Levites, Priests, Sacrifice, and the Sprinkling of Blood
When studying the annual festivals and observances, it is important to understand that they picture and teach a process and progression of significant events in God's plan for the salvation of humanity. This teaching process can clearly be seen in the instructions for the Passover observance and the subsequent sacrificial system. As this teaching process continues through the passage of time, we are given additional insight into God's plan through rituals, symbolism, and the sacrificial system.
It is important to be aware of this process and its progressive teachings in order to understand Christ's last Passover and the New Covenant rituals and symbolism that he instituted for his followers to observe on the Passover. Therefore, it is important to present a short overview of this progressive teaching process to show the critical rules of God's system of worship, which existed during Jesus' lifetime.
Before the erection of the Tabernacle, single adult males or male heads of households could officiate as a priest and sacrifice for himself and/or his family (Gen.8:20;13:18,22; Job 1:5). While in Egypt, the Israelites had no common altar on which to sacrifice. Therefore, the houses in which they assembled for the Passover were consecrated as altars and the persons found therein were under the protection of God.
After the Israelites made a covenant with God to do whatever he might ask them in return for his care, protection, and other benefits (Ex.19:5-8), and after the erection of the Tabernacle and the institution of the priesthood, circumstances involving sacrifices changed. The sacrificial blood had to be sprinkled on a central altar (Deut.16:5-6). God had formed the Israelites into a structured nation with a formal priesthood and worship system, which the Israelites had agreed to embrace.
THE DEDICATION OF THE LEVITES TO THE TEMPLE SERVICE
In Exodus 28:1 we see Aaron and his sons selected for the priesthood:
"And you shall take to yourself your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, for him to serve as priest to me . . ." (KJV).
In Numbers 8:9-19, we see the Levites also separated for service in the Tabernacle:
"And you shall bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation: and you shall gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together: And you shall bring the Levites before the Lord: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites: And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord" (vs.9-11 KJV).
Here, the Levites are separated from all the other tribes for service to the Lord.
"And you shall set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering to the Lord. Thus shall you separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine. And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and you shall cleanse them, and offer them for an offering" (vs.13-15 KJV).
After establishing that the Levites are his servants, the Creator gives them to Aaron to be his helpers in the Tabernacle service.
"And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: . . ." (v19 KJV).
The following instructions were given after the tabernacle was erected and the Aaronic Priesthood was established as the intermediaries in the sacrificial system between God and the Israelites.
Leviticus 1:1-9 KJV
"And the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you bring an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock" (vs.1-2).
This instruction to bring an offering was given to the individual Israelite, not to the priests.
"If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord" (v3).
The individual was to bring his voluntary offering to the door of the Tabernacle to begin the sacrificial process.
The individual could not enter into the Tabernacle, but he had to come before the door to perform his part in the sacrificial process.
"And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" (vs.4-5).
The individual making the offering is the one who had to kill the sacrificial animal and the priest had to sprinkle its blood on the altar.
"And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire" (vs.6-7).
After the animal was killed, the one bringing the offering had to butcher it and the priest had to lay this offering upon the fire and burn it:
"And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savior to the Lord" (vs.8-9). See Lev.3:1-2; 8:13; Num.18:1-9.
The following are important things that are revealed about the sacrificial system under God's first agreement with national Israel:
- God gave clear and detailed instructions as to how he wanted this specific offering process performed.
- The animal had to be killed and butchered by the one who brought it to be sacrificed.
- The priest had to perform all duties that were performed within the Tabernacle and at the altar.
- No person but a priest could enter or officiate within the Tabernacle or at the altar.
A Warning About Improper Sacrificing
"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron, and to his sons, and to all the children of Israel, and say to them; This is the thing which the Lord has commanded, saying, What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that kills an ox; or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that kills it out of the camp, And brings it not to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord; blood shall be imputed to that man; he has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people: To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they offer in the open field, even that they may bring them to the Lord, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to the priest, and offer them for peace offerings to the Lord" (Lev.17:1-5 KJV).
The requirement for bringing sacrificial offerings to the Tabernacle was not a request; it was a command. The Tabernacle was the only place where God would accept a sacrifice made by an Israelite. The Israelite could no longer offer sacrifices by any method or at any place they choose, as was done before the Mount Sinai covenant (Ex. chp.19).
At this point, God had to be worshiped in the specific manner that he prescribes to be correct (Pro.14:12). Failure to follow the prescribed methods of the sacrificial worship system would result in the rejection of the offering and excommunication of the offending individual from the nation of Israel.
It was not necessary for each person to kill a lamb; one lamb could serve for a number of people. Christ was killed for all of humanity—one sacrifice for sin, forever (Heb.10:12).
God further instructed that all animals slain for food, whether inside of or outside of the camp, were to have their blood sprinkled upon the altar (Deut.12:5-23).
The Sprinkling of the Blood
"And the priest shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar of the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and burn the fat for a sweet savior to the Lord" (Lev.17:6 KJV).
Again, the priest had to perform the act of sprinkling the blood and burning the sacrifice.
"And you shall offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, upon the altar of the Lord your God: and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the Lord your God, and you shall eat the flesh. Observe to hear all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you forever, when you do that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God" (Deut.12:27-28 KJV). See also Num.3:3-4;18:7-23; 26:61; Lev.10:1-6; 2.Chron. 30:15-16; 35:10-11.
The English word sprinkle is translated from the Hebrew word zaraq, which means to toss or to throw. Historically, the blood from the sacrificial animal was splashed on two opposite corners of the altar in order to make sure that the blood would contact all four sides of the altar (Ex.29:16; Deut.12:27-28). The splashing of the blood on the altar was the duty of the priest. However, the Levites assisted them in this task (2.Chron.30:6).
Some people believe that to sacrifice lambs for all of the Israelites at the Tabernacle and later at the Temple would have been physically impossible. However, this is not the case at all for the following reasons:
- God would not have asked the Israelites to do something that was not possible.
- All 24 courses of the priesthood and their assistants were to be in attendance at each festival in order to care for the increased number of sacrifices on these special observances.
- If the physical numbers did become too great, there is no doubt that God would have made allowances as he did with the alternate Passover.
- During the time of Emperor Nero the blood of 256,000 Passover lambs was sprinkled on the Temple altar at Jerusalem, which was counted under Cestius Callus. It is interesting to note that the lack of time for sacrificing was never a problem with the Israelites because of their lack of zeal for their God.
The Reason For The Rule Leviticus 17:7-9 KJV
"And they shall no more offer their sacrifices to devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever to them throughout their generations" (v7).
God made it perfectly clear that he is the one to whom they should offer their sacrifices. And these sacrifices had to be offered in the way he wanted them offered.
"And you shall say to them, whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers which sojourn among you, that offers a burnt offering or sacrifice" (v8).
The same rule applied to foreign converts that lived with the Israelites:
"And brings it not to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer it to the Lord; even that man shall be cut off from among his people" (v9).
The Creator warned that if this rule was not followed, the offending party would be excommunicated from the nation of Israel.
In Joshua, chapter 22, there is an account of some of the tribes going to take custody of the land they had been given in Bashan. Upon their return, they built an altar at the Jordan river. The rest of Israel became angry about the building of this altar, because they assumed that these tribes were breaking the covenant. Therefore, they prepared to go to war and kill them. However, their assumption was not correct, which they later discovered.
"Then the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh answered and said, . . .. For the Lord has made the Jordan a border between us and you, you children of Reuben and children of Gad; you have no part in the Lord: so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the Lord" (Jos.22: 21, 25 KJV).
"Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an alter, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice: Therefore said we, that it shall be, when they should so say to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say again, Behold the pattern of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between us and you. God forbid that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn this day from following the Lord, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the Lord our God that is before his tabernacle" (Jos.22:26-29 KJV).
The point here is that, at one time in history, all of the tribes of Israel understood that the only place where sacrifices could be offered was the Tabernacle (Deut.16:2-28). However, with the passage of time the Israelites failed to remain loyal and zealous toward God and in their desire to obey his rules. They even failed to observe the Passover, the most important of all of the annual observances.
TWO FEASTS OF UNLEAVENED BREAD OBSERVED
When King Hezekiah began to govern Israel, he began to restore the temple worship system. However, he started too late to observe the Passover on the proper date and had to observe it during the alternate month (2.Chron.29:17; 30:1-26).
It is interesting to note that many of those who came to observe this Passover were ceremonially unclean and they ate the Passover unlawfully in their zeal to obey God. Because their attitude was correct, God forgave them for breaking his rules of worship:
"Yet did they eat the Passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah pray for them, saying, The good Lord pardon every one. That prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary. And the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people" (2.Chron.30:18-20).
Not only did those few zealous Israelites observe the alternate Passover, but also they observed another seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread that same month:
"And the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: And
they did eat throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings, and making confession to the Lord God of their fathers. And the whole assembly took counsel to keep other seven days: and they kept other seven days with gladness So there was great joy
in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem" (2.Chron.30:21-26). See also 2.Chron.35:1-11; Ezr.6:19-22.
When reading the accounts of the Passover, it is very important to take special notice that God did make allowance for an alternate Passover date and he thought it was important to acknowledge a zealous attitude toward its observance.
Even when the observers fell short of the proper ceremonial procedures, God honored their attitude. This is a very important point to remember when we come to the Passover surrounding Christ's death, because this attitude of zeal has a great impact on the chronology of events.
DURING CHRIST'S LIFETIME
Today, there are many questions concerning the methods and the place the Passover lamb could be offered during Christ's lifetime; the following are several of the major questions:
- Was it necessary to go to Jerusalem to observe the Passover?
- Could the Passover lamb be sacrificed and eaten at an individual's home or some place other than the temple at Jerusalem?
- Was it necessary to have the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the altar at Jerusalem?
The answers to these questions are found in Deuteronomy 16:5-6:
"You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates, which the Lord your God gives you. But at the place which the Lord your God shall choose to place his name in, there you shall sacrifice the Passover, at even at the going down of the sun, at the season that you came forth out of Egypt." See also Lev.17:1-9; Num.9:1-14.
During Christ's lifetime, the sect of the Pharisees had the respect of the people in all matters of the law. Some of their opinions on the Passover have been preserved in various writings under the general category called Midrash Halakhah (legal exposition). Unanimously, each reveals the requirements for the Passover as dictated by the scriptures.
The Passover sacrifice (goat or lamb) was brought to the Temple at Jerusalem and killed. The lamb's blood was to be drained and splashed on the side of the altar, and then the lamb was to be taken and eaten at a place in or near Jerusalem with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
These three things were the pillars of the Passover celebration to which the Pharisees added various other requirements based upon their interpretation of the scriptural text. However, if one of the basic biblical requirements was omitted, it rendered the offering invalid. The requirements God had set for the Passover are clear and simple. The omission of any of the requirements would mean that the observance was not the Passover.
Regardless of the practices of some Jewish sects during Christ's lifetime, any deviation from the dictates of the law of sacrifices was unacceptable to God. No matter how sincere the intent, if the law was not fulfilled in exact detail, the sacrifice was unacceptable to God.
For Jesus to have observed his last earthly Passover correctly, he would have had to follow the law as commanded in Deuteronomy 16:4-5—which is exactly what Jesus and his disciples did on his last Passover.
By B.L. Cocherell b5w33