Sacrifices,Offerings:Foreshadows of Christ

The Brazen Altar - from the Tabernacle Model

The first recorded commandment to Adam and Eve after the expulsion from Eden was “that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord” (Moses 5:5). The law of sacrifice was thus one of the first recorded ordinances revealed to man.

Why was this ordinance given first? Because separated from God, the “natural man” (see Mosiah 3:19) would eventually turn from Deity. Man’s life would center in earthly things, for it would appear that his wants, his needs, and even his existence were supplied by the earth. He would feel a need to know but one law: self-preservation.

What, then, would lead him to a godlike life? With profound insight, President David O. McKay has supplied an answer:

“The divinity within him, I grant you, would be ever urging him to rise above himself. But his reverence for the Infinite could express itself only in a worship of the manifestations of Divine power—the sun, the moon, the thunder, the lightning, the cataract, the volcano, etc. …

“The Lord [through his loving grace] revealed to man the Gospel, and one of the very first commandments given superseded in essence the self-preservation law. It was the law of sacrifice. The effect of this was that the best the earth produced, the best specimen in the flock or herd should not be used for self, but for God. It was God, not the earth, whom man was to worship” (“The Atonement,” Instructor, Mar. 1959, pp. 65–66).

In other words, man was to put his trust in God; from God he would draw sustenance. Offering his best to the Lord became the symbol of his total faith in Jehovah as the giver of both mortal and eternal life…

From Adam to Jacob

From the days of Adam to the days of Jacob, this ordinance renewed man’s covenant relationship with the Lord. It was not the elaborately detailed ceremony later revealed to Moses. Rather, it seems to have consisted of just two types of sacrifice: burnt offerings and slain offerings (see C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976, 1:268–69).

The burnt offering. The first sacrifice revealed was the burnt offering. By it the offerer became acceptable to God, doing that which would satisfy God and make the offerer’s life sweet to Him. In this way the benefits of the Atonement would befall him, and he would enjoy the companionship of the Spirit. (See Lev. 1:4.) Thus the sacrifice was “an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord” (Lev. 1:9). The Lord allowed for different animals to be used as sacrifices in nearly all offerings. This ensured that all, no matter how poor, could make an offering. The offering of the animals followed a general format, though there were some unique differences from animal to animal.

Animals accepted as a burnt offering were bullocks, male lambs and goats, and turtle doves. The animal was brought to the north side of the altar, where the offerer placed his hands on its head and then slaughtered it. The priest caught its blood in a bowl and then swung it against opposite corners of the altar, symbolizing that all sin was covered by the death of the Lord. The offerer skinned the animal and gave the skin to the priest. Priests could use these skins for their own use or sell them to sustain themselves. Then the offerer cut the carcass into pieces consisting of the head, legs, inwards and fat, and the body. The inwards and legs were washed with water, after which the priest arranged and burnt all the pieces upon the altar.

Read the rest of this excellent article by Richard D. Draper, “Sacrifices and Offerings: Foreshadowings of Christ,” Ensign, Sep 1980, 21.


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