We are early in the book of Leviticus within a seven-chapter section covering the regulations of all sorts of offerings made to God, both requisite and by free will. In the previous study, we observed that these laws were supposedly given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.
In this study we will take examine the different levels of atonement offerings, and consider how this would foreshadow anything that Jesus would later bring to the table.
Gradation of Atonement
The great thing about being God is that You would know the end from the beginning perfectly, making it relatively easy to make clear laws and perfectly foreshadow Your master Plan. Well, we will see how well God fares in this study of Leviticus 4, where God lays down the laws for unintentional (Leviticus 4:2) sin atonement sacrifices.
Leviticus 4:3-12 dictates the atonement process for a priest that sins. The priest is to lay his hand on a bull's head, and then slaughter that bull in front of the Tent of Meeting. This is similar to the regular burnt offering atonement from the earlier Leviticus study, but there are differences. One change is that some of the bull's blood is sprinkled in the Tent of meeting and put on the Altar of Incense therein, while the rest is poured out at the Altar of Burnt Offerings. Another difference is that only the kidneys and fatty tissues of the bull are burned on the altar. The rest of the carcass is burned in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp on the ash heap.
If the community sins, Leviticus 4:13-21 spells out a similar process. However, instead of the priest putting his hand on the bull's head, all of the community elders do this. Note in Leviticus 4:20-21 how forgiveness is granted after the blood sprinkling and fat burning on the altar, and then the leftover bull parts get burned outside of the camp. We will revisit that point later.
Community leaders get special treatment too. Leviticus 4:22-26 states the process for leaders who sin. The leader lays his hand on a male goat for the sacrifice, but none of its blood is needed inside the Tent of Meeting. Why the changes? God only knows.
With those special cases out of the way, you might think that the regular burnt atonement would suffice for the rest. If so, you would be wrong. Leviticus 4:27-35 instructs the regular community members in a process which essentially matches the one for leaders, except that a female goat or lamb is used instead.
So what was the purpose of the regular burnt offering atonements of Leviticus 1?
Just when you may think there is a need for clarification, Leviticus 5:17-19 goes on to require that anyone who sins unintentionally must sacrifice a ram for atonement as a guilt offering. This is either in addition to the above sacrifices or in contradiction to them. Contradiction seems more likely. After all, how many times do you need to be forgiven by God for the same sin?
Speaking of forgiveness, let us discuss how these sacrifices do or do not foreshadow Jesus. Amongst a myriad of different, and somewhat conflicting, atonement sacrifice options, the single sacrifice of Jesus stands in bold contrast. Hebrews 7:27-28 waves a hand at this apparent contradiction, suggesting that Jesus' perfection covers all sacrifices. Maybe that works, but if so, it probably would have been better to foreshadow that with only one type of atonement sacrifice, no?
One more foreshadowing failure, and a demonstration of the ignorance of one New Testament author, is covered in Hebrews 13:11-12
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. NIVThese sacrifices fail as a foreshadowing of Jesus because Jesus did not: have hands laid on His head, get slaughtered near the altar, have His blood sprinkled and drained on the altar, and have his fat burned on the altar. As mentioned above, it was at that point of the process when sins were forgiven, not when the body was burned later outside the camp.
Contrary to what the verse of Hebrews says above that “Jesus also suffered outside” the city, the sacrificed animal would have been long dead and unable to suffer more by the time it was burned outside the city.
Perhaps the death knell of these sacrifices as foreshadowing Jesus is that, as mentioned above, the animal carcasses had to be burned in a ceremonially clean location. Given that the hill where Jesus was supposedly sacrificed on was used for crucifixions, the presence of dead human bodies would have made that place anything but ceremonially clean (Leviticus 21:11).
Ultimately, we see that this is not only a tangled mess of rules, but also a disaster in foreshadowing the role of Jesus. In turn, this not only makes the God of the Old Testament seem incompetent as a law giver, but also makes the God of the New Testament seem unable to predict the future enough to foreshadow it. On the other hand, if these regulations, and these religions, are man-made, we do not need a further reason why everything is askew. Nobody ever claimed that men were perfect.