The last offering was the guilt offering, and it was made for damage that was done to another person or to another person’s property. We mustn’t think, of course, that if you damage somebody’s property either deliberately or by negligence, that all you had to do was go to the temple and present an offering. That would be an easy way to get off the hook. No, Leviticus describes very carefully what you have to do. You have to repay it, and then you have to add twenty percent—a fifth of the value—and then you had to give it to the person whom you had defrauded on the very day you went to present your offering.
This was a way of saying that, yes, you had offended God and you have to make that right with Him. But before you went to make it right with God, you had to make it right with the person that you had hurt as well. That reminds us of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). Making things right with God does not excuse your responsibility to make it right with other people.
What are the principles we can learn from Leviticus that have very practical bearing on our Christian lives? Well, let me suggest a few. First, anyone can present an offering. I notice when I study the commentaries on Leviticus this is not often mentioned. The commentators study all the details of the offering and how they’re supposed to be done. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that anybody could come and present an offering. That’s true egalitarianism, and that’s what Christianity has. Anybody can come, both the high and the mighty and the lonely or lowly. Jesus said that anyone can come to Him. Whoever is hungry and thirsty may come. Whatever your need may be, you can come to Jesus Christ who said that He will never drive away anyone who comes to Him (see John 6:37).
The second principle is that each sacrifice involved a cost to the worshiper. In one incident in David’s life, when a friend of his offered him animals for sacrifice, David said, “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). Each of these offerings in Leviticus cost the worshiper something.
Now when we talk about salvation, it is free for us, although it cost God the death of His Son. It cost Jesus Christ everything. And if we find salvation in Jesus Christ, then we come to Him with our offerings of praise and thanksgiving, and these, too, should be costly. We are to offer Him our all—everything we are, everything we have, everything we can accomplish. All of that has to be given to Jesus Christ. He demanded no less. He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
The final point is that only the best was to be offered. If you read through the instructions for the offerings, you’ll find that they couldn’t bring any maimed or bruised animal. It had to be a perfect sample from the flock. As a matter of fact, they had to examine it before they brought it to make sure that this was the best they had to offer. You and I also have to offer our best to God. We’re told in Romans 12:1 that our sacrifices we offer are ourselves, that is, we are to offer a living sacrifice that is pleasing to God. And Hebrews 13:15 tell us to offer up a sacrifice of praise.
Now after the brief historical section is the second main block of material, which has to do with the ceremonial laws of purification. This is the strangest part of the book. As we look at it, we wonder why the Israelites were given all those instructions. It is very hard for us to figure out the purpose, and, of course, it bothers us when we can’t figure out the purpose of something. That’s one reason why following the Lord is sometimes so difficult; He doesn’t always explain His purposes.
People have taken three general approaches to this section of Leviticus. The first is that these purification laws have been understood by some commentators as intended to separate the religious practices of the Israelites from those of their surrounding heathen nations. In other words, they were simply given laws that made them different so they wouldn’t get mixed up in the pagan religious practices of their neighbors.
The second approach is that these laws were an outward way of reminding the people that they had to be separated from the world to God. So, for example, if one went through a ceremonial washing, it was a way of saying that he was separating from sin and standing in a holy relationship toward the Lord.
The third explanation, which is very popular today, is that many of these laws involve matters of health—protecting Israel from a bad diet, dangerous vermin, infectious diseases, and so on. For example, they were not supposed to eat pigs because doing so spread trichinosis if the meat was not cooked well enough. Rabbits carry tularemia. Unclean fish like eels tend to carry more parasites than free-swimming fish with scales. Commentators love this kind of explanation, and they go into great detail about what problems might be avoided when these laws are followed.
When I was working on this study, I thought that the third explanation had the most to commend it. But when I think back over the choices, I probably thought this way because we live in a very health-conscious environment and culture, and so the third option makes sense to us. But being separated from the religious practices of your neighbors was God’s concern for His people, as well as going through a ceremony that reminded you that you are not your own, but instead belong to God and are therefore to be holy unto him. We as Christians have something like this, too. When we baptize people, we are setting them apart to God, identifying them with Jesus Christ. When we take part in the communion service, it is a reminder that we are to have fellowship with Jesus Christ, and not continue in sin. And I suppose that all three explanations have valid ideas.