If God is just and gives everyone what they deserve according to their actions, then why does he accept a substitute sacrifice on our behalf–whether it be the millions of animal sacrifices in the OT or even Christ himself?  Perhaps you will just say it is God’s mercy, but I would appreciate some elucidation.  Secondly the OT has very specific ways of preparing a sacrifice like cutting it and burning one part, throwing one away and (Lev 1-2 chapters for example) describe the smell of burnt fat around the kindneys and liver is a very pleasing aroma to our God. I do not understand can burning flesh and fat be pleasing rather than putrid and nauseating? If there is any explaination and deeper meaning to this?  Please do explain it to me…  Thank you.


God is just, but he also is love.  He has both traits in infinite measure.  God’s justice requires death as a penalty for sin (Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin are death.”).  But, on the other hand, God is love and the reason he created us was so that he could love us and we could love Him (and one another).  Clearly we all sin, and clearly we are all under the penalty of death and separation (Romans 3:9-20).  In his amazing love and grace, God provided a way for him to be both just (death for sin) and to justify those he loved who are willing to put their faith in him and to obey him.  This is the message of Romans 3:21-26.  By the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross, God is able to be just (death) and to justify us (love).  This is the heart of the gospel.  Is this logical?  Not really.   It is not what any of us would have dreamed up (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-21 for example), but it is the beauty of the gospel.

What, then was all that sacrifice about in the Old Testament?  This is a good question.  Paul tells us in Romans that the Law of Moses, with all its regulations and sacrifices was intended to lead us to Christ.  Romans 7:13 tells us that the Law of Moses “made sin utterly sinful.”  Because of the Law, with its regulations and sacrifices, we are made much more aware of our utter sinfulness, our powerlessness and our desperate need for God’s grace, as expressed on the cross.   This is the gospel message. 

Still, the gifts and sacrifices in Leviticus are odd by our standards, as you seem to notice.  What were they about generally, and what about the seemingly arbitrary and meaningless details of these sacrifices?   First of all, no one was saved from their sins by the Mosaic sacrifices, as is made clear in Hebrews 9:11-14, where we are told that the blood of bulls and goats never provided purification for sins.  They were only a matter of ceremonial cleanness.  In other words, for the Jews they made them sufficiently “clean” to be able to worship God, but they were not saved from their sins through these sacrifices.  Only with the offering of a pure, unblemished, voluntary sacrifice—Jesus, the Son of God—is true forgiveness gained.  This is the big picture of why the Levitical sacrifices did not provide the necessary forgiveness.  They provided ceremonial cleanness, clearing the way for worship by the Jews, and they also make us far more aware of our own sin.

Another odd thing in the Levitical sacrifices is that some are described as smelling good to God and others definitely were not a pleasing aroma.  The general rule is that the offerings/gifts, such as the burnt offering, the grain offering, the fellowship offering and the drink offering were not sacrifices for sin.  They were acts of worship, offered by the Israelites.  As such, these offerings were a pleasing aroma to God.  On the other hand, the sin and guilt offerings were made for sins.  Normally, they were made outside the camp. These did not smell good to God.  They were not pleasing to him. This is symbolic of the sacrifice of Jesus as a sin and as a guilt offering.  His death was not pleasing to God.  Jesus was offered outside the camp/city of Jerusalem.  God hid his face from Jesus and Jesus was forsaken by his Father when he made himself a sin offering.  This is the symbolic meaning of the sweet-smelling offerings versus the offensive (putrid and nauseating as you describe them) odor of the sin and guilt offering.  Of course, we must take this symbolically.  God does not have a nose and the burnt offering did not literally smell good to God, but it is the spiritual meaning we should look to.

But what about some of the seemingly odd details?  These are given as types, prefigures and foreshadows of what we have in Christianity, as the Hebrew writer tells us.  In Hebrews 9:8-10 tells us that the items in the tabernacle and the sacrifices were mere pictures or symbols of the heavenly reality.  Hebrews 10:1-4 tells that they are only shadows of the reality found in Christ.   Yet, even the smallest details of these sacrifices have deep symbolic meaning.  I discuss this in great detail in my book From Shadow to Reality (, but let me give just a tiny glimpse of some of the meaning of the details.  For example, in the burnt offering, as described in Leviticus 1, the head of the bull was cut off.  The body was thoroughly cleaned, inside and out, but the head was not, and then both were burned.  How strange? Why clean the body but not the head before burning them to ashes?   The reason is that the head represents Christ who does not need to be cleaned before offering worship, and the body represents us who definitely need cleansing before we can offer a worthy burnt offering of our lives (Romans 12:1-2).  So many more details have important symbolic significance.  When a grain offering was made, salt and incense were added but definitely not leavening.  The salt has meaning, as explained in Matthew 5:13.  The incense also has meaning, as shown, for example, by Revelation 8:4, and the lack of leaven also has great symbolic meaning, as can be seen in Galatians 5:9.  Although these sacrifices and offerings did not have a permanent and complete effect of providing purification for sins, the offerings were accepted by God as true worship by the Jews, and, besides, the sacrifices and offerings give us an amazingly full symbolic meaning in all of their details for us who, through the New Testament, can see the meaning of these symbols.

John Oakes

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