Leviticus 4 marks a clear transition within the introductory laws on offerings. While the first three offerings of meat, bread and peace were concerned with community worship and community holiness, the sin and guilt offerings (which continue in Leviticus 5 and 6) relate to the issue of sanctuary holiness. This division has a lot to do with timing: the burnt, grain, and peace offerings were already being offered before the tabernacle was built, whereas, after the tabernacle was built and the LORD’s manifest presence dwelt in it, sin and guilt offerings became a new and necessary component of the religious life of the Israelites.
Now the treatment on sin offerings is quite large and has four major divisions: 1) the sin offering of the priest (verses 3 through 12), 2) of the whole congregation (versus 13 through 21), 3) of the leader (verses 22 through 26), and 4) of the common person (Leviticus 4:27 through 5:13). But the main focus throughout these various procedures was the blood manipulation and that is what we will talk about today.
From the first twelve verses alone we can see that there is a lot of blood used: after a bull is killed (verse 4), its blood is sprinkled “seven times before the LORD in front of the veil of the sanctuary” (verse 6), then this blood is put “on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD that is in the tent of meeting” (verse 7) and, finally, the rest of the blood is poured out “at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” (verse 7). Thereafter, the entirety of the bull is burned on the altar of the burnt offering.
But first, before we discuss the purpose of the blood, we need to take a step back and understand a central presupposition of the sin offering. It was believed that when a person sinned, his or her sin severely contaminated their relationship with God. Furthermore, this break, or contamination, was symbolically represented as sanctuary contamination. In other words, it was like saying that a breach with God meant a breach with His dwelling place; or, to insult God was to insult His home. So to begin purifying the relationship between God and man meant one had to purify the tabernacle as well.
Now let us go back to our divisions of people and sins; for the person and the type of sin committed determined the extent of this contamination. If a leader or common person sinned, their contamination only reached the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. This is because they were not permitted to enter past the tabernacle courtyard. Thus the priest only had to apply blood on behalf of the leader or common Israelites to the horns of the altar of burnt offering, which was in the courtyard, and this would reverse the effects of the sin, namely the sin would be purged and purified. On the other hand, if a priest sinned, his contamination reached all the way to the inside of the Holy Place because he himself performed activities to this point. Accordingly, the priest was required to splash blood with his finger seven times in front of the veil inside the sanctuary (i.e., the veil that separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies), then splash blood on the horns of the incense altar, and then pour out the remaining blood at the base of the altar of burnt offering. Only this comprehensive blood covering would purify a priest’s contamination.
It is in this way that blood and tabernacle, or “sanctuary”, holiness is related. The blood of the sin offering, which was sprinkled all over the tabernacle (on the veil, the altar, and the Tent of Meeting) and with a purifying number (seven times), made atonement for the sanctuary (vis-à-vis its furniture) in order to cleanse it from any impurities and/or re-consecrate it for holy purposes.
What are you taking away from this? Certainly, there are many points of application. But for today, it will suffice to highlight the contaminating effect of sin. As today’s text suggests, sin is an extreme offense against God. It is a metaphorical slap in the face. And the result is a relationship with God that becomes both contaminated and polluted. We tend not to think of sin in such terms today. We tend instead to view sin as something that is personal, that can be managed and that doesn’t really impact others. However, we would be foolish to not realize the devastating effects of sin. So do not underestimate your sin. Rather, fight against your sinful impulses with the victory you have in Christ. Make war.