Understanding The Sacrificial System

The Sacrificial System was invented to assuage the demands of the Children of Israel, who wished to have visible proof of their God, and also wished to be like their neighbors. God tolerated this system, but He did not institute it. Man instituted it. God through His Spirit directed the system to point to the Messiah, and a time when sacrifice would stop entirely.

    "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."  (Hosea 6:6)

    "...I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you." (Jeremiah 7:21-22)

For more information on the origins of the Sacrificial System, please read the article on The Sacrifice of Jesus: Does Blood Atone For Sin?

How Sins Were "Purged" From The Children Of Israel Before Jesus

    Before Jesus gave His life for our sins, the Children of Israel were told to offer the blood of animals that they sacrificed themselves in place of their own blood, for "the wages of sin is death", and these sacrifices allowed believers to believe they had been purged of their sins by symbolically transferring the sins to an animal.

    Though the system was invented by man, the ceremonies of the daily sacrifices were directed by God through His Spirit to teach the people about the Messiah, or the "Lamb of God" who would soon come to be sacrificed for their sins, putting an end to sacrifice forever.

    The sacrifice of the Messiah would also allow the Knowledge of God to be spread throughout the world without the actual animal sacrifice taught by men to be necessary for the atonement of sin in Israel before Christ came.

    The sacrifices were performed at the Tabernacle of Witness which the Children of Israel had built according to specifications that God gave Moses. Inside of the tabernacle was the sanctuary. The sanctuary was divided into two parts: The Holy section and the Most Holy section. The Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Most Holy section, and it contained the two tables of stone on which the Ten Commandments had been written by the finger of God Himself.

    In the Holy section was the altar of incense which had four horns at each corner of it, and which stood before the veil that separated the Holy from the Most Holy sections. Also in the Holy section of the sanctuary were the seven-stemmed candlestick, and the table of shewbread that always had twelve unleavened cakes of bread on it.

The Daily Sacrifice:

    During the year the people of Israel would go to the Tabernacle of Witness and offer what was called the "daily sacrifice" for any sin against the Ten Commandments that they might have committed recently.

    Then on one special day each year, called the Day of Atonement, the people's High Priest would come before God with all of the sins committed during the previous year, and God would 'blot out' those sins on that day.

    The Daily Sacrifice worked like this:

      1) A person has sinned and broken one of the Ten Commandments. He knows he is guilty and deserves death according to his belief in God, and "the wages of sin is death".

      2) The sinner goes to the Tabernacle taking a lamb. He confesses his sin over the head of the lamb, which symbolically transfers his sin to the lamb. Now the lamb must die in the sinner's place.

      3) The guilty sinner kills the innocent lamb (which action represents the future death of Jesus) with a knife. After killing the lamb, the sin is now symbolically contained in the animal’s blood.

      4) The Priest takes some of the blood that symbolically contains the sin, and enters the Holy Apartment of the sanctuary. He then sprinkles the blood before the veil of sanctuary. Behind the veil are the two tables of stone on which God wrote the Ten Commandments. The tables of stone are kept in the Ark of the Covenant behind the veil. The sinner's sin is now in the sanctuary.

    Symbolically the sins of Israel, thus left each day in the sanctuary by the Priest, would remain in the sanctuary of the for the rest of the year, until the annual 'Day of Atonement'. The Day of Atonement was the day when God would actually blot out the sins of the previous year and the sanctuary would be 'cleansed' of those sins.

Preparation For The Annual Day Of Atonement:

    The Day of Atonement was commanded by God to take place on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar... However, before the actual cleansing of the sanctuary, the people themselves had to 'turn off the tap' of sin, so to speak, so that during the time of the Day of Atonement sinning could virtually stop.

    To accomplish this, God also sanctified the Day of Atonement, making it a special Sabbath wherein:

      "Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath." (Leviticus 23:31-32 KJV)

    So beginning at sunset on the ninth day of the month, the people of Israel were to do no work, and were to 'afflict' themselves through prayer and repentance for the previous year's sins.

    This was done in order that in the day the sanctuary was cleansed sinning would cease. Anyone who did not afflict themselves by confession and earnest heart searching, would be cut off from Israel forever.

      "For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people." (Leviticus 23:29-30 KJV)

Day of Atonement Service:

  1. On the tenth day of the seventh month the High Priest was to enter the Tabernacle with a bullock and a ram, which would be offered for himself:

      "Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering." (Lev 16:3 KJVA)

  2. The Priest would then prepare himself by washing and putting on his specially designed priestly clothes:

      "He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with a linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: these are holy garments; therefore shall he wash his flesh in water, and so put them on." (Lev 16:4 KJVA)

  3. Next the congregation of Israel was to provide the High Priest with two goat kids "without blemish" to sacrifice for the people, along with another ram that the Priest was to offer as a burnt offering for the people at the end of the service:

      "And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering." (Leviticus 16:5 KJV)

  4. The first sacrifice of the service was the bullock of the Priest, to atone for his sins and the sins of his house:

      "And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house." (Lev 16:6 KJVA)

  5. After atoning for himself, the High Priest was to then cast lots over the two goats that the congregation had provided, thereby selecting one goat for "the goat of the Lord", and the other for the "scapegoat":

      "And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat." (Lev 16:8 KJVA)

  6. At this point, bringing a censor with burning incense with him, the High Priest entered the Holiest Place of the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, with the Mercy Seat on top of it where God's presence was.

      "And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not:" (Lev 16:12-13 KJVA)

  7. According to God's commandment he would then sprinkle blood from the bullock (that he had sacrificed for himself) on the front of the Mercy Seat seven times:

      "And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times." (Lev 16:14 KJVA)

  8. The High Priest would then sacrifice the goat of the Lord and bring its blood into the Most Holy section of the tabernacle as well, and also sprinkle that blood on the Mercy Seat:

      "Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:" (Lev 16:15 KJVA)

  9. Following the sprinkling of the blood in the Most Holy section of the tabernacle, the High Priest atones for the tabernacle itself, Holy section of the sanctuary where Israel's sins have symbolically been residing for the past year:

      "And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness. And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.

    ...And then he would atone for the altar of incense that stood before God, though in front of the veil:

      "And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about. And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel." (Lev 16:16-19 KJVA)

  10. Next, all of the sins of Israel from the previous year would be symbolically placed on the head of the remaining live goat, called Azazel, when the High Priest confessed them while placing his hands on the goat's head. Then the live goat would sent out into the wilderness by the hand of a fit man:

      "And when he hath made an end of atoning for the holy place, and the tent of meeting, and the altar, he shall present the live goat: and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a man that is in readiness into the wilderness:" (Lev 16:20-21 ASV)

  11. Finally, the High Priest would bathe, change from his priestly garments of linen, and offer the two rams - one for the people and one for him - as burnt offerings:

      "And Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there: and he shall bathe his flesh in water in a holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt-offering and the burnt-offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people." (Lev 16:23-24 ASV)

    The rest of the service is reproduced below:

      "And he that letteth go the goat for Azazel shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp. And the bullock of the sin-offering, and the goat of the sin-offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be carried forth without the camp; and they shall burn in the fire their skins, and their flesh, and their dung. And he that burneth them shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp.

      "And it shall be a statute for ever unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger that sojourneth among you: for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before Jehovah. It is a sabbath of solemn rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; it is a statute for ever.

      "And the priest, who shall be anointed and who shall be consecrated to be priest in his father's stead, shall make the atonement, and shall put on the linen garments, even the holy garments: and he shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary; and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar; and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly." (Lev 16:26-33 ASV)

    Note that the two goats, with which the actual atonement for Israel's sins were made, were presented to the High Priest by the congregation.