“[You have] the framework of the knowledge and of the truth in the Law.”—ROM. 2:20.
1. Why should we be interested in understanding the significance of the Mosaic Law?
WERE it not for the inspired writings of the apostle Paul, it would be hard for us to understand the significance of many aspects of the Mosaic Law. In his letter to the Hebrews, for example, he clarifies how Jesus as a “faithful high priest” could once and for all time offer a “propitiatory sacrifice” making it possible for those exercising faith in it to obtain “an everlasting deliverance.” (Heb. 2:17; 9:11, 12) Paul explained that the tabernacle was merely “a shadow of the heavenly things” and that Jesus became the Mediator of “a better covenant” than that mediated by Moses. (Heb. 7:22; 8:1-5) In Paul’s day, such explanations of the Law were invaluable to Christians, and they still are. They help us to grasp more fully the value of the provisions that God has made for us.
2. What advantage did Jewish Christians have over Gentiles?
2 When Paul wrote to Christians in Rome, he directed some of his comments to congregation members who were of Jewish stock and who had been instructed in the Mosaic Law. He acknowledged that because of their familiarity with that divine Law, such ones had the advantage of possessing a “framework of the knowledge and of the truth” concerning Jehovah and his righteous principles. A grasp of that ‘framework of truth’ and heartfelt respect for it enabled Jewish Christians, like faithful Jews before them, to guide, teach, and illuminate those who were in ignorance of the Law that Jehovah had given to his people.—Read Romans 2:17-20.
SHADOWS OF JESUS’ SACRIFICE
3. How do we benefit from studying ancient Jewish sacrifices?
3 The framework of truth to which Paul referred is still important in order for us to understand Jehovah’s purposes. The principles behind the Mosaic Law have not lost any significance or value. With this in mind, let us consider just one aspect of that Law—how various sacrifices and offerings led humble Jews to Christ and helped them to understand what God required of them. And since Jehovah’s basic requirements for his servants never change, we will also see that God’s laws to the Israelites regarding sacrifices and offerings can help us to analyze the quality of our sacred service.—Mal. 3:6.
4, 5. (a) Of what did the Mosaic Law remind God’s people? (b) God’s law concerning sacrifices pointed to what?
4 It could hardly have been lost on the ancient Jews that many aspects of the Mosaic Law emphasized their sinfulness. For example, anyone who touched a human corpse was required to undergo purification. To this end, a sound red cow was slaughtered and burned. Its ashes were kept to make “water for cleansing,” which was sprinkled on the person being purified on the third and the seventh day after contamination. (Num. 19:1-13) And as a reminder that human reproduction transmitted imperfection and sin, a woman who gave birth was required to observe a period of uncleanness, after which she was to make atonement by means of a sacrifice.—Lev. 12:1-8.
5 Animal sacrifices were required in many other situations of everyday life to atone for sins. Whether the worshipper realized it or not, these sacrifices—and those later offered at Jehovah’s temple—were “a shadow” of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice.—Heb. 10:1-10.
THE SPIRIT BEHIND THE SACRIFICE
6, 7. (a) What considerations guided the Israelites in their selection of sacrificial offerings, and what did this foreshadow? (b) What questions might we ask ourselves?
6 A fundamental standard concerning any animal that was to be sacrificed to Jehovah was that it be “sound” in all respects—not blind, injured, deformed, or sick. (Lev. 22:20-22) When the Israelites offered fruits or grains to Jehovah, they needed to be the “firstfruits,” “the very best” of their harvests. (Num. 18:12, 29) A second-rate offering was not acceptable to Jehovah. The important requirement regarding animal sacrifices pictured that Jesus’ sacrifice would be spotless and unblemished and that Jehovah would sacrifice what was best and dearest to him in order to redeem mankind.—1 Pet. 1:18, 19.
7 If the person making a sacrifice was truly grateful to Jehovah for all of His goodness, then would he not be happy to select the very best that he possessed? The quality of the offering was left up to the individual. However, he knew that God would not be pleased with a defective offering because that would indicate that the man considered the sacrifice a mere formality, even a burden. (Read Malachi 1:6-8, 13.) This should make us reflect on our service to God: ‘With what spirit am I serving Jehovah? Might it be appropriate for me to review the quality of my service and my motives for serving him?’
8, 9. Why should we consider the spirit with which the Israelites made their sacrifices?
8 If an Israelite’s sacrifice was a voluntary manifestation of sincere gratitude to Jehovah or, as in the case of a burnt offering, a request for his approval, then making the appropriate choice of animal would likely present no challenge. The worshipper would be happy to give Jehovah his very best. Christians today do not make the literal sacrifices stipulated by the Mosaic Law; yet they do make sacrifices, in the sense that they use their time, energy, and resources to serve Jehovah. The apostle Paul referred to the “public declaration” of the Christian hope and “the doing of good and the sharing of things with others” as sacrifices that please God. (Heb. 13:15, 16) The spirit with which Jehovah’s people engage in such activities reveals how grateful and appreciative they are for all that God has given to them. So there is a parallel between the attitudes and motivations of those who engage in Christian service today and those who offered voluntary sacrifices in ancient times.
9 What can be said, though, of a situation in which the Mosaic Law required a sin offering or a guilt offering from an individual because of some shortcoming on his part? Do you think that the obligatory nature of the sacrifice would have made a difference to a person’s willingness and attitude in offering it? Might such sacrifices have been offered begrudgingly? (Lev. 4:27, 28) They would not have been if the person involved was sincere in wanting to maintain a good relationship with Jehovah.
10. What “sacrifices” might Christians have to make to repair damaged relationships?
10 Similarly today, you may realize that thoughtlessly, unwittingly, or carelessly, you may have offended a brother. Your conscience may tell you that you have fallen short in your conduct. Anyone who is serious about serving Jehovah would do all in his power to rectify the shortcoming, would he not? That could mean apologizing sincerely to the person offended or, in the case of serious wrongdoing, seeking the spiritual assistance of loving Christian overseers. (Matt. 5:23, 24; Jas. 5:14, 15) So it costs us something to rectify a sin committed against a fellow man or against God himself. Even so, when we make such “sacrifices,” we restore our relationship with Jehovah and our brother and we gain a clean conscience. This, in turn, reassures us that Jehovah’s way is the best way.
11, 12. (a) What provision characterized communion sacrifices? (b) What relevance do communion sacrifices have to modern-day pure worship?
11 Certain sacrifices stipulated by the Mosaic Law were considered communion offerings. These signified peace with Jehovah. The person making such an offering and his family would eat the meat of the sacrificed animal, perhaps in one of the temple’s dining rooms. The officiating priest received a portion of the meat, as did the other priests serving at the temple. (Lev. 3:1, ftn.; 7:31-33) The worshipper made his sacrifice purely out of the desire to enjoy a good relationship with God. It was as though the worshipper, his family, the priests, and Jehovah himself were joyfully partaking of a meal together, in peace.
12 What greater privilege could there be than, in a symbolic way, to invite Jehovah to such a meal and for him to accept? Naturally, the host would want to offer his very best to such an honored guest. The provision of communion sacrifices, part of the Law’s framework of truth, pointed to the fact that by means of Jesus’ greater sacrifice, all those of mankind who desire to attain an intimate, peaceful relationship with their Creator can do so. Today, we can enjoy Jehovah’s friendship and company as we voluntarily sacrifice our resources and energies in his service.
CAUTIONS REGARDING SACRIFICES
13, 14. Why was King Saul’s intended sacrifice not acceptable to Jehovah?
13 Naturally, in order to be accepted by Jehovah, the sacrifices prescribed by the Mosaic Law had to be offered with the right spirit and heart condition. The Bible, however, contains cautionary examples of sacrifices that were not acceptable to God. What made him reject them? Let us consider two situations.
14 The prophet Samuel told King Saul that the time had come for Jehovah to execute judgment on the Amalekites. Saul therefore was to exterminate this enemy nation along with its livestock. After his victory, however, Saul allowed his soldiers to preserve alive Agag, the king of the Amalekites. Saul also spared the best of their livestock as something that could be sacrificed to Jehovah. (1 Sam. 15:2, 3, 21) What was Jehovah’s reaction? He rejected Saul for his disobedience. (Read 1 Samuel 15:22, 23.) What do we learn from this? That to be acceptable to God, a sacrifice must be accompanied by obedience to his commands.
15. The bad conduct of certain Israelites who made sacrifices in Isaiah’s day showed what?
15 A similar example is found in the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah’s day, the Israelites were going through the motions of sacrificing to Jehovah. Their bad behavior, however, made their sacrifices invalid. “Of what benefit to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” asked Jehovah. “I have had enough of whole burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed animals; and in the blood of young bulls and male lambs and he-goats I have taken no delight. . . . Stop bringing in any more valueless grain offerings. Incense—it is something detestable to me.” What was the problem? God told them: “Even though you make many prayers, I am not listening; with bloodshed your very hands have become filled. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the badness of your dealings from in front of my eyes; cease to do bad.”—Isa. 1:11-16.
16. What determines whether a sacrifice is acceptable to God?
16 Jehovah took no pleasure in sacrifices offered by unrepentant sinners. However, the prayers and offerings of those sincerely striving to live in harmony with God’s commands were acceptable to him. The framework of the Law taught such individuals that they were sinful and in need of forgiveness. (Gal. 3:19) That realization appropriately produced a contrite heart. Similarly today, we need to recognize our need for Christ’s sacrifice, which is truly capable of atoning for sins. If we understand and appreciate this, then Jehovah will be “delighted” with all that we offer him in our dedicated service.—Read Psalm 51:17, 19.
EXERCISE FAITH IN JESUS’ SACRIFICE!
17-19. (a) How can we appropriately show Jehovah our gratitude for Jesus’ ransom sacrifice? (b) What will be considered in the next article?
17 The advantage we have over those who lived in pre-Christian times is that we no longer have to be content with seeing just “a shadow” of God’s purposes. (Heb. 10:1) The laws concerning sacrifices encouraged the Jews to develop attitudes appropriate to attaining a good relationship with God—genuine gratitude to him, the desire to give him one’s best, and recognition of the need for redemption. Thanks to the explanations in the Christian Greek Scriptures, we can understand that by means of the ransom, Jehovah will permanently remove the effects of sin and that even now he allows us to have a good conscience before him. Jesus’ ransom sacrifice is a wonderful provision!—Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:9, 14.
18 Of course, more than a simple understanding of the ransom sacrifice is needed in order for us to benefit from it. “The Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Gal. 3:24) And such faith cannot be devoid of works. (Jas. 2:26) Paul thus encouraged first-century Christians who possessed the framework of knowledge conveyed by the Mosaic Law to put that knowledge into practice. By so doing, their conduct would harmonize with the divine principles they taught.—Read Romans 2:21-23.
19 Although Christians today are not required to observe the Mosaic Law, they must still present sacrifices that are acceptable to Jehovah. How we can do this will be the subject of the following article.
[Blurb on page 17]
Jehovah’s basic requirements for his servants never change
[Picture on page 18]
Which animal would you have offered to Jehovah?
[Picture on page 19]
Those who offer acceptable sacrifices to Jehovah enjoy his approval