Before considering the details of the Leviticus, we must have before us certain matters that have been established in Genesis and Exodus. These are things that we as Israelites already know when we first hear Moses report what God dictated to him in Leviticus.
Let us begin with Adam. Adam watched God plant the Garden and then was put into it. God had made birds to range over the earth on the fifth day, and various animals on the sixth. Included in those animals were livestock, domestic animals that would live close to man. Other animals and birds might visit the Garden, but in some sense livestock were part of the Garden community. The Garden was on high ground, with rivers flowing out of it downhill to the rest of the earth. There was food in the Garden. God would meet Adam in the Garden at times of worship.
When Adam sinned he was sentenced to die. God killed an animal to provide covering for him, but still he had to leave the Garden. A boundary was set around the Garden that he might not cross on pain of death, for cherubim with flaming sword that turned in all directions were set at the eastern gate of the Garden to guard it. For Adam to get back into the Garden, he would have to ascend past the barrier, through sword and fire. Only then could he serve as God’s palace-servant again. In Leviticus 1, the animal will pass through sword and fire, bringing the adam back into a symbolic Garden.
From this every Israelite knew that it was God and not any adam who would kill the “animal” to provide covering. When the Israelite slaughtered his Nearbringing, he knew that he was only acting a role designed to affirm his faith in what God would someday do.
Two events in the life of Abraham must also be remembered. When God made the covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, five animals were divided (the same five that are brought near in Leviticus; contrast Noah’s offering of all “clean” animal), and God’s smoky presence passed between the parts of the animals. God said that this event linked Abram to the land, from which he had been estranged (the famine in Genesis 12, the weakness of the land in Genesis 13, the wars all over the land in Genesis 14), though that linkage would not take hold for several generations to come. Thus, the two parts of the animals represented Abram and the land. Abram and the land were dead to each other, rent asunder. But now God’s presence would knit them together. Thus, when God’s glory passes between the parts of the animals, it signifies putting them back together again in a new way. In Leviticus 1, putting the sectioned parts of the animal into the Communion Site (traditionally “altar”) signifies the same thing: resurrection, reunification with God and the world, and glorification.
In Genesis 22 Abraham was told to kill his son Isaac as an Ascension. Abraham affirmed that he and Isaac would return from their experience on Mount Moriah, so that he was counting on a resurrection for Isaac. Abraham knew the promise made to Adam and Eve, that a son, the seed of the tree of the woman, would redeem the world. Based on God’s covenant with him and the miraculous birth of Isaac, Abraham had reason to think Isaac might be that son. But at the last moment, an animal was substituted for Isaac. This means two things that every faithful Israelite knew, and that are all-important for understanding the Nearbringings in Leviticus. First, they knew that all the animals brought to God and slain were substitutes for Isaac, and second that Isaac himself was only a picture of a human son to come in the future who would die and defeat death.
This means that all the animal rites in Leviticus are in a general sense memorials of God’s promise. They are ways of reminding God of what He has promised by displaying in a ritual the promises He has made. When the adam kills his animal, he is not seeking to propitiate the wrath of God. Rather, he is putting his trust in the God who has promised someday to make a way of salvation through the propitiating (appeasing) death of a future son of Adam and Abraham. Thus, killing the animal is an act of faith in God’s promise, not a work designed to earn God’s pleasure. We don’t need the book of Hebrews to tell us this; it is perfectly clear from Genesis 3 and 22.
The Exodus and Tabernacle
Now we come to the Exodus. God gave the blood of Passover to the faithful in Israel so that they might be delivered from Egypt and draw near to Him. On the way they passed through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea. Then they came to the new mountain, Sinai. God was on the mountain as He had been in the Garden. Food was on the mountain, as it had been in the Garden (Exodus 24:11). But there was also a boundary around the mountain, and anyone who tried to cross it was to be slain by human cherubic guardians (Exodus 19:12). At the foot of the mountain was an altar, which was a doorway to the mountain (Exodus 24).
After the covenant had been made in Exodus 20-24, God gave rules for a new Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting and for a new Communion Site. Each of these is a portable Mount Sinai, and thus each is a form of the Garden of Eden. As such, they are equivalent to one another. The three zones of the Tabernacle complex (Courtyard with the Communion Site, Holy Place with the Table of Facebread, and Holy of Holies with the Ten Words in the Ark) correspond to the three zones of Mount Sinai (communion site below, table for a shared meal midway up, and God’s presence and His law at the top).
The new Communion Site is also Sinai. Old altars were made of stones or earth raised up off the ground as small holy mountains; Ezekiel calls the Communion Site “the mountain of God” (Ezekiel 43:15; see discussion in Through New Eyes). The new bronze Communion Site was a hollow four-sided shell of bronze (Exodus 27:1-8). There was a grating midway up inside the Communion Site, dividing it in half, with horns at its top, signifying mountain peaks. Thus, the lower part of the Communion Site corresponded to the Tabernacle Courtyard, the middle part to the Holy Place, and the top with its horns to the Holy of Holies.
The purpose of the Nearbringings was to enable the adam to get back into the Garden near to God, and from there ascend into God’s throne room, the Holy of Holies, the horned top of the Communion Site. The Garden of Eden itself was positioned on the east side of the land of Eden, between Eden and the world. Thus, the Garden was a middle area, like the Holy Place, like the zone above the grating and below the horns of the Communion Site. To get back into this area, the adam would have to be forgiven and glorified, and restored to his position as palace-servant of God’s garden.
As regards the Tabernacle, the sons of Aaron, the palace-servants, enter the Holy Place as the representatives of the adams. The palace-servants are agents of the High Palace-Servant, who wears the names of the tribes of Israel on his breast and on his shoulders, carrying them with him as memorials before Yahweh when he enters the Holy Place. Into the Holy Place the palace-servants bring oil for the Lampstand, incense for the Incense Communion Site, and bread for the Table of Facebread. As regards the Communion Site, the “perfect” animals enter the middle zone of the Communion Site as representatives of the adams. After the animal enters, the adam is allowed to bring the memorial Tribute (Leviticus 2), which consists of oil, incense, and bread – the adam is allowed to function in a way analogous to the duties of the Aaronic palace-servants.
Just as the Holy Place of the Tabernacle led into the Holy of Holies, where Yahweh’s throne was, so the animal ascends to God after entering the middle zone of the Communion Site.
There is one other dimension of this symbolism that must be addressed before we come to Leviticus 1. The garments of the palace-servants, and particularly those of the High Palace-Servant, were a kind of portable Tabernacle, and thus a portable Sinai and a personal form of the Communion Site. Recall that man is made of earth, and so were the original altars (Exodus 20:24-25). Metal, and thus the bronze Communion Site, is but hard and semi-glorious earth. The coverings of the High Palace-servant were made of the same material as the Tabernacle. On his forehead was a golden flower inscribed “Holy to Yahweh,” corresponding to the Holy of Holies. On his chest was the ephod’s pouch, also corresponding to the Holy of Holies. The rest of his garments similarly mapped out the Tabernacle. His feet had to be washed before he might enter the Tabernacle. Similarly as we shall see, the Nearbringing livestock enter the Garden head-and-chest-first, and their feet must be washed. The fire provides their glory-garments.
The bronze shell of the Communion Site was thus not only surface of the unapproachable Garden, of Sinai, but also the skin of clothing of the adam. Man is made of earth, but man is defiled. The ground, however, is not defiled, but becomes God’s agent to prosecute the curse against man. Man is himself “unholy ground.” Thus, man cannot stand before God’s face. Only “holy ground” can stand before God, so the holy Communion Site takes man’s place.
The blood put on the skin of the Communion Site provides a new skin or covering for the adam. The coverings (garments) of the palace-servants were spattered with blood before they were glistened with glorious oil (liquid light). Just so, the Communion Site as adam is dashed with blood before the fire of glory is stoked up inside it. This is a double-layer of covering, first of blood, and then of glory.
Now this probably seems rather confusing. There are two things going on simultaneously that are actually one thing. On the one hand, the animal provides blood so that the adam can pass the barrier and enter the Garden, and then the animal takes him there by entering the middle zone of the Communion Site. The animal takes the adam to God, as God is considered outside the adam and as someone we need to travel toward.
At the same time, on the basis of the death of the animal, God is considered to be inside the adam, as the Spirit entered the dust when Adam was created. The blood put on the man (on the Communion Site walls) provides justification for the adam. The fire of God’s inner presence is then renewed inside of him (inside the Communion Site). Then he eats (the Communion Site eats) the animal, showing that he accepts what God has provided on his behalf, enjoying a communion meal with God inside himself. The smoke ascends, pleasing to God, for God is pleased when we accept His provisions. Similarly, when Christians eat the body and blood of Christ, showing forth our acceptance of the death of God’s Son to the Father, the Father is pleased and is at peace with us.
This Garden/Sinai/Tabernacle/Communion Site/Palace-servant symbolism is given us in Genesis and Exodus, and must be born in mind if we are to grasp what we read in Leviticus.
James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis.