Leviticus 4, 9; Hebrews 9

The world is in a mess.   Political pundits blame politicians for all our problems; they blame those in office, those out of office, and even the dead ones.  But if we were to boil down all the problems of our world, we would see that one single problem floats to the top:  sin.  There is no other way to make sense of what we see going on all around us.  Murders, homelessness, abortion, pornography, Islamic fascists, and other issues serve to drain the hope out of people and all those things find their beginnings in the sinful, black hearts of man.

Of course, that reality doesn’t stop society from searching for cures to man’s problems.  Drugs, alcohol, primal scream classes, self-help books and DVD’s, support groups, and other wacky schemes have been devised by sinful man to fix sinful man’s problems.   They look for way to fix the world’s problems, but the one true Fix is the one they avoid.  The answer is found in changing the human heart and God has been working on that since Adam and Eve feasted on that forbidden fruit.  The Fix was finally accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whereby sin was judicially and finally atoned for and victoriously defeated.

This event was foreshadowed way back in the early books of the Old Testament.  The Law of Moses serves to illustrate the magnitude of what God did through Jesus Christ.

1.  Dealing with sin in the OT, Leviticus 4:1—12; 16:29—34

The third book of the Old Testament was not written as light bedtime reading.  It is not a book we turn to for pleasure reading.  It contains the most extensive instructions on animal sacrifice in the Old Testament.  It is the third book of the Pentateuch, also known as the Torah (or “Law”), which includes the first five books of the Old Testament.

Anybody that has ever tried to read through Leviticus discovers something:  it’s hard reading!  It’s hard reading because it takes seriously the fallen nature of man.  The seriousness of sin is demonstrated by the bloodiness of the Law’s sacrificial system.

(a)  Sin offerings, Lev. 4

If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty.  (verse 13)

Leviticus 4 deals with the first non-sweet smelling offerings to the Lord because the offered as atonement for sin.  The sin offering was a totally new offering, never seen before in the land of Israel.   That sin is the greatest problem confronting man is evident in the number of verses devoted to its explanation.  The “burnt offering” was given 17 verses; the “meal offering” was explained in 16 verses; the “peace offering” took up 17 verses; the “trespass offing” entailed 19 verses; but the “sin offering”, 35 verses.  Clearly, then, the Spirit of God considered sin and how to deal with sin of the utmost importance if man’s existence was to continue.   This is in stark contrast to how the modern church views the issue.  Walk into almost any church and it seems as though “worship” is the most important thing with sin and the sin problem rarely, if ever, mentioned.  Sin is offensive and people don’t want to hear about it.  But as far as God is concerned, nothing is more important than dealing with sin.

What should be noted, though, is that this chapter deals with sins man commits in his ignorance.  There were other ways of dealing with willful sins, but this chapter is an excellent and graphic illustration of man’s underlying problem: he is a sinner by nature.  In other words, a man doesn’t have to go out of his way to commit a sin; he sins and he often isn’t even aware of it!  Why?  because a sinner is what even the best man is in his heart.  And the guilt of that sin is what this particular offering addresses.

The name of this sin offering (chattath) is a noun based on a verb that means, “to miss [a mark], to fall short.”  This perfectly describes unintentional sins, doesn’t it?    Another interesting aspect of this offering is that the seriousness of the guilt varied with who was making the offering.  The sin of the priests was far more serious then the sins of his people before God.  As a representative of Israel before God, his sin brought guilt upon all Israel.

(b)  The Day of Atonement, Lev. 16

This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or an alien living among you- because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins.  (verses 29, 30)

day of atonementThis chapter is most certainly the high point in the book of Leviticus.  With this sacrifice, ordinary Hebrews stayed at home and it was priests who carried out the ritual on behalf of the people.  It was the only day of fasting Israel was commanded to observe, and was to be a very special Sabbath of rest and solemnity.  The Day of Atonement was a time of special contrition, special sin offerings, and atonement.  So special was this ordinance that is it kept to this very day by Jews and is called Yom Kippur.

This was a day full of symbolism.  Two goats were taken to bear the people’s sins.  One was killed as a sin offering, the other sent off into the uninhabitable desert far away from the people.  The two goats symbolized both the propitiation for sins by death and complete removal of the sins for which atonement was made.  The processes of the Day of Atonement brings to mind what David wrote in Psalm 103:12—

As far as the east is from the west, so far as he removed our transgressions from us.


This day was also a day of lessons.  First, all men, priest and citizen alike, were guilty of sin.  In that sense, sin is seen as being truly universal; all men sin and all men are guilty and all men need forgiveness.  Second, the people were taught that no man could adequately atone for his own sins; he needed the help of another.  Here it was a goat that carried away the sins.  Israel was being taught that it truly needed Another to bear its sins.  Consider what Isaiah wrote many centuries later—

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  (Isaiah 53:4)

Lastly, the Day of Atonement as significant as it was shows the inadequacy of the Law.  The commands for this Day were perpetual; they were to go on and on, repeated annually.  It was never envisioned that ONE sacrifice could do it for all times.  This weakness of the Law cried out for something better, and it wasn’t until the Hebrews was written that that weakness and its solution were put into words.

2.  Dealing with sin in the NT, Hebrews 9:11—28

The anonymous letter to the Hebrews is a most remarkable book that serves as a link between the Testaments.  Without it, our understanding of Christ’s work on the Cross would be incomplete.

While we the letter is not signed, it is unlikely Paul wrote it, although the author does appear to have known Timothy and it was written from Rome.  The author calls his letter “short,” which it isn’t and it doesn’t read much like a letter, either.  In fact, if we were to put a label on Hebrews, we might label it a “sermon.”

This work was clearly written to Jews because Gentiles would get lost reading it, for it concerns matters only a Jew would understand, and matters only a Jewish-Christian could appreciate fully.  Even those of us who have studied the Old Testament and have (we think) a grasp on its teaching and meaning, could never fully appreciate the ramifications of the OT sacrificial system and the work of one Man, Jesus Christ.

The inaugurator of a New Covenant, Heb. 9:11—15

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.  (verse 15)

The key in understanding Hebrews 7—10 is something Jesus said at the beginning of His earthly ministry—

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  (Matthew 5:17)

Verse 15 is truly a stunning verse because of the use one word:  parabasis.  This is the strongest word used in the New Testament for deliberate violation of known law, and always carries with it the notion of guilt and liability to penalty.  So strong is parabasis that it is used sparingly; only twice in Hebrews, here and in 2:2—

For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment

The deliberate sinner could not escape punishment for his sins by the offering of an animal sacrifice.  As we have seen, the sacrificial system was set up to deal primarily with sins of ignorance and sins of omission.  For the one who deliberately committed a sin, it was not an easy road, and frequently the punishment at the end of their road was death.  Yet every single human being will commit at least one of those sins (sometimes daily!), and most of the time those sins remain hidden from view.  It is understandable, then, that for even the most upright Jew, the threat of exposure loomed large and, even though they may have obeyed the Law most of the time, they lived and worshiped with a sad, lurking sense of condemnation.  There was no part of the Law that dealt with this.

Christ’s death, then, as the writer suggests, was for the transgressions committed under the old covenant.  The phrase that opens verse 15, “For this reason,” likely refers to two things.  First, it may refer to the preceding verses, particularly 8:13—

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

Christ’s work did what the old covenant, the Law, could not do because it was considered obsolete and inadequate.   Why did the old covenant become obsolete?  In chapter 8, the writer quotes extensively from Jeremiah 31, in which we read this—

The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  (Heb. 8:8)

Verse 9:9 sheds a little more light on the subject of this “new covenant”—

[T]he gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.

Deliberate sins committed against God could not be erased from man’s memory or his conscience by merely presenting gifts and offerings to God.  The blood of animals sacrificed to atone for man’s transgressions may have sanctified him outwardly, but inwardly he struggled against his conscience, which condemned him.  This was the deliberate shortcoming of the old covenant.

But second, this phrase may also look forward:  Christ mediates a new covenant so that “the called” might receive their inheritance.  The phrase “those who are called” suggests it was God who took the initiative to call people to Himself, and to those He called, He “promised” something:  an inheritance.  What is this inheritance?  Within the context of Hebrews 9, it seems clear that the “inheritance” refers to salvation.   A person receives an inheritance when another person dies; in this case, the death of Christ allowed “those who He called” to receive their “inheritance,” namely, salvation, which the writer calls “eternal,” meaning the salvation Christ  won is everlasting.  This is in contrast to the Law’s annual repetition; it’s benefits were temporary.  Christ’s are forever.

By His sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus Christ became the mediator of a new covenant, which He instituted the night before He died—

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  (Luke 22:20)

Christ is the mediator; He alone stands between God and man, and by His death Christ removes the sin and the guilt.   It was this guilt, real or imagined, that alienated man from God.  To change this, a new covenant had to do what the old covenant could not, it had to be a better covenant.  Christ’s death provided—not just a substitution—but also a ransom for the sinner.  His death was a ransom price acceptable in lieu of the sinner’s death.  Herein lays the amazing, new dimension of the new covenant:  mercy and forgiveness is now extended to include the willful sinner who stood forever condemned under the inadequate old covenant.

3.  Why “new” is better than “old”

First, the “new” covenant came out of the “old,” so the old covenant, while inadequate and now antiquated, is still significant for it is the basis of the “new.”  Second, in both the old and the new covenants, a sacrifice was presented to God.  In the old covenant, all the animal sacrifices of all time could not set the sinner free from his guilt and condemnation.  It was the supreme sacrifice of Christ, God’s Son, that redeemed man from his guilt and condemnation and set him free.  Third, under the old covenant, the priest was as imperfect and as sinful as his people were, and therefore his work was necessarily imperfect.  In the glorious new covenant, Christ is the Mediator, or the Priest, and in His perfect sinlessness, His work stands guaranteed for all eternity; no fault can ever be found in it because in Him there is no fault.

Finally, in the new covenant, Christ is not only the final sacrifice, but He is also the mediator who guarantees the promise of salvation.  Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God puts His laws in the minds and writes them on the hearts of His redeemed and ransomed people, so that in Him there is never any condemnation, neither from God nor from the sinner’s own conscience.

When the history of the world is complete, the Cross of Jesus Christ will be seen as the great intersection point between the old and the new covenants.  From the vantage point of the Cross, we can look back to the old age of Israel and their struggle to find grace, mercy, peace, and forgiveness in the sacrificial system of the divine Law.  Yet for all their meticulous obedience, complete freedom from sin was elusive for sin is not found from without, but from within:  the human heart.  From the Cross we may also look forward to the dawn of the new age, inaugurated by Christ.  Only His work was enough to purge the sin from man’s blackened heart.  The book of Hebrews also stands as an intersection point, where the old and the new covenants may be viewed; compared and contrasted.  When we understand what came before, the struggles of previous generations to break free of guilt and sin, we are able to more fully appreciate what we have in Christ.  He really did do what we could never do.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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