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Animals or agricultural products brought to the Lord as an expression of worship, gratitude, or dedication, or for the expiation of sin. The sacrificial system was inaugurated when sin entered the world (see Gen 4:3, 4), and served in subsequent centuries as a reminder that the wages of sin is death and that eternal life can be regained only as a divine gift (Rom 6:23). For many centuries the head of each family was its priest, but at Mount Sinai systematic provision was made for the various types of sacrifices, and eventually all were offered by the priests. In one way or another every sacrifice prefigured the great sacrifice of the "Lamb of God" (Jn 1:29; cf. Is 53:7), and the sin and trespass offerings in particular represented the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, who "was wounded for our transgressions" (Is 53:4, 5; cf. v 6). In and of themselves, the blood sacrifices of OT times never could and never did actually "take away sins" (Heb 10:4, 11), nor could they "make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience" (ch 9:9). Christ’s perfect sacrifice alone can "purge" the "conscience from dead works" (see vs 11–15). The fundamental truth expressed symbolically by the sacrifices was that "without shedding of blood is no remission" of sin (v 22), and that this shedding of blood is vicarious (Is 53:4, 6). Detailed information on the various sacrifices is given in Leviticus (especially chs 1–7; 16; 23), and in Exodus and Numbers.

The table on the following pages summarizes the various types of sacrifices offered by groups or individuals, at set times or for special purposes, and the kind of offering prescribed in each case.

The OT sacrifices and offerings may be classified variously as to: (1) purpose, (2) offerer, (3) kind.

1. Purpose. (1) The "burnt" offering expressed worship, gratitude, and dedication. It represented the unbroken, uninterrupted adoration, worship, and devotion of the entire congregation to the Lord. (2) "Sin" offerings represented the confession of, and atonement for, what have been termed Godward sins, while the "trespass" or "guilt" offering represented the confession of what have been termed manward sins, and restitution for injury or loss, though the precise difference is not always clear. (3) "Peace" offerings expressed gratitude, good will, brotherhood, or the fulfillment of vows.

2. Offerer. A distinction was made between sacrifices offered for the entire nation and those for individuals. (1) Those representing the entire congregation included: the regular burnt offerings (that is, those offered upon regularly recurring occasions); all regular sin offerings; and those presented for specific instances of sin on the part of the entire congregation; special burnt offerings that were presented with the sin offering for the congregation; the regular peace offering offered with the bread at Pentecost. (2) Those offered by individuals included: all the special burnt offerings and sin offerings (those required by specific circumstances), with the exception of the special burnt offerings and sin offerings for congregational sin; all trespass, or guilt, offerings; and all special peace offerings. A ruler’s sin offering was more elaborate than that required of the common people, in keeping with his responsible position; the same was true for a priest, for whom there were, in addition, special specified burnt offerings at the time of consecration. Otherwise, all special burnt offerings, sin offerings, and peace offerings, and all trespass offerings were always for individuals.

3. Kind of offering presented. Except in the case of a sin offering for a desperately poor person, specific "clean," unblemished animals from the flock or herd, or sometimes pigeons or turtledoves, were prescribed for the various offerings. Some were to be male, others female, and still others either male or female. Of the flock, certain types of lambs and goats were specified, and in some instances a lamb or goat might be used interchangeably. Of the herd, oxen and bullocks were specified. With all burnt offerings, peace offerings, and certain other offerings, were prescribed cereal offerings—sometimes called "meat" (KJV) or "meal" offerings—of grain, flour, or meal, often made into some type of bread. These were accompanied by salt, oil, and incense and by drink offerings, or libations, of wine (Lev 2:2–7, 13; Num 15:4–11). The cereal offerings, after a portion was offered, were generally eaten by the priest or the offerer. Nothing is said about the drink offering; some think that it was at first poured over the sacrifice that it accompanied; Josephus relates that in his time it was poured around the altar (Ant. iii. 9. 4).

A regular, or daily, burnt offering was offered morning and evening throughout the year, including days when other offerings were prescribed. Additional burnt offerings were required on Sabbaths, on new moons, at the 3 great annual festivals—the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), and the Feast of Tabernacles—and on New Year’s Day and the Day of Atonement. Special burnt offerings were offered: with the sin offering for the congregation, at the dedication of priests, with the Nazirite vow, with the sin offering of the poor, for purification from bodily issues, from leprosy, or after childbirth, and by individuals at will or as prescribed to accompany certain other offerings.

Regular sin offerings were specified for the entire congregation at the time of the new moon, on New Year’s Day, and the Day of Atonement; and at the 3 great national festivals. Special sin offerings were required: (1) at the dedication of priests and Levites, (2) for the accidental violation of the Nazirite vow and upon the completion of the vow, (3) for congregational sin or (4) that of a priest or ruler, and (5) for individual sins. A sin offering was also required in connection with a bodily issue, at childbirth, or for purification from leprosy.

A trespass (guilt) offering was always individual. It was prescribed for offenses such as perjury, ignorant sacrilege, fraud, theft, and in some cases required restitution and a penalty payment.

Regular peace offerings were required at Pentecost. Special peace offerings were offered in connection with the fulfillment of vows, particularly the Nazirite vow, and at the dedication of priests. Otherwise, peace offerings might be presented by anyone at any time.

A distinction was also observed in the procedure followed in disposing of the various offerings. A burnt offering was always fully consumed upon the altar, and its blood was sprinkled separately upon (in one case, beside) the altar (Lev 1). In the case of a sin offering for a priest or for the congregation the blood was always sprinkled before the veil and placed on the horns of the golden altar (ch 4). Blood from the individual sin offering of a ruler or of the common people was placed on the horns of the altar of burnt offerings. In both instances the remainder of the blood was poured out at the foot of the altar of burnt offerings. Certain specified portions of animals presented for sin offerings were burned on the altar, and the remainder, in the case of the priest or the congregation, was burned outside the camp (ch 4); however, in the case of individual sin offerings for a ruler or one of the common people, the priest was to eat the flesh of the animal (ch 6:25, 29). Animals presented as trespass offerings were disposed of like those of the sin offering, except that the blood from such animals was sprinkled round about upon the altar instead of being put on the horns of the altar (ch 7:1–7). In the case of animals presented as peace offerings (ch 3) the blood was also sprinkled on the altar round about. Specified portions of the animals were "waved" or "heaved" before the Lord and given to the priest (ch 7:29–34), and the rest was to be eaten by those who presented the peace offerings, with their households (Lev 7:11–21; cf. Deut 12:6, 7; 27:7). For sins done with a "high hand," that is, in rebellion against the covenant and its provisions, no sacrifice was provided (Num 15:30).

A sacrifice was presented at the door of the sanctuary, where the offerer laid his hands upon the victim’s head, dedicating it to God and making it his own true representative and substitute. He—in later times, the priest—shed its blood and the priest symbolically applied the blood. This was followed by the burning of the sacrifice, or portions of it, or the eating of it as specified in different cases.

The sacrificial system was an educational device adapted to the understanding of the people of that time and was designed to help them develop right concepts concerning the holiness of God, the heinous character of sin, and how they might approach God and become reconciled to Him. But both the OT (Mic 6:6–8) and the NT (Mt 9:13; 12:7) make clear that the sacrifices were subordinate in importance to practical godliness. During the life of Christ on earth the sacrificial system was in full operation, and He sanctioned it (Mt 5:23, 24; 8:4; 23:2, 3; cf. Gal 4:4). He also attested its typical nature (26:28). Paul similarly speaks of the sacrifices as types of Christ’s true sacrifice (1 Cor 5:7; cf. Heb 10:1–11) -- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary.