Moses said to Aaron, "Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and the people;...." Leviticus 9 v7


in the Tanakh and in Jewish thought

The altar in the Wilderness Tabernacle   (replica)

The altar in the Wilderness Tabernacle (a replica)

I am grateful to a rabbi friend for these thoughts, that are gleaned from his talk at a meeting of the local branch of the Council of Christians and Jews.

Sacrifice in the Tanakh

The first reference in the tanakh is in the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4.  Here it is clear that it is the motivation for the sacrifice that counts � Abel offered full-heartedly while Cain offered grudgingly because his brother had made an offering.

Noah made a sacrifice for thanksgiving � Genesis 8 � and it is recorded that "Noah was righteous among his generation".     (Jewish scholars debate the two possible understandings of this statement.)

Abraham (Avraham), Isaac and Jacob all built altars for worship, but the rabbi points out that they only offered sacrifices on them where the tanakh says so.    (Genesis 12 v8, 13 v18, and 33 v20 )

The sacrifice in Genesis 15 v7-81 was an exception.   It was specifically the making of a covenant, and it was instigated by Himself.    (See "The Miracle of the Scarlet Thread" by Richard Booker [Books])

The binding of Isaac (the Akedah) makes it clear that the sacrifice of Isaac was never God�s intention. Abraham knew God�s promise was to be fulfilled through Isaac, but he was being tested.   (Genesis 22)   (See also 2 Kings 3 v27 for reference to human sacrifice among Israel's pagan neighbours)

Jacob built an altar and offered sacrifice before leaving the land of Israel, knowing that he was not to offer sacrifice elsewhere. (Genesis 28 v20-22  - a stone set up as God's house (Biet El )

Prayer and , sometimes, sacrifice was the essence of the (private) worship of the patriarchs. This thread remains in Judaism �      Essentially there are three types of prayer �

"Thank you God" � "Sorry God" � "Help me God"

Later on the communal service of Israel was developed in the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple.   The sacrificial service had no liturgy; it stood alone. Early on, portions of scripture were used as prayer, most notably the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.    Later on Psalm 100 was used with thanksgiving offerings, sung by the Levites.

To try and appreciate the sacrificial service one needs to imagine the impact on the individual coming to the Temple . . . .

The Temple was overawing � in its splendour, the presence of God and the knowledge that miracles happened there.

The sacrificial service was profoundly dramatic.

In the case of a sin or guilt offering, the slaughter of the animal in his stead and the splashing of its blood (life) would surely convince him not to do it again; whatever it was he had done.

The Cohanim testified that it was a deeply beautiful and meaningful service.   This assertion may sound deeply strange to the twenty first century western man or woman, with our concern for animals and our removal from realities of food production.   However, it is worth remembering that modern man is not in a strong position to condemn earlier ages for spilling blood.   The twentieth century saw the Holocaust, the genocides in Rwanda and Armenia,  Pol Pot�s Cambodia and Saddam Hussein�s Iraq.   The world has watched most of these bloodbaths without doing too much about them.    We are not in a position to evaluate animal sacrifice objectively, and thus judge God for instituting it.

There are three principles involved in Sacrifice

1  Sincerity of heart and devotion of mind � to lead the offerer to a higher level of devotion in his daily life; also, in the case of atonement, to instil contrition.
2 It is not the propitiation of an angry, bloodthirsty god who needed blood like the pagan gods did.
3 It replaced the human sacrifice that was practiced by the surrounding pagan nations (and by Israel in their times of apostasy).   Consider also the Akedah mentioned earlier.


The one offering the animal had to have first purchased it or have reared it � the sacrifice cost him something.   Remember David refusing to accept the land to build an altar as a gift, saying, " I will not sacrifice to my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing."    (2 Samuel 24 vs18-24)

Sacrifice was not God�s priority

When Saul and his army brought back animals to sacrifice, after having been instructed to destroy everything (1 Samuel 15) he was sternly rebuked,

"Does ADONAI take as much pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying what ADONAI says? Surely obeying is better than sacrifice and heeding orders than the fat of rams." For rebellion is like the sin of sorcery, stubbornness like the crime of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of ADONAI, he too has rejected you as king."

Sacrifice is not a subject to be considered or practiced on its own � it must be part of sincerity and obedience � anything else is disgusting � see Hosea 6 (v6), Isaiah 1 (v11), Psalm 50 (v8), the last chapter of Isaiah and Jeremiah 7 (v21).

See 2 Chronicles 29 & 30 for an account of the worship, including sacrifice,  which accompanied a major time of repentance and revival.   Note especially ch29 v24, making atonement for all Israel and v30, they sang praise until they were filled with joy.

Sharing a meal with God

Except in the case of a burnt offering, which was totally burned on the altar, only a portion was burned. Another portion went to the priest and the rest went to the offerer to cook and eat in the Temple, in Jerusalem or within sight of the Temple. Thus one would be aware of sharing the offering as guests at His table � God is with us while we eat. Consider this aspect when pondering the offering of yourself as a living sacrifice (Romans 12) � many sacrifices involved giving over to God, but receiving back to share with God, with His blessing.

From another source

"Sacrifice" is not a very good translation from the Hebrew "korban" - from the root "karoth" meaning to get closer (to God)

After 70AD (CE)

With the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion, all sacrificial service ceased.   But the traditions are preserved in Judaism


All services refer to sacrifices


At festivals, the appropriate sacrificial service is read


At Yom Kippur, the whole service is read


The Seder represents the sacrifice and eating of the Passover lamb


Reciting the scriptures replaces the actual sacrifice, and charitable acts and giving is practiced in place of providing the animal. Prayer and repentance must accompany the worship, as was always the case.

Blemished animals

For your benefit, you would never offer a less than perfect animal!

You must do your best when offering to God.

How do we know it is forbidden to shame someone in public?

See Leviticus 7,   "In the place where you offer burnt offerings, there you offer guilt (or sin) offerings". There was no special place for guilt offerings, so you couldn�t tell that someone was making a guilt offering.

Sacrifice was never for God�s benefit. It was for the spiritual advancement of the person making the offering.


The Sacrifices of Leviticus 1 –7

Compiled from notes taken at a teaching day given by Bob Lilleman.

You may come across Christians who will tell you something like, the Old Testament sacrifices are of no significance to us because Jesus is our sacrifice.

I would say this is very disrespectful to Jesus. The sacrifice Jesus provided for us accomplished so much that we should make the effort to understand the sacrifices of Leviticus and see through them all the implications of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

Not suitable for vegetarians? (Cain and Abel)

There are five different sacrifices (not including Yom Kippur) and they have different reasons and methods.

Burnt Offering

Grain Offering

Fellowship Offering

Sin Offering

Guilt Offering

Lev 3:1 And if 518 his oblation 7133 (Hebrew - Korban – to draw near) be a sacrifice 2077 of peace offering, 8002 (KJV with Strong's Bible dictionary references)

There are some things to be borne in mind to avoid misunderstanding sacrifices.

Torah was given to a people who had been made free – not to make them free.

How to live as the people they were now free to be.

God is saying, “This is how you walk with me”

The book we call Leviticus is Vayikra in Hebrew; from the first word, meaning “He called” “ called to Moshe…”

One important instruction is to bring a gift.

To be able to do this requires the grace of God in allowing substitution – the life of an animal for my life – even my life is a gift from God.

To understand the offerings we need to look at each one in order.

Burnt Offering - Leviticus 1

Voluntary (Only Sin Offering and Guilt offerings are mandatory) Whenever you like.

Not to gain acceptance from God, because you are accepted.

(Leviticus 1:4 He is to lay his hand upon the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.)

The offering is the life of an animal – the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was a place of blood (lots of it)

There was identification with the animal whose life was being offered – the person making the offering would lay his hands on the head of the animal and say why he was making the offering. He was then to kill the animal by cutting its throat and then do the preparation.

The whole of the Burnt Offering was for God. Olah - Burnt Offering also means – goes up

Remember, Isaac was to have been a burnt offering, but, “God will provide….”

Yeshua is the reality of the burnt offering - as a fragrant offering (Paul)

Grain Offering - Leviticus 2

Voluntary – but is spoken of as “When you bring….”; it was expected.

Grain Offering was the only bloodless offering

Some was burnt and some went to the Cohenim (nothing to the person making the offering.

Flour represents effort to harvest and grind the grain (this was before McDougalls flour was purchased in bags) and fine flour requires sieving to separate the best.

(This is an interesting requirement because while they were travelling in the wilderness they were living on manna and would only be able to make flour once they arrived in the promised land.)

Offered with

Olive oil (shemen) -– helped it to burn – Oil is a picture of the Holy Spirit

No yeast – sin – man made unlike Holy Spirit (picture of sin – see Passover, unleavened bread)

No Honey – the sweetener of the day. - that which we would like

Salt – the opposite of yeast – purifying – relationship with Him

Frankinsense The offering was always accompanied with and frankincense, which was imported, costly and sweet smelling when burned. – love and obedience (Mary & Jesus ?) This symbolized obedience.

This offering speaks of relationship, as in sharing a meal.

The cohen would burn part of the grain but all of the frankincense.

Reality behind the Grain Offering – it is about drawing near – all of us, that we are, drawing near to God. We are doing it out of love, not to be accepted, not out of legalism. Romans 11:33 – 12:2

Fellowship Offering - Leviticus 3

(Peace Offering in CJB)

Not to make peace with God but to celebrate peace and relationship with God.

The person offering shares it with God. So can any members of the covenant community.

Jesus’ last meal with his disciples was a fellowship meal ( a special one – the Seder)

Just think of all the times Jesus shared fellowship at meals and the significance of these occasions. (The erev Shabbat meal is still most important for Jews) Fellowship meals are joyous occasions.

As for the previous two offerings, it was voluntary – a thankyou – on fulfilling a vow – just out of love.

The meal itself was the offering. The life of the animal with enough meat to share.

The animal had to be free of defect

The Fellowship Offering could be made at any time

The animal was offered in the same place – lots of blood and God’s portion was burned on top of the Burnt Offering.

(Only in Jesus can we get to this point)

The Cohen gets his portion but most goes back to the person making the offering, to eat wherever – as long as it is kept clean and is eaten by people who are clean.

(There would be a lot of meat; one would have to share)

God is encouraging you to have a party.

It speaks of freshness of relationship – it was not to be kept to a third day.

What had been offered ends up inside us.

Application to Yeshua – intimacy – clean feast – done by Yeshua; not by our works – personal – not by minister.

Had to be careful not to take what is His ( fat etc)

According to the Talmud, in the age of Messiah, when there’s no more sin, this will be the only sacrifice.

Sin Offering - Leviticus 4

Mandatory – as is the Guilt Offering

It is about the holiness of God and the unflattering comparison with me.

It is about Hatat , that is sin – missing the mark.

There is a contrast with the Grace that allows us to approach. (Lev 4 into 5 (& 6 & 7)

Remember as we said earlier, this is for a people who are now free (from Egypt) not just to get into relationship with God.

The aforementioned sacrifices had pagan equivalents that would have been familiar but this was new.

It was all about hatat – sin – missing the mark; for unintentional sin – not deliberate sin.

Remember God’s 100% standard – holiness.

Even unintentional sin has consequences and need dealing with.

Sin Offering is only for the person who wants to draw near and is not in revolt.

Sin Offering is still about drawing near but deals with the sin problem first.

(Leviticus 4:20 This is what he is to do with the bull — he must do the same with this bull as he does with the one for the sin offering. Thus the cohen will make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven.)

The offering was graduated according to the status of the person (High Priest [cohen hagadol] first, kings and on downwards)

Uncleanness is contagious.

The blood was used – the rest was burned outside the camp.

This was not about a “pleasing aroma” but was about making atonement – fixing a broken relationship.

First for the leaders and then for the whole community. ( not a present day, western concept)

The manner was the same for the individual or the community – one bull.

Blood is holy – commandment not to eat blood – carried over into Gentile church (Acts 15)

What sin is this for?

Failure to speaks as a witness

Touching something unclean

Making a thoughtless vow - (See Kol Nidrei)

It is taken for granted that we are in a relationship but we will sin and need it to be put right. There is no other way – sin is never overlooked.

Romans 8:1 ………. Sin offering ……….. no condemnation.

God knew all about our sin from the beginning but planned all that we need to deal with it. ( blood of Jesus once for all)

It is to make us holy. Hebrews 13 ….. sin offering …. Outside the camp

Note order of presentation - Sin Offering had to be made before any voluntary offerings.

Guilt Offering - Leviticus 5

(Hebrew Asham)

Involves reparation

It is still for unintentional sin, but specific for offences against holy things.

There was only one price, whoever is involved.

It is never called a pleasing aroma.

Violation – Hebrew ma’al – unfaithfulness, treachery, breach of trust – things of God.

What are “the holy things”? There are many in the Torah.

Think of

Nadav and Avihu – strange fire

The various people killed when the Ark was lost to the Philistines and as it came back.

Anointing oil recipe was not to be used for personal use.

The penalty for these sins was death, but God accepts a lamb’s life.

Leviticus 5:6 and bring his guilt offering to Adonai for the sin he committed; it is to be a female from the flock, either a lamb or a goat, as a sin offering; and the cohen will make atonement for him in regard to his sin.

“It will be forgiven him.” ( )

It covers stuff you don’t know you’ve done – remember there are many mitzvot (613 traditionally)

In Judaism, there is a tendency to “hedge the Torah” by surrounding Torah commands with more strenuous commandments so you might fail to keep them but still be Ok with the actual Torah mitzvot.

How do you know if you have got it wrong?

Covenant promises include blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience so you may well experience curses instead of blessings and wonder what went wrong.

This offering takes care of getting back to a place of blessing.

The ma’al of cheating a neighbour – included in the Torah – involved repayment.

Why is this a matter involving God? Because when it goes to court before judges you will have to swear falsely in the name of YHVH.

The principle is, make it right with your neighbour first and then with God. This had to be done before any voluntary offering.

We have the privileges of priests. Therefore there is a requirement for holiness.

Have we touched holy things, offered strange fire, tried to get God to do our will or allowed people to give us the glory that belongs to God?

God has provided a way - Isaiah 53 and it is available as often as needed.

However - Is God always pleased with sacrifices?

Notes from a Torah Portion (Vayikra) study by Keith Johnson and Nehemia Gordon

See God's word given through his prophets.

1Samuel 15:22 Sh'mu'el said, "Does Adonai take as much pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying what Adonai says? Surely obeying is better than sacrifice, and heeding orders than the fat of rams.

Isaiah 1:11 "Why are all those sacrifices offered to me?" asks Adonai. "I'm fed up with burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened animals! I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs and goats!

Hoshea 6:6 For what I desire is mercy, not sacrifices, knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Micah 6:6 "With what can I come before Adonai to bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with burnt offerings? with calves in their first year? Would Adonai take delight in thousands of rams with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Could I give my firstborn to pay for my crimes, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" Human being, you have already been told what is good, what Adonai demands of you — no more than to act justly, love grace and walk in purity with your God.

Amos 5:22 If you offer me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; nor will I consider the peace offerings of your stall-fed cattle.

Psalm 40:6 Sacrifices and grain offerings you don't want; burnt offerings and sin offerings you don't demand. Instead, you have given me open ears; so then I said, "Here I am! I'm coming!

It is important to note the distinction between unintentional and intentional sin.

Numbers 15:27 " 'If an individual sins by mistake, he is to offer a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. The cohen will make atonement before Adonai for the person who makes a mistake by sinning inadvertently; he will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven . . . . .
" 'But an individual who does something wrong intentionally, whether a citizen or a foreigner, is blaspheming Adonai. That person will be cut off from his people.

Several of the sacrifices discussed above provided atonement but not for intentional sin - defiance of God. This is saying that there is no sacrifice for sin that one has not repented of.

The placing of one's hands on the sacrifice as it is slaughtered, involved confessing one's sins over the animal. This means that repentance must have already taken place.

God requires Repentance first, then we are free to make a (voluntary) sacrifice.

Psalm 51:16 For you don't want sacrifices, or I would give them; you don't take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God, you won't spurn a broken, chastened heart.


Sacrifices and Holiness explained from Levitcus / Vayikra in the Hebrew Torah

The various English translations of the Hebrew Torah cloud many of the important issues

Nehemia Gordon, studying with Keith Johnson and Jono Vandor gets to grips with the Hebrew Torah to understand Sacrifice, Holiness and the Priests, in these episodes from "Pearls from the Torah." These are available on Nehemia's Wall as Tzav and Vayikra


Augmented 27/11/21

Click the banner below to go to the site map and choose another page