Most Christians, when asked what they know about the sacrificial system will respond in one of these ways:
“They were done away with by Jesus’ death.”
“They were a burden.”
“They only atoned (covered over) sin.”
And this is almost always done so with a dismissive tone as if the sacrificial system was something bad and God did good to get rid of it. Would you be surprised to hear that none of the above statements (with a partial exception for the first) are true, and that such statements hide some wonderful truths that Christians would be well to pay attention to.
Let’s start with a fundamental difference between Christianities point of view about the “Law of God” and the Jewish point of view. Christians look at a law such as “don’t eat blood” and say, “I have to obey that?!” It is a burden that has to be followed. The Jewish point of view (including Yeshua’s point of view) would say, after having an opportunity to eat meat with the blood still in it, but not doing so, “I got to worship God by not eating blood just now.” I hope you can get a glimpse of how fundamental this difference is as it affects you entire view point of the “old Testament.”
So, back to the sacrificial system. Looking at Numbers 28 to 29, there is a long list of sacrifices to be given and instructions on how (this is just one place in the “Law” where sacrifices are discussed). Note a few things.
First, the vast majority of the sacrifices have nothing to do with sin. Nothing.
This is true for all sacrifices. There are sacrifices of thanksgiving, praise, finishing vows, and ritual purity (which is not about sin). There are some sacrifices for sin. Most are for the community (such as all those in the Numbers 28-29 passage). There are some for individuals (such as in Leviticus 6:4-6). Many of the sacrifices for sin are for ‘unintentional’ sin.
There are no sacrifices (with very few exceptions) for deliberate sin! Consider King David and his sin with Bathsheba. There was no sacrifice for that!
God forgave sin when people repented (actively turned from the sin). This is the same in the “Old Testament” as in the “New.” Consider 1 John 1:9,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (ESV)
“But what about Jesus’ sacrifice?” you may ask.
Yeshua’s (Jesus’) sacrifice “takes away the sin of the world,” just as it is written of him. That includes the sin that we don’t even know about, or we don’t even realize is sin (such as following age old traditions that are completely accepted within Christianity but not accepted by God). But even with Yeshua’s (Jesus’) sacrifice, we need to repent when we sin.
Lastly there are a couple important lessons to learn from the sacrificial system. Note that God required that the animals sacrificed be “without blemish.” In other words, it was to be one of the best animals. And He was very specific about how it was to be done. No pagan practices were involved.
When we worship God, do we give our best? How often do we buy something new for those in need instead of giving old stuff (which is good, but not worship as God sets forth).
If we can learn anything from the sacrificial system, it is this: Give our Best in all our worship of God, and worship Him as He wants.
[Note: ‘Worship’ here is not limited to singing, but in every facet of life where we can be obedient to Him, including in our helping others.]