More Than Just Sin
At the heart of our misunderstanding of the sacrificial system is the assumption that it is all about sin. Since the blood of the animals foreshadowed the atonement that would come in Messiah’s sacrifice, and since that atonement came to pass through Messiah’s sinless death on the cross, the assumption is that sacrifices are no longer necessary. Sadly, such reasoning betrays incomprehension of the reason God instituted sacrifices. Messiah Yeshua did indeed die as the “Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29-34; see also Isaiah 53 and Revelation 5). His death most certainly provides the only provision for willful, rebellious sin against our Creator (Genesis 22:6-8; Numbers 15:27-31; Hebrews 10:26-31). However, the sacrificial system included many more offerings than those which had connection to sin.
If we are to understand the full nature of the Temple sacrifices, we should start with the meaning of the words used for the items offered on the Altar. “Sacrifice” and “offering” are the usual English translations, and quite often the meanings are not entirely distinct in the minds of English-speaking readers. The English definition of “sacrifice” refers to something valuable offered, often to a deity, in exchange for something or someone else. A sacrifice also means something that is “written off”, or lost for good. In that sense, the olah would be considered a sacrifice because it is a burnt offering intended to be entirely consumed on the Altar. Yet that is not the intent for everything presented to God, which is why the term “offering” is important. The Hebrew word in this case is korban (קָרְבָּן; Strongs H7133), a term usually translated as “offering”, but occasionally rendered as “sacrifice”. Christians should recognize the term from one of Yeshua’s key confrontations with the Pharisees:
He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” (Mark 7:9-13 NASB, emphasis added)
Because of our lack of training in Torah, Christian readers of this passage rarely comprehend the enormous affront to God entailed in this Pharisaic practice. To put this in perspective we need an understanding of what korban really means. The Temple Institute, the organization that is preparing to reconstruct both the Temple and the Levitical priesthood, is most helpful in this regard. In an article entitled “The Temple Sacrifices and Offerings”, the Institute provides commentary on this concept:
However, the Hebrew word for “sacrifice” (korban, le-hakriv) is from the same root as “to come near, to approach. . . . to become closely involved in a relationship with someone.” For this is meant to be the essence of the experience which the bearer of the sacrifice undergoes. Indeed, it is unfortunate that no word in the English language can adequately render the idea behind the Hebrew word korban. We allow ourselves to use the word “sacrifice” for lack of a better word, but it is a highly unsuccessful attempt at translation; it could even be called unfortunate. The idea of a sacrifice or offering seems to indicate a gift or present; giving up something of value for another’s benefit, or going without something of value yourself, for the benefit of that other.
The article goes on to explain something more about the relationship of the sacrificial system to sin and atonement:
It was only in the Holy Temple that the full spiritual nature of this process could be appreciated. It is of crucial importance to be aware that by no means did the sacrifices serve as an end in themselves. For example, the sin offering, which was a minority of all the offerings brought in the Temple, was powerless to atone for sin unless it was accompanied by a thought of resolute, true repentance. Without repentance, the sacrifice was invalid; the korbon itself was only a means by which man could arouse himself to repent. We are likewise taught that G-d Himself did not require the sacrifice but for the betterment of the crown of His creation, man; however He would prefer that man not sin, and not be necessitated to bring any offering.
In other words, the emphasis has never been on the sacrificial offering. God’s priority has always been on the attitude of the heart, which is why He says things like this:
Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; my ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8 NASB, emphasis added)
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. By Your favor do good to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on Your altar. (Psalm 51:16-19 NASB, emphasis added)
Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. (I Samuel 15:22 NASB, emphasis added)
With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8 NASB, emphasis added)
For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ (Jeremiah 7:22-23 NASB, emphasis added)
To put it another way, the sacrifices have never brought atonement for sin, nor have the sacrifices alone ever brought God’s people close to Him. It’s the other way around: God’s people present sacrifices and offerings because He has brought them near in spite of themselves. This is the perspective not only of the sacrificial system, but of God’s entire Torah (Law). We do not keep His commandments so we can get close to Him. We keep the commandments because He has brought us near to Himself by providing the only sacrifice that could do so: His very own Son, the Lamb of God.
Holy Barbecue: A Kingdom Way Of Worship
Sin, therefore, is not the focus of the sacrificial system. The focus of that system is worship of the Lord God. Consider the many different types of offerings. In addition to the daily burnt offerings (olat tamid), there are offerings on Sabbath and the Feast Days, special offerings for vows, offerings as part of the process of becoming ceremonially “clean”, guilt offerings for inadvertently breaking the commandments, and offerings of peace and of thanks to God. Except for the burnt offerings, the animals presented on the Altar are not burned up entirely, but eaten. Portions of all the offerings go to the priests, but those who present the offerings also get to eat of them. Thus the offerings are not entirely “sacrificed”, in that they are not a complete loss to the one who gives them. They become a tasty meal to be eaten in the Presence of the Lord as an act of worship and communion with Him, just as the Scripture says:
But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. There also you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:5-7 NASB, emphasis added)
The Prophet Ezekiel explains that the system will continue in the Millennial Kingdom, and that Messiah Himself will preside over these offerings (see Ezekiel 44-46). The offerings for sin, however, are not part of the Millennial Kingdom. This is something Jewish sages have recognized for a very long time. Yeshiva World News published a succinct explanation of this concept in their March 2013 commentary on Leviticus 6:8-8:36, the Torah portion entitled Tzav (Command). The sages teach that all offerings (korbanot) will be annulled when Messiah comes except for the Thanks Offering (korban Todah) (see Leviticus 7:11-18). There will be no need for sin or trespass offerings (korban Chatas and korban Asham) because Messiah will take away our inclination to sin (the yetzer hara, or “evil inclination”). This, of course, is consistent with the Christian understanding of the Messianic Age. But why would the korban Todah continue? The Yeshiva World News article explains:
The Todah was a rather large korban. One had to eat a whole animal plus thirty-six loaves of matzah and challah in a limited time span. If so, how was it possible to expect someone to eat all this food within twenty-four hours? . . . it’s virtually impossible for someone to eat all this, even with his family, within twenty-four hours. How will the baal hakorban [the one who brings the offering] be able to consume all this before the expired time? He has no choice but to publicize his thanks and to make a large meal and invite everyone he knows to come help him finish eating this korban. At the meal he will then publicly acknowledge the good that Hashem has done for him and tell over how he was saved from his life-threatening situation. People will hear first-hand about the miracle this person experienced and hear about the kindness that Hashem showed him through his ordeal. Through this, people will consume the korban Todah in its proper time.
There is much to unpack from this teaching. For our purposes, though, two points will suffice. First, this offering of thanks to God is something we should be cultivating even now, when there is no Altar and no priesthood to accept our offerings on behalf of the Lord. Each day we must reflect on the fact that everything, down to each breath we take, is a gift from our Maker. Often we cannot discern His Presence in our lives until we can look back and see where He has carried us through hardships and lifted us up in times of rejoicing. All of it is a testimony to Him as the Source of all things. If we cultivate this attitude in ourselves now, we shall be ready to act on our ever-growing appreciation of our Creator and Sustainer when at last He makes His dwelling here on earth with us.
The second point is in the realization that this expression of thanks is a communal event. We do not complete the process of returning thanks to God until we have magnified His glory by testifying to His goodness. That is why the korban Todah is so huge that no single person or family can consume it. The goodness of God is so huge that all of humanity cannot comprehend it, but together we can share in it and magnify it eternally. What better way, what more intimate way, is there to communicate such an important truth than by sitting down at the table and eating a special meal with family, friends, and even complete strangers?
And here we come to the heart of the matter: the Altar is the Table of the Lord. If we humans understand that the best way to share a celebration of great thanks and blessing is through a special meal, then why would we suppose the Lord would do things differently? The imagery of the feast of celebration is present throughout Scripture, from God’s meal with Abraham to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. Where, in fact, would we have learned to celebrate by feasting if not by the example of God Himself? God’s Table will be open again and forever when Messiah comes. Since we will have laid aside at last the sin which now encumbers us, let us look forward to the sacrificial offerings of thanks with which we will enjoy our eternity with the King.
 This article came to my attention through a repost by the Rosh Pina Project.