5 Ways to Reconcile with God

 

The five sacrifices in TorahNumbers have a lot of significance in Scripture and five is one of the biggest. There were five ranks of Israel as they marched out of Egypt, five pillars of the Gate of Truth in the Tabernacle, five volumes of the Torah, five ingredients of the holy anointing oil, five stones in David’s pouch, and five sacrificial offerings by which we can draw closer to God.

This week’s Torah reading (Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1-6:7) is primarily concerned with the five sacrifices. I haven’t spent a lot of time studying the sacrifices, so this post is pretty much off the top of my head. Even so, there are hints at some intriguing patterns:

Olah, the burnt offering.

  • Except for birds, the animals are to be killed and butchered by the one bringing the offering.
  • Birds are to be killed by the priest, who twists the heads off, breaks the wings, and spreads the whole animal out on the altar.
  • The flesh and entrails are wholly burned.
  • The blood is sprinkled.
  • The hide is preserved. Perhaps this isn’t the image God intended us to get, but I can’t help thinking of my hide having been saved from eternal fire.
  • It is voluntary to the individual Israelite.
  • It teaches us faith and obedience. We don’t necessarily know why God said to do this, only that he did. It is up to Israel to trust and obey without understanding.

Minkhah, the grain offering.

  • Must be unleavened grain. In the Scriptures, leavening usually represents sin.
  • Part is to be burned.
  • The remainder goes to the priest.
  • It is voluntary.

Zevakh Shelamim, the peace or thanks offering.

  • Done out of gratitude to God.
  • Portions of the fat are to be burned.
  • Some of the meat goes to the priest.
  • The rest of the meat forms the main entree of a feast for friends and family of the one who brought the sacrifice. It’s an occassion for a party.
  • It is voluntary.

Chatat, the sin offering.

  • Brought for sins of ignorance, not rebellion or deliberate sin.
  • The high priest offers a bull for himself.
  • If the whole community sins in ignorance, the priest offers a bull.

Asham, the guilt offering.

  • Brought for sins against our fellow men, not for sins against God.
  • The form of the offering depends on the financial state of the offerer.
  • Notice that there is no Levitical sacrifice for deliberate sins against God, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” There is only one remedy for such sin, and that is the blood of Yeshua activated in our lives by sincere repentance.

Another thought I had is that each of these offerings probably lines up with one of the five volumes of the Torah. Possibly also with one of the five volumes of the Gospel. (I am including Acts with the Gospels.) They might line up this way (or they might not):

  • Olah – Genesis – Discovering God
  • Chatat – Exodus – Salvation from the ignorance of the world
  • Zevakh Shelamim – Leviticus – Learning to worship
  • Asham – Numbers – Growing through pain out of rebellion
  • Minkhah – Deuteronomy – Fulfillment and standing on our own

(Thanks to Jon Behrens at Restoration Messianic Fellowship for the five central characteristics of the five books.)

A final thought on the gory nature of sacrifice. If you’ve ever slaughtered an animal, you’ve had occasion to witness the startling redness of fresh blood, like red paint, and the profound realness of the transition from living creature to inanimate meat.

We are real people, not just spirits. We are flesh and blood. That’s the way God made us, and it is how we are supposed to be. We could spend all our time contemplating spiritual matters and thinking about doing good things, and there is a certain amount of value in that. Whoever said, “You are what you believe you are,” was right to an extent. But if we neglect the corporeal side of our beings, we become what someone else said: “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” We need such reminders that our different parts are intimately linked, that physical actions have spiritual consequences, and vice versa.

“The life is in the blood,” indeed.

Vayikra: Approaching God

I am the door. -JesusLeviticus (Vayikra in Hebrew) gets a bad rap. It’s usually dismissed by preachers and Sunday school teachers alike as tedious and irrelevant, full of blood and obsolete rules.

But God doesn’t waste words.

Vayikra begins with a series of word plays:

Leviticus 1:1-2 And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

There are two distinct word plays that I want to talk about. Let’s look at the less obvious one first.

This Torah portion–in fact, this entire book–is named “Vayikra” which means “called” or “summoned”, but there is something missing from the English translation. This isn’t the fault of the translators necessarily because the thing that is missing could not be translated directly. The Hebrew word vayikra in verse one is spelled strangely. Although Hebrew doesn’t use capital letters like we use in English, it does use cases. It has a standard case, an upper case, a lower case, and even an inverted case. In this case, the final letter in vayikra, aleph, is in lower case, almost like a subscript.

There is another instance in the Torah where vayikra is spelled strangely: “And God met Balaam.” (Numbers 23:4) This vayikra has no aleph at all. The rabbis say (and the KJV translators seem to have agreed) that this is because vayiker implies a chance encounter while vayikra is a deliberate summoning.

The rabbis go on to say that Moses used a small aleph in Leviticus 1:1 because he wanted to de-emphasize the fact that God sought him out from among all his peers to lead Israel to freedom and to deliver the Torah. Balaam’s encounter with God was made inevitable by the path he and Balak had chosen.

Moses’ encounter, on the other hand, was pre-ordained. The small aleph is Moses’ way of saying, “Yes, God chose me, but that doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else.” We are all called. The questions to be answered are, how do we respond to our calling and what are we to do with it?

The second word play is more apparent, although the English translation still obscures it a little. Did you notice in the above paragraph how I used the word “case” so many times in a row that it almost became irritating? The Hebrew scriptures, especially prophecy, do this frequently. It’s a trick God uses to flag a particularly important idea or an idea that isn’t immediately clear in the plain text. The Hebrew words for “called unto”, “bring”, and “offering” all have the same root, kar, which refers to coming near. Putting the Hebrew words in, this passage looks something like this:

Leviticus 1:1-2 And the LORD vayik’ra unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you yik’rib a kar’ban unto the LORD, ye shall yik’rib your kar’ban of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

To make the sense even more clear in English, “YHWH told Moses to approach him and spoke to him from out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘If anyone of you would approach God with an approaching, you will approach with an approaching from the animals of your herds and of your flocks.'”

So what is the message that is barely hidden here? It is the central theme of the entire book of Leviticus/Vayikra: drawing near to God. Although Leviticus describes a sacrificial system and priesthood that most people today view as obsolete and even barbaric, it also describes the only way that we might be restored to a close relationship with our Creator. Our restoration requires innocent blood to cover (atone for) our sins. (“Why” is another question entirely and might be beyond our ability to understand.)

We must first acknowledge our guilt and our inability to approach God on our own merits. Then we must accept the atonement that God has provided for us in his inestimable grace in the person of his Son, the Lamb of God. (Genesis 22:8 and John 1:29) The blood of Yeshua takes away our sins so that when God summons us we may draw near without being destroyed.

As in so many other cases, God has presented us with a choice. He told us to choose between life and death, blessings and cursings. In the Garden he provided the means of our destruction and on Calvary he provided the means of our salvation. We have but to choose and to surrender to the consequences.