The book of Leviticus is the heart of the “law of Moses,” the torah, or instruction that Moses provided to Israel. In it is outlined much of the ritual that defined the ancient Israelite worship of God. To our modern Western mind, some of the practices appear to make no practical sense, such as specific types of offerings that God expected his people to provide.
However, if one looks more closely at chapters 4-6, a pattern emerges that has significance even for us today. Amidst all of the rules and regulations, we can see that God desires to forgive his people when they have strayed from right paths.
Leviticus 4:26, 31 Through this process, the priest will purify the leader from his sin, making him right with the LORD, and he will be forgiven. … Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the LORD, and they will be forgiven.
Leviticus 5:6, 10 This is a sin offering with which the priest will purify you from your sin, making you right with the LORD. … Through this process the priest will purify you from your sin, making you right with the LORD, and you will be forgiven.
Leviticus 6:7 Through this process, the priest will purify you before the LORD, making you right with him, and you will be forgiven for any of these sins you have committed.”
All of these instructions point to one thing: God desired for the people to be reconciled with him, otherwise, why would he spend so much time describing how they were to go about making that happen?
An often-overlooked aspect of this process of forgiveness is the cost that the individual had to incur when bringing a sacrifice. Bulls, goats, rams, sheep, birds; all of these were costly offerings for sin that had to be brought to the priest in order for God’s forgiveness to be granted.
This highlights an important principle: when forgiveness is granted, it always costs somebody something; it is never free.
There was nothing inherent in the animal itself that somehow provided this forgiveness. This is even brought out in the New Testament writings.
For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.Hebrews 10:4
No, it was the value of the sacrifice that demonstrated the sincerity of the giver. The offerer had to demonstrate true intent (that is, repentance). Among other things (like the identity substitution), the giving of a perfectly good animal that could provide much personal benefit to the offerer was a way of showing they were sincere in asking for forgiveness.
The bringing of the animals to the priest was not for blood debts to be repaid, and God certainly didn’t need the animals for himself. But through this process, he was teaching the Israelites that there is a value to be exchanged for a renewed relationship with God.
Forgiveness always positively changes a relationship, but it always comes at a cost. This is why it is even still a custom today to bring a gift to someone when apologizing for some sort of relationship transgression. The thoughtfulness or value of the gift demonstrates the sincerity of the giver.
We are commanded by Yeshua to forgive others and to love our enemies when they don’t deserve it or when they are not demonstrating sacrificial repentance. Even if we are approached multiple times a day by the same individual, we are to forgive them. When these types of passages are discussed today, what is rarely mentioned is the cost that this forgiveness exacts from us. If the individual asking for forgiveness is not providing some sort of sacrificial benefit on their behalf, then the one who is absorbing or carrying the cost of the forgiveness is you.
This is why the act of forgiveness is so unique among God’s people today. Forgiveness that is freely offered is not cheap, it still comes at a great expense. It is a sacrificial lifestyle with real cost to the believer in every relationship. But the sacrificial obedience that God demands of us provides for positive relationships in all areas of life and honors him by demonstrating we have learned the true value of forgiveness.
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