1:1, 2 Moses begins this manual on worship at the tabernacle by recording the laws of sacrifice. The laws are subdivided into sections addressed to the laity (1:1–6:7) and to the priests (6:8–7:38). Sacrifice in Israel involved the offering of selected domestic animals, grain, oil, and wine. All these products symbolized the worshiping Israelite, who, through the act of sacrifice, was giving himself back to God in some way. In every animal offering the worshiper placed his hand on the victim’s head, thereby identifying himself with the animal, saying in effect, “This animal represents me.” The animal sacrifices involved the animal’s death, and so the sacrifices had atoning symbolism: the animal dying in the sinful worshiper’s place represented redemption from the death he deserved. There is then a common core of meaning and significance shared by all the sacrifices. But each sacrifice also had its own distinctive ritual features and religious emphases. This is indicated by the different names of the sacrifices, which sometimes highlight the ritual distinctiveness (“burnt offering,”) and sometimes the theologically distinctive feature (“peace offering, guilt offering”).
Although the Lord, in response to Moses’ intercession (Ex. 32), had rescinded His verdict to judge the people for their idolatrous worship of the golden calf, the removal of their sin remained an unresolved problem. These sacrifices provided an atonement for them and for Aaron, their priest, who led them into that sin (ch. 9). In contrast to Aaron, Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the new Israel, is without sin and never tempts His people to sin (Heb. 9:6–15).