The principle of sacrifice is central and basic to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since the Law of Moses was meant to be a schoolmaster to prepare the Israelites to receive the Holy One of Israel, sacrificial ritual was endowed with myriads of symbols pointing to Christ and important concepts relating to blood atonement, repentance, gratitude, and forgiveness. It is imperative to see the Law of Moses as a step forward for the Children of Israel. The Law was not a punishment, even though Israel did not qualify to enter into the “Lord’s rest.” Every law is meant to lift and inspire, reconcile and perfect. (See Deuteronomy 6:24.) Israel was in poor spiritual condition when they came out of Egypt. They had lost the prophetic office, prophecy, and the spirit of revelation and had become steeped in Egyptian tradition and idol worship. “They did not every man cast away the abominations . . . [nor] forsake the idols of Egypt” ( Ezekiel 20:6–8 ). However, it was possible that the next generation might cast aside idolatry and become schooled in the ways of the Lord. The Law of Moses was essentially for them.
The Law of Moses and the temple rituals were also meant to make the Children of Israel a covenant people. Making and keeping covenants with the Lord enables people to receive power from God. This power then enables them to resist temptation, receive personal inspiration and revelation, repent of sins and win forgiveness, and to increase in knowledge line upon line. Aspects of the law included the following:
- Faith — Faith is absolutely necessary in all acts to please God and fulfill His purposes (see Hebrews 11:6 ; Romans 14:23 ). Amulek (in the Book of Mormon) clearly taught that faith was a prerequisite to the law bringing one to repentance (see Alma 34:15 ).
- Repentance — The sacrificial systems of Israel were expressly designed to help bring about a repentant attitude by teaching the people of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Then, if they exercised faith in Him and repented of their evil works, their sins were remitted, not by the law of Moses but through their faith in the future Messiah, which was demonstrated by their obedience to the law of Moses (see Mosiah 13:28 ).
- Baptism by immersion — Reference to baptism has been lost from the Old Testament. But it was the outward representation of keeping the law. It established the covenant between the disciple and the Lord. We learn that it was part of the Mosaic law from the following sources: 1 Corinthians 10:1–4 ; 1 Nephi 20:1 ; D&C 84:26–27 . What is left in modern times is the traditional “mikveh,” or ritual, cleansing bath, which is entered into upon conversion to Judaism, after periods of uncleanness, and before special high holy days when one rededicates oneself to the faith.
- The law of ethics and rituals — These are sometimes called the “carnal commandments,” not because they deal with sexuality, but because they have to do with physical enactments of faith. These are laws that dictate temple ritual, ethical behavior towards others, and patterns for living every day and on the Sabbath and holy days. To loyally follow them requires dedication and concentration.
- The ministration of angels— Few people realize that the Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys of the ministration of angels. Angels administer to men on earth, leading to an increase in spiritual understanding, knowledge, and innovative ideas. This administration is expressly to prepare men to have faith in Christ so that they may receive the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 7:30–32 ).
Sacrifices and Offerings
“In each offering there are at least three distinct objects presented to us. There is the offering, the priest, the offerer. A definite knowledge of the precise import of each of these is absolutely requisite if we would understand the offerings.
“Christ is the offering, Christ is the priest, Christ is the offerer.Such and so manifold are the relations in which Christ has stood for man and to man, that no one type or set of types can adequately represent the fulness of them. Thus we have many distinct classes of types, and further variations in these distinct classes, each of which gives us one particular view of Christ, either in His character, or in His work, or person. But see Him as we may for sinners, He fills more than one relation. This causes the necessity of many emblems. First He comes as offerer, but we cannot see the offerer without the offering, and the offerer is Himself the offering, and He who is both offerer and offering is also the priest. As man under the law, our substitute, Christ, stood for us towards God as offerer. He took ‘the body prepared for Him’ as His offering, that in it and by it He might reconcile us to God. Thus, when sacrifice and offering had wholly failed,—when at man’s hand God would no more accept them,—‘then said He, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O God: yea, Thy law is within my heart.’ Thus His body was His offering: He willingly offered it; and then as priest He took the blood into the holiest. As offerer, we see Him man under the law, standing our substitute, for us to fulfil all righteousness. As priest, we have Him presented as the mediator, God’s messenger between Himself and Israel. While as the offering He is seen the innocent victim, a sweet savour to God, yet bearing the sin and dying for it.
“Thus in the selfsame type the offerer sets forth Christ in His person, as the One who became man to meet God’s requirements: the offering presents Him in His character and work, as the victim by which the atonement was ratified; while the priest gives us a third picture of Him, in His official relation, as the appointed mediator and intercessor. Accordingly, when we have a type in which the offering is most prominent, the leading thought will be Christ the victim. On the other hand, when the offerer or priest predominates, it will respectively be Christ as man or Christ as mediator.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 44–45.)
Sacrificial animals, then, represented Christ, who would sacrifice Himself to save us. There were requirements for sacrificial animals that added to this symbolism. Sacrificial animals had to be “without blemish,” in other words they had to be sound and whole. They had to be of the category that the Lord declared clean (see Leviticus 11 ), and they also had to be from domesticated herds and flocks (see Leviticus 1:2 ). The animals came as a result of a man’s labor and work. “In this way the sacrificial gifts acquire a representative character, and denote the self-surrenderof a man, with all his labour and productions, to God.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:275–76.)
This offering was to be “voluntary” ( Leviticus 1:3 ). It was not forced, but served as a free expression of gratitude on the part of the individual. Anything less would violate a basic principle of free will offerings (see Moroni 7:6–10 ). The person bringing the sacrifice laid his hands on the offering. The laying on of hands “meant transmission and delegation, and implied representation; so that it really pointed to the substitution of the sacrifice for the sacrificer. Hence it was always accompanied by confession of sin and prayer. It was thus done. The sacrifice was so turned that the person confessing looked towards the west, while he laid his hands between the horns of the sacrifice, and if the sacrifice was brought by more than one, each had to lay on his hands. It is not quite a settled point whether one or both hands were laid on; but all are agreed that it was to be done ‘with one’s whole force’—as it were, to lay one’s whole weight upon the substitute.” (Edersheim, The Temple, pp. 113–14.)
This practice shows that the sacrifice had a dual symbolism. First and foremost, it represented the only sacrifice that could ultimately bring peace and remission of sins, namely that of JesusChrist. But the laying on of hands showed a transfer of identity; that is, the offerer put his own identity upon the sacrificial animal.
Of all the elements of the ordinance of sacrifice, nothing played a more prominent part than the administration of the blood of the offering. The manner of its offering was minutely specified by the Lord. Depending on the offering, the blood was dabbed upon the horns of the altar, sprinkled or splashed upon all four sides of the altar, or dumped out at the base of the altar. Blood symbolized both life (see Leviticus 17:11 ) and the giving of one’s life. Death is the consequence of sin and so the animal was slain to show what happens when man sins. Also, the animal was a type of Christ. Through the giving of His life for man, by the shedding of His blood, one who is spiritually dead because of sin can find new life. Out of this truth grows a spiritual parallel: “As in Adam, or by nature, all men fall and are subject to spiritual death, so in Christ and his atoning sacrifice all men have power to gain eternal life” (McConkie, The Promised Messiah, p. 259).
The purpose of the shedding of blood was to bring expiation, or atonement (see Leviticus 17:11 ; Hebrews 9:22 ). As noted in Reading 14-5 , the Hebrew verb which is translated by the English word atonement means “to cover.” Thus, the smearing, splashing, or daubing of blood “covered” sins and thus brought about atonement. There is a beautiful paradox in the idea that the righteous are those “whose garments are white through the blood of the Lamb” ( Ether 13:10 ; see Alma 5:21 ). It is the blood of Christ that covers sins and makes us pure so that we can receive at-one-ment with God.
Sin offerings were burned outside the camp. To pay the demands of justice, Christ stood before the law as though He were guilty of all sins, even though He was guilty of none. He became a sin offering for all mankind. This sacrifice involved more than the suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. The completion of the sacrifice took place on the cross outside the city walls. Thus, Paul saw in Christ’s sacrifice a fulfillment of the typology of the sin offering being burned outside the camp:
“For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” ( Hebrews 13:11–13 .)
Not all offerings were of animals. Meal and grain offerings were also part of the temple ritual. Through this offering the individual acknowledged God as the giver of all things and surrendered what had been designated (that is, the fruit of the field) in supplication for power to fulfill his duty. Wheat, or products made from wheat, with the addition of oil, frankincense, and salt constituted each offering (see vv. 1, 13 ). In each case the wheat had to be prepared in some way. “Fine flour” ( vv. 4, 5, 14 ) required the greatest effort in an age when grain was ground mostly by hand. Thus, the offerer’s time, symbolic of his whole life, was invested in the offering. The oblation of first fruits was not a sacrifice but rather a gift of thanks and praise to the Lord for the harvest (see v. 12 ). If the offerer wanted to use a portion of this oblation as a meat offering, the Lord designated how it was to be done (see vv. 14–16 ).
Whatever God gives His children is uplifting and edifying, though in some cases, because of their own unworthiness, He cannot give them all He would like. Never view the law of Moses as some primitive, lesser law. It is the handiwork of God and, like all His works, bears the mark of perfection. Let us rather be like the psalmist who cried, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. . . . Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. . . . Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart” ( Psalm 119:97, 105, 111 ).
*This article was adapted in part from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.
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