The Torah portion for Sunday 13th March 2022 is call Vayikra meaning “And He Called” from Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26 New Testament Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 8:5, 10:1
When we look at Leviticus we think of blood flying everywhere and sacrifices….. but Leviticus is the very heart of the Torah because blood flows through the heart. It seems to deal only with apparently meaningless regulations, sacrifices, and rituals; however, these are pictures which portray truth which God wants us to know. They are a visual aid to help us understand ourselves.
The Old Testament is filled with these pictures. They prefigure something yet to come. The New Testament calls them shadows, (Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 8:5, 10:1). Just as a shadow takes the form of the object which casts it, so these ceremonies and rituals are shadows of something yet to come – the coming of Jesus Messiah.
In Exodus it is also recorded that God gave Israel two more great pictures which convey marvelous truths that they needed to know.
One was the Law. The Ten Commandments are nothing more than the revelation of the kind of people that God expects us to be. The other was the pattern of the tabernacle.
He told Moses, "Don't vary the pattern; build it exactly as I have told you!" The reason for that is that the tabernacle, as we learn from the book of Hebrews, is a picture of man and what God intends to be in man, which is God living in us.
This week’s Torah portion, in Leviticus, is all about purity and holiness. Leviticus 1:1 in the Hebrew begins with “And”. “And The Lord called to Moses”, which means it is connected to Exodus and the word “Lord” in this case is the Merciful Judge – the Loving Merciful God known as Yahweh – “Behold the hands behold the nails”. The whole point of the Sacrificial offerings is called in Hebrew “The Korban” meaning “to draw near” to a loving and merciful God, pointing to Yeshua – to Jesus. (v)
The essence of sacrifice, said Rabbi Zalman, "is that we offer ourselves. We bring to God our faculties, our energies, our thoughts, and emotions. The physical form of sacrifice for Israel was an animal offered on the altar. It is only an external manifestation of an inner act. The real sacrifice is “of you.” We give God something of ourselves”. (i) (vi)
Romans 12:1 “We are to offer ourselves up as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” It is also calling us to offer to God a sacrifice of Praise. It’s the fruit of our lips giving praise to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
I would like to draw attention to the meaning of two words in this passage: Atonement and Offering.
Atonement means “Covering” and “Offering” means “Korban” “To draw close”.
There are 5 offerings brought to the Lord in Leviticus. The first three are a freewill offering and were not sin offerings but as a means to “draw close” to God; the Burnt, the Grain and the Peace offering were designed to draw them closer to God.
The Sin and Guilt offerings were different. They were mandatory and were the atonement for the repentance of sin and to restore relationship with God. These required acknowledgment that the people had sinned and were to take responsibility for what had happened. Repentance and restitution for sin was required. (ii) All five represent aspects of the work of Jesus Christ.
Leviticus 1 reads: And “HE called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock”.
3 “‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD.
4 You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.
5 You are to slaughter the young bull before the LORD, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting."
Atonement means a covering. The biggest difference between the burnt offering and other offerings is that to make a burnt offering the entire animal was burned on the altar, symbolizing total commitment or surrender to God. It is a picture of Jesus.
Sometimes the blood was splashed, sometimes sprinkled and sometimes poured. There is life in the blood, and we are brought near by the blood of Messiah totally submitted and surrendered to God. It’s His life that was given to us, so that we might live and not die as we draw near to Him.
The whole burnt offering was totally dedicated to God. A whole cow even today is very expensive. It would be like burning money. No-one got to eat any of it. It was a freewill offering. A poor person could offer a dove or pigeon but what they were doing was offering all they had just like the widow’s mite. Even the poorest can offer something as a burnt offering. God is not interested in the amount but whether we are all in or not, totally submitted and surrendered to God.
The Lord loved us first so that is why He made the first sacrifice, the whole burnt offering, because the Messiah was shedding His life blood for us. Now He is saying to us, bring your life to me in the form of a substitute animal as a burnt offering, acknowledging that His blood was shed for us in our place as a sacrifice so we are able to draw near.
The sacrifice is to demonstrate our love for God. An “offering” in Hebrew is “Korban” which means to “draw near.” Atonement means to “cover” us. We are covered by the blood of the lamb which is Jesus. His atonement for us.
Adam and Eve covered themselves with leaves because they had eaten of the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil which was a sin of disobedience. When we try to cover our own sins up without using the covering God gives us, we are in trouble.
To bring a bull from the herd or a sheep or goat from the flock for a whole burnt offering would cost a lot. In some cases, it would cost a man everything. The point is that it costs us to draw near to God and we need to do something too, to develop a love relationship with Him because it cost Jesus everything for us.
It is important to understand that the Jews did not believe they had to earn their salvation through the sacrificial system. They did it to simply “Draw near” to God.
God cannot bear to look at sin and will turn His face away – He never turns His back, but He will turn His face away and leave us very vulnerable without His cover - our atonement.
Sin causes a separation between God and ourselves and to close the gap, we confess and repent. The sacrifice was not about death but about life. The animal’s life blood in those days represented a man’s own blood on the altar – a substitute that he might live and not die.
The grain offering was where you shared a meal together with God which included flour, oil, and salt. It was not only roasted grain but could include unleavened bread and cakes. It did not include yeast or honey but was always eaten with salt. Every sacrifice included salt.
Leaven represented the sin of pride as leaven puffs up. You see, what God is saying is, "When you come to offer your humanity to me, don't have any ego in it. Don't be doing this for your own glory.
The oil represents the anointing. Jesus who was humble and without sin is the Bread of Life – the Holy and Anointed one of Israel.
The peace or fellowship offering is carried through Shabbat and Passover – fellowship one with another in the Body of Christ. The burnt offering is testifying of the need to be loved. He is saying, "Now it is time for you to begin to seek me. I've been reaching out to you. I chose you, you did not choose Me. Now you reach back to me." Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. This is the law of response in human nature.
Now we are going to look at the offerings for our sins.
The sin offering which was mandatory is for the sin of ignorance not willful sin. Leviticus 4:1-3 Moses says, “When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands ….and if the anointed priest sins bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the Lord a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed."
The guilt offering is for the restoration of damages done that required monetary payment. Something done unintentionally but it incurred a cost and you had to make it right. It is also called a trespass offering. In the Lord’s prayer we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. For example, bumping into someone’s car – you didn’t mean to do it – it was an accident, but the damage must be paid for.
Lev 5:17 “If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible. He is to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement (will cover for him) for the wrong he has committed unintentionally, and he will be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; he has been found guilty of wrongdoing against the Lord”. This is an atonement for his ignorance where he erred without knowing. He is then covered by the blood and it shall be forgiven him.
It is these two unintentional sins Jesus is referring to when He says from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. It is a sin of ignorance with consequences. (iii)
Not all acts were capable of being forgiven on the basis of the trespass offering. We need to understand that too. You see, all guilt can be forgiven because it is against God. It is something which has arisen because we are members of a lost race. But God in his mercy has provided a way of redemption for us so that all guilt can be forgiven. But, under the Law, not all trespasses could be forgiven.
Back in those days if people committed adultery they were stoned to death. The penalty for murder under the Law was death as was the act of sexual perversity. That was because these acts strike against humanity. God can handle our guilt, but man cannot always handle our trespasses.
That is why in the Old Testament you find a severity against individuals and even against whole groups of nations which seems to us to be very harsh.
For Israel at that time, it was God's way of removing the terrible tensions which otherwise would tear society apart and of controlling them so that they do not wreck the human family entirely. It is his way of limiting evil. That is why under the Law certain sins were unforgivable. But this is no longer the case.
The Good News is that through the shed blood of Jesus – the sacrificial lamb, crucified at Calvary, who took upon Himself the sins of the world, we are saved from death by His grace.
In our relationship with Jesus Christ there is only one sin which cannot be forgiven, and that is the rejection of the Savior himself. There is no way out if we reject him. That is the unforgivable sin – not receiving Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.
To conclude and remind us all of the amazing sacrifice Jesus made for us, I have included the words of one of my favourite hymns:
1 And can it be that I should gain An int'rest in the Savior's blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, should die for me?
5 No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness divine, Bold I approach th'eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own. Amazing love, how can it be That thou my God should die for me Amen.
Shabbat Shalom, Miriam
(i) Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Likkutei Torah (Brooklyn, NY: Kehot, 1984), Vayikra 2aff. (ii) Notes from Hebrew4Christians Vayikra (iii) Notes taken from El Shaddai Ministries on Vayikra (iv) Notes taken from Ray Stedman on Leviticus (v) Wikipedia (The noun korban, “sacrifice,” and the verb lehakriv, “to offer something as a sacrifice,” actually mean “that which is brought close” and “the act of bringing close.”) (vi) Notes from “Why do we Sacrifice” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks