Wedged in between the Yom Kippur commandments and the chapter that my fifteen year old twins grudgingly listen to every year (“okay mom, you don’t need to teach us this part! We get it!”) is Leviticus 17. So what exactly is wedged between these two chapters? Something equally as important – the prohibition from making offerings on a non-consecrated altar, as well as by anyone other than a priest. The penalty is karet – being cut off from the people of Israel. (Note: this is specifically concerning peace offerings, if you want to understand the transgression offerings and the reason why they cannot be offered anywhere but in the Temple, click here.)
This chapter is specifically about the shelamim, or peace offerings, which are found described in Leviticus 3. They are not a transgression/purification offering but instead a shared meal between man and God and therefore the meat must be holy. The best known example of a type of shelamim is the Passover. What we celebrate today is a memorial, very different from the Passover meal that we would be able to celebrate with a Temple standing.
Let’s go through it verse by verse, so that there is no confusion:
If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the LORD in front of the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. (1)
This seems straightforward enough – in the camp in the wilderness, it was commanded that no one kill an animal within the camp or outside of it without bringing the LORD’s portion to Him. Any violations of that Law renders a man as guilty as if he had committed a murder. There were a number of reasons for this – first of all, the camp in the wilderness had a hypersensitive purity level and the shedding of the blood of a clean sacrificial animal without applying that blood to the altar was a pollution in the camp. The second reason this was a problem is because God was providing them with manna daily, as well as quail – if they in addition slaughtered a livestock animal and ate of it without offering God the best of the portions, it was a dishonor to Him. The eating of a livestock animal was a big deal in the ancient world – it was a party – and to have said party without inviting or even acknowledging the King is a problem.
But more than that, there was a third reason given in the next verse:
This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD (2)
God wanted a cultural change – up until that point, the Patriarchs had no central point for worship – but now here was the very presence of God in their midst, His throne within His portable (and later permanent) palace. They would no longer be wanderers, strangers in a strange wilderness – they would be a settled nation with one God, who had one Temple, and who called all of the shots. He didn’t want them slaughtering livestock for food UNLESS it was as a peace offering (what all my friends call the “barbeque offering”). This total restriction on the eating of meat having to take the form of an offering was modified when they went into the Land and God allowed them to eat meat all throughout the Land of Israel without it being a sacrifice. But that was the understanding – no meat slaughtered and eaten throughout the Land qualified as a sacrifice.
“When the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ because you crave meat, you may eat meat whenever you desire. If the place that the LORD your God will choose to put his name there is too far from you, then you may kill any of your herd or your flock, which the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you, and you may eat within your towns whenever you desire. (3)
The point being, of course, was that they were no longer within the precincts of the Tabernacle – imagine the poor priests, as the population grew, having to sacrifice animals whenever anyone wanted meat! That being said, throughout the history of Israel, most people generally ate meat only once a year, and that was on Passover, when it was a requirement for the native born. Otherwise, animals were far too valuable to use for the regular consumption of meat.
The next verse shows clearly that meat slaughtered outside of the Tabernacle grounds was not holy and had no restrictions, and was not holy.
Just as the gazelle or the deer is eaten, so you may eat of it. The unclean and the clean alike may eat of it. (4)
The commandment for eating hunted animals was simply that their blood be drained out on the ground and covered with dirt. Look at the next statement “the unclean and the clean alike may eat of it.” Did you know that only people who were ritually clean could eat of sacrificed animals? Once the blood touched the altar, that meat was holy and could only be eaten by people with the required level of holiness! To eat a livestock animal within the camp of the Israelites required the sanctification provided by the altar. To eat the actual Passover Lamb, by extension (the holiest offering that an average Israelite would ever consume), required that it be consecrated by the altar so that it became holy (this is also the reason that circumcision was required, it raised the holiness level of the male to the proper level, which transferred to the women in his family as well). The eating of meat in the camp was, in essence, a holy act performed in the presence of God, the Creator of all life. Every sacrifice is holy and therefore must be handled in the prescribed manner, in the prescribed place, by the prescribed people, and eaten by the prescribed people.
Back to Leviticus 17:
And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the LORD. So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations. (5)
As we see here, the blood of any sacrifice had to be thrown or poured out at the altar, and that fat always had to be burned upon the altar. God even compares not doing this properly to whoring after goat demons. We can’t chose a place to sacrifice and then just do it, not anymore, not once there was a consecrated altar and not once there was an eternal Aaronic priesthood. Did this have an expiration date? No, it is a statute forever throughout their generations – which means it applies to us. We cannot sacrifice anywhere but at the consecrated altar, and a priest must handle the blood. To do otherwise is to be lumped in with those who sacrifice to goat demons, because when we do not do things God’s way, we are not sacrificing to Him.
I want everyone to catch that – when we don’t sacrifice according to His specific instructions, we aren’t sacrificing to Him. The original Passover was a unique act, which has never needed to be repeated. No destroying force is coming in to kill the firstborn this weekend. What we celebrate now is a memorial tribute Feast – but unlike the Feast celebrated in the days of Yeshua, the meat is not holy – it is not a true Passover lamb.
What’s the penalty for sacrificing in “our own way?”
“And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the LORD, that man shall be cut off from his people. (6)
Whoever tries to perform a sacrifice in their own way, in their own place, and who is not a priest – they will be cut off. God determined that only the Priests, descended from Aaron through Phineas and then Zadok, could perform this ritual and that has not changed. It is a perpetual ordinance and we cannot change that – there has been no dispensational change that gives us the right to consecrate our own altars (as was done in people’s front yards as part of the Imperial Cult parades) and to become priests (especially since we do not live according to the priestly restrictions, nor have we been ordained in the prescribed way) – as the book of Hebrews points out, even Yeshua didn’t have the right to be a priest on earth as He was the wrong tribe.
Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law (7)
If Yeshua never personally performed a sacrifice while on earth as a priest, neither before nor after His death – are we greater than our Master? Did the disciples ever slaughter a Passover lamb as though they were priests, how about Paul? The answer is no, and nowhere do we see even a hint of them doing it. Did they keep the Passover? Of course – Yeshua even told them to eat that Passover meal in remembrance of Him. But the Passover lamb was a very holy offering, so holy that only the native-born Israelites or circumcised converts could eat of it. (Ex 12:48-49) It was a memorial of deliverance, a celebration of the mighty arm of God to save, and now also a celebration of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) deliverance of all those who call upon His Name. The sacrifice was performed at the altar, in the Temple, and only by Priests.
To offer it up ourselves, however, when there is no altar for the blood? That is strange, unauthorized worship indeed.
(1)The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Le 17:3–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
2) The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Le 17:5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
(3) The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Dt 12:20–21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
(4) The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Dt 12:22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
(5) The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Le 17:6–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
(6) The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Le 17:8–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
(7) The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Heb 8:4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.