Reading through the book of Leviticus, as one does, you are struck in the first few chapters just how often Israelites were called upon to sacrifice their animals if they sinned.

For example in chapter 4:

27 “‘If any member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, when they realize their guilt 28 and the sin they have committed becomes known, they must bring as their offering for the sin they committed a female goat without defect.”

There are goats, sheep, cows and pigeons being sacrificed left, right and centre. Now, apart from being tough on the sheep – what is going on here?

In my mind there are two main things that God was doing through such a process:

1. Disincentivise Sin – i.e. if every time you sin you have to give up one of your sheep, then you may be less likely to do it again. In my house, if one of the kids lies, then one of the available options is the removal of pocket money. For a farmer, a sheep or a goat is an important part of your livelihood. So to have to surrender it for sacrifice (even if you get to eat some of it) is a big deal. The problem with all this is that for it to work, it will normally demand an honest heart. To admit to having sinned and to voluntarily bring one of your precious animals to be sacrificed means that you have to have a heart that is both honest, and committed to God. Speaking personally, I remember as a kid often trying to cover up what I had done wrong to avoid the punishment. This is one of the places where the reality of our selfish and deceptive hearts is revealed, and it is made plain that The Law itself cannot make us good – we need some help. As Paul puts it in Romans chapter 8:

“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh”

2. Demonstrates How Serious Sin Is

All of us tend to minimise what we have done wrong. “I know what I did was wrong, but did you see Oliver, what he did was even worse?”. We excuse ourselves and say that it isn’t really that important. But sin is the cause of all the problems on earth. War, fights, hatred, greed, family breakdown….. and it is the cause of death – “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5).

Therefore when an innocent animal is killed, and its blood is poured out it acts as a demonstration that sin is costly – the ultimate cost – death.

Good News: sin is costly and disastrous – and that’s why the one, great, super sacrifice was made by the Lamb of God – Jesus.

Hebrews 10:11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

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