Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayikra March 16, 2018

Torah reading: Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 45:18-46

Leviticus 4:29  He shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering.

atonement4

This short sentence holds a wealth of meaning.  Let’s take a close look at it.

In this one sentence, Spirit-inspired Scripture teaches us how a sacrifice benefits the one who offers it. The very same procedure for sacrifice is commanded in Leviticus 4:4, 15, 24 and 33.  There was an old saint I knew years ago who used to say ‘If God says something once in His book, pay attention. If He says it twice, really pay attention.  If He says it three or more times, stop everything and meditate on what He said.’  I am reminded of his comment every time I read through this portion of Leviticus.

Why did God command the Israelites to offer sacrifice anyway? Many people question the practice and find it a difficult concept.

 

First of all, this text is speaking specifically of the sin offering. Therefore, it implies that a sin had been committed and the person who sinned has acknowledged and repented of their sin. Under the Mosaic convenant, their repentance was verified in the offering of a sacrifice.

Secondly, the ‘sinner’ who came to present a sacrifice, by the very act of doing so, understood that there had to be a substitute to atone for his sin. Even a casual reading of the Torah awakens you to the fact that there were many sins for which the only appropriate punishment was death.  The justice of God demands death for sin, because sin – of any kind – is far more serious in God’s eyes than we generally think.  Consider: He created you, gave you life, presented you with His revealed Word, provides what you need.  To sin against such a loving God and Father is indeed despicable.  As one Rabbi said, ‘Considering all that God has done for you, to sin against Him is pure insanity.’

It was God’s love that created the principle of sacrificial substitution to provide the sinner with a second chance…and a third…and a fourth.  In the book of Lamentations we read: The LORD’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. Lam. 3:22-23

Thirdly, offering implied an acceptance by God of the victim offered.  When the priest laid his hands on the head of the sacrifice, in God’s eyes, the guilt of the sin for which this offering was being presented, was transferred to the animal who died on behalf of the sinner so the sinner could live.  Watching the slaying of the animal seared on the sinner’s conscience the seriousness of sin and was designed to act as a strong deterrent against further sin in the penitent’s life.

Under the Mosaic covenant, whoever sinned against the LORD and regretted their action, was required to sincerely repent – have a change of heart; they had to bring an animal to be slaughtered to ‘stand in’ on their behalf in order that the penitent not be stoned to death or killed in any other manner. It was not until this atonement was made, that the penitent was declared forgiven and released from the punishment due to his sin.

Now we clearly see why it is written later in Leviticus: For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’  Leviticus 17:11

In Tune with Torah this week = If you’ve ever questioned the significance of the blood sacrifices, my prayer is that you will see them in a new light. It is the LOVE of God that prompted the sacrificial system to demonstrate His understanding and compassion towards our human frailty, but also His Divine Will that we not remain in our weakness and frailty but through repentance and recognition of what the Sacrifice really means, we might grow in the knowledge and love of God, becoming men and women of holiness.

Isn’t it amazing?  All that is contained in one short sentence!

Shabbat Shalom