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Behind the Ritual: Forgiveness in Leviticus

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Behind the Ritual: Forgiveness in Leviticus

Nobody reads the book of Leviticus, right? I mean it’s filled with all these rules and rituals that really do not apply to the Christian these days. I remember in 2001 I taught a class in a church and we went through the entire Old Testament in 13 weeks. I grouped Leviticus with Numbers and Deuteronomy anticipating going through Leviticus fairly quickly and hitting some good things in Deuteronomy. But when it was all said and done, in that 90 minute class, I spend 45 minutes on Leviticus.

I may not have read Leviticus since then, but a friend of mine wanted to study the whole Bible, beginning at Genesis. So in January we started there and are almost through with Leviticus. While prepping, I’ve had so many “aha” moments that I can’t count them all. Behind all the ritual and regulation in a rich exploration of forgiveness that as Christians we can apply. We can see how God handles forgiveness. But what also surprised me was a limitation on the ability of the sacrifice to forgive certain types of sin, and the very important role of the priest in the process.

In the next few series of posts I want to look at the idea of forgiveness from the book of Leviticus. I will look at the sacrifices, the role of the priest, the role of the Tabernacle, Yom Kippur, and the idea of the “scapegoat.” I will also explore the idea of purification, the sin that a sacrifice cannot deal with, and the pictures of Christ from the process.

If you haven’t read Leviticus in a while, grab a copy of the Bible and spend some time there. It’s a fascinating book!

Forgiving Inadvertent Sin

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Behind the Ritual: Forgiveness in Leviticus

The first three chapters of Leviticus consist of offerings that are voluntary. They are not required, but are recommended. In Chapter 4, however, we get into the purification offering, and it is not only required, but it is of immense importance when thinking about forgiveness.

The sacrifice in view here is the chatt¢’¢h sacrifice. This is usually called the “sin offering” because chatt¢’¢h is a Hebrew word for sin, and in passages such as Leviticus 4 the chatt¢’¢h sacrifice is required when people violate divine commandments. But often it is also paired with a burnt offering and used for purification from severe physical ritual impurity. In addition, the Piel verb of the same root of the Hebrew word can mean “un-sin” in the bigger sense of purify. So this sacrifice may best be understood as a purification offering, covering both purification from sins and from physical ritual impurities.

I mention physical ritual impurity, because they believed that certain physical issues, blindness for instance, were actually a result of sin. As it says in John 9:1-2, “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. ‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?'”

The offering in chapter 4 focuses on sins that the priests, leaders, and people do not realize they have committed. We call these kinds of sins inadvertent sins. When the sin was committed, a sacrifice had to be made so that God’s forgiveness could be extended. This was done by a ritual sacrifice.

This ritual carried out by the priest as part of this sacrifice is unique to other animal sacrifices. In other animal sacrifices, the priest tossed the blood on the side of the outer altar. But in the purification offering, the priest put the blood on the horns of the altar – the projection of its highest points – and on the inside of the sacred tent. So the blood was extended upward, and outward, vertical and horizontal…like a cross. This is a beautiful picture. Continue Reading…

But I didn’t do it on purpose!

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Behind the Ritual: Forgiveness in Leviticus

Leviticus 4 discusses the sins which are taken care of by the purification offerings. We talked about this in the last post. These are limited to those sins that are committed inadvertently. In 5:1-13, however, the scope of the offering is extended to include sins through omission or neglect. Omission carries the idea of a failure to do something one can and should do. Sometimes it is inadvertent – though that word is not used in Leviticus 5 – while at other times it is willful. Regardless of the intent, the issue is that omission and neglect is a sin and one that a person needs to be forgive from. Thus an offering had to be made.

Leviticus 5:1-13 addresses sins that were both inadvertent and non-defiant. This is an important distinction. In the Old Testament, flagrant, defiant violations could not be dealt with by an offering (Numbers 15:30). We can tell the difference between the inadvertent and defiant violations here because there seems to be a mitigating factor in each of these, a sense of “I forgot…” in verses 2-4.

Another key is that in Leviticus 5:1-13, something or someone happens that causes the person to realize what they have done (or not done) was wrong. When that awareness occurs, the sinner immediately brings a sin/purification offering.

The point of this is that when we realize we have messed up, we make things right, not simply by confessing the sin but by actually working to make things right. When a person does not confess the violation and set things right with God (ultimately) and/or another person (if involved), punishment will follow. Continue Reading…

Do we bear the weight of other’s sin when we forgive?

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Behind the Ritual: Forgiveness in Leviticus

I was having breakfast the other day with a friend. I mentioned to him that I had been studying through Leviticus and his eyes became a little glazed over. We both confessed that we haven’t studied that book enough and even though had been a pastor, he admitted that maybe he had only read it once or twice. Studying it? He couldn’t think of a time.

Then I told him of some of what I had learned from the book. We both laughed at how ignorant of the book we were. But he noted how important this was, because it increased importance of the role of the prophets and the priests. But more importantly, the visible imagery created by the rituals increased our understanding of our role and it helped us see Jesus’ life as even more important – if that was possible – than it had been in the past.

There could not be a more important role in the ritual offerings instituted by God in Leviticus than the role of the priests in general and the high priest in particular. And Christians, as a kingdom of priests, we need to consider how this affects us. We need to understand how the process of forgiveness, and how we extend forgiveness, was expressed in the Levitical offerings.  Continue Reading…

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