The Wilderness Tabernacle and the Five Levitical Offerings

The Wilderness Tabernacle & The Five Offerings

 When God brought the Hebrew people up to Mount Horeb, He gave them His laws and commandments as a means to teach them about Who God is, what He desires for mankind, and the relationship between God and his people. The first were “The Ten” about relationships between God and Mankind, between mankind and Himself, and mankind with one another.

God gave many object lessons to His people of who He is, what He thinks about things, and what the relationship with them would look like

Moses went up the mountain for more time with God. There God gave him a design for the Tabernacle. It was a place of meeting for the people and God, and it was a very graphic display of what was important in the relationship between God and his people. There are more verses devoted to the design and construction of the Tabernacle than any other thing in the entire Bible. 

Do you think that this might be important to us?

God designed the Tabernacle as a meeting place for Him and His People, and the construction of the Outer Court, the two chambered tent, and furniture speak volumes about God and Mankind’s relationship.


As you entered the 150 by 75 feet Outer Court the first place you came was the “Brazen Altar” where the animals were sacrificed. God was telling His People that the only way sinful man could approach the Holy God was through an atoning sacrifice, which did two things simultaneously: It was a confession of mankind’s sin, and a satisfaction of the sin issue to God. Mankind offered it in faith- that God would forgive. God accepted mankind’s obedience as an affirmation of the relationship between God and His Creation.

Next was the “Laver” which contained water for cleansing those who ministered in the Tabernacle. Each priest and Levite must wash their hands and feet before entering the tent, or “Holy Place”. This demonstrates the need for the ministers of God to have a spiritual renewal before every act of ministry, and keep their personal conduct and relationship with God clean.

As you enter the tent, you arrive in the “Holy Place”. On the right is the table of showbread with food and drink.

This table illustrated the need for spiritual sustenance.

On the left side, we see the Menorah, a seven branched candelabrum, which symbolizes the need for spiritual illumination.

Straight ahead in front of the veil of the second chamber, the Holy of Holies”, is the Altar of Incense.

This symbolizes our need for acceptable prayers and appeals made to the Holy God.

As we pass into the Holy of Holies, we see the “Ark of the Covenant” which contained the Tables of Law given to Moses.  This symbolized the covenant between God and His Special People.

The Ark, behind a thick plexiglass barrier.

Above it, on the lid was the “Mercy Seat” with two cherubim angels touching their outstretched wings.  It was here that God presence was manifested through a “shekinah fire”. 

The Tabernacle was a huge graphic display of the relationship between God and Mankind.

It also displayed the person and character of Jesus! J.Sidlow Baxter points out in Explore The Book how John made this connection in his Gospel of Jesus.

 In chapter 1, John declares that it is Jesus who takes away the sin of the world (Brazen Altar-John 1:29). Nicodemus is told that he must be born of “water and the spirit” (Laver-chapt.3) Through Jesus, rivers of Living water flow (Table of Shewbread-chapt. 4).

 He is also and the Bread of Life (chapt. 6) and the Light of the World (Menorah-chapt. 7). It is prayer “in Jesus name and authority” that is the acceptable petition to God (Altar of Incense-John 14-16). Jesus offers prayers as our High Priest (John 17), accessing the Ark of the Covenant and Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies.

 In John 20, Jesus deposits the Shekinah on the disciples as he breathes on them and commands them to receive the Holy Spirit.

Through the Tabernacle, the child of God understood his relationship with God. With the arrival of Jesus hundreds later, it became even more clear the message that God was sending His Chosen People as the traveled through the desert.

 The next graphic display that God gave were the offerings listed in Leviticus 1 thru 6. Although these may not make sense to us in our modern day, with a little understanding of Biblical culture, their message is perfectly clear.

The first is called the “Burnt Offering” or the “Olah” which means “up in smoke”.  It was an offering that was totally consumed on the altar.  Other offerings were portioned and meat was given to Aaron and his priests for their food.  But the Olah offering was totally consumed. As the child of God watched his sacrificial animal be entirely consumed by the fire, he could not help but get the message of the Olah offering: God wants all of you. He is not satisfied with on a portion of your life. For us, that means that He wants us not only on Sunday, but Monday through Saturday as well.  We often just let Him in our Living Room, but he wants the dining room, the bedroom, the garage, and the office as well. 

The slaughter racks

Remember what Paul told his friends in Rome:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Romans 12:1


The Second Offering is the “Minchah” or “Portion” offering.  This is sometimes referred to as the Grain Offering. The Hebrews were ordered to bring a portion of their grain to God as an acknowledgement of his provision. The key to understanding this offering is found in verse 14. The Hebrews were to bring the offering during every part of the season- not just the harvest.  If it was green shoots of barley, or unripened grain, they were to bring a portion. In our culture we often think that we have to get to a certain economical level before we can begin giving back to God.  We may think that we have to wait to enter into service at our local church until certain things are in place.  We maybe even think after a career of professional church service that we no longer have to involve ourselves in the work of the Kingdom.  “Not so!” says God through the Portion Offering.  He wants us to bring to Him in all seasons of our life, at whatever stage we happen to be in.


The third offering is the Peace or Shalom offering.  Shalom has a deeper meaning than just peace. It is better translated as “the state of being when all is in God’s order”. In Judges 6, when God appears to Gideon and tells him that He is going to use Gideon to smite the Midianites and put them in their place, Gideon calls him the “God of Shalom”, yet he knows that there will be much violence in the days ahead! When you ask for the bill after a meal in a restaurant in Israel,  you say: “Tash Sholmin”- a form of Shalom.  You want to know the cost, and place it all in order.

When God gives something extraordinary in life, the shalom offering acknowledges a debt to God for His blessing. It is a natural response to realize extraordinary things that God has done in your life, and want to do something in return. This was the thought of a young German nobleman in 1721 as he looked on a painting of Jesus bearing the cross. Above the painting was a sign that said: “I have done this for you. What have you done for me?” This idea of “shalom” galvanized the life of this 21 year old Nicholas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, and he decided as that moment to dedicate his life to serving God. Within seven years, He became the leader of a movement  that sent out missionaries to all corners of the world. The Moravians were one of the most influential Christian movements of the 18th century, all because of one man’s response to the concept of the “Shalom Offering”.

The fourth sacrifice was the “hata” or Sin Offering. This was when the child of God unintentionally missed the mark of God’s righteousness.  Ignorance of God’s ways was not an excuse for sin.  We are responsible of all decisions we make, even in moments of unawareness. The offering for this was a young bull, or goat, and the “guilty” part had to lay his hand on the animal before it was sacrificed, acknowledging the sin.  Then the animal was killed, and the fatty parts and kidneys were burned on the altar, while the rest of the animal was taken to a clean place outside the camp to be burned. This distinguished the Sin offering from the Burnt offering.

The point was to realize that at any time when enticements are presented, we can easily step outside of God’s will, and follow our own selfish ways. This is a natural condition of all men and woman, and the Sin Offering displayed the importance of guarding against enticements that would take you away from God. 

What is the cost of such wandering? The sacrifice was a young animal that would grow up to produce much milk, wool, and other baby animals. God’s warning to His People was that when we lose our focus and follow the enticements of the world, it will cost us something of our future.

What does this principle offer us who at any time can turn on our televisions and computers and immediately find ourselves drawn away from God? Plenty, if you take personal holiness to heart. Remember, it’s not an act to gain God’s favor, but rather a decision because you already have God’s favor.

The Trespass Offering was similar to the Sin Offering, except that it was an offering for sin with knowledge and intention.  It often dealt with something that God set aside for one purpose, and was used for another.  Sexual sin is a good example of something that required a Trespass offering. Restitution to the offended party was part of this offering, and the sacrifice required by God was the most important animal in your herd- the ram. It was this animal that impregnated the ewes of your herd. This was the stud, and intentional, blatant sin carried a high price.

What was the lesson of the Trespass Offering? That sin is a very costly thing; for the people that commit it, and for God to cleanse it. The people around us are not immune to the consequences of our sin. They are often more affected by our sin than we are. Look at the result of sexual sin in single parents, divorced families, and abandoned children. We definitely pay a price in our future lives for these sinful decisions. The Trespass Offering displayed this in a very graphic manner.


If we are truly repentant (repent: to turn around 180 degrees and go in the opposite direction) then we will want to make restitution to those hurt by our sin, and make things right with God. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for our Sins and Trespasses. God paid a high price to make things right between us and Him.


The final graphic illustration was the clothing specified for the High Priest. The details are given in Exodus 28.

 The Priest was to wear a garment over his shoulders which was joined by two “shoulder pieces” which were onyx stones set in gold with the names of the twelve tribes engraved- six on each stone. What was the significance of these two stones?

12 Fasten the two stones on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod as a reminder that Aaron represents the people of Israel. Aaron will carry these names on his shoulders as a constant reminder whenever he goes before the Lord.                                        Ex 28:12


Next was a breastplate which like a square cloth bag with twelve precious jewels attached- four rows of three each. Each stone represented one of the tribes.

29 “In this way, Aaron will carry the names of the tribes of Israel on the sacred chestpiece over his heart when he goes into the Holy Place. This will be a continual reminder that he represents the people when he comes before the Lord.                                                          Ex 28:29


Finally there was a “plate of pure gold” which was fastened to the front of the headpiece or turban of the High Priest which was engraved with the words “Holy To The Lord”.


“Next make a medallion of pure gold, and engrave it like a seal with these words: Holy to the Lord.  Attach the medallion with a blue cord to the front of Aaron’s turban, where it must remain.  Aaron must wear it on his forehead so he may take on himself any guilt of the people of Israel when they consecrate their sacred offerings. He must always wear it on his forehead so the Lord will accept the people.                                                                                                                               Ex 28:36-38


The picture here is of a priest bearing the names of the people on his shoulders, on his heart, and on his brow, and they are represented as beautiful gems and the purest gold. Although God knows the hearts of His people, He sees them as precious, and pure because they are made “Holy To The Lord” through their faith and obedience of the offerings and sacrifices.

In fact, the gold plate on the forehead of the High Priest would reflect the image of God Himself when the High Priest came into God’s Presence.


Consider that for a moment: When God looks at us, He sees Himself!


This is such a picture of our High Priest Jesus who brings us before the Father as pure and spotless through his own perfect character! The writer of Hebrews pulled these thoughts together when he wrote:


 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.  This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.                                                       Hebrews 4:14-16


The giving of the Law, the Tabernacle, the Offerings, and the garments of the High Priest were visual and graphic depictions of God and His ways for mankind.  When you look at them through the eyes of those standing in the desert, they begin to make sense. When you take the time to analyze the principles behind the prescribed cultural practices in the Law, then the heart of God becomes more clear, and we draw closer to our Heavenly Father who has chosen us to be His Special People.


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