Friday, April 5, 2013

Leviticus 1:1-4:35


Animal sacrifice was a common feature of ancient temple religions. (A friend, a classicist, reminds me that vegetable and drink offerings were also common to temple religions). The first four chapters of Leviticus contain regulations for various kinds of animal sacrifices as well as grain offerings.

Sacrifices were made to atone for sin, for the sake of fellowship, for ritual purification, to remove guilt, and simply as a gift. Some sacrifices were burned up entirely. Others were shared with family, neighbors, and, of course, the priests. In any case the fatty portions of the animal were invariably given to God. The blood was poured out and never consumed.

Way back in Genesis 9 we read that blood was equated with life. This idea will be repeated several times in Leviticus. Since life comes from God, I think that pouring out the blood is a way of returning that life to God.

I'm speculating. The truth is that the practice of animal sacrifice is so culturally remote to me that I'm not sure what the rationale for it was. Did ancient peoples believe that their gods needed to be fed? Did God's anger need to be assuaged with blood? Was the animal killed in the sinner's stead? (Considering the plague and killer Levites at the foot of Sinai this seems a plausible explanation but it portrays God in an ugly and unflattering way). Is the idea to appease God with a gift? In some instances, at least, the idea seems to be to share a meal in God's presence.

None of these possibilities is mutually exclusive. Any or all of them might have been in play in ancient Israel's system of sacrifices. What other possibilities can you think of?

How do the sacrifices described in Leviticus inform a Christian understanding of Jesus' death on the cross?

Next: Leviticus 5-7

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