January 15, 2014

Sacrifices and Offerings of the Law of Moses

This is a video I put together from a slide show produced about the Law of Moses by the Church Education System (CES). It is one of the best discussions I have ever seen on the topic of the Law of Sacrifice and the mission of the Savior. It goes into great detail describing the various ordinances of the Law of Moses and how they represented the future sacrifice of the Messiah. It is about 25 minutes in length and is not the most exciting video, but very informative and I think very well worth the time. Because it is so difficult to get a copy of the slides (it was produced in 1980, and no longer used), I decided to publish it on YouTube with the hopes that more people may use it and learn of this difficult, yet important part of the Old Testament. Below is the text of the entire presentation.

One of the first commandments given to man after being expelled from the Garden of Eden was that he should worship God and present the firstlings of his flocks for an offering unto the Lord. Although for many days after Adam received the commandment he did not understand its purpose, Adam and Eve were obedient to the commandment to offer sacrifice.

Eventually due to Adam's obedience and supplications, an angel appeared and revealed the significance of this holy ordinance. This thing, the angel said, is a similitude of the sacrifice of the only begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. The angel taught Adam that the purpose of the sacrifice of the only begotten was to bring about an atonement wherein fallen man could be forgiven of his sins and be reconciled to God.

Joseph Smith said that the law of sacrifice was instituted as a type through which man was to discern the importance and the necessity of this great sacrifice. Through it, God was able to teach the people of the coming of Christ, and detail the Savior's atoning sacrifice. This was done through the use of types and symbols which the Lord wove into every aspect of the Law.

A type is something that represents spiritual truth through symbolic means. A similitude is something similar to something else. Thus, the animal offered as a sacrifice was a type of Christ. It represented Christ symbolically, and the offering of the animal was in similitude, or similar to the future sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

The Mosaic ordinance of sacrifice consisted of two categories of offerings: one the voluntary offering, which is the burnt offering, the peace offering, and the meat or cereal offering; and two the obligatory offering, which was the sin offering, and the trespass offering.

There were essential elements that were common to both categories: a sacrifice or offering, an offerer, the place of the offering, the act of laying on hands, a priest, the salt, the fire, and the blood.

Before examining each of the offerings, it will prove helpful to look at the significance of each element. By doing so, an appreciation of the prophetic spirit which undergirded the law of sacrifice can be developed. This in turn will provide a background to understanding the offerings themselves.

The offerings fall into three divisions: one, animals of the flock or herd, two, certain birds, and three, grains or products made of grain. The later called meat offerings were also offered with olive oil and frankincense.

To be acceptable as sacrifices the animals had to meet specific criteria: first, they had to be one of those that God had declared to be clean and which could be used as food, second, they had to be domesticated, and third, they had to be free from physical flaws. The grains had to be either ground into flour, which in turn could be used to make breadstuffs, roasted, or parched.

These criteria were necessary so that the offering might serve as a proper symbol not only for the Savior, but also for the offerer himself. It is usual to see the sacrificial animal as a type of the Lord, the lack of bodily faults representing the purity of life the Savior lived. This indeed is as it should be, but it must also be remembered that the law was designed to teach not only about the Savior, but also how the individual could benefit from the atoning sacrifice and gain eternal life.

Therefore, the animal had to be a product of a person’s own labor, and also that which sustained his life. For this, no wild or stolen animal would do. By offering both the toil of his hands, which was indicative of his labor and time, and his daily bread, a fit similitude of his subsistence, the individual actually represented the surrender of his soul to God. It was this that made the offering acceptable.

As the individual continued to yield himself to the Lord and serve him, he would find the influence of the Holy Spirit in his life. Although each individual prepared the sacrifice for himself, or his family, he was not allowed to actually approach the altar until expiation or payment was made, he was considered sinful and therefore stood barred from access to those areas which were designated as holy.

Because of this, he stood in needs of a mediator, someone who could intervene and minister in his behalf. The person designated to do this was the priest. Only he could approach the altar and offer the sacrifice, which would make the Israelite clean and acceptable. In this role, he stood in the similitude of Christ, the great mediator between God and man. The priest prepared the way by which repentance could be granted and man could become acceptable to God.

The altar played a key role in the ordinance of sacrifice. Although the tabernacle, and later the temple were the abode of deity, the altar was the spot where Jehovah promised to meet with his people, speak to them, and reconcile them to him. The altar was a raised or elevated place, suggesting man’s approach to heaven, the realm of deity.

The altar also housed the fire. The fire in the first altar, made by Moses for the Tabernacle had been kindled by fire from heaven. It was the duty of the priest to keep this fire always burning, thus symbolizing the continuation of the covenant, which made the ordinance of sacrifice efficacious.

In the scriptures fire is often used to symbolize two things: the purifying action of the Holy Spirit, and the turmoil of damnation. It is this first imagery that is of significance here, this comes from the power of fire to destroy that which is perishable, ignorable, and corrupt, and yet to purge and purify that which has an imperishable portion within it. Elder McConkie stated, "All the fires on all the altars of the past, as they burned the flesh of animals, were signifying that spiritual purification would come by the Holy Ghost, whom the Father would send because of the Son."

So as to be near the altar and the fire, all sacrificial slayings were performed in the inner-court of the Tabernacle or Temple. In every case, before the animal was slain the offerer placed his hands upon its head. This symbolized one of two things, depending on whether the offering was voluntary or obligatory.

If the offering was obligatory, the offerer placed his hands on animals head with a confession of his sins. In this way his sins were symbolically imputed to the animal. It then became a symbolic substitute for the individual and it suffered the consequences of sin, the wages of sin being death. In this way, the Lord stressed the vicarious nature of the work through which man's sins are forgiven.

If on the other hand, the offering was voluntary, the offerer said a prayer as he placed his hands on the animal's head. This symbolized a transferal of the feelings of his heart, which impaled him to bring this gift to the Lord. In this way, the offerer demonstrated total self-surrender to the will of God. It was this that made these offerings a sweet savor, or a pleasing odor to God. In other words, as the delightful smell and succulent taste of a good meal satisfies a hungry man, so the life of the offerer, willingly submissive and obedient, brings God satisfaction.

With every offering made upon the great altar, salt was added. Because of its power to enhance food and preserve it, the salt imparted to the sacrifice the idea of an unbreakable covenant, therefore the salt was called the salt of the covenant. By preserving the covenant in his life, the Israelite not only had his sins forgiven but he was strengthened and fortified in his fellowship with Jehovah as well.

Of all the elements of the ordinance of sacrifice, nothing played a more prominent part than the administration of the blood of the offering. The manner of its offering was minutely specified by the Lord. Depending on the offering, the blood was dabbed upon the horns, sprinkled or splashed upon all four sides of the altar, or dumped out at the base of the altar.

The Lord chose the blood to dramatize the consequences of sin and what was involved in the process of forgiveness and reconciliation. Therefore, the blood symbolized both life and the shedding of blood, or the giving of one's life. Death is the consequence of sin and so the animal was slain to show what happens when man sins. Also, the animal was a type of Christ. Through the giving of his life for us, the shedding of his blood, we who are spiritually dead because of sin, can find new life. Out of this grows a spiritual parallel, as in Adam, or by nature, all men fall and are subject to spiritual death, so in Christ and his atoning sacrifice, all men have power to gain eternal life.

The purpose of the shedding of blood was to bring expiation or atonement. The Hebrew verb, which is translated by the English word 'atonement,' means to cover. The connotation is not that the sin is no longer existent, nor that the offerer through some performance or act had paid or made compensation for sin. Rather it is suggested that sin had been covered over, or as the scriptures state 'blotted out' before God through his grace or loving kindness. That is to say, its power of separating man from God had been taken away.

Thus, the blood becomes a symbol for the whole process by which man becomes reconciled to God. From all of this it is apparent that those in Israel, who were spiritually enlightened, knew and understood that their sacrificial ordinances were in similitude of the coming death of him whose name they used to worship the Father and that it was not the blood on their altars that brought remission of sins, but the blood that would be shed in Gethsemane and on Calvary.

The ordinance of sacrifice as a type allowed for the faithful Israelite the opportunity of seeing the work of Christ. Blood is the symbol of mortality. But the blood of a sinful man cannot satisfy the demands of justice and bring expiation. Only the life of a God can do this. It was because Jesus was mortal that he had the power to die, and so could give his life. But it was because he was divine that his sacrifice was effective.

The blood of the offering represented the Lords mortality, and the faultlessness of the animal represented his divinity. Without both the offering could not serve as a true type. Therefore, to offer anything in sacrifice but that which God required was a serious offense. It reflected a lack of faith on the part of the offerer. It was a rejection of Jehovah and his future mission.

Since the ordinance was revealed to teach Israel of Christ, the condition of the heart was most critical. Any sacrifice not offered with sincerity of heart and with an accompanying change of life was repugnant. Sacrifice was meant to be a symbol of a life of service to God. It was for this reason God said through Isaiah: "to what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats."

When God revealed the ordinance of sacrifice, he first instructed Moses on how to perform the voluntary offerings and then the obligatory offerings. In actual practice, however, he order the latter to be performed first. From this, we gather that to him the voluntary offerings are the more pleasing, but the obligatory offerings must prepare the way. We shall examine them in the order revealed, and not the order in which they were offered.

The first sacrifice revealed as part of the Mosaic Law was the burnt offering. Its purpose was to make the offerer acceptable by doing that in his life, which would satisfy God and make the offerer's life sweet to him. In this way, the full benefits of the atonement would befall him and he would enjoy the companionship of the spirit. Thus, the sacrifice was an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Lord. In his merciful way, the Lord allowed for different animals to be used as sacrifices. As will be seen, this was true of nearly all of the offerings. This was to ensure that all, no matter how poor, would be able to make an offering.

The offering of the animals followed a general format, though there were some unique differences from animal to animal. Only the general format will be considered here. Those animals accepted as a burnt offering were bullocks, lambs and goats, and turtledoves.

The animal was brought to the north side of the altar. Here the offerer placed his hands on its head and then slaughtered it. The priest caught its blood in a bowl. This he flung against opposite corners of the altar in such a way as to hit two sides at a time. The blood thus covering the altar symbolized that all sin was covered by the death of the Lord.

The offerer skinned the animal and gave the skin to the priest. The priest could use these skins for his own use, or sell them to sustain himself. Then the offerer cut the carcass into pieces consisting of the head, legs, inwards and fat, and the body. The inwards and the legs were washed with water after which the priest arranged all the pieces upon the altar and burned them.

The unique aspect of the burnt offering was the dividing of the animal into various parts and the washing of the inwards and legs of the bullock with water. Yet, it is this very thing, which gives this sacrifice its own dimension and meaning apart from the others.

It has been suggested that each part of the animal’s body was in similitude for various aspects of a person’s life. The head is the well-known emblem of the thoughts. The legs, the emblem of the walk. And the inwards are the constant and familiar symbol of the feelings and affections of the heart. The meaning of the fat represents the energy not of one limb or faculty, but the general health and vigor of the whole.

The washing of the inwards and legs suggests the need for one to be spiritually pure, not only in what he does, but also in what he desires. Taken together, these things reveal the quality of the life that the Lord lives. His feelings, thoughts, activities, and total life were placed in submission to God. At the same time, the sacrifice stressed the idea that it is only when the offerer yields himself to God that his life is sweet or satisfying to the Lord.

Closely associated with the burnt offering was the peace offering, in fact the latter was burned on top of the former. The purpose of this offering was either to seek or to give thanks for power in one's life by which victory or salvation and peace were achieved. Thus, this sacrifice was offered before Israel went into battle as a way of beseeching God for assistance, as well as after the battle to celebrate victory. It was also used by individuals when making vows to God for divine assistance. The animals which the law allowed as acceptable for this sacrifice, were either a male or female ox, sheep, or goat. No birds were acceptable.

As with the burnt offering, the offerer brought the animal to the north side of the altar, killed it, and skinned it. The priest then sprinkled its blood on the sides of the altar. The internal fat, along with the kidneys and fat tail of the sheep were removed. The brisket, or lower chest and right back leg were also removed. The leg became the heave offering, so called because it was heaved, or lifted from the animal. This was presented to the priest for his services. The breast-piece or brisket was presented to the Lord as a wave offering. To do this, the priest placed the offering in the hands of the offerer and then placed his own hands beneath it. They then moved the brisket in a horizontal motion towards the altar, symbolically transferring it to the Lord, and then back again, representing God's acceptance of the offering and his transferal to his servant, the priest.

In addition to the brisket, wheat cakes made with oil and salt, but without leaven were also waved before Lord and were transferred to the priest. This, with the brisket, he was free to prepare and eat with the male members of his family in the inner-court. The remaining portion of the sacrifice was retained by the offerer, who upon returning home used it in the preparation of a feast of which he could invite family, friends, and the poor. This feast became a holy covenant meal participated in with joy because it represented acceptance by and fellowship with the Lord. The earthly food symbolized the spiritual power through which the Lord satisfied and refreshed his saints, and led them to victory over all their enemies.

Through this sacrifice, the Lord stressed the necessity of men and women actively yielding their desires and feelings, symbolized by the burning of the fat and kidneys to him. As they do so, the blood of Christ covers them. Becoming acceptable to God, they receive the spirit in their lives through which ultimate peace and joy are found.

The final voluntary sacrifice was called the meat offering. The word meat would be better translated as cereal or grain, but suggests the idea of food. This offering is the only one that is totally bloodless. Those items designated as acceptable were fine flour, pastries made with fine flour such as breads and wafers, pancakes and cakes boiled in oil, or parched wheat. Frankincense and salt were also joined with the meat offering.

As noted earlier, salt was added to each of these offerings because it symbolized the lasting nature of the covenant. The oil was a symbol of the Holy Ghost, and frankincense suggested prayer and fervency of supplication. The addition of leaven and honey to any offering, which was burned, was strictly forbidden. Because these were associated with fermentation, they became symbols of corruption and that which was unacceptable before God. Anything unholy was barred from his presence.

The purpose of this meat offering was similar to that of the peace offering. God gave to man the fruits and cereals of the earth as his part of the creation. Through this offering, the individual acknowledged God as the giver of all things and surrendered what had been designated as truly his God's in supplication for power to fulfill his duty.

This offering was not presented at the north side of the altar, as were the blood sacrifices. Instead, the offerer handed it to the priest in the inner-court. Before doing so, the offerer prepared it according to the law. Parched grains and flour had oil added to them, while breads, cakes, or wafers were broken up before receiving the oil. The priest took a portion of the flour, grains, or breadstuffs and along with the frankincense, he added salt and burned them upon the altar. The remainder was designated for the use of the priesthood, but it had to be eaten within the inner-court so as to limit any chance of defilement.

Like the other offerings, the meat offerings stressed the vicarious nature of the work of Christ. Here we see the flour and oil substituted for the life and blood of the animal. However, only flour or grains, which were properly prepared, would do. The flour had to be finely ground, and the grains parched by fire.

These requirements allowed the offering to be a fit type or symbol of the Lord. Just as fine flour, devoid of lumps has a consistent texture throughout, so the life of the Lord was totally consistent. As the wheat was broken and refined under the pressure of the millstone, so to was the Lord ground in the tribulation of the atonement. When finely ground, and pressed down under the weight of sins in Gethsemane, he was placed as an acceptable sacrifice on the altar of Golgotha.

There is another teaching of this sacrifice that should not be overlooked. Grain is often used as a symbol for the life of Jesus and the nourishment that comes from the word of the Lord, while oil is used to symbolize the Holy Ghost. As man was meant to live physically by eating bread, so to was he meant live spiritually by partaking of the word and also of the spirit of the Lord.

We now turn from the voluntary offerings, which were presented to God by those made acceptable to him, to those offerings through which this acceptance came. Remembering that while revealed last, in practice these offerings came first. These offerings were obligatory for offenses, which estranged man from God. The scriptures refer to them as sin offerings, of which there were two kinds. The sin offering proper, and the trespass offering.

In the sin offering the proper focus is on the spiritually destructive nature of sin. Here is dramatized the statement of Paul that "the wages of sin is death." Every act of unrighteousness, be it intentional or not, required the giving up of life. To the faithful, the animal served only to remind them of the real Lamb of God who would have to be offered. In emphasizing the consequence of sin, this sacrifice also emphasized the essential work of Christ in which sin is atoned for, blotted out and pardoned.

The sacrifice, which the law deemed as acceptable for the sin offering, was dependent on the social and economic status of the offerer. For this reason, there was more diversity in this offering than in any other. The high priest was required to offer an ox as was the whole congregation of Israel during national holy days. A king offered a he goat. The common man, a she goat or a ewe sheep. The poor offered two turtledoves, and the very poor offered one tenth of an ephah of fine flour.

The offering was prepared and sacrificed in the same way as the peace offering, but the blood was handled differently, again according the rank of the offerer. The blood for the priest and congregation was taken to the Tabernacle or temple, sprinkled seven times before the veil or door of the Tabernacle, dabbed on the horns of the incense altar, and then poured out at the base of the great altar.

The blood shed for a ruler, or a common Israelite, was dabbed on the horns of the great altar and the rest dumped out at the base of the altar. The blood of the turtledoves offered by the poor was squeezed out and splashed against the sides of the altar. The flour given by the very poor was burned on the altar but without oil or incense. The absence of these two symbolic objects in the sin offering suggested that reconciliation with God was still being sought and therefore, spiritual power had not been achieved.

Although the carcass of the sacrifice from the common people and the rulers became the property of the priest, that which was offered for the whole congregation and for the high priest was carried out of the camp or city and burned at a place that was ceremonially clean.

The sin offering related to specific kinds of sin, those committed in error. This did not mean nearly sins committed in ignorance, hurry, want of consideration, or carelessness, but also those sins committed unintentionally. Therefore, the sin offering covered those sins, which arose from the weaknesses of the flesh inherent in fallen man.

The significant teaching of this sacrifice is that Christ's atonement covered not only acts done willingly and knowingly, but also those acts committed in ignorance. If it were not for the atonement, those who had died not knowing the will of God or who have ignorantly sinned would stand condemned before the law of God.

The burning of the ox outside the camp, dramatically illustrated that sin not only brings separation from God and his kingdom, but also spiritual death or separation to the soul. The fat being burned upon the altar shows that the offering itself was perfect and acceptable, but that it was symbolically the bearer of the sins. Such was Christ, who suffered outside of a city that man might not suffer if he would repent. The blood of the offering was sprinkled on the veil of the holy place, serving as a constant reminder that the sins of those for whom Christ died were covered. Because they were, the covenant fellowship could continue.

The trespass offering was substantially different from the sin offering. Only one animal was acceptable, no matter who the person was. This animal was a ram. It was sacrificed like the peace offering even to the swinging of the blood on the altar, with one exception. Before the ram was sacrificed, the priest placed a value on it reflective on the seriousness of the confessed transgression of the offerer. The offerer had to pay this value, plus twenty percent, to the party against whom he had trespassed.

The major emphasis of this offering was restoration. Rights, goods, or properties, which had been unjustly disturbed or violated, were restored to the injured party. Therefore, this sacrifice did not look upon what man is, as did the sin offering, but on what he does. It also emphasized that wrongs, which were deliberately inflicted, must be made up and restored to the offended party. But this was not all. More than the original loss was repaid. This left the offended party satisfied, and the trespass therefore, completely atoned for. Again, in this we see the perfect work of Christ. Not only did he satisfy justice so that the repentant man can return to him, but he did more. He made man a joint heir in all things. Anything mortal man is called upon to suffer is totally made up in Christ.

The apostle Paul said that the Law of Moses was a schoolmaster to bring Israel to the Lord. Certainly, in the ordinance of sacrifice his point is beautifully illustrated. All those with faith, under the influence of the spirit of prophecy, learned of Christ, relied on Christ, and so were drawn to Christ. The purpose of the ordinance of sacrifice, like our own sacrament, was to assist Israel in remembering God so that they might have his spirit to be with them.


  1. I love your material! Thank you for taking the time to share it. I have a question. I can never "pin" any of your pages to Pinterest. Is that intentional on your part? I have found that using Pinterest is a great way to share material and increase exposure. Your site definitely deserves some good exposure! Every gospel teacher should be seeing your stuff!

  2. Glad you enjoy it! I looked online and it looks like pinterest does not work very well with Google Picasa Web (which I use for my images). Not sure why, but I will have to keep working on it to see if there is a way to make it work.

  3. This is cheerful and wonderful.....
    I 've to do this home so so soon home before the end of the year.

  4. Great information. The video is so quick, I am not getting a complete understanding. By adding the slides gives me a slower approach to process and keep in mind of what you have taught in the video. Very enlightening. Picture comparison of the sacrifices and the other pictures helped out a lot in getting a greater understanding also. Thank you for sharing.

  5. This is really great information. It is the most concise and understandable treatise on sacrifices in the law of Moses that I have found. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Thank you for this information! Do we know how often sacrifices were being performed? And do we know how often the children of Israel were moving camp in the wilderness?

    1. No, we don't know how often they sacrificed or when they moved. For sure they would at least do it three times a year during the feasts, but other than that, it was probably as they felt they needed it, or if something happened that required it. As for moving, we have some specific timing in the Bible, where it says that they stayed, or moved, but I'm not sure if we know how long (besides these) as it was 40 years. So we only have some of the movements. From those recorded, it appears they would stay for a good period of time, which was common for nomadic people.


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