This post is a bit outside of my normal subject matter, but I invite you to hang with me! (This is a simplified view of old Testament offerings, not designed to be a comprehensive study.)
Have you ever been mind-boggled by all the terms and varying kinds of sacrifices and offerings in the Old Testament? I have! So let’s break it down for minds like mine that appreciate simplicity.
Good news! There were FOUR basic reasons that God invited His people to worship Him through offerings and sacrifices in the Old Testament. Just four! There are many Old Testament terms and processes that expand on these four basic purposes, but these same four purposes carry forward in a marvelous way in New Testament Christian living—your life and mine. There’s a direct parallel between what God invited the nation of Israel to do, and what God invites you to do in terms of sacrificial worship.
The Old Testament sacrificial system provides an amazing gospel-oriented view of our Christian walk and worship today. Let’s take a closer look.
Here’s how the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings break down into four major categories or pictures:
1. REDEMPTION—Some Sacrifices/Offerings Pictured Redemption. They provided a picture of God’s plan of salvation. They pictured being reconciled to God’s heart by the shedding of blood. These sacrifices didn’t actually “save the soul” or “remove sin” but they did picture the coming Saviour who would be the final sacrifice for sins forever.
“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4)
“And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:” (Hebrews 10:11)
These sacrifices were mandatory and communicated to men that they were hopelessly separated from God, apart from a substitutionary sacrifice. These offerings were called “sin” and “trespass” offerings. Without them, there was no relating to God. These offerings taught a primitive people about the principle of atonement.
TODAY: Good news! Jesus is our final sin and trespass offering—once and for all! All the sacrifices of the Old Testament simply pointed to the coming suffering of Jesus in our place. You never have to offer for your sins! Jesus already did!
Today, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:9)
“…there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,” (Hebrews 10:26)
We don’t do this type of sacrificial worship today because Jesus was the final and ultimate sacrifice forever! He is our sin offering and trespass offering!
“But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;” (Hebrews 10:12)
Important—This first offering, accomplished by Jesus, is what trips the trigger of motivation in our hearts to participate willingly and lovingly in all the other opportunities to offer worship to God!
2. RELATIONSHIP—Some Sacrifices/Offerings Pictured Love for God. These offerings were voluntary expressions of worship and love—they were about relating with God and enjoying Him personally. These were not required as much as they were invited! These were God’s way of giving His people a way to say “thank you” and “I love you!” They were designed to flow from willing hearts, not from mindless or heartless obligation.
In fact, when it became mindless and heartless God said, “STOP IT!” (See Isaiah 1:11-20, and 29:13) It’s aways about the heart first!
These offerings were called “burnt offerings” and “grain offerings” and they pictured a heart that was returning to God, or a heart of devotion and commitment to Him. These offerings were significant because they were offered willingly, freely, and gladly. They were acts of worship.
This would have included, but was not limited to the “tithe” (which was commanded as a way to maintain the national function of Irael’s Theocracy. It was almost like a tax that funded the political and spiritual structure of Hebrew life.)
TODAY: Anything you give to and through your local church on a regular basis could be considered a modern parallel to these types of Old Testament worship offerings. In like manner, our New Testament systematic giving should be consistent, glad hearted, joyful, willing, and driven by generous grace. Our giving should be sincere expressions of love and worship—never out of grudging or necessity, but cheerful.
“But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. 7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. 2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2)
3. COMMUNITY—Some Sacrifices/Offerings Fostered Fellowship/Celebration. This third category of giving provided for fellowship and the celebratory worship of God. They fostered community amongst God’s people through meals, feasts, family time, and celebrations that brought people together in remembrance and worship.
These offerings were called “peace offerings” “wave offerings” “heave offerings” “vow offerings” “thanksgiving offerings” and “freewill offerings.” They were always expressions of thanksgiving and celebration—often combined with a feast that God appointed for celebration, rest, and worship.
Isn’t this cool?! God actually provided enough for His people to take extra time off, bring their abundance together, offer to Him with joyful hearts, and then have a feast together (sometimes a celebration lasting days!) What a joyful and loving God! He asked for these offerings, and then He gave them back to be enjoyed by His people.
TODAY: In many ways we do this sort of thing today. First, we come together every Sunday to worship and celebrate a resurrected Saviour and the grace of the gospel that has rescued us from condemnation. Then, any time a local church comes together with a celebration offering, or to enjoy a meal, or commemorate God’s goodness, this would, in some ways, parallel God’s practice for Old Testament Israel not only to worship Him, but also to celebrate Him in community and fellowship.
Who knew that potlucks had such biblical roots?!
4. MISSION—Some Sacrifices/Offerings Advanced God’s Name in Special Ways.
These offerings were willing-hearted worship that allowed for occasional special offerings for missional purposes. These offerings were periodic in scripture and usually involved some significant missional advancement of God’s name and glory.
For instance, special offerings were taken to construct the tabernacle and all of its furnishings. Again special offerings were received to build the temple in Jerusalem. Again, they were received to repair and restore God’s temple and worship.
These offerings were always willing-hearted, free-will, special offerings for the purpose of corporate mission and the greater worship of God.
Amazingly, God always provided for the people to participate in these offerings (as in “spoiling the Egyptians” before being delivered from Egypt.) More importantly, these offerings were not coerced, but rather they were the product of God stirring up the hearts of the people to have a willingness to give.
“And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the LORD’S offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments.” (Exodus 35:21)
Today: Any time a local church receives a special offering for a special project to advance the gospel, this would parallel these Old Testament purposes. This may include when a church builds a building, restores a work for God’s glory, or engages in a missions project to advance the gospel in some significant way.
“Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. 15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. 16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. 17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.” (Philippians 4:14-17)
The Old Testament gives four primary purposes of offerings:
—The purpose of redemption (a picture of Jesus one day removing sin)
—The purpose of relationship (expressing love to God from a grateful heart.)
—The purpose of community (worshipful celebration of God in fellowship)
—The purpose of mission (funding projects that advance God’s name.)
So, today, our New Testament Church life should model these four values—Jesus was our final sin offering. Our tithe and additional offerings express our love for and relationship with God from joyful and cheerful hearts—and they make possible the ministry of the gospel through your local church. Our fellowship together and giving to one another celebrates community and the local church family. And occasional special offerings advance God’s work at home and around the world.
There’s no doubt, in both Old and New Testament life, that God calls His people to worship Him through the regular, generous, cheerful, willing, and celebratory sacrifices of our hearts and our resources to Him and His people. And, He always provides for us to do so by His grace! If we trust Him and live generously, we will find that He will not only meet our needs, but often exceed them by His grace.
Give because you “get to”, not because you “have to.” Give because you “want to” not because you “ought to.” Give to love, not to get. Give gladly, not greedily. Give in delight, not in fear or guilt. (Remember your guilt offering is already made by Jesus!) Give willingly, voluntarily, worshipfully because the greatest GIVER of all time is on your side, in your corner, promising to meet your needs from the vastness of His unsearchable riches and grace.
Give because you can celebrate that you are the redeemed child of the Greatest Giver ever!
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
“Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” (John 6:27)
“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)