This week’s study section is the beginning of the book Leviticus. In it, we encounter what is commonly referred to as the Levitical Sacrifices or Offerings. Instead of plowing into the “sacrifices” directly, I will attempt to look at this section in a broader context in order to understand the most basic meaning of the section. In addition, I will consider the origin of the word which English translators call “sacrifice”. This will help us understand the true significance of this section.
Is Our View of God Biblical or Pagan?
Let us begin with the origin of the word translated as sacrifice. The word in Hebrew is קרבן “korban”. Jesus used this word in His teachings to mean something dedicated to God (Mark 7:11). The noun “korban” is formed from the verb “karav” which means “approach”. There are numerous examples of Hebrew nouns formed from a related verb by adding a prefix or a suffix. If we understand “korban” in this way, then it means the “approaches” to God. The word “sacrifice” connotes something given to appease an angry god. This is the common pagan understanding of the word. “Approaches” to God carries a totally different meaning and is the meaning that should be understood in this Bible section.
This pagan view of God can be seen in some translations of the New Testament Greek words “hilasterion” (Romans 3:25) and “hilasmos” (1 John 2:2 and 4:10). Some translators, maintaining the pagan view, have chosen the word “propitiate” or “propitiation”. Instead, “expiation” or “atoning sacrifice” reflects the nature and character of the God of Israel because He is the Loving God Who is providing a way to approach Him, rather than an angry God Who demands to be appeased.
The Broader Context of Leviticus
It is also important to understand the book of Leviticus in a broader context than just a set of rules dealing with sacrifices. To do so we will review the development around this text considering the following events:
a. Israel was delivered from bondage in Egypt.
b. Israel encountered the God of their fathers at Mt. Sinai.
c. God cut a covenant with the nation of Israel.
d. Once the covenant was consummated, God commanded that Israel build a house for Him to dwell in.
e. God moved into His house.
f. He gave instructions on how Israel could approach Him (Leviticus).
g. The journey to the promised land continued (Numbers 9).
So, when seen in this context we might say that God said to Israel, once He had indwelled His special house, “Y’all come to see Me”. Kentucky jargon may seem somewhat crude and lacking proper reverence for this subject, but I think you get the picture. God is telling Israel how to approach Him. Much of the book also deals with what Israel must not attempt to bring with them as they approach God.
The Approaches for the Individual and the Local Church
The “approaches” to God may be interpreted as applicable to individual, groups or the whole nation. I will discuss this subject as it pertains to individuals and to local churches. In both cases we properly concern ourselves with the subject of “approaching” God.
One final concept which is dealt with in the book of Leviticus is the subject of “clean” and “unclean”. A person who was ritually “unclean” could not approach God. The question of making someone “unclean” appears to deal primarily with association with anything dead. Jeremiah declared concerning God:
But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King (Jeremiah 10:10a).
By the term “living God” Jeremiah doesn’t just mean alive. He means possessing the very quality of life. God is the very source of life and has the capacity to transmit that life to others (John 5:26). We as humans only have the life given to us by God Himself; we do not possess life of our own making. At any rate, God appears to be extremely careful not to allow humans to associate death with His name, thus the question of “clean” and “unclean”. It appears as if the only restriction for a person who was ritually “unclean” was that he could not “approach” God. Once he was again declared to be “clean” he was allowed again to “approach” God. In the New Testament, it appears as if “spiritual” defilement is of greater consequence than “ritual” defilement.
One question that is repeatedly asked is, “How do I approach God?” it seems as if every few years, a new experience is set forth as the answer to this quest. Sometimes it is a new “baptism”. At another time it may be experiences with angelic beings. Others maintain that it is accomplished by fasting. However, we are gradually realizing that God has outlined a specific plan of “approaches” to His presence. This plan has been set before us in the Scriptures; yet, we have often failed to recognize it. We will outline God’s plan for our approach to Him.
Adam and Eve walked in the presence of God in the garden; approach to God was not a problem. After the transgression, they were sent out of the Garden and the approach to God was prevented by the Cherubim. From this time forward, man has sought the answer to the question of how to approach God. One Bible teacher, several years ago proclaimed that we can never understand just how far Adam fell until we begin the return to the presence of God. Many world religions began as an attempt to instruct people how to approach God.
We ought to refer to Levitical offerings and sacrifices as “Levitical Korbans”. Each “Korban” ought to be understood as an essential step to be walked out in our approach to God. We must embrace the concept that the steps of “Korban” are based on an orderly, surrendered, consecrated faith-walk rather than a ritual offering or sacrament that magically confers upon us special position or experience. So, rather than appeasing God with some “offering or sacrifice”, these steps of “Korban” represent Godly empowerment for maturation in salvation that we must experience to draw near to God.
Experiencing Real Life Approach to God
We will describe the approach to God in the sequence that we experience it. The Book of Leviticus lists each of the five steps of Korban from God’s perspective, i.e. from the direction of God to man. Our experience is just the opposite. We start our approach to God from the position of sin and trespass and proceed through the steps of “Korban” to the “Olah” or ascent approach (usually misleadingly translated “burnt offering”).
The first step is the “Ahsham Korban” (also called the guilt or trespass offering). The real-life experience associated with this step of approach is becoming aware of, admitting to, dealing with the consequences of, and repenting from sin which has resulted in damage or harm to others. We make repentance toward God and seek His forgiveness. We seek forgiveness of the people hurt, and we make restitution for damages that they have experienced.
The second step of our approach to God is called the “Chatah Korban” (also called the sin offering) and this consists of becoming conscious of and admitting to sin patterns against God. This is accomplished by our repenting from the activity and seeking forgiveness from the Lord. Both the “Ahsham Korban” and the “Chatah Korban” require a blood covering. To accomplish the purpose of this “Korban” we must believe that our sins and transgressions are thoroughly covered and that we are accepted despite our record of transgressions. We must believe that even our sorry record of sin can no longer hinder us from approaching God.
The third step of our approach is the “Shelamim Korban” (also called the peace offering) which deals with our communion with God. We surrender ourselves in praise and worship as we glorify His name. We experience His presence and, therefore, His peace. We come to the point that experiencing the presence of God is not an exceptional experience, i.e. we are “at home” in His presence.
The fourth step is the “Menchah Korban” (also called the meal or grain offering) which consists of making a “gift” of our time, talents and possessions to God. This step constitutes dedicated service unto the Lord. Jesus confessed, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34b). This reflects the “Menchah or Gift Korban”. Paul likewise exhorted the Roman church to “…present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice (Korban), acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1b).
The final step is the “Olah Korban” (also called the burnt offering) which signifies utter and complete dedication to the Lord. In this state of approach, we “go up” (as Olah implies). We think of Elijah the prophet during the era of the Kings and Enoch in the pre-flood era in association with this “Korban”. They literally “went up” to God.
In the next study I will relate how true Christian worship and real discipleship serve a believer in the steps of “Korban”. These steps are not accomplished in a weekend seminar but rather in a disciplined walk throughout the lifetime of the believer. Since the “rapture teaching” is very popular with Christians, the “Olah Korban” ought to be of particular interest.
May the peace of the Holy One be upon you and may you experience a fruitful week. Shalom.