As I mentioned in our introduction so many of the ideas you encounter in Leviticus is God’s way of kicking the ball back to re-establish the appropriate way forward. In soccer the act of kicking the ball backwards is not only acceptable, but strategic. The ball is kicked back to a place where you can then progress the ball upfield in a more successful fashion.
A great illustration of this is presented for us in Leviticus 9. After finishing the creation of the “tabernacle of meeting” at the end of Exodus, the establishing of the sacrificial system in Leviticus 1-7, and the ordaining of “Aaron and his sons” to be priests, chapter 8 closes with these men spending “seven days” in the tabernacle in order to complete their consecration.
As we saw last Sunday, Leviticus 9 then fast-forwards to the “eighth day” with “Aaron and his sons” coming forth officially occupying their role as the priests and the tabernacle being officially opened for business. The High Priest Aaron makes the necessary sacrifices for himself before then making a myriad of offerings on behalf of the congregation of Israel.
With these offerings sitting upon the Bronze Altar as the Lord had instructed and the entire multitude of the people attentively looking on to see what would happen next, we read… Leviticus 9:23-24, “And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the congregation. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.”
What a scene this would have been! Moses and Aaron come out of the tent and begin to pronounce “blessings on the congregation.” As this is happening “the glory of the Lord appears to all the people.” It’s likely “the glory” physically manifested in the cloud of smoke descending from on high, filling the Holy of Holies, before resting on the Mercy Seat atop the Ark. What was it like to then see “fire come out from before the Lord” and “consume the burnt offering on the altar?” What did it sound like? Could you feel the rush of air? The smell?
Again, we mentioned last Sunday this word “shouted” was not a scream of terror. They weren’t frightened by what they’d just seen. Instead, they were overwhelmed with jubilee. This entire system of offerings had been founded on a core promise that God “would accept the sacrifice of their behalf to make atonement for sin.” The fire indicated He indeed had!
Well, it doesn’t take long for this initial reaction of ecstatic joy and merriment to morph into reverence. Picture the scene… The cloud of God’s presence in the tabernacle, Moses and Aaron standing at the door calling out blessings on the people, smoke ascending from the consumed offering, fire is still dancing upon the altar, then slowly the entire company of Israel (likely more than a million people) “fall to their faces” in worship and adoration.
There is no debating the fact Leviticus 9 records of us one of the most radicle moments in all of human history! God has now re-established an important connection with His people. Though shielded to a large extent by the veil in the tabernacle, God was in their midst. While He had to be approached through an acceptable sacrifice, He is accessible.
And yet, as radicle as this would have been (humanity coming before God at this place of meeting), please note it’s not the first time it’s happened. In fact, I believe the scene is intentionally reminiscent of what we originally find presented back in Genesis 4.
If you’ve been with us for any part of our study in Leviticus you already know so many of the things laid out in this book are deliberately crafted with either numerological relevance or purposeful creation language specifically to take the reader back to the Genesis record.
The reason this is significant and demands our attention is that in order to have a complete understanding as to what is really taking place in Leviticus 9 around this “tabernacle of meeting” you need to know what happened in the original scene these very things were designed to harken back too. Think of it this way… If Leviticus 9 is God specifically kicking the ball back to the events of Genesis 4, you have to consider why?
Don’t forget the original creation had been the result of the perfect order of God. And yet, this beautiful order was instantly turned to chaos through man’s rebellion. God had given Adam and Eve one command not to eat from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” He’d even warned them that death would result if they disobeyed. Sadly, enticed by the lies of the Serpent, Eve took the fruit, both she and Adam ate of it, and man messed everything up!
Following a necessary confrontation, God pronounces the curse, promises He would provide a Savior through the “Seed of the woman,” before the following takes place… Genesis 3:21-24, “For Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them. Then God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’ — therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”
According to these verses it was paramount in their fallen condition humanity was no longer to retain access to the “Tree of Life.” No longer were they to eat from the fruit of this tree and live forever in their sin. What this tells us is that God implemented the death of the physical man in order to divide his existence into the temporal and the eternal.
Beyond this, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the “Garden of Eden.” While there is much we do not know about Eden there seems to be ample evidence she was in many ways an extension of heaven. Not only do we know there was an angelic presence in the Garden (Ezekiel 28:13), but in multiple places Eden is referred to as the “Garden of God.”
In Genesis 2:8-9 we’re given a pretty incredibly scene… After taking seven days to speak all things into existence and form man from the dust of the earth, “God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Later on in Revelation 22 we’ll actually see the “Tree of Life” now located in the new heaven!
For our purposes this morning the one thing we can say with certainty is the Garden of Eden was the one place where the divine came into contact with the earth. Eden was the location where God came to interact with man. In fact, according to Genesis 3:8, it wasn’t uncommon that “the LORD” would go for a “walk in the Garden in the cool of the day.”
Please know in expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden we understand a change had taken place in God’s accessibility. Because of sin a separation between the holy God and a fallen man had to be established. For these two reasons (restricting access to the “Tree of Life” as well as the presence of God) in addition to forcing man from the Garden we also read how the LORD found it necessary to “place cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way.”
In addition to having their way to the “Tree of Life” permanently blocked and accessibility to God restricted, something else significant takes place. Back in Genesis 3:21 we read, “For Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” Practically, we see a manifestation of God’s love towards Adam and Eve in that He substituted their inadequate coverings of “fig leaves” with more effective and durable “tunics of skin.”
That said… The circumstantial evidence presented in the Genesis record suggests something much deeper and more spiritual was also taking place here. According to Genesis 3:7 we know the inclination to cover themselves manifested in the consciousness of Adam and Eve as a direct result of their sin. After eating the forbidden fruit “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” In their guilt they became self-aware. Sin caused a fundamental change — a change they attempt to hide!
Not only would these outward coverings prove ineffective to hide their internal shame — God could see right through it all — but it would appear in the very process of “clothing them” by “making tunics of skin” God was teaching Adam and Eve an important and essential lesson.
These “tunics of skin” would do more than just cover their obvious nakedness, these “tunics” would illustrate the important precedent that atonement for sin could only be provided through a blood Sacrifice God would have make on their behalf! In our study through Leviticus we’ve noted time and again how the English words “atonement” and “covering” are actually translated from the identical Hebrew word — which is first used in this passage.
It’s important I also point out the word we have translated “skin” referred to an animal’s hide. It wasn’t as though God sheared wool from a lamb to make Adam and Eve designer fleeces. No! What’s implied is that God slaughter the animal before them, took the hide, and made tunics for them. In Leviticus 7:8 we find the same word, “And the priest who offers anyone's burnt offering shall have for himself the skin of the burnt offering which he has offered.”
Understand, God wanted Adam and Eve to know as they left the Garden of Eden the only remedy for their sin and only mechanism for the restoration of their access to His presence would have to come through a work He would accomplish in a Sacrifice He would make! God’s favor could only be given to man and never earned by man!
Isn’t it fascinating the first offering God establishes in Leviticus 1 (the Burnt Offering) intended to illustrate the same idea God had demonstrated for Adam and Eve back in Genesis 3? For “covering” or “atonement” to happen God would have to offering something costly, Jesus endure something ghastly, and we’d have to accept both things by faith!
The reason I’m convinced these ideas were voiced to Adam and Even is what immediately follows. You see if God had not articulated these things, Genesis 4 would make zero sense…
Genesis 4:1-5, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord.’ Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.”
This scene begins by informing us that “in the process of time it came to pass that Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord.” Right from the jump there are a few interesting thoughts that arise. First, there seems to be a clear “process” by which these offerings were to be made. Adam and Eve and by extension their sons Cain and Abel understood if they wanted to meet with God… (A) An offering was required, and (B) There was a right and a wrong way the offering was to be made. How else do you explain this understanding apart from God articulating to them a precedent at the end of Genesis 3?
Secondly, since we’re told “in the process of time it came to pass,” we also reason there was a distinct “time” these offerings were to be made. While we have no idea how much time has elapsed between the births of these boys and this particular event or whether or not this was the first time they’d come to make these offerings… We can say with certainty there was a specific time they needed to come and engage with their Creator.
Thirdly, while we aren’t specifically told in Genesis 4, there was a mechanism by which these boys could tell whether or not God had “respected” their offering or rejected it. In the Hebrew the word “respected” is sha`ah — which can be translated as to look upon. Because both Cain and Abel know following the presentation of their offerings that God had respected one and rejected the other, it’s only logical there was a visual component to the demonstration of God’s pleasure or His displeasure.
Which leads us to the fourth and final point… While we aren’t given any type of specific reference in the Genesis record, the text infers that God had defined a specific location were they were to come and make these offerings. Notice each boy “brought an offering” implying a known and designate location. Furthermore, this line they “brought an offering to the Lord” tells us they came to the known place on earth where God was dwelling.
When you place this passage into the greater flow of Genesis it’s only logical the location had to of been the eastern gate of the Garden of Eden. Again, Eden was the connecting point between heaven and earth. The place were God dwelt. Additionally, when you consider this was the spot God had made the first sacrifice on behalf of Adam and Eve, it’s only natural this would be the location they’d return to in order to make their own offerings.
Think about this for a moment… Adam and Eve clearly knew in order to meet with God they needed to come to a physical location — a place where heaven had come to earth. They also knew the importance of bringing an offering in order to meet with Him. And there was a tangible way God would accept or reject their offering. In the end the place itself reinforced their separation through the existence of the “cherubim” and “flaming sword.”
In Exodus 25:16-22 God gives Moses instructions for the creation of the Ark of the Covenant upon which His presence would dwell in the Holy of Holies. “And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you. You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat.
And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark…”
Are you beginning to see the correlations between this tabernacle of meeting and the gate to the eastern side of Eden? Both were the location where heaven came in contact with earth — an idea further illustrated by the existence of the cherubim on either side of the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant and their physical presence outside the Garden of Eden. Humanity came to both because it was place where the presence of God dwelt.
While it’s incredible such a location where man could meet with God even existed in the first place, the limitations to God’s accessibility were visually evident in both. In the tabernacle a veil separated mankind from the presence of God. In the case of the Garden there was a “flaming sword which turned every way” prohibiting their entrance and access.
Whether it was Adam and Eve coming to the Gate of Eden or the Children of Israel coming to the tabernacle, in both dynamics the necessity of approaching through an acceptable offering was clearly understood. While I can’t say with 100% certainty, a solid case can be made that Cain and Abel knew their offerings had been accepted or rejected based upon whether or not fire would come from God’s presence and physically consume the sacrifice.
Again, it is astonishing to consider, but the scene we have in Leviticus 9 — while incredible in its own right — is God taking humanity all the way back to the scene recorded in Genesis 4. The scene around the tabernacle with the people of Israel anticipating the acceptance or rejection of their offering is identical to the scene we have of Cain and Abel standing outside of Eden waiting to see if God was going to accept or reject theirs.
And it’s because the similarities of all of these things are so similar they cannot be viewed as an accident or coincidence, we must ask… What important lesson presented in Genesis 4 is critical to our understand of what is taking place in Leviticus 9?
In order to answer this question, let’s take a few minutes and unpack in greater detail what’s taking place in Genesis 4… Adam and Eve have been cast into a new world vastly different from the Garden and it didn’t take long for them to have children — two boys in particular.
The first son they name “Cain” — which means acquired. It seems Eve believed Cain was in actuality the Savior God had promised back in Genesis 3:15. That said, it doesn’t take long for them to realize Cain was not a Savior, because when Eve conceives again she names her second son “Abel” meaning emptiness or vanity. God’s plan to provide a Savior wasn’t going to happen as quickly as they may have initially thought it would!
While there is no question “Cain and Abel” would have shared strong genetic traits having parents with identical DNA, we quickly come to see each boy had contrasting interests and talents. Our text says “Abel was a keeper of sheep” while “Cain was a tiller of the ground.” No doubt both skillsets were instrumental in providing important resources for their family!
At some determined “point in time” both Cain and Abel understood they were going to go to Eden and make an offering before the Lord. Before we get to Cain, let’s start with Abel… In verse 4 we’re told, “Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock… And the Lord respected Abel and his offering.” Consider how this process might have played out for Abel…
In contrast we’re told, “Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground… but God did not respect Cain and his offering.” Consider how this process might have played out…
First, an argument can be made that Cain’s offering was rejected because it wasn’t a blood sacrifice. While we’ve seen in Leviticus there were all kinds of offerings that didn’t necessitate the shedding of blood, they all came after atonement had been secured. And yet, I’m not sure this was the ultimate reason why Cain’s offering was rejected by God.
Look again at the way our text presents this story… We read, “The Lord respected Abel and his offering” while He “did not respect Cain and his offering.” Did you pick up on that? The ordering and sentence structure suggests God accepted and rejected the man and then his offering. Because God “respected Abel,” He accepted his offering. Since God “did not respect Cain,” his offering was subsequently rejected. It seems God was more interested in the attitude of the offerer with the offering being accepted or rejected as a result.
In regards to Abel we understand he was accepted by God because his offering demonstrated his faith in God’s promised Savior. To this point we read in Hebrews 11:4 is was “by faith that Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts.” You see Abel was right with God because of his faith in God. He offered an acceptable sacrifice as a result. In Matthew 23:35 Jesus even refers to him as being “Righteous Abel!”
And yet, in contrast to Abel, Cain’s entire approach was much different. I contend that if Cain had made his offering out of a response to God’s grace (similar to the Grain Offering presented in Leviticus 2) God would have accepted it. And yet, Cain’s heart was not right. Not only does this reality become clear when he ends up killing his brother, but this is how he is described for us in 1 John 3:12, “Cain was of the wicked one and his works were evil.”
Fundamentally, the reason Cain was rejected by God centered on the fact his approach to God was transactional. Cain came to present to God the fruit of his own labor. He came to the Lord to offer something of value fully expecting God would in turn reciprocate the gift back to him. The problem with this approach boils down to two misconceptions…
Cain’s first misstep was the assumption God actually wanted what he had to give! Tragically, Cain was convinced his best would be good enough — that the fruit of his labor God would be honored by, receive, and ultimately enjoy. What Cain quickly came to realize was that God didn’t want anything from him! His very best fell woefully short. You can then understand why “Cain was very angry and his countenance fell.” His best efforts to give God a gift He’d be blessed by had been publicly rejected and his pride deeply insulted.
The second problem with Cain’s approach is that he was trying to get God to act in a manner inconsistent with His Person. Realize, in the way Cain presented his offering, he’s attempting to assume the role of giver and by default make God into a receiver. To this point C.H. Mackintosh writes, “Man would fain make God a receiver instead of a giver; but this cannot be; for ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’; and assuredly God must have the more blessed place. The great Giver of ‘all things’ cannot possibly ‘need anything.’”
What made Cain’s approach so profoundly offensive is that he believed he could earn a favor God was only willing to give him. Friend, may you never ever forget that God is in the business of bestowing not receiving. God wants to lavish upon you specific blessings you could never earn nor ever deserve! God delights in giving good gifts — which is why it’s so insulting when we attempt to barter with Him for the very things He’s already given!
Let’s get back to how all of these things apply to Leviticus 9 and specifically this scene around the tabernacle… What was it about Abel and his sacrifice that caused God to accept him and Cain and his that led him to be rejected? It was their heart! You see Genesis 4 makes it clear the attitude of the offerer is what matters most to God!
Do you see how this lesson would be important for a group of people gathered around the tabernacle who’d just received all of these laws pertaining to their offerings?
While it’s true the details for all of these things recorded in Leviticus 1-7 were important and had a purpose, God also knew the obvious drawback. Anytime a person or society looses sight of the fundamental purpose behind the details one of two things always results: people either stop caring altogether or keeping the details becomes the ultimate point of it all!
As just one of many examples, we see this all the time in Christianity. When the purpose behind a church tradition is lost what tends to happen? Well, one of two extremes… Either the tradition becomes a legalistic necessity or it’s completely abandoned. Ironically, the more appropriate response is to figure out why that tradition existed in the first place. Most of the time it’s not as important as one group believes, but shouldn’t be discarded either.
You see on day one of this entire Levitical system God intentionally connected the scene with the one outside of Eden in order to remind them what really mattered most. “Guys, we’ve been here before so it’s important you don’t forget the lessons of Cain and Abel! You can obey all of these things down to the letter of the law… You can offer sacrifice after sacrifice here at this tabernacle, but if your heart isn’t right like Cain — if you’re doing these things for the wrong reasons — motivated by the wrong aim — if you don’t always keep in mind what these sacrifices are all about, none of it will matter in the end!”
They needed to avoid the way of Cain who was rejected by God because his offering was made in the pride of his self-sufficiency. Cain fell into the religious trap of believing his offerings could earn for him a right-standing with God that could only be given to him.
In contrast, they also needed to remember that Abel was ultimately accepted by God because his offering was made in the humility of his inadequacy. Abel made his offering in an act of faith believing God would make good on His promise to send a Savior who would grant to him a right-standing. Any wonder why in Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5 we’re told again and again that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble!”
The tragic reality is that with time God’s warning went unheeded by the Nation of Israel. Because they forgot why these sacrifices mattered, they eventually stop making them and ended up in exile. Sadly, after they return to the land, the Jews become so obsessed with the details they end up missing the entire point. Oh the irony of the priests frantically making the final Passover sacrifices in the Temple while the Lamb of God hung on the cross of Calvary offered as the ultimate Sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world!
In closing, may we all be reminded God cares most about our hearts! In the midst of his failure King David pens to the Lord in Psalms 51:16-17, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart — these, O God, You will not despise.”
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