The Sin Offering
The “burnt offering” chiefly represented the dedication to God of a portion of the good things with which the person had been so blessed by God’s providence. The “peace offering” expressed the person’s gratitude to God for mercies received, or of his/her desire or prayer for new ones. The “sin offering” and the “trespass offering”, however, were specifically to get forgiveness of certain sins committed.
The animals used for sin offerings were the same as those used for burnt offerings, except for the birds. There were several different kinds of sin offerings as we will talk about below.
The Priest’s Offering – A priest who had committed any of the specified sins brought a young bullock, without blemish, to the door of the tabernacle. There he put his hands on its head and confessed audibly (according to Jewish writers) the sin he was guilty of and for which he desired to make atonement. After it was slain, he carried its blood into the holy place and there sprinkled it seven times before the veil of the sanctuary. Then he rubbed some of it on each of the horns of the golden altar, and then returned to the court and poured out the rest of it at the foot of the brazen altar. After this, he took the fatty parts off the carcass and put them on the altar where they were burned to ascend to God and atone for his sin. The fatty parts next to the blood were considered to be the most precious part of the animal. Everything that remained – the head, flesh, legs, and dung – he was to carry out of the court and camp to a clean place, where the ashes from the altar were poured out, and then burn them there.
The Sin Offering for the Congregation – This offering was the same as that for the priest – a young bullock without blemish. It was brought by the elders of the congregation, who put their hands on its head while confessing the particular sins of which the people had been guilty. It was slain either by the elders or the priest. The ceremony of sprinkling the blood, burning the fatty parts on the altar, and removing the remainder of the carcass beyond the camp, was the same as in the case of the priest’s offering.
The Ruler’s Sin Offering – This offering was a young he-goat. After putting his hands on its head and confessing his sins over it, he slew it. The priest received the blood, dipped his finger in it and rubbed it on the horns of the altar of burnt offerings. He then poured out what was left at the foot of the altar. After this, he burned the fatty parts of the animal on the altar fire. What remained of the sacrifice became the property of the priests, who could feast upon it in the Holy Place. This meat did not have to be carried out of the camp.
The Common Person’s Offering – If one of the common people had sinned, the law prescribed for his offering was either a young she-goat or a she-lamb. It was presented to God in the same way, and with the like ceremony as the ruler’s offering.
The sprinkling of the blood before the veil, and the carrying of the carcass beyond the camp to be burned, for the priests and congregation sins, were intended to denote that the sins of the priests were more heinous than the same sins committed by a private Israelite; and that the sins of a whole congregation were more heinous than the same sins when committed by a single individual.
The Trespass Offering
At first glance these may seem very similar, but Leviticus 4, 5, and 6 gives particular sins for both classes for sacrifices. Sin Offerings could be brought by priest, congregation, ruler, or private person. Trespass Offerings, however, were only to be brought by individuals.
The usual animal for this offering was a young she-goat or she-lamb. If a poor person could not afford this, they could bring two turtle doves or two young pigeons – one to be offered as a trespass offering and the other for a burnt offering. If he was too poor for even these animals, the law mercifully allowed for the bringing of a meat offering of fine flour. This was not a regular meat offering, but just a substitute for the animals. If the trespass was particularly heinous, such as something that was particularly “holy unto the Lord”, the offerer had to bring a ram to be sacrificed.
Though the sacrifices cleansed the particular person before God, they could not cleanse the person’s soul from the guilt of sin, nor purchase spiritual and eternal blessings. Hebrews 9 and 10 says that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins”.
If a person had sinned heinously and was banished from the camp, or had become unclean in some way, after he brought the prescribed sacrifice he was cleansed and restored to his place in the congregation. It is really hard to know how much the Israelites understood about the significances of the sacrifices and what they symbolically meant for the future in Jesus becoming the ultimate sacrifice once and for all for all man’s sin.
The animals had to be pure and spotless and innocent, just as Jesus was. The blood that flowed from the pure and spotless animals represented the blood that would flow from Jesus to cover our sins. The Day of Atonement with the scapegoat taking all the sins of the people was representation of Jesus taking on all our sins. The Atonement was done once a year for the people, where Jesus took all sin once and for all and conquered it for us.
Just as for some heinous sins part of the animal had to be burned outside the camp, so Jesus was crucified outside the Holy city of Jerusalem. This denoted the heinousness of our crimes committed. Since there was no other way for a person to really get cleansing from the guilt of sin, the Father in love looked down and saw our desperate need and sent His Son to once for all do that for us.