From early times men have presented offerings to God. In the first recorded instance, Adam’s oldest son Cain presented some fruits of the ground, and Adam’s younger son Abel, the firstlings of his flock. Evidently the attitudes and motives of the two brothers were different, for God approved Abel’s offering but looked with disfavor on Cain’s. (Later, the Law covenant provided for both animal and grain offerings.) Abel must have had faith in God’s promise of liberation through the promised Seed and likely realized that blood would have to be shed, someone would have to be ‘bruised in the heel,’ so that mankind might be uplifted to the perfection that Adam and Eve had lost. (Ge 3:15) Acknowledging himself as a sinner, he was led by faith to present an offering requiring the shedding of blood, thereby accurately foreshadowing the real sacrifice for sins, Jesus Christ.
In Patriarchal Society. The family head Noah, on coming out of the ark, offered a thanksgiving sacrifice to Jehovah that was “restful” (soothing, tranquilizing), after which Jehovah made the “rainbow” covenant with Noah and his offspring. (Ge 8:18-22; 9:8-16) We read later of the faithful patriarchs’ presenting offerings to Jehovah. (Ge 31:54; 46:1) Job, as family head, acted as priest for his family, sacrificing burnt offerings to God in their behalf. (Job 1:5) The most notable and significant of ancient sacrifices was Abraham’s attempt to offer up Isaac, at Jehovah’s direction. Jehovah, after observing Abraham’s faith and obedience, kindly provided a ram as substitute. This act of Abraham foreshadowed Jehovah’s offering of his own only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
Under the Law. The sacrifices commanded under the Law covenant all pointed forward to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice or to benefits that flow from that sacrifice. (Heb 8:3-5; 9:9; 10:5-10) As Jesus Christ was a perfect man, so all animal sacrifices were to be sound, unblemished specimens. (Le 1:3, 10; 3:1) Both the Israelite and the alien resident who worshiped Jehovah were included in presenting the various offerings.
Burnt offerings. Burnt offerings were presented in their entirety to God; no part of the animal being retained by the worshiper. (Compare Jg 11:30, 31, 39, 40.) They constituted an appeal to Jehovah to accept, or to signify acceptance of, the sin offering that sometimes accompanied them. As a “burnt offering” Jesus Christ gave himself wholly, fully.
Occasions for burnt offerings, and their features:
(1) Regular times offered: Every morning and evening (Ex 29:38-42; Le 6:8-13; Nu 28:3-8); every Sabbath day (Nu 28:9, 10); first day of month (Nu 10:10); Passover and seven days of Festival of Unfermented Cakes (Le 23:6-8; Nu 28:16-19, 24); Day of Atonement (Le 16:3, 5, 29, 30; Nu 29:7-11); Pentecost (Le 23:16-18; Nu 28:26-31); each day of Festival of Booths.
(2) Other occasions: At consecration of priesthood (Le 8:18-21; see INSTALLATION); at installation of Levites (Nu 8:6, 11, 12); in connection with making covenants (Ex 24:5; see COVENANT); with communion offerings as well as certain guilt and sin offerings (Le 5:6, 7, 10; 16:3, 5); in performing vows (Nu 15:3, 8); in connection with purifications (Le 12:6-8; 14:2, 30, 31; 15:13-15, 30).
(3) Animals offered and procedure: Bull, ram, male goat, turtledove, or young pigeon. (Le 1:3, 5, 10, 14) If it was an animal, the offerer laid his hand on the animal’s head (acknowledging the offering as his offering, and for him, in his behalf). (Le 1:4) The animal was slaughtered, the blood was sprinkled round about upon the altar of burnt offering (Le 1:5, 11), the animal was skinned and cut up into its parts, its intestines (no offal was burned on altar) and shanks were washed, the head and other body parts were all put on altar (the officiating priest received the skin; Le 7:8). (Le 1:6-9, 12, 13) If it was a bird, the crop and feathers were removed, and the head and body were burned on the altar. (Le 1:14-17)
Communion offerings (or peace offerings). Communion offerings acceptable to Jehovah denoted peace with him. The worshiper and his household partook (in the courtyard of the tabernacle; according to tradition, booths were set up around the inside of the curtain surrounding the courtyard; in the temple, dining rooms were provided). The officiating priest received a portion, and the priests on duty, another portion. Jehovah, in effect, received the pleasing smoke of the burning fat. The blood, representing the life, was given to God as his. Therefore the priests, the worshipers, and Jehovah were as if together at the meal, signifying peaceful relationships. The person partaking while in a state of uncleanness (any of the uncleannesses mentioned in the Law) or who ate the flesh after it had been kept beyond the prescribed time (in the warm climate it would begin to putrefy) was to be cut off from his people. He defiled or desecrated the meal, because of either being unclean himself or eating that which was foul before Jehovah God, showing disrespect for sacred things.
The Lord’s Evening Meal (Memorial or Last Supper) is a communion meal. (1Co 10:16) Those in “the new covenant by virtue of [Jesus’] blood” share with one another in faith, partaking of the emblems representing Jesus’ body and blood. They share also with Jehovah as Author of the arrangement. These are seeking Jehovah’s approval and are at peace not only with one another but also with Jehovah through Jesus Christ. In line with the requirement of cleanness for sharers in a communion meal, Paul warns that the Christian should examine himself before the Memorial meal. To treat the occasion or the emblems of wine and unleavened bread lightly or with contempt would be desecration of sacred things, meriting adverse judgment.
In the thanksgiving offering, which was a communion offering praising God for his provisions and loving-kindnesses, flesh and both leavened and unleavened bread were eaten. The worshiper therefore celebrated the occasion using what might be termed “daily food.” (However, no leavened bread was at any time put upon the altar as being offered to God.) And, in this expression of thanks and praise to God, the flesh had to be enjoyed that day, not the next. (In other communion offerings, the flesh could be eaten the second day.) (Le 7:11-15) This brings to mind the prayer Jesus Christ taught his followers: “Give us today our bread for this day.”
Occasions for communion offerings, and their features:
(3) Animals used, and procedure: Male or female cattle, sheep, goats (no birds, since they were not deemed sufficient to constitute a sacrificial meal). (Le 3:1, 6, 12) The offerer laid his hand on the animal’s head; the animal was slaughtered; the priest sprinkled its blood round about upon the altar of burnt offering (Le 3:2, 8, 13); the fat (including the fat tail of the sheep) was put upon the altar of burnt offering (Le 3:3-5, 9); the breast went to the priests, the right leg to the officiating priest (Ex 29:26, 28; Le 7:28-36).
Sin offerings. These were all for unintentional sin, committed because of weakness of the imperfect flesh, not “with uplifted hand,” that is, not openly, proudly, purposely. (Nu 15:30, 31, ftn) Various animal sacrifices, from bull to pigeon, were used, according to the position and circumstances of the one(s) whose sin was being atoned for. It is to be noted that those involved in the sins dealt with in Leviticus chapter 4 were persons who had done “one of the things that Jehovah commands should not be done” and so had become guilty. (Le 4:2, 13, 22, 27) For Atonement Day sin offerings, see ATONEMENT DAY.
Occasions requiring sin offerings, and their features:
(1) For sin of the high priest bringing guilt upon the people (Le 4:3): The high priest brought a bull and laid his hand on the bull’s head; the bull was slaughtered; its blood was taken into the Holy Place and sprinkled before the curtain; some of the blood was smeared on the horns of the altar of incense, the rest being poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering; the fat (as in communion offerings) was burned on the altar of burnt offering (Le 4:4-10); and the carcass (including the skin) was burned in a clean place outside the city, where altar ashes were put. (Le 4:11, 12)
(2) For sin of the entire assembly (some sin made by the assembly, of which the leaders were not aware until later) (Le 4:13): The congregation brought a bull; the older men laid their hands on the bull’s head; one slaughtered it; the remainder of the procedure was the same as for a sin of the high priest. (Le 4:14-21)
A sin of the high priest committed in his official position and capacity as representative of the entire nation before Jehovah brought guilt upon the entire assembly. This might be an error such as a mistake in judgment, in application of the Law, or in dealing with a question of national importance. For this, and for the sin of the entire assembly, the most valuable of sacrifices, namely, a bull, was required.
With sin offerings for individuals, the blood was taken no farther than the altar. However, in cases of sin of the high priest and of the entire assembly, the blood was also taken into the Holy Place, the first compartment of the sanctuary, and was sprinkled before the curtain, on the other side of which Jehovah ‘resided,’ as represented by a miraculous light above the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy. (Only in the sin offerings regularly made on Atonement Day was blood taken into the Most Holy, the second compartment; Le 16.) No priest could eat any portion of offerings from which blood was taken into the Holy Place.
(3) Sin of a chieftain: The procedure was similar, except a male goat was used, and blood was not taken into the Holy Place. The blood was put on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; the rest was poured out at its base; the fat was made to smoke on the altar (Le 4:22-26); the priests evidently received a portion to eat, as in other sin offerings (Le 6:24-26, 29); vessels in which meat was boiled had to be scoured (or broken, if earthenware), so that none of the “most holy thing” would be desecrated, which would happen if any of the sacrifice clung to the vessel and the vessel was later used for ordinary purposes. (Le 6:27, 28)
(4) Sin of an individual Israelite: A female kid of the goats or a female lamb was used; the procedure was the same as for the sin of a chieftain. (Le 4:27-35)
In the following, the sins differ from the foregoing in that the persons involved committed an error and did “not do all [God’s] commandments,” hence a sin of omission.
In cases where priests were to eat part of the sin offering, it appears that, in partaking, they were considered to be ‘answering for the error’ of those making the sin offering “so as to make atonement for them before Jehovah,” by virtue of their holy office.
Guilt offerings. Guilt offerings were also offerings because of sin, for guilt of any sort involves sin. They were for special sins by which a person had contracted guilt, and they differed slightly from other sin offerings in that they appear to have been to satisfy or restore a right. Either a right of Jehovah or a right of his holy nation had been violated. The guilt offering was to satisfy Jehovah on the right that had been violated, or to restore or recover certain covenant rights for the repentant wrongdoer and to get relief from the penalty for his sin.
In the cases covered in Leviticus 5:1-6, 17-19, the individuals had sinned unwittingly, thoughtlessly, or carelessly, and when the matter was brought to their attention, they desired to right the matter. On the other hand, the sins dealt with at Leviticus 6:1-7 were not unwitting or careless sins but, nevertheless, were sins due to fleshly weaknesses and desires, not deliberate, high-handed, and purposely in rebellion against God. The person had come to be stricken in conscience, so repented voluntarily, confessing his sin, and after making restoration, sought mercy and forgiveness.
These laws highlight the fact that, while the Law was strict for the deliberate, unrepentant sinner, there was room for consideration of motives, circumstances, and attitudes, so that mercy could be extended under the Law, even as is the case in the Christian congregation. (Compare Le 6:1-7; Ex 21:29-31; Nu 35:22-25; 2Co 2:5-11; 7:8-12; 1Ti 1:2-16.) But note that none of these wrongs could be done with impunity; compensation had to be made to the individual harmed, and a guilt offering was to be made to Jehovah. The guilt offerings were, with a few variations, handled in the same way as the sin offerings, the priests getting a portion to eat.
Occasions requiring guilt offerings, and their features:
(1) A witness to a matter who failed to testify or report after hearing public adjuration; one who had unwittingly become unclean by reason of a dead body or another unclean person; one who rashly or thoughtlessly made an oath to do or not to do something (Le 5:1-4): He had to make confession concerning the way in which he had sinned. (Le 5:5) The guilt offerings varied according to financial circumstances. (Le 5:6-10) If it was a grain offering, no oil or frankincense was included because it was a sin offering and was a required grain offering, not a voluntary one; a voluntary grain offering was a joyful offering of one in good standing with God. (Le 5:11-13)
(2) One who sinned unintentionally against holy things of Jehovah (for example, one who unwittingly appropriated grain set aside as tithe to the sanctuary, and used it for himself or his household [for a common use, profaning the sanctified thing]) (Le 5:15a; compare Le 22:14-16): Compensation plus one fifth was to be given to the sanctuary. (Le 5:16) A ram was presented as a guilt offering. (Le 5:15)
(3) A person who unwittingly did something (probably through negligence) that Jehovah commanded not to be done: A ram “according to the estimated value” was to be offered. (Le 5:17-19)
(4) A person who deceived his associate by taking valuables committed to his care, robbery, defrauding, keeping something found and lying about it (Le 6:2, 3; compare Ex 22:7-13, and note that this does not include testifying falsely against one’s fellowman, as at De 5:20): First, confession of the wrong was to be made. Then he must make full compensation, plus one fifth, to the injured person. (Le 6:4, 5; Nu 5:6, 7) If the wronged person had died, the nearest male relative got the compensation; if there was no near relative, the priest received it. (Nu 5:8) Then he was to offer a ram for his guilt offering.
Grain offerings. Grain offerings were made along with communion offerings, burnt offerings, and sin offerings, and also as firstfruits; at other times they were made independently. (Ex 29:40-42; Le 23:10-13, 15-18; Nu 15:8, 9, 22-24; 28:9, 10, 20, 26-28; chap 29) These were in recognition of God’s bounty in supplying blessings and prosperity. They were often accompanied by oil and frankincense. Grain offerings could be in the form of fine flour, roasted grain, or ring-shaped cakes or wafers that were baked, griddle cooked, or from the deep-fat kettle. Some of the grain offering was put on the altar of burnt offering, some was eaten by the priests, and in communion offerings the worshiper partook. (Le 6:14-23; 7:11-13; Nu 18:8-11) None of the grain offerings presented on the altar could contain leaven or “honey” (apparently referring to the syrup of figs or juice of fruits) that might ferment.
Drink offerings. Drink offerings were presented along with most of the other offerings, especially after the Israelites had settled in the Promised Land. (Nu 15:2, 5, 8-10) This consisted of wine (“intoxicating liquor”) and was poured out on the altar. (Nu 28:7, 14; compare Ex 30:9; Nu 15:10.) The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi: “If I am being poured out like a drink offering upon the sacrifice and public service to which faith has led you, I am glad.” Here he used the figure of a drink offering, expressing his willingness to expend himself in behalf of fellow Christians. (Php 2:17) Shortly before his death, he wrote to Timothy: “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the due time for my releasing is imminent.”
Wave offerings. In the wave offerings the priest evidently put his hands under the hands of the worshiper, who was holding the sacrifice to be presented, and waved them to and fro; or the thing offered was waved by the priest himself. (Le 23:11a) It seems that Moses, as mediator of the Law covenant, did this for Aaron and his sons when consecrating them to the priesthood. (Le 8:28, 29) This action represented a presenting of the sacrificial things to Jehovah. Certain wave offerings went to the priests as their portion.
The presentation of a sheaf (or omer measure) of the firstfruits of the barley harvest on Nisan 16 was a wave offering carried out by the high priest. It was on this date in the year 33 C.E. that Jesus Christ was resurrected, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death.” (1Co 15:20; Le 23:11b; Joh 20:1) On the day of Pentecost two leavened loaves of the firstfruits of wheat were waved. (Le 23:15-17) This is the day that Jesus, as High Priest in the heavens, was able to present to Jehovah the first of his spiritual brothers of the Christian congregation, taken from among sinful mankind and anointed by the pouring out of the holy spirit.
Sacred portions (heave offerings). The Hebrew word teru·mahʹ is sometimes translated “sacred portion” when referring to the part of the sacrifice that was lifted up, or heaved, off the sacrifice as the portion belonging to the priests. (Ex 29:27, 28; Le 7:14, 32; 10:14, 15) The word is also frequently rendered “contribution,” when referring to the things given to the sanctuary, which, with the exception of that which was sacrificed on the altar, also went to the priests for their sustenance.