God set up a system of animal sacrifice for the Israelites in the Old Testament. To impress upon them the seriousness of sin, he required that the person offering the sacrifice lay his hands upon the animal to symbolize that it stood for him. Also, the person making the sacrifice had to kill the animal, which was usually done by cutting its throat with a very sharp knife.
Only certain "clean" land animals were allowed for sacrifice: oxen or cattle; sheep; and goats. These animals had cloven or split hooves and chewed the cud. Doves or young pigeons were included for poor people who could not afford bigger animals.
God explained to Moses why blood had to be shed for sin:
Besides being a certain type of animal, the sacrifice also had to be unblemished, only the best from the herds and flocks. Animals that were deformed or sick could not be sacrificed. In Chapters 1-7 in Leviticus, details are given for five types of offerings:
The Sin Offering was made for unintentional sins against God. The common people sacrificed a female animal, the leaders offered a male goat, and the high priest sacrificed a bull. Some of that meat could be eaten.
Burnt Offerings were made for sin, but the entire carcass was destroyed by fire. Blood from the male animal sacrifice was sprinkled on the brazen altar by the priests.
Peace Offerings were usually voluntary and were a kind of thanksgiving to the Lord. The male or female animal was eaten by the priests and worshiper, although sometimes the offering would consist of unleavened cakes, which were eaten by the priests except for a sacrificed portion.
Guilt or Trespass Offerings involved the repayment of money and a sacrificed ram for unintentional sins in fraudulent transactions (Leviticus 6:5-7).
Grain Offerings included fine flour and oil, or cooked, unleavened loaves. A part with frankincense was thrown on the altar's fire while the rest was eaten by the priests. These offerings were considered food offerings to the Lord, symbolizing gratitude and generosity.
Once each year, on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, the most sacred chamber of the tabernacle tent, and sprinkled the blood of a bull and of a goat on the Ark of the Covenant. The high priest laid his hands on a second goat, the scapegoat, symbolically placing all the sins of the people on it. This goat was released into the wilderness, meaning the sins were taken away with it.
It's important to note that animal sacrifices for sin provided only temporary relief. The people had to keep repeating these sacrifices. A major part of the ritual required sprinkling blood on and around the altar and sometimes smearing it on the horns of the altar.
Significance of the Tabernacle Offerings
More than any other element in the wilderness tabernacle, the offerings pointed to the coming Savior, Jesus Christ. He was spotless, without sin, the only fitting sacrifice for humanity's transgressions against God.
Of course the Jews in the Old Testament had no personal knowledge of Jesus, who lived hundreds of years after they had died, but they followed the laws God had given them for sacrifices. They acted in faith, certain that God would fulfill his promise of a Savior some day.
At the beginning of the New Testament, John the Baptist, the prophet who announced the coming of the Messiah, saw Jesus and remarked, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29, NIV). John understood that Jesus, just like the innocent animal sacrifices, would have to shed his blood so that sins could be forgiven once and for all.
With the death of Christ on the cross, further sacrifices became unnecessary. Jesus satisfied God's holy justice permanently, in a way no other offering could.
Also Known As:
Sacrifices, burnt offerings, sin offerings, holocaust.
The tabernacle offerings provided only temporary relief from sin.
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.