the offerer to the priest in payment for his assistance. The “wave breast” (v. 34) was the brisket or lower chest. This choice piece of meat, along with the fat and kidneys, was the Lord’s. The brisket was presented to the Lord through the act of waving. To do this the priest placed the offering in the hands of the offerer and then placed his own hands beneath it. They then moved the brisket in a horizontal motion toward the altar (symbolically transferring to the Lord) and then back again, representing God’s acceptance of the offering and its transference to his servant the priest. (See Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:330.)
These chapters record the actual setting apart of Aaron and his sons and the sanctification of the tabernacle that were commanded in Exodus 28–29. For the significance of blood on the ear, thumb, and toe, see Reading 13-16.
The Hebrew word translated “strange” means “to be alien … as opposed to that which is holy and legitimate” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “strange,” p. 422). Thus, the idea is not that the fire was strange or unusual, but that these two sons of Aaron engaged in an unauthorized form of worship. Whether they took fire (actually hot coals) from another source than the great altar which God Himself had kindled (see Leviticus 9:24), or whether they used an incense not prepared as specified (see Exodus 30:34–37) is not clear from the account. But after revealing the proper preparation of the incense, the Lord warned, “Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people” (Exodus 30:38). Aaron’s other sons were forbidden to officially mourn the death of their brothers, for this action would imply that the Lord had been unjust in the punishment (see Leviticus 10:6).
Part of the sin offering was specified for the use of the priest who administered the offering, thus “bearing the iniquity of the congregation” (v. 17); however, Eleazar and Ithamar had burned all of it rather than eating their portion. This was the second time the sons of Aaron had not followed the law. Moses rebuked them, but Aaron withstood the rebuke.
“The excuse which Aaron makes for not feasting on the sin-offering according to the law is at once appropriate and dignified; as if he had said: ‘God certainly has commanded me to eat of the sin-offering; but when such things as these have happened unto me, could it be good in the sight of the Lord? Does he not expect that I should feel as a father under such afflicting circumstances?’ With this spirited answer Moses was satisfied; and God, who knew his situation, took no notice of the irregularity which had taken place in the solemn service. To human nature God has given the privilege to weep in times of affliction and distress. In his infinite kindness he has ordained that tears, which are only external evidences of our grief, shall be the outlets to our sorrows, and tend to exhaust the cause from which they flow.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:539.)
Question. Did you not say that the law of Moses would be a great step forward? Did you mean only for ancient Israel or for us today as well?
Response. Consider for a moment the effect on the world today if people were willing to really live the principles taught in the Mosaic law. Even some members of the Church do not live up to the standards of that law, let alone the higher law we have been given.
Question. But we have the fulness of the gospel and that does away with the law of Moses for us, doesn’t it?
Response. Of course, but let’s look at it another way. The law of performances and ordinances, admittedly, is no longer required. And the perfection we seek was not possible under the lesser priesthood (see Hebrews 7:11). But the principles which undergirded and overarched that law are just as vital and indispensable today as they were then. These principles, which were part of the preparatory gospel, were also incorporated into the higher law by which perfection will come. But I was not thinking of just that when I said we are not living up to the standards of the law. I’m also including the social and moral aspects of the law under Moses.
Question. What do you mean?
Response. Perhaps the best way for me to answer would be by reversing the procedure. Let me share some concepts that bring the principles of the law into your own life. These ideas will point out not only what living the law of Moses could have generated in the heart of a faithful Israelite anciently but also what living the principle behind the law can generate in the heart of a modern Israelite.
Concept 1: The law says to serve (see Leviticus 19:13–18, 32–37). What is the nature of your service? Is it out of duty—sometimes wearisome or fitful? Or have you felt the kind of power and knowledge that whole-souled service was designed to bring? Have you received “grace for grace” and “continued from grace to grace” so that “you may come unto the Father in [Christ’s] name, and in due time receive of his fulness”? (D&C 93:12–13, 19). Indeed, can the Lord commend in you what He did in Nephi, son of Helaman, “unwearyingness”? (Helaman 10:4).
Concept 2: The law suggests prayer (see Deuteronomy 26:13–15). What is the nature of your prayer life? Can you pray as the Nephites did, “filled with desire” and with the Spirit such that “it was given unto them what they should pray”? (3 Nephi 19:24). Do you ever feel, in the course of your prayers, the overwhelming influence of the Spirit quietly assuring you that your prayers are heard?
Concept 3: The law implies forgiveness (see Leviticus 19:17–18). Do you ever find yourself unwilling to forgive, or doing so grudgingly? Or are you anxious to forgive, feeling as did the Prophet Joseph Smith that “the nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs”? (Smith, Teachings, p. 241).
Concept 4: The law says to worship God (see Deuteronomy 6:3–11). Do you seek the Lord “to establish his righteousness,” or do you walk in your own way, after the image of your own God, “whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol”? (D&C 1:16). Can you feel, as the Prophet Joseph expressed, that “we can only live by worshiping our God”? (Smith, Teachings, p. 241). Or as Elder B. H. Roberts said, because God is all-wise, all-loving, and completely unselfish, “other Intelligences worship him, submit their judgments and their will to his judgment and his will. … This submission of mind to [God] is worship.” (In Smith, Teachings, p. 353, fn. 8.)
Concept 5: The law says to love (see Leviticus 19:18). Have you felt the vital force in you that Joseph Smith said is “without prejudice,” which “gives scope to the mind,” and “enables us to conduct ourselves with greater liberality toward all”? This principle, he stressed, was “nearer to the mind of God, because it is like God” (Smith, Teachings, p. 147). Indeed, John the Beloved said, “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Have you felt the fulfillment of his promise that “if we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us,” that “he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him”? (1 John 4:12, 16). Can you “have boldness in the day of judgment” because of the perfection of that love so that “as he is, so are we in this world”? (v. 17).
Question. I see. Then the principles incorporated within the law really are a step forward and are of value to me today?
Response. Yes. Whatever God gives His children is uplifting and edifying, though in some cases, because of their own unworthiness, He cannot give them all He would like. Never view the law of Moses as some primitive, lesser law. It is the handiwork of God and, like all His works, bears the mark of perfection. Let us rather be like the psalmist who cried, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. … Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. … Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart” (Psalm 119:97, 105, 111).