Offerings in Leviticus—What They Were and Why They Mattered

For most Christians, the book of Leviticus is as untraveled as the wilderness in which Moses wrote it. It’s not hard to understand why. I mean, who cares about sacrifices no longer needed or diet codes no longer in effect?

Can they teach us anything today? In a word: plenty.

Offerings in Leviticus—What They Were and Why They Mattered

(Photo: Offerings were made in the Tabernacle. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable. —2 Timothy 3:16

Here’s a brief summary of the five offerings in Leviticus—what they were and why they mattered. I’ve also included a free chart you can download and a short list of resources to help you make sense of Leviticus.

God gave the book of Leviticus to a people already redeemed. The offerings in Leviticus served as God’s gracious provision for how one could regain and sustain fellowship with God.

1. Burnt Offering

The burnt offering teaches that God is pleased to accept anyone who comes to Him through His prescribed sacrifice (Leviticus 1:3). The whole animal was consumed on the altar, and it atoned for the worshipper’s sin.  It satisfied God’s wrath against sin and made fellowship possible between a holy God and a sinful person.

2. Grain Offering

Someone accepted by God by His grace—through the burnt offering—could respond in gratitude through a grain (or cereal) offering (Leviticus 2:2). It usually was an offering of flour and oil in which a handful was burned and the priests ate the rest.  It was a gift to God from the best of the worshipper’s agricultural produce in an act of thanksgiving for sins forgiven.

An additional offering, the drink offering (or “libation”), was poured on top of the grain offering as a symbol of joy (Leviticus 23:13; cf. Exodus 29:40-41).

3.  Peace Offering

Unlike the other offerings, the peace offering was optional, given in addition to the burnt offering. The peace offering closed with a meal, in which the priests (representing God) the worshipper, and his or her friends ate together. The sacrifices had to be eaten in one or two days.

There were three primary peace offerings:

a. Thanksgiving Offering—a freewill offering given as an act of thanksgiving to God when He blessed someone without their asking for it.  Only in this instance could an imperfect animal be offered (Leviticus 7:12-15).

b. Wave offering—the priest’s portion of the peace offering was waved before the Lord as a special act signifying that it was His (Leviticus 7:30-31).

c. Votive Offering—a freewill offering given because of a vow taken, or in relation to a favor, or a simple voluntary act of worship (Leviticus 7:16-17).

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4.  Purification (Sin) Offering

Though often called the “sin offering,” a better translation is “purification offering.” It dealt with two issues: the necessity of forgiveness from unintentional sins and of cleansing from ceremonial uncleanness (Leviticus 4:2-3). The purpose of the sin offering was to cleanse the tabernacle from human defilement, thus making possible the continuing fellowship and presence of God among His people.

5. Guilt (Reparation) Offering

The guilt offering caused the individual to look beyond the sin to the damage it caused (Leviticus 5:16). The guilt offering is also called “reparation” because the person not only sought forgiveness, but first he or she also paid full restitution, adding to the price an additional percentage.

Because the offerings in Leviticus had their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, there is no need for them today (Hebrews 10:1-18). In fact, after Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross and rose again, the temple was destroyed in AD 70. No sacrifices have been made there since.

4 Resources for Understanding Leviticus

  1. Offerings in Leviticus Chart. I made this chart to help simplify what’s often confusing about the sacrifices. You can download it here.
  2. Insight’s Bible Application Guide: Genesis–Deuteronomy—A Life Lesson from Every Chapter. This is a handbook that gives you a one-paragraph application of every chapter in Genesis—Deuteronomy. I wrote the applications for Leviticus. (The series eventually will include the whole Bible.) You can get it here and watch a video introduction and read a sample.
  3. Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus, by Allen P. Ross. This is a commentary and guide on how to teach the book of Leviticus. It found it invaluable when I taught the book. You can pick it up here.
  4. “How to Live a Holy Life” (Audio Sermon Series). This is a series of messages I taught on the book of Leviticus. You can download or listen to the messages here.

Question: Have you ever studied these offerings? What did you learn? To leave a comment, just click here.

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