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The Scenes of Life — Lesson 3

The Scenes of Life — Lesson 3

The Tabernacle Offerings

In answer to Moses' plea that God show His way after the golden calf incident, the tabernacle was initiated. In fact, the tabernacle with its ritual services may well be said to embody God's provisional answer respecting His way. God had revealed Himself to Moses as "merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth; forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." In the ritual ceremonies of the tabernacle something of these attributes or redeeming qualities of God come to expression.

Its Origin And Structure

From the making and worshipping of the golden calf it would seem that the people had sensed the desirability for some tangible evidence of God's presence. However, the idea of the tabernacle with its services was not devised by the people. Chapters 25 through 31 of Exodus tell us how the concept originated. The pattern of the tabernacle and its furnishings, the competence for executing the workmanship involved in structuring it, and the order of its ritual services were communicated by God. In this connection we note that Moses was specifically told to see to it that all be made according to the pattern that was shown him on the mountain (Exodus 25:8,9,40).

In its entirety the tabernacle comprised two sections: the forecourt which consisted of a roofless enclosure, and the tabernacle proper comprising the "Holy Place" and the "Holy of Holies".

Its Purpose

In Exodus 29:43 the tabernacle is designated as the place where God would meet with the children of Israel. Concerning it God said, "And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory." The place of meeting is further identified in Exodus 25:22, which reads, "And there I will meet with thee and I will commune with thee from above the expiatory cover from between the two cherubim's which are upon the ark of the testimony ..."

So the tabernacle afforded the people a place for meeting God, but, because of their sinfulness this could not be effected directly. The people had become keenly aware of this fact at the giving of the law from Mt. Sinai. Exodus 20:18,19 tells us that when the people saw something of God's majesty and power, and heard Him speaking to them from the mountain, they stood back and pleaded that Moses henceforth be God's spokesman to them, lest they die. And lest this be forgotten, Moses, in recounting the giving of the law some forty years later, also recounted this incident and the deep concern the people had expressed at that time.

"And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders; And ye said, Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire:...if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die...Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it. (Deuteronomy 5:23-27).

What the people had spoken at Mt. Sinai at the giving of the law was indeed "well said". And, to what they said, God had given answer in no uncertain terms. As for their plea that Moses be God's spokesman, the Lord promised to raise up unto them a prophet like unto Moses — a promise which bespoke the coming of Messiah. (Deuteronomy 5:29).

Since there was not such a heart in them — as there is not such a heart in sinful man — God showed the way in which an acceptable relationship with Him could be maintained; this by way of the tabernacle with its ritual services, special emphasis on mediatorship, and its sin and trespass offerings.

Offerings and sacrifices were known to find acceptance with God before the tabernacle ever came into use, but of expiatory offerings or offerings for atonement no mention is made before the giving of the Law. Note here that wherever mention is made of a "sin offering" or "trespass offering," it relates to an infraction of a commandment (See Leviticus 4:2,13,27, and 5:15,18). Furthermore, these offerings availed if one sinned "... through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done ..." (Leviticus 4:2). the latter applied whether this was committed by a priest (Leviticus 4:3), the whole congregation (Leviticus 4:13), or any of the common people (Leviticus 4:27). Now the expression, "sin through ignorance" generally does not relate to ignorance of the commandments, but rather to unmindfulness and unpremeditatedness regarding them. Included, however, are errors of infirmity, rashness and levity. For all such sins and trespasses the offender could bring an offering to the altar wherewith to obtain forgiveness.

Not A Self-Serve Matter

The offerer could do no more however than bring his offering to the tabernacle and present it at the altar. From there on an officiating priest had to take over in his behalf. Leviticus 5:13 gives the common formula in these words: "And the priest shall make an atonement for him ..."

This brings the priestly office into the picture, the office concerning which God said, "And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar: I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons, to minister to me in the priest's office" (Exodus 29:44). Because, in respect to the sin offerings and the trespass offerings, the officiating priest took over in behalf of the offerer, his, unquestionably, was a mediative office, and his was a service that could in no way be bypassed nor dispensed with.

Here we should note, and note well, that the foregoing offerings did not constitute a blanket covering for the sinfulness of the people. The "sin offerings" and the "trespass offerings," which were processed by the officiating priests from day to day, related to guilt incurred by reason of sins of omission and sins of commission, but they did not relate to guilt inherent by reason of condition. In other words, these offerings availed for current infractions of God's commandments — where one missed the mark, chatah, or one transgressed, peshah, Hebrew terms we discussed in the previous lesson, but they did not directly relate to one's inherent sinfulness, avon. In spite of a whole ritual of acceptable offerings throughout the year, the inherent sinfulness of the people was yet ever present.

The Day Of Atonement

That a special Day of Atonement should follow upon a whole course of acceptable sin offerings and trespass offerings is a telling phenomenon. The 16th chapter of Leviticus gives a rather full account of the ritual ceremonies of the Day of Atonement, and the role this day played in making atonement for all the sins of the people. When reading this chapter note carefully the status of the officiating priest, and the vicariousness of the sin offering.

A Mediative Service Per Se

While the daily sin offerings and trespass offerings could be processed by any one of the officiating priests, the sin offering for the day of atonement could be processed only by him who was especially anointed and robed to serve as high priest (Leviticus 16:2,17). The English term "high priest" is derived from Leviticus 21:10, where in the Hebrew text the term is, ha-cohen ha-ga-dol, that is, "the high priest." Leviticus 4:3 also gives a descriptive term, ha-cohen ha-me-shi-ach, which means, "the anointed priest." For those who use the Hebrew text it should immediately be apparent that the name "messiah" is a derivative of the Hebrew term meshiach. Messiah is said to be the Lord's Anointed. In this connection note that in the 9th chapter of Daniel the term me-shi-ach is twice translated "messiah" (Daniel 9:25-27). In turning to this chapter note also that the prophet, when speaking of Messiah's coming, relates His ministry to both the "sanctuary" and the "sacrifices," a fact that identifies Messiah as the anti-type of the high priest and his mediative ministry.

That the service which the high priest rendered on the Day of Atonement was a mediative service per se should be very clear. In this connection note especially the closing verses of Leviticus 16. "And he (the priest)...shall make an atonement (for) the holy sanctuary ... (for) the tabernacle...(for) the altar ... (for) the priests ... (for) all the people ... (for) the children of Israel "for" all their sins once a year ... " (Leviticus 16:33-34).

Vicariousness Of The Sin Offering

The sin offering for the Day of Atonement was unique in that it comprised a two-phase ritual, the first relating to the goat which was to be sacrificed as the sin offering proper, the second relating to the so-call scapegoat (Leviticus 16:5,7-10,15,16,20-22).

The sin offering for the Day of atonement differed from the day to day sin offerings in that the blood was taken into the Holy of Holies and was there sprinkled upon and before the expiatory covering that was upon the ark. This then constituted a supreme act of expiation, and atonement which, respecting their sinfulness, symbolically served as a covering for all the people of the congregation.

The ritual respecting the second phase of the sin offering on the Day of Atonement, as given in the common translations, is the following: "and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited ... (Leviticus 16:21). However, when taken out of its context this Scripture passage lends itself to one holding that this afforded a complete act of atonement, and, as such, is sometimes referred to as an example of a bloodless sin offering.

But now review its context and specially note its beginning and its conclusion. Note that Aaron was to take "two kids of the goats for a sin offering" (Leviticus 16:5), not two but one offering. Note, moreover, that the whole ritual of the Day of Atonement sin offering, in conclusion, is spoken of as, "an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year" (Leviticus 16:34).

This atonement began at the altar with the presentation of the two goats before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle, (verse 7) was effected before the Lord in the Holy of Holies by the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificed goat before and on the expiatory cover that was upon the ark, (verse 15) and was concluded before the people in the forecourt by the sending away of the live goat, which carried with it, as it were, all the iniquities and transgressions and sins of the people (verse 22).

We began this lesson by citing the Scripture reference where God revealed Himself as being, " ... merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth ... forgiving iniquity (avon) and transgression (peshah) and sin (chatah) ..." (Exodus 34:6,7), and with two additional comments on this passage we shall end it.

Our first additional comment is that only the sin offering on the Day of Atonement availed for the sinfulness of the people, the sinfulness that was yet ever present notwithstanding all the acceptable sin offerings that were offered throughout the year — that sinful condition of the people signified by the Hebrew term avon. Our second additional comment is that although all the sin offerings and trespass offerings offered in the tabernacle were without a doubt vicarious offerings, the Day of Atonement ritual regarding the live goat stands out boldly as an object lesson on their vicariousness - the goat being sent away with all the iniquity, transgression, and sin, as it were, heaped upon it.


The tabernacle, with its daily offerings and sacrifices and its once a year Day of Atonement, marks the beginning of God's way in direct dealing with the sin question. Not withstanding good intentions, there is not such a heart in man as to keep God's commandments. At the root there lies a sinfulness for which only the gracious provisions He has made can avail - provisions reflected in the tabernacle and its service and especially in the mediative ministry of the high priest on the Day of Atonement.


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