Sinai covenant, offering, sacrifice, Hebrew, par, young bull, calf, oxen, animal sacrifice, blood covenant, new covenant, worship, spirit and truth
Although the record of Moses is clear that there were two laws given and confirmed between Israel and their Creator there is other evidence of this as well. Things changed. Some changes were dramatic and others were subtle. The end result was that the way some things were originally done changed. These changes were implemented not so much to bring Israel closer to their Creator, but to prevent them from sliding further away.
If changes implemented in the Law of Moses were not intended from the beginning then it seems unlikely they would continue in the New Covenant. Let’s see if that is the case. Here are some of the changes.
The Priesthood of Levi
Ex 19:5-6 "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel."
The original intention of the Creator was that everyone would be an example of His ways and represent Him. The whole congregation would be His special treasure. Unfortunately, this didn’t last very long. CreatorsCovenant’s document on the effect of the golden calf highlights the straw that broke the camel’s back and the significant change in the relationship that event caused between Israel and their Creator. They could no longer be trusted to properly represent Him. He disowned them and dumped them on Moses.
Ex 32:7 “And the LORD said to Moses, "Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.”
The tribe of Levi answered Moses call to clean house in Israel (Ex 32:26). They were not chosen because they were the religious authority. They volunteered, likely because they were incensed by the golden calf celebration. Evidently they had not taken part in that party. Moses expected that Levi would be rewarded for their zeal.
Ex 32:29 ‘Then Moses said, "Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother."’
The blessing probably didn’t come that day, but it wasn’t too long.
Num 3:10-13 ‘"So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall attend to their priesthood; but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death." 11 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 12 "Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine, 13 because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the LORD."’
The firstborn were the recognized priests in Israel (Ex 13:2, 19:22) until this change took place. They were rejected and replaced by the tribe of Levi. The other tribes were separated from the Tabernacle and the Creator by the tribe of Levi.
Num 1:53 "but the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the Testimony, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the children of Israel; and the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony."
Instead of being His special people, the average Israelite was subject to His anger if they came inappropriately close to the tabernacle, His dwelling. The tribe of Levi was a buffer between Israel and their Maker. The alternative was apparently death. The nation had Moses to thank for their lives.
Ps 106:23 “Therefore He said that He would destroy them, Had not Moses His chosen one stood before Him in the breach, To turn away His wrath, lest He destroy them.” (See also Deu 9:12-10:10)
Additional detail of Moses activities at this time is found in Deuteronomy 9-10. Unfortunately at a critical point there is some nonessential information inserted in the narrative about Israel’s journey in the wilderness. This insert covers a time after they left the area of Sinai. Similar information is included in a detailed list of their travels in Numbers 33:30-34, although some of the names are spelled differently. The places listed in Deuteronomy 10:6-7 are camps Israel stayed after they left Sinai. However, this inserted section is in the middle of an account of events surrounding Moses second forty day stay on Mount Sinai. Israel was still camped around the mountain at that time.
Immediately after this insertion Deuteronomy 10:8 tells us, “At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day.”
In some translations this verse is included in the parenthetical insert mentioning the later journeys of Israel. That interpretation makes it appear that Levi was chosen long after Israel left the area of Sinai. However, Exodus 40:2 & :9-17 show that Aaron and his sons were anointed as priests the same time the tabernacle was set up, the first day of the second year of Israel’s time in the wilderness. They were still camped around Sinai for another month and a half (Num 10:11-13). Also Numbers 1:53 quoted above, designates that Levi will camp around the tabernacle to separate the rest of Israel from it. Numbers 1:1 puts the timing of this at the first day of the second month, the second year of their journey. This would have been at least 20 days before Israel left Sinai. It was also about this time they were anointed as assistants to Aaron and his sons (Num 3:5-10) and designated to care for the tabernacle (Num 4:5-6 & 15, see also Num 10:17). So Levi was obviously already chosen to serve as assistants to Aaron before Israel left the area of Sinai. They disassembled the tabernacle and carried it as Israel left Sinai (Num 10:12-21).
It seems apparent then, that only verse 6 & 7 of Deuteronomy 10 are inset. When verse 8 says “At that time”, it is speaking of the time of verse 5 before the inset: “Then I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they are, just as the LORD commanded me." When the tablets were put into the ark someone needed to be responsible for them. “At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD…” (vs 8a)
The exact timing of events is still not perfectly clear, but we can assume that Levi was chosen either while Moses was still on Mount Sinai or shortly thereafter. Deuteronomy 10:3-5 makes it appear that the ark was prepared before Moses went up the mountain. Other accounts seem to vary.
The point is that the decision to switch to the Levitical priesthood came after the episode of the golden calf and Moses successful plea for Israel’s life. The assignment of Levi was not done because it was a better way to do things, but because Israel needed immediate human guidance to try to prevent them from involving themselves in some other abomination like the golden calf. They couldn’t be trusted on their own. Levi’s place was built into the Law of Moses.
Deu 17:8 "If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God chooses. 9 And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. 10 You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the LORD chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you… 12 Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel.”
Israel needed help. It wasn’t in them to obey the original instruction (Deu 5:29). Levi was set between Israel and the Creator, because they had a better grasp of what He expected.
Priests of the New Covenant
Heb 7:28 “For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. 8:1 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.”
Heb 4:14 “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession..”
Yeshua, Messiah, as high priest is seated next to the throne of the Most High in the heavenly temple. We can stand before that very throne to deliver our petition. The Levitical High Priest served outside the throne room all but one day of the year, Atonement. A citizen of Israel had a bureaucracy to navigate just to get to the High Priest, let alone to the Creator.
II Cor 11:3 “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
Levi has no place in the order of authority. The ministry in a corporate church is not a replacement for Levi. The function of Levi or anyone else as a buffer between us and our Creator is dissolved. There is a place for leaders to help speed up the learning process. The servant of Yeshua in the function of a leader of the congregation encourages people to dig into the source, i.e., scripture, themselves. He does not seek to make the congregation dependent on him for truth. Everyone in the congregation needs to have a firm grasp of the instruction of the Creator. We all need to be able to represent Him. That was the original intention when Israel came out of Egypt.
Ex 19:5 ‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
The whole nation of Israel was to represent the Creator to others. In fact believers now comprise the holy nation and priesthood Israel was originally intended to be. The original instruction is still workable although the people targeted are not from a single bloodline.
I Pet 2:9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” I Pet 1:20 “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for (Gr. Dia = through) you.”
A mistranslation clouds the true intent of I Peter 1:20 in most translations. Each and every believer is to represent their Creator every moment of their life. Ordination to the ministry is not required and in fact deceives us into thinking we should have someone between us and our Master. Representing Him is the individual responsibility of every believer.
Deu 11:31 "For you will cross over the Jordan and go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you, and you will possess it and dwell in it. 32 And you shall be careful to observe all the statutes and judgments which I set before you today. 1 These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. … 5 "But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. 6 There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. … 8 You shall not at all do as we are doing here today––every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes––…10 But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, 11 then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the LORD… 13 Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; 14 but in the place which the LORD chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you."
What does Moses mean “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today”? They were making animal sacrifices “in every place that you see”. They were doing what was convenient for them. They were not to do that in the Promised Land. Offerings & sacrifices were being put under the supervision of the Levitical priests at the place the Creator chose as a dwelling place. Tithes and offerings were to be taken there. They no longer had the option to make their own offering wherever they wanted.
Actually, similar instruction was given in Leviticus 17. The instruction of Leviticus was apparently given after Moses moved his tent far outside the camp to serve as a ‘tabernacle of meeting’ (Ex 33:7, Lev 1:1). This was shortly after the episode of the golden calf.
Lev 17:3 "Whatever man of the house of Israel who kills an ox or lamb or goat in the camp, or who kills it outside the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting to offer an offering to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, the guilt of bloodshed shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people, 5 to the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to the priest, and offer them as peace offerings to the LORD."
This instruction was given shortly after the golden calf, but evidently not implemented until confirmed in Deuteronomy. Once that covenant was confirmed and Israel went into the Promised Land it took effect. If they had been taking their sacrifices to the Levites at the tabernacle Moses would have had no reason to tell them “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today––every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes… But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land … then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings… do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see” (Deu 12:8-13). This change is specifically for Israel in the Promised Land: “to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess”.
The covenant at Sinai did not require sacrifices to be made at only one location or under the supervision of a priest. They could build their own altar of earth or uncut stone. This undoubtedly led them to offer “in every place that you see” (Deu 12:13b).
Ex 20:24 ‘An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. 25 And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it.’
The altar in front of the tabernacle was not built according to this instruction. It was made of wood overlaid with bronze (Ex 27:1-2). So why tell Israel as part of the Sinai covenant that they were to make altars of uncut stone or earth, but then require them to take all their offerings to the tabernacle where the altar was made of wood overlaid with bronze? Something obviously changed. The problem was that Israel had ruined her relationship with the Creator. Israel couldn’t be trusted to keep His covenant on their own.
It is instructive to note that there is no requirement to purify the altar of stone or earth. Elijah certainly didn’t purify the altar of stones he rebuilt for his contest with the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:30). However, purification was required for the altar of the tabernacle (Lev 8:15). It needed to be consecrated and atonement made for it. Unless cut stones were used the stone altar was not polluted. The altar by the tabernacle required tools to make it. It was inherently polluted.
Sacrifice and the New Covenant
Heb 10:8 ‘Previously saying, "Sacrifice and
offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had
pleasure in them" (which are offered according to the law), 9 then He
said, "Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God." He takes away the
first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been
sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11
And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same
sacrifices, which can never take away sin
s (singular). 12 But
this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the
right hand of God’.
The Creator never really wanted animal sacrifices (Jer 7:22-24, Ps 51:16). They were implemented in an effort to atone for Israel’s sin. Sin was the problem. The sacrifices were a band-aid allowed to cover it. They could never do what needed to be done, i.e., eliminate it.
Hebrews 10:1-4 talks of the relationship between sacrifices and sin. If sin were eliminated by animal sacrifices, animal sacrifice would no longer be necessary. However, animal sacrifice can’t eliminate sins. Verse 4 is not talking about forgiving various sins, but eliminating sins. That is the intent of ‘aphaireo’ the Greek word behind ‘take away’(vs 4). That is also the intention of Hebrews 9:9 and 26 and the intended purpose of the New Covenant. That was also the intended purpose of the Creator when He told Israel His covenant at Sinai (Ex 20:20).
Ps 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart––These, O God, You will not despise.”
Animal sacrifices were never particularly pleasing to the Creator. He expects us to set aside our own will and conduct ourselves in accord with His. That is the sacrifice that is appropriate.
Rom 12:1 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
Israel following their ‘evil heart’ was the catalyst that brought on the sacrificial system (Jer 7:24). The desires of our flesh are typically the root of sin (Jas 1:14). We are to do what Israel could not; sacrifice our flesh and its desires to the will of the Creator, fulfilling His intention of Exodus 20:20, eliminating sin.
Jer 7:22 "For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. 23 But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’ 24 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward."
The Sinai Covenant specified the construction of an altar, but not the frequency of use. No particular offering was required at any particular time. The sacrifice of the Passover is ignored in Jeremiah. It isn’t specifically mentioned in the Sinai covenant either. Certainly it is expected Israel will celebrate the festival of Unleavened Bread and with it the Passover every year at its appointed time (Ex 23:14-15, Num 9:2-3). The Passover was a unique sacrifice. The context of Jeremiah is talking of sacrifices that are intended at least partly as a gift to the Creator. The Passover was consumed by the people. The burning of the remains of the Passover was simply to complete the consumption, not to give it to the Creator.
The sacrifices were implemented because Israel ‘went backward and not forward’ according to Jeremiah 7:24. When was this?
Certainly, it was after the Creator told them to ‘obey my voice’ and after they were given commands as to how to conduct themselves. Those events connect with Exodus 19:5. “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” Certainly the commands mentioned in Jeremiah 7:22 are the Ten Commandments of the Sinai covenant. Likely the problem was shortly after that covenant was given in response to a significant failure.
Lev 7:37 “This is the law of the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the trespass offering, the consecrations, and the sacrifice of the peace offering, 38 which the LORD commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, on the day when He commanded the children of Israel to offer their offerings to the LORD in the Wilderness of Sinai.”(see also: Num 28:4)
Numbers 28 and 29 detail the offerings required throughout the year. These instructions were likely given on or at Mount Sinai along with the regular burnt offering. Many will connect this with the covenant of Sinai, but there is no mention of these things in the Exodus account of that time. There was no significant failure at that time.
We already noted that Leviticus seems to start with the instruction given in the ‘tabernacle of meeting’ that was set up after the golden calf (Ex 33:7, Lev 1:1). Jeremiah 7:22 specifically told us sacrifices were not part of the original instruction given when Israel came out of Egypt. The camp at the base of Mount Sinai was the first stop for Israel of any significant duration after leaving Egypt. It doesn’t appear that any sacrifices were required at that time in agreement with Jeremiah 7. "For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt”
Israel was still camped near Sinai for months after the covenant of Exodus 20-23 was confirmed. Moses last major trip up Mt. Sinai also took place while Israel was camped there, but after the episode of the golden calf. He was on the mountain again for forty days, but the account of that stay in Exodus 34 would only take about ten minutes to read. As Moses came down the mountain the leaders of Israel met him.
Ex 34:29 “Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two [replacement] tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. 30 So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.”
The Hebrew behind the phrase “on Mount Sinai” is identical to that in Leviticus 7:38 and Numbers 28:6. It is also identical to similar phrases in Leviticus 25:1, 26:46 and 27:34. There is no similar phrase describing the events of Exodus 20-24. This ‘on Mount Sinai’ instruction came during Moses second recorded 40 day stay on Mount Sinai. It was a reaction to the golden calf episode. Israel as a whole couldn’t be allowed to do their own animal sacrifices and they needed a continual reminder of their sin and the cost.
Heb 10:3, “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.” The intention of the awesome display and the instruction of Exodus 20-23 was to prevent sin (Ex 20:20). That didn’t work for long. The Law instituted a reminder. The sacrifices were Plan B. The Creator wanted adherence to His instruction, not animal sacrifice (I Sam 15:22, Ps 51:16).
Regular Offerings for the New Covenant are based on the same principles that apply to animal sacrifice in general as mentioned in the ‘Sacrifice and the New Covenant’ section above. A believer commits himself daily to walking in the ways of his Master. Just as the Levites offered the morning and evening sacrifice a believer would do well to recommit himself when he arises in the morning and before turning in at night.
2Co 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
I Cor 15:31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
Ex 23:14 "Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: 15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); 16 and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field. 17 Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.”
Of course that is the instruction of the covenant at Sinai. The instruction in the Moab covenant is similar.
Deu 16:16 "Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty–handed.”
A difference is that Deuteronomy requires Israel to come to “the place”. Exodus 23 does not say that. In fact, earlier in the Sinai covenant we saw that the Creator would come to them at multiple locations (Ex 20:24). Of course the place of Deuteronomy 16 was the same place designated in Deuteronomy 12:5. "But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go.” The Creator shortened and tightened their leash, not because they were doing so well, but because they weren’t. They couldn’t be trusted to offer sacrifices on their own.
As the Jews became distributed around the world in the Diaspora they didn’t always go to Jerusalem for the festivals. If they had done so they could have spent their entire lives going back and forth to Jerusalem. The Law of Moses was specifically written for Israel in the Promised Land. The tribe of Levi was not the authority outside the land of Israel.
Worship location in the New Covenant
It is apparent the Creator does not have a particular geographic location that is His residence on earth now. The Levites are also scattered.
John 4:21 ‘Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father... 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”’
Luke 13:35 "See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’"
The Creator turned His back on the temple in Jerusalem because it did not reflect Him, but the traditions and corruptions of those that serviced it. The only worship that is 100% acceptable, accurately reflects His approach and mentality. The geographic location is not important.
The believers in Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi and elsewhere did not need to go to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals as is required by the Law. Paul was still focused on doing that occasionally (Acts 18:21). However, he stayed around Ephesus for over two years (Acts 19:9-10). So he didn’t feel compelled to be in Jerusalem even once a year for the festivals.
Is the all powerful Creator of the universe unable to maintain the place He promised? "then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide…” (Deu 12:11). No, His arm is not shortened, but He allowed the temple to be destroyed and the Levites scattered because that system ultimately failed. The covenant of the Law confirmed in Moab was ineffective and He chose to move on. He is no longer interested in that covenant. That doesn’t mean we cannot learn from its terms. We must glean from it the additional detail that applies to His covenant and use it to live up to His original standard. We keep His festivals according to His Law. There is no single “place” where we must be. The original instruction is still workable.
1Co 3:16 “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”
1Co 6:19 “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”
2Co 6:16 ‘And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people."’
Just as the Creator intended that everyone in Israel represent Him so is it now. His mentality and perspective is to be our motivation. There is not just a single location, but everywhere His people go they represent Him.
Ex 22:29b "… The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. 30 Likewise you shall do with your oxen and your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.”
Israel was expected to redeem their sons and usually the unclean animals (Ex 13:12-13). The firstborn clean animals went to God on the 8th day by sacrificing them. They simply built an altar and lit it up. No Levite was required. However, that is not what the Law of Moses expected. Deu 15:19 ¶ "All the firstborn males that come from your herd and your flock you shall sanctify to the LORD your God; you shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock. 20 You and your household shall eat it before the LORD your God year by year in the place which the LORD chooses."Certainly the sacrifice was to be delayed beyond the 8th day. One would not sheer an eight day old lamb or work an eight day old ox. Delivering the firstborn to the designated place on the 8th day could have been a logistical nightmare if one had a significant herd. Even for a single animal a two or three day trip with a newborn would be stressful. Considering that the pilgrimage festivals are dealt with just three verses later (Deu 16) it seems likely that they took their firstborn with them to the festivals and offered them there. So the earlier expectation changed. Actually, it may have changed twice.
Num 18:15 "Everything that first opens the womb of all flesh, which they bring to the LORD, whether man or beast, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16 And those redeemed of the devoted things you shall redeem when one month old, according to your valuation, for five shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17 But the firstborn of a cow, the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar, and burn their fat as an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma to the LORD. 18 And their flesh shall be yours, just as the wave breast and the right thigh are yours."
Exodus 22 indicates the firstborn animal should be given directly to God on the 8th day. Numbers 18 indicates that the firstborn were to go to the Levites. They were still offered as sacrifices, but the Levites took care of that and retained the meat. With the confirmation of the Law of Moses the firstborn were still offered. That was done at the tabernacle under the supervision of the Levites, but the one who brought the firstborn retained possession of the bulk of the meat. Of course the Levite could be included in this peace offering of the firstborn.
It seems apparent based on the change to the centralization of the priesthood that in this area also Israel was not trusted to offer their own sacrifices. We can only speculate as to why the firstborn were given to the Levites and then later retained by the one who offered it. Perhaps since there was probably no tithe from produce in the wilderness the Creator wanted to provide a little extra from the herds for His priests. It could also be that the Creator was seeking to wean Israel off of making their own sacrifices.
Firstborn Offerings Now
The firstborn were claimed by God before the Levitical Priesthood or the need to offer the firstborn at the Tabernacle. The Law of Moses changed how this was handled. Since the Temple was destroyed this regulation as changed by the Law of Moses has been unworkable. Clean animals were not to be redeemed, and there is no place to take them. As other things were originally given to God directly by sacrifice, so can the firstborn still be given according to the original instruction (Ex 22:29-30). How legal that is in any particular place is another issue. Of course, the unclean animals and our own children can be redeemed or purchased back as in the past.
We give directly to our Creator when we support the poor and under privileged (Mat 25:40). Those who help us understand the mind of the Creator and His spiritual things are also worthy to receive from our physical things (I Cor 9:11). Giving to a servant of the Creator is giving to the Creator.
The firstborn were to be given to the Creator on the eighth day according to the Sinai covenant. This may presage a giving of the firstborn to the Father connected with the eighth day assembly “mo’ed” (Lev 23:36, 39. I Cor 15:20-28, Rev 20:14-21:4, Heb 12:23, Jas 1:18). Likely at the descent of the New Jerusalem and the arrival of the Father, Messiah will deliver Himself and the rest of the first fruit (those who are His at His coming) to the Father. This would be connected with the 8th day celebration since the arrival of the Father seems to be connected with this time. The change implemented in the Law of Moses clouded this connection.
The instruction for the first Passover is found in Exodus 12. Among other things it was celebrated in family groups or with neighbors. A year later instruction is given that Israel was to keep it again at the appointed time and according to its rites and ceremonies
Num 9:1 ‘Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: 2 "Let the children of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. 3 On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time. According to all its rites and ceremonies you shall keep it."’
There were no changes. This was after the golden calf, but the instruction of Deuteronomy had not been confirmed. As with the handling of animal sacrifices the change took place with the confirmation of Deuteronomy. That was basically at their entry into the Promised Land (Deu 1:3).
Let’s note the differences between the Passover instruction in Exodus 12 and that in Deuteronomy 16.
Originally the sacrifice was to be a sheep or goat less than a year old (Ex 12:5). Deuteronomy 16:2 instructs that it be taken from the “flock or herd”. ‘Herd’ is Hebrew ‘baqar’. The primary definition indicates cattle or oxen. So even though Israel didn’t typically take advantage of this allowance it was given. Apparently at Josiah’s great Passover they did take advantage of it. Cattle were sacrificed and the meat distributed with the lamb Passover offerings (II Chron 35:6-18).
Originally the sacrifice was offered and eaten at someone’s home (Ex 12:7). The Law instructs that it not be eaten anywhere but ‘the place’ where God dwelt. (Deuteronomy 16:5-6)
Originally the sacrifice was to be roast in fire. Boiling was specifically prohibited (Ex 12:8-9). Deuteronomy 16:7 uses the same Hebrew word used for ‘boil’ (bashal) in Exodus 12 to specify how it should be cooked. This word also generally indicates cooking. Likely it doesn’t mean they are to boil the sacrifice, but cook it in whatever way they deem appropriate.
Originally the sacrifice was to be killed ‘between the evenings’ (Ex 12:6). This is an idiom for twilight or dusk. Deuteronomy 16:6 instructs that the sacrifice be offered “in the evening at the going down of the sun”. This is a more general reference and allows the sacrifice to be offered before the sun actually sets until later in the evening.
The logistics of handling the Passover celebration when everyone offered a sacrifice at the same time at the same place was daunting. Therefore, more time was allowed, larger animals were allowed and variations in cooking methods were allowed. These changes were not implemented until Deuteronomy was confirmed as a covenant and Israel went into the Promised Land.
At the first Passover in the Promised Land we are told Israel, “kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even” (Josh 5:10, KJV), not twilight. Some translations erroneously say twilight because they don’t understand there has been a change in the law for Israel. They try to make things look consistent even though the Hebrew text is not.
It seems apparent that these changes were implemented because Israel could not be trusted to do even the Passover sacrifice unsupervised. The Creator relaxed his expectation and modified the celebration of His appointed time because of His respect for Moses and the patriarchs. (see Passover Details for a more complete explanation)
Passover in the New Covenant
I Cor 5:7 “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
The lamb of the original Passover provided protection for Israel from the Death Angel. Indeed ‘protection’ is very likely the original meaning of the Hebrew word which now primarily means ‘Passover’. Certainly that original Passover was an important event in the history of the nation. However, the lamb was only a shadow or prototype of Messiah and the protection His sacrifice would provide. How important is it to celebrate the prototype if the reality it looked forward to is accomplished?
Because of the destruction of the temple we cannot keep the Passover according to the Law of Moses. There is no ‘the place’ to which we can go and there is no Levitcal priesthood to oversee the sacrifice. Now there are also complications because of city life and our separation from ancient lifestyles.
The Jews discontinued the sacrifice of the Passover even before animal sacrifice became difficult. They felt the destruction of the temple was a sign from the Creator that animal sacrifice should not be done. All sacrifices were required at the altar of that temple. Without the temple altar they decided they shouldn’t sacrifice animals. They substituted a shank bone in place of the lamb of the Passover meal to remind them of the missing centerpiece.
The sacrifice of Messiah is a greater sacrifice. In large part the occasion of the sacrifice of Passover and the sacrifice of Messiah revolve around the same thing, the protection and rescue of Israel. The timing of each is arguably the same, thus causing something of a conflict. There are different symbols set up to commemorate Messiah’s sacrifice. Why attempt to continue the celebration looking forward to Messiah with non-biblical symbols and traditions? Messiah has come. That is done. Messiah clearly explained how to memorialize the fulfillment of His death and the New Covenant.
His covenant at Sinai clearly requires the celebration of the ‘chag’ of Unleavened Bread. Although certainly Israel assumed this included the Passover celebration, the Passover is not specifically mentioned. The greater event commemorating the sacrifice of Messiah and the confirmation of the New Covenant logically fits the time of the Passover meal. Messiah tells us He will not be eating the Passover until the ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom (Luke 22:16).
I Corinthians 5:6-8 records the need to celebrate Unleavened Bread. The typical Jew would have called the festival of Unleavened Bread the Passover. Paul did not. That reference is where Paul makes clear Messiah is our Passover lamb. How important then is the animal symbol? The ultimate Lamb is sacrificed, once, for all.
I Corinthians 11:20-34 records the Corinthian commemoration of the sacrifice of Messiah. There is no mention of Passover in connection with it or any record of New Testament believers keeping a Passover meal after Messiah’s death. The use of the name Passover as applied by the Jews to the entire festival of Unleavened Bread also seems to have been abandoned by believers. The New Covenant memorial symbols are closely tied with the time of the Passover meal, but the New Covenant memorial celebration is not connected with the Passover (Mat 26:17-, Mrk 14:12-, Luke 22:7-, I Cor 11:20-34).
Although Jewish tradition may indicate that Abraham kept the Passover, this is unlikely. Exodus 12:40-41 records that Israel came out of Egypt 430 years to the day after some event. Galatians 3:17 indicates it was about 430 years from the giving of the promises to Abraham to the giving of the Sinai law. This must be the same 430 years. The event that began the 430 years is recorded in Genesis 15.
Abraham received the promise of inheritance in a solemn covenant (Gen 15:13-21). The covenant was cut/confirmed at about the time the Passover lambs were originally slain. None of the animals used to confirm this covenant would qualify as a Passover sacrifice according to Exodus 12. In any case Abraham was asleep. There is no indication any of his family was there and of course it would still be years before he would be circumcised. So on this evening when the Passover would occur 430 years later, there is no evidence of a Passover observance. However the importance of the "mo'ed" of Abib/Nissan 15 is underscored.
The Sinai covenant requires the observance of the festival of Unleavened Bread but not specifically the Passover. Certainly Israel was to observe Passover and it was specifically included in the Moab/Deuteronomy covenant. However, Abraham could still be in compliance with the Creator’s Covenant without keeping Passover, as can believers now according to the symbols instructed by Messiah and reinforced in I Corinthians 11.
In Joshua 5:2 Israel is instructed to circumcise their sons. This was because they did not circumcise them in the wilderness (vs.5). There is no condemnation of Israel in this matter. They are simply told to circumcise them.
There is no instruction in Deuteronomy to circumcise their sons. However there is in Leviticus.
Lev 12:1-2 "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.’ ”
This instruction likely came right after the golden calf just like the rest of Leviticus. However, Israel didn’t circumcise their children in the wilderness. They didn’t implement circumcision immediately, but they are not condemned. Like the changes in sacrifices and festivals, this instruction evidently wasn’t confirmed until Deuteronomy. It was specifically for Israel in the Promised Land. Leviticus is not specifically included in the terms of the covenant of Deuteronomy made in Moab, but its existence is assumed by Moses at the time Deuteronomy was confirmed (Deu 1:3). Moses did not speak every command at that time, but gave the bulk of them.
Deu 12:1 "These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess…” (12:8) “You shall not do as we are doing today…”
The first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy deal with how Israel came to be where they are. They do not contain new instruction. With chapter twelve new instruction begins. It is specifically for Israel “to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess”.
Abraham received a special covenant with the Creator while he was childless (Gen 15:2, 18). Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael, his first son, was born (Gen 16:16). Abraham was 99 when he was circumcised (Gen 17:24). Circumcision was not part of the covenant made in Genesis 15 that promised him the land of Canaan. Circumcision was made a sign of his covenant at least 13 years after the covenant was in place. It was not a stipulation of the covenant, but an outward sign of compliance. (The translation of Gen 17:10 makes it appear that circumcision was the covenant. This is largely due to modifications made to the Masoretic Hebrew text after 700 AD/CE. See Patriarchs Covenant)
Abraham’s covenant was extended to his children down to and including Moses. Moses was evidently threatened with death because he had not circumcised his son (Ex 4:24-26). Also all the males who participated in the Passover leading to Israel’s departure from Egypt needed to be circumcised (Ex 12:43-44, 48). So Abraham’s covenant was likely still in effect as of the Passover of Exodus 12.
The sign of the covenant of Sinai was not circumcision, but the keeping of the Sabbaths (Ex 31:13, 18). That covenant, His covenant, was the same covenant that was made with Abraham (I Chron 16:15-18, Deu 8:18, 4:13). The terms were the same, but the sign was different.
Ex 31:13 "Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you… 16 Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. 18 And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.”
Those tablets and the discussion surrounding this event had to do with the covenant that was just made in Exodus 20-24. Circumcision is not mentioned in that covenant and the sign is not circumcision, but the keeping of the Sabbaths. Therefore, circumcision is not required as part of the Sinai covenant. Israel now had their own covenant with their Creator. Their direct agreement with Him did not require circumcision. Therefore there is no condemnation of Israel for not circumcising their children in the wilderness. Abraham’s agreement was replaced for Israel and the sign of that covenant no longer applied.
Circumcision was reinstated as part of the Law of Moses in Leviticus 12. That was not confirmed as binding until the covenant of Moab/Deuteronomy was confirmed and Israel went into the Promised Land. This is the same way the changes of the sacrifices and the Passover observance were handled. The changes took effect with the confirmation of Deuteronomy and the entry into the Promised Land.
The full implementation of the Levitical priesthood was largely handled the same way. It certainly appears that Aaron and his sons were anointed about the same time the tabernacle was set up. Likely they began getting organized and establishing the routine of the tabernacle service immediately. However, Aaron was second to Moses until his death. There is no provision for this in the Moab/Deuteronomy covenant. It was not until the covenant of Moab was confirmed that the high priest did not play second fiddle to Moses. It could be that very day that Moses died (Deu 32:48-50, 34:1-5). In any case Moses was relieved of his responsibility over Israel at that time.
Some think that not circumcising was an indication of Israel rejecting covenant and refusing to abide by its terms. Direct refusal to circumcise would likely have resulted in wrath the way refusing to go into the land did. There is no sense of that with the instruction to circumcise those born in the wilderness in Joshua 5.
Certainly Israel failed in many ways to keep their part of their agreement. In each major case this was followed by remorse and a desire to make things right, not to rebel against their Creator.
After the golden calf they removed their ornaments and lamented their conduct (Ex 33:4-6). They gave generously for the construction of the tabernacle (Ex 36:5-7). After the episode of the spies they reacted similarly and acknowledged that they had sinned (Num 14:39-40). They even tried to go into the Promised Land as originally intended, but it was too late. Their Creator was not with them and they were repulsed by the inhabitants. They certainly were careful about the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36). They didn’t reject that. That was the sign of the Sinai covenant. The terms of the Sinai covenant were identical to Abraham’s covenant, only the sign was different (I Chron 16:15-18).
How could we say that they rejected a covenant the terms of which they were keeping, albeit imperfectly? It makes little sense that since the evil generation was refused entry into the Promised Land, they threw a fit and would not circumcise their children. Did they want to disqualify them too? It makes little sense that a remorseful people would throw a fit and neglect something to the advantage of their children.
The failure to circumcise and the lack of condemnation for it is just another indication of the changes that took place as a result of moving from the Law of the Creator to the Law of Moses.
Circumcision in the New Covenant
I Cor 7:19 “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.”
Rom 2:28 “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”
The Law of Moses requires circumcision, the Law of God, His covenant, His Law, does not. Conduct is important to His covenant. The contour of the skin is not. He expects us to conduct ourselves as He would. The Law did not require or expect a change in the heart. We are expected to conform to the original instruction with clarification by Messiah (I John 2:6) and the Law (Gal 3:24-25). That requires a change of heart and the willingness to put ourselves at risk for the benefit of others.
Acts 17:30 "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,”
This is not, repent and keep the Law, but repent and conduct yourself as His representative, 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Being knowledgeable of the Law is important to better understand His Law. Much more important is to know His Law in principle and in detail as recorded in His covenant at Sinai. The full intention is explained further by Yeshua and the apostles in the apostolic writings.
The Creator wanted obedience not sacrifice, but Israel went backward. Unfortunately, Israel thought the Law was to bring them closer to the Creator. In fact it was simply to prevent them from sinking lower. This does not mean it was bad, but that we should seek a higher standard. Yeshua and the apostles explain that standard. We must serve with the thoughts and intent of the heart. Sin starts with the thoughts. That is where it must be eliminated.
The Creator doesn’t want obedience because He is harsh, but because He wants what is best for us. His Law is about caring for one another and respecting Him. We must understand there is a higher authority who knows the way to peace and to whom we will answer. We draw close to Him by obedience, not by the location of our worship, the sacrifice of animals or our heritage. It is done by the selfless giving of our self to support our fellow man as He did. This is evident when we examine these changed matters in the writings of the apostles and the restoration begun by Messiah.
In general the changes implemented with the Law of Moses have been reversed. What was from the beginning is again the guide. Of course Messiah has spoken in order to make evident the full meaning. He has also accomplished His sacrifice. That fits fine into the original instruction. What must change is the heart of those who wish to claim His covenant. Our Creator will move to open our eyes (Acts 26:18). We must reach for the New Covenant, diligently seeking the light and purifying ourselves as He is pure (I John 3:3). When we continually seek the light, the Creator will have taken a major step toward writing His Law in our hearts. He will complete that process by our own hand as we continue to seek and reflect Him. No one will be able to entice us away.