Leviticus means pertaining to the Levites, that is, the book is primarily about the cultic regulations of the Levitical priesthood. Yahweh will now have moved from Mt. Sinai to the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is in effect a portable Mount Sinai. Just as Mt. Sinai was a successor to the Garden of Eden, now the Tabernacle is a new kind of Eden. The Tabernacle is sacred space. It is the dwelling place of God, where man can interact again with God, as in the original blueprint of Eden. But, sacred space requires sacred actions, sacred objects, sacred vocations, and sacred procedures. All of this would require consecration and sanctification to be ritually fit in order to be in the presence of God. To be ritually impure in the presence of God is a death sentence. The presence of God is a dangerous thing. We are to have a holy fear of being in the presence of God. It is something awesome and something sacred. Leviticus introduces the sacrificial system and the notion of sacrificial atonement, thus preparing the way for the idea later ultimately, of Christ’s sacrificial atoning death.
The Five Offerings:
To prepare the priests and the people, five different ritualized sacrificial offerings can be made at the Tabernacle, as a means of atonement: (1) the Burnt Offering (2) the Grain Offering (3) The Peace Offering (4) The Sin Offering (5) the Guilt Offering.
(1) The Burnt Offering: (“holocaust”) was offered by someone seeking access, fellowship, and communion with God. This is not about sin, but about ritual purity. The hands were laid on the animal’s head to signify the transferal of a symbolic identity as the offerer. It was a way to approach God and be protected from His divine wrath. Proximity to God is dangerous and fearful thing. [contrast this with the “go boldly” before God in the New Testament, ie, Heb. 4:16. No gift necessary to access sacred space; we are the temple of God now. That is why it is so necessary to live a holy life. We are “set apart” sacred space and temples of God.] Nothing of the burnt offering is ever eaten, but is entirely consumed in fire and “goes up” as smoke to God. The entire animal is given to God as a representation of the offeror’s complete self-donation to God.
(2) The Grain Offering: also called the “Cereal Offering”. It was an unbloody sacrifice consisting of some form of grain, possibly baked as a cake or not. The “minhah” expressed a sort of communion between the offerer and God in the form of a “meal” presented to God. It was made of “fine flour” with frankincense. Unleavened and with no honey. Leaven is puffed up with pride and sin. Honey is associated with pagan sacrifices. Thus, the grain offering should be unleavened and without honey, disassociating it from pride and paganism. It should contain salt. The grain offering with salt (Lev. 2:13) is like a “covenant of salt” (Num. 18:19; 2 Chron. 13:5), which is a binding covenant. It absorbs more blood of the animal, and more importantly, breaking the covenant is like a land plowed over with salt, that is, no grain will grow. The land becomes unusable. Thus, the covenant of salt is binding and forever.
(3) The Peace Offering: This was an offering of “thanksgiving” or being personally thankful to God. It represented a state of communion between God and the worshipper, a joyful sacrifice. The fat of the animal was offered to God, but the priest and the people ate the rest of the animal in a celebratory feast, accompanied with grain offerings with it. It was a communal meal with God. There existed a state of well-being between the offerer and God.
(4) Sin Offering: (“hattat”) This is a sacrifice to restore communion with God through the forgiveness of sins; a “purification offering.” The sin offering serves to cleanse the worshipper from ritual uncleanness, by inadvertent moral or ritual violations. This is for unintentional violations. This was offered on behalf of the congregation’s sins on whole. Blood was applied to the sanctuary to maintain ritual purity against defilement. The priest ate the fatty offering. The sin offering did not cover all sins, only a purification offering for inadvertent transgressions and retain ritual purity. This did not apply to immorality, or willful sins. “Purification offering” would be a better title. The offering is to “cleanse” “purify” and “to decontaminate.” The blood is applied to decontaminate the sacred space; ritual purity. The Virgin Mary’s sin offering (Lk. 2:24) is for ritual purity, not immorality or culpability as some Protestants argue. Decontamination for inadvertent ritual violations. Deliberate sin, on the other hand, there was no remedy or sacrificial offering; the sinner would be “cut off” or killed. The blood was sprinkled seven times on the Holy of Holies and Mercy Seat (once a year on the Day of Atonement by the High Priest) and on the “horns” of the Altar and outside the Tabernacle. [Again, this is in contrast to Jesus and the New Covenant, where all is cleansed; all is forgiven; all sacred space is cleansed; made into new creations – something totally foreign to the Levitical old covenant system. Christianity is radical: can be cleansed of all sins, even deliberate grave sins; No restrictions. God sees the perfection of the Messiah, not your sins.]
(5) Guilt Offering: (“asham”) This could also be called a “Reparation” or “Restitution” Offering. The guilt offering makes reparation or restitution to God for the damage done by sin. Whereas the sin offering deals with forgiveness of sin, the guilt offering deals with reparation for sin; forgiveness and reparation respectively. In the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation, we deal with these notions too: forgiveness and absolution, but also, penance and making amends. The two ideas go together in the Old covenant system too. This is “compensation” for something, such as a breach of faith unintentionally (ie, like misusing sanctuary property by accident). The guilt offering would be “a ram without blemish” foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ, who was without sin. Guilt/Restitution offering was done by someone who was repentant, but it did not absolve a person of immorality. Rather, it gave the person a chance to make amends. Knowingly, defiant sin is not addressed by the sacrificial system of the Levites. For those (murder, rape, breaking the Ten Commandments), no restitution was possible, only banishment or death penalty. [We have it much better in the New Covenant, where we are truly forgiven in Christ by His Cross. His blood covers our sins; God the Father only sees His son, not our sins; a radical notion to the Old Covenant Israelite.]