Offerings & Meanings

Question: "What is a grain offering?"

A grain offering is a type of sacrifice described in the Old Testament (Leviticus 2) that the Israelites offered to God. A grain offering would have most likely been one of wheat or barley, depending on what was available. While other sacrifices had very specific instructions from God as to how they were to be offered, the rules governing grain offerings had some flexibility.

A grain offering could be given to God either uncooked or cooked in an oven or pan (Leviticus 2:1; 4—5). The requirements for the grain offering were that it had to be finely ground and have oil and salt in it (Leviticus 2:1, 4, 13). It could not have any yeast (also called leaven) or honey in it (Leviticus 2:11). When a person brought a grain offering to the priests, a small portion of it was offered to God, with some frankincense, on the altar. The rest of the grain offering went to the priests (Leviticus 2:10). No specific amount of grain was required for an offering; people were free to give what they had.

The grain offering is described as “a most holy part of the food offerings presented to the Lord” (Leviticus 2:10b). Grain offerings would often be presented after a burnt offering, which was an animal sacrifice God required for the atonement of sin. Blood had to be shed for the remission of sins to take place, so a grain offering would not serve the same purpose as a burnt offering. Instead, the purpose of a grain offering was to worship God and acknowledge His provision. The burnt offering, which had strict regulations and could have nothing added to it, aptly represents the fact that we take no part in our atonement for sin. The grain offering, however, could be somewhat “personalized” in its presentation. It was to be given out of a person’s free will, just as our worship is our free will offering to God today.

It’s interesting to note that during the Israelites’ forty years of wilderness wandering grain would have been quite scarce. This made grain offerings more costly and precious for the people to offer to God. Giving a grain offering in those circumstances represented the Israelites’ complete dependence on God to provide for their needs each day. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), and we no longer have to do sacrifices as they did in the Old Testament. But, if the grain offering is similar to our offering of worship, it’s interesting to consider: how much does our worship today cost us?


Question: "What is a trespass offering / guilt offering?"

The trespass offering (KJV, NKJV) or guilt offering (NIV, ESV, NASB) is described in Leviticus 5:14–19; 7:1–7; and 14:12–18. Two practical instances that would require a guilt offering are described in Leviticus 19:20–22 (a man sleeping with a slave who is engaged to another man) and Numbers 6:9–12 (a Nazarite who accidentally violates his vows). This offering should not be confused with the sin offering.

The trespass/guilt offering was required when a person unintentionally violated some of the Lord’s holy things. “Holy things” would normally refer to things that had been dedicated to the Lord—anything from the sanctuary itself to the portion of the offerings that were normally reserved for the priests. How this could happen inadvertently is not spelled out, but perhaps a person forgot to fulfill a vow, made some mistake in the fulfilling of it, accidently ate food that was reserved for the priests, or mistakenly ate a firstborn animal from his own flock. In these cases the offender had to bring a sacrificial animal (an unblemished ram or male lamb) to offer and also compensate the priests an extra 20 percent for what they had been deprived. (The priests and Levites were the recipients of many of the offerings that were offered to the Lord—this was the provision that the Lord made for their support as they had no land of their own.) The offender could also bring, instead of an animal, the price of the animal in silver. When a person with a very sensitive (perhaps oversensitive) conscience thought that he might have sinned against holy property, he could bring the trespass/guilt offering “just in case,” but in that situation no restitution was made to the priests.

The trespass offering was also brought when a person had committed a violation against another person. In this case offender had to repay damages plus 20 percent in addition to making the animal sacrifice.

In a trespass offering, the ram or male lamb was slaughtered; the blood was splashed on the altar, and some of the blood was applied to the right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe of the one making the offering. Then oil was applied to the same places, and the head of the one making the offering was anointed. Most of the sacrificial animal was burned; however, the priests were able to eat some portions while they were in the sanctuary.

The trespass or guilt offering is primarily about making reparations. It demonstrates the seriousness of violations against God (even accidental ones) and against one’s fellow man. An atoning sacrifice has to be made before God, and restitution has to be made to man. The trespass offering was a bloody demonstration of atonement and reconciliation, but it was also a demonstration of grace as provision was made for reparations for the wrongdoing. This Old Testament sacrifice was not the final solution. It pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ by which sinners can be restored to fellowship with God and with each other (Hebrews 9:15).


Question: "What is a sin offering?"

A sin offering was a sacrifice, made according to the Mosaic Law, which provided atonement for sin. The Hebrew phrase for “sin offering” literally means “fault offering.” The sin offering was made for sins committed in ignorance, or unintentional sins. The ritualistic method of the sin offering and the animal to be offered varied depending on the status of the sinner. For example, a high priest who sinned unintentionally would offer a young bull. A king or a prince would offer a young male goat. People in the private sector would sacrifice a young female goat or lamb, unless they were too poor, in which case they were only required to offer two turtledoves or pigeons. Full details of the sin offering and the requirements associated with it are enumerated in Leviticus 4 and Numbers 15.

Again, the sin offering was sacrificed when a person sinned unintentionally by breaking one of the Lord’s commandments and later realized his guilt (Leviticus 4:27). Sin offerings were also part of the ceremonies on the Day of Atonement, as the high priest made two sin offerings: a bull for himself and a young male goat for the congregation (Leviticus 16:11, 15). In a sin offering, the live animal was brought to the altar, and the sinner was required to lay his hand on the head of the animal (Leviticus 4:29). Then the animal was killed, at which point the priest would take some of the blood and put it on the horns of the altar (verse 30). In some cases, some of the blood was also sprinkled inside the tabernacle (verses 6 and 17). Then all the rest of the blood was poured at the base of the altar (verse 34). The fat of the sin offering was removed and burned on the altar. In some cases, the body of the animal was burned outside the camp (verse 12); in other cases, the meat of the sin offering could be eaten by the priests. “In this way the priest will make atonement for them for the sin they have committed, and they will be forgiven” (verse 35).

The sin offering was a poignant picture of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. He was a “lamb without blemish” (1 Peter 1:19; cf. Leviticus 4:32) whose precious blood was spilled after being publicly slain. Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem, just as the sin offering was to be burnt outside the camp (Hebrews 13:12; cf. Leviticus 4:12). Just as the sacrificial lamb makes atonement for unintentional sins, Jesus’ blood made atonement for the sin of any person who realizes his guilt before God and asks for that atonement to be applied to him (John 3:16; Ephesians 1:7). “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

Every person has broken the Law of God in one way or another, whether we realize it or not. Humanity is sinful, and we are all guilty before God (Romans 3:23). It must have been painful for sinners under the Mosaic Law to slaughter an innocent animal when they knew they were the ones who had done wrong. In the same way, it is painful for us to admit our guilt and to know that the innocent and holy Son of God took the punishment for our sin. But this salvation God has provided, and it is the only way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Praise the Lord that sin offerings are no longer required, because we have been redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).