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The Purpose of the Old Testament Rituals

Query for the Month

of January 2001


Next up-date: February 1st (God willing).

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Exodus 20:22-26

And the LORD said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven [at Mount Sinai]. You shall not make with Me gods of silver, neither shall you make to you gods of gold [no representations of Me].

An altar of earth you shall make to Me [that’s My choice], and shall sacrifice thereon your burnt offerings, and your peace offerings, your sheep, and your oxen: in all places where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you.

And if you will make Me an altar of stone [that’s your choice], you shall not build it of hewn stone: for if you lift up your tool upon it, you have polluted it [leave it natural, none of your own works]. Neither shall you go up by steps to My altar [a high place of pride], that your nakedness be not discovered thereon.

What was the purpose of all those Old Testament sacrifices and rituals?


My Answer:

I believe that the Old Testament ceremonies based on the altar of sacrifice had three distinct pictures in them.

1) Conversion, or justification

2) Daily living, or sanctification

3) Total cleansing, or glorification


Let's deal with just the first this month.

Genesis 2:16-17

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: FOR IN THE DAY THAT YOU EAT THEREOF, YOU SHALL SURELY DIE."

It was the Son of God who asked Adam and Eve to kill lambs and burn their bodies on earth altars in the Garden of Eden. He wanted them to realise the seriousness of what they had done when they broke His commandment, for He had warned them of the consequences. They had condemned not only themselves to die, but ALL the innocent creatures of this world as well, and now they must show that it was self-inflicted.

It was also necessary for them each to kill an animal to bring home to them the fact that they HAD already died spiritually when they sinned.

Then, after skinning the animals, they burnt the bodies as act of consecration and Jesus used the skins to clothe them in place of their own attempt to "cover up" with fig leaves.

Genesis 3:21

To Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

This was a picture of His gift of righteousness as a prophet tells us.

Isaiah 61:10

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

After Jesus had done this He was able to explain to Adam and Eve that they were still physically alive because He, as the Son of God, had taken their spiritual "death" to Himself and given them another chance through what He calls the gift of "grace". We call it being "reborn" today. So the sacrifice represented two things - His "death" as their Saviour in the garden AND their death WITH Him. Revelation 13:8. (He was still to die at Calvary as the Son of man but that was another picture.)

Now they could believe that they had power over the temptations which their leap into sin had exposed them to, for He lived in them as David commented centuries later. See 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Psalm 51:10-11

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right Spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence; and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.

And Paul explained so eloquently.

Galatians 2:20-21

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless "I" live; yet not "I", but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

This thought is repeated in another place of the New Testament to remind Christians of this fundamental truth.

Romans 6:1-6

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in [the actions of] sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein [in sin]?

Know you not [don’t you know], that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, EVEN SO WE ALSO SHOULD WALK IN NEWNESS OF LIFE [His life].

For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: knowing this, that our "old man" is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

However, in Moses' time, the way in which a "sinner" (a child of Satan, John 8:44) became a "Christian" (a child of God, Galatians 3:26), was pictured through a process of being "circumcised" and eating the Passover "lamb" IN HIS/HER TENT. Thus he/she was reborn at home, not in the sanctuary. Exodus 12:1-10 AND VERSES 43-49.

By this ritual we are shown the same EXCHANGE of natures. Christ’s sinless one imparted to the sinner, and that of the sinner given to our Saviour, thus reversing their roles. 2 Corinthians 5:21.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience dealing with our INTERNAL inherited sinfulness, and is pictured by baptism in the New Testament as we have read. Romans 6:9-12. Although the ceremonial round was repeated every year in Moses' time for each new group of twelve-year olds, it was a "remembrance" for the older Christians, similar to feet-washing and the Lord’s supper. Luke 2:42; John 13:9-10.

After that the child of God could pass through the entrance into the sanctuary grounds to the brass altar in the courtyard (the people had fallen far from the simple concept of an earth altar by this time). There they praised God and promised obedience with his or her "burnt" offering of consecration, the "meat/meal" offering of their possessions, and the "peace" offering of thanksgiving. Leviticus chapters 1, 2 and 3.

The "old life" (the sinner) was dead and buried (cut off), and a new one begun (Christ within). None of the Christian’s former actions as a sinner would ever be mentioned again. They were paid for by the "death" of the Lamb who would carry their cause (our old nature) forever in His eternal sacrifice. Ephesians 5:2. They were never pictured as being in the sanctuary.

In this way they were taught the same gospel as we are.

Hebrews 3:16-19; 4:1-3

For some, when they had heard, did provoke [rebel]: however not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was He [the Spirit of God] grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?

And to whom swear He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For to us [in the New Testament] was the gospel preached, as well as to them [in the Old]: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

The separation from sinfulness is in death. That’s because death is in sin. "Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death," we are told. James 1:15.

Therefore nothing less than death will effect a separation from sin.

"Sinners" cannot separate themselves from sin, because sin is their very life. If it was possible for sinners to destroy the sin in themselves, it could only be by the giving up of their lives, and that would be the end of them. But Christ has the power to lay down His life, and to take it again; and therefore when we lay down our lives in Him, we are raised again by His endless life. Romans 6:1-7.

Remember that He does not give us our own life back again at rebirth, BUT THAT HE GIVES US HIS OWN LIFE. In that life there never was a sin; and so it is that our crucifixion and resurrection with Him is the separation of our sinful life from us.

That's why Cain's offering was rejected and Abel's accepted, for it was not enough to go through a ritual. The absence or presence of "blood" to show the "death" of Christ and the Christian made all the difference.

Genesis 4:2-7

And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground [his own works] an offering to the LORD [to burn on the altar].

And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect to Abel and to his offering: but to Cain and to his offering He had not respect.

And Cain was very wroth [angry], and his countenance fell. And the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you wroth? And why is your countenance fallen? If you do well [understanding what you are offering], shall you not be accepted? And if you do not well, sin lies at the door [of your heart]. And to [conquer] you shall be his desire, and [yet] you shall rule over him [if you let Me show you how].


There are three main reasons for animal sacrifices.

One of these was to show that the offerer believed that the Son of God had already died to save him from internal sin, and that he himself was pictured as being "dead" with Him. Thus the whole of the gospel was shown in the simple act of burning the body of an animal without its skin.


Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.


Spiritual Dictionary:

Animal Sacrifices:

There are three main reasons for animal sacrifices.

One of these was to show that the offerer believed that the Son of God had already died to save him from internal sin, and that he himself was pictured as being "dead" with Him. Thus the whole of the gospel was shown in the simple act of burning the body of an animal without its skin.

Next thought. To be discussed from February 1st 2001.

What was the purpose of all those Old Testament sacrifices and rituals?

Deuteronomy 4:1-2

Now therefore hearken, O Israel, to the statutes and to the judgments, which I teach you, to do them, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers gives you.

You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Next month I plan to look at the second of the meanings of the rituals. The one which shows the daily walk with Him.


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