These chapters record the sacrifices and offerings the Israelites were to perform in worship. Israel’s worship was full of work—reminding them that every area of life was to be devoted to God. The bulk of Leviticus 1-7 describes the five specific offerings which appeased God’s wrath against the sin of His people. These can be divided into two categories, voluntary offerings and mandatory offerings.
There were three voluntary offerings, given by Israelites throughout the year as expressions of commitment to God. The burnt offering (Leviticus 1) was the most common offering. While offered daily for the sins of the nation (see Numbers 28), here the burnt offering was set forth as a means for individual worship and cleansing. While the burnt offering promised atonement, the grain offering (Leviticus 2) was the Israelite’s voluntary confession that God was their provider. The fellowship offering (Leviticus 3) was to be burned as a pleasing aroma to the Lord (Lev 3:5, 16). Additionally, this sacrifice was given as a confession offering, a free-will offering, or to fulfill a vow, and was associated with a meal (see Lev 7:11-38).
The Lord set forth two mandatory offerings. The sin offering (Leviticus 4) was for the purpose of satisfying God’s wrath when people sinned unintentionally. That the sin offering was to be given by the anointed priest (Lev 4:3-12), the whole community (Lev 4:13-21), or those recognized as leaders among the people (Lev 4:22-26) demonstrates that both those of position and the common Israelite were culpable before God. The sin offering satisfied God’s wrath against unintentional violation of His law and the uncleanliness of the people (Lev 5:1-13). The restitution offering (Lev 5:14-6:7) was intended to cover the defiling of holy things, touching prohibited objects, and thievery. Since these sacrifices constituted so much of the national and cultural fabric of young Israel, God gave them priests to assist them in their worship (Lev 6:8-7:27). These chapters repeat much of the material in Leviticus 1-5, but here the text also details the role of the priests in making each offering acceptable to God (Lev 6:8, 14, 24).
While the sacrifices of Leviticus 1-7 were laborious and required the utmost reverence from both worshiper and priest, they were yet temporal sacrifices. The Old Testament sacrifices could only appease God for sins previously committed and thus had to be offered day after day. In the storyline of Scripture, these are fulfilled in the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ. Jesus, Paul, and the author of Hebrews referenced commands Moses wrote in Leviticus 1-7 in order to teach their audiences about the new covenant and those who minister in it.
(1) Jesus and Paul echoed Lev 7:35-36; 8:31 when they taught that those who minister the gospel are worthy of compensation for their work. The priests were God’s gift to help the individual Israelites offer sacrifices—and these sacrifices were a means of provision for the priests (Lev 7:28-38). When Jesus sent out the twelve, He prohibited them from extra provisions saying that those who work to proclaim the message of His kingdom are to be recompensed accordingly (Matt 10:10). Even though Paul refused payment from the Corinthians, he told them that those who labor for the advance of the gospel, like himself and the other apostles, were to be compensated for their work (1 Cor 9:13-14). Paul told Timothy to establish a structure for the church in Ephesus to pay its elders (1 Tim 5:17-18).
(2) In Heb 10:1-17, the author emphasized the uniqueness of Jesus’ self-offering in light of the repeated sacrifices priests offered in the old covenant. The author of Hebrews argued that the repeated sacrifices offered by Israel’s priests demonstrated that those sacrifices were not effective to take away sins. In his mind, if a sacrifice were able to atone for sins, it would need to be offered just once. This Jesus did by offering Himself, perfecting forever those who are being sanctified (Heb 10:14).
(3) In Heb 13:11-13, the author recalled the location of where the remains of the sacrifice were burned and employed it to call his audience to testify of Jesus. Moses commanded that the remains of the sin offering and of the Day of Atonement offering were to be burned outside the camp (Lev 4:12; 8:17; 16:27). The author of Hebrews exhorted his readers to remember that Jesus was sacrificed outside the city gates of Jerusalem. He wanted the followers of Jesus to leave behind any structures of their religion that did not adhere to Jesus and proceed in devotion to Jesus, testifying of Him outside the camp of their religious heritage.