Lecture 10: Old Testament Sacrifices, Propitiation, and Expiation

Christology  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We’ve begun our study of the atonement wrought by Christ.
We saw last time that the predominant motif in the New Testament for the atonement wrought by Jesus’ death is that of a sacrifice to God – a sacrificial offering.
We began to look at the Old Testament background to the notion of sacrifice.
We saw that in the Levitical sacrifices which were offered in the tabernacle and then later in the temple in Jerusalem that these sacrifices in general served twin functions.
They would expiate sin. That is, they would cleanse or purify of sin.
Then they would propitiate God. That is to say they would satisfy God’s justice and wrath.

Let’s look today specifically at propitiatory sacrifices.

Some of the Old Testament sacrifices were clearly propitiatory in nature.
A premier example is the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.
This sacrifice was not originally intended for the expiation of sin.
Rather, the blood of the lamb smeared on the doorframes of the Israelite homes served to shelter them from divine wrath and judgment as it swept over Egypt.
Exodus 12:13 KJV 1900
13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
Had they not offered these sacrifices then God’s deadly judgment would have fallen on the Israelites as well as the Egyptians. But these sacrifices of the Passover lamb served to safeguard them from the wrath and judgment of God.
Propitiation is also in view in the various priestly sacrifices which were offered in the tabernacle and in the temple.
The careful regulations that were prescribed for these sacrificial offerings should be understood against the background of God’s striking down Aaron’s sons for unlawfully offering sacrifices in the tabernacle precincts.
These are described in Leviticus 10:1-2, 16:1:
Leviticus 10:1–2 KJV 1900
1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. 2 And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.
Leviticus 16:1 KJV 1900
1 And the Lord spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the Lord, and died;
Here these prescriptions are laid down for offering these sacrifices appropriately.
God was conceived to be especially present in the tabernacle in the innermost sanctum – the Holy of Holies.
Therefore he had to be approached with utmost care – care which was not observed by Aaron’s sons.
It was a dangerous business, frankly, having a holy God dwelling in the midst of a sinful and impure people.
We see this in God’s warning to the people of Israel in Exodus 33:5:
Exodus 33:5 KJV 1900
5 For the Lord had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.
The sacrificial system functioned to facilitate the juxtaposition of the holy and the unholy.
This is especially evident in the roasting of certain sacrificial animals where it is repeatedly said to produce “a pleasing odor” or “fragrance” to the Lord.
We find this, for example, in Leviticus 1:9 where the smell of the sacrifices rises to God as a pleasing fragrance which implies that they help to cultivate God’s favor.
That was symbolized in the fragrance of the roasting of these sacrifices.
Both in the Passover sacrifice and then in these Levitical sacrifices we see the function that the sacrifices play in propitiating God and averting his wrath.
These Levitical sacrifices were accompanied by a very telling hand-laying ritual.
The offerer of the animal sacrifice was to lay his hand upon the head of the animal to be sacrificed before slaying it.
The offerer would kill the animal himself, but before he did so he had to lay his hand upon its head.
Leviticus 1:4 states this.
Leviticus 1:4 KJV 1900
4 And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
The expression that is used here indicates in Hebrew a forceful laying of the hand.
One is to press his hand upon the head of the beast to be sacrificed.
This was to show to identification of the worshipper with the sacrifice - a confession of their unworthiness to come to God.

Let’s turn now to a discussion of the Yom Kippur sacrifices.

This day featured an extraordinary ritual involving the presentation of a pair of goats, one of which was sacrificially killed and the other driven out into the desert bearing away the iniquities of the people which had been symbolically laid on the goat through a hand- laying ritual performed by the priest.
I think these actions are best seen as two aspects of the same ritual rather than as two separate and distinct rituals.
They are like two sides of the same coin.
It is really one ritual with two aspects to it.
The Slain goat is for propitiation
The Driven Goat was for expiation


With that we will bring our class to a close today.
Next time we will now go back to the New Testament again in light of what we’ve learned about expiatory and propitiatory sacrifices and look at Christ as a sacrifice of expiation and propitiation.
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