Last time, we viewed what it means to love God passionately. We considered both the horizontal and vertical connections. In this segment, we’ll focus on communion with the Lord from the Old Testament perspective. Next time, we’ll consider New Testament aspects.
Personal worthiness or holiness was an Old Testament condition for genuine fellowship and communion with God. No one who was unclean or whose sin had yet to be forgiven (atoned for) could approach the Lord God. Thus, the practice of animal sacrifice was essential. Abel killed one of his lambs and gave the best parts as an offering to God (Genesis 4). After his escape from the flood, Noah presented a sacrifice of animals and birds (Genesis 9). An animal sacrifice also sealed Abraham’s agreement with the Lord (Genesis 15).
Have you ever considered what actually took place during an Old Testament sacrifice? Various passages in Leviticus 1-7 outline the procedure each person went through every time he or she sinned. What we read there will probably surprise you—it certainly startled me!
Step 1: Restitution – The guilty person repays any debt that his sinful actions may have caused (6:1-5).
Step 2: Confession – He travels to the tabernacle or temple to receive counsel from the priest. This probably included a time of personal repentance (6:6).
Step 3: Offering – He presents an animal (bull, ram, goat, lamb, or bird) to the Lord (6:6).
a) The guilty person places his hand on the animal’s head. This act symbolically transferred a person’s guilt to the animal (4:27-29).
b) The guilty person takes the knife, inserts it on one side of the animal’s neck and slices through to the other side. This leads to a relatively painless, though not an immediate death. As a result, the innocent animal dies in the place of the guilty individual (4:29).
c) The priest dips his finger in the animal’s blood and places it on the horns of the altar. He pours the remaining blood at the base of the altar (4:30).
d) The priest carries the animal up the steps and places it on the altar where it burns before the Lord (4:31).
Step 4: Restoration—God removes the guilt and bestows forgiveness. The priest announces the person’s cleanness. The sinner is restored to fellowship with a holy, loving God.
Old Testament believers viewed these steps as the beautiful, simple, and effective method in which they received forgiveness and were able to remain clean before God. I had previously thought that the priest held the knife and took care of that nasty responsibility. However, it appears that the only time a priest actually killed an animal is when he offered a sacrifice for himself or for the entire community of Israel. I was astonished so see how intimately involved the sinner was in the process of forgiveness!
Can you imagine what went through the heart and mind of the man, woman, or child while he slaughtered the animal and watched its blood flow from the deep laceration? “My sin caused an innocent animal to lose its life. I’ll think twice before I make that mistake again!”
May the Lord never again allow us to become callous or flippant about our sin!