Last week I described how the layout and structure of the tabernacle communicated a particular transcendent theology of worship. Even the order of the sacrifices pictures this. God gave specific instructions concerning sacrifices to him:
An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it. (Exod 20:24–26)
Worshipers would begin with the Sin Offering (Lev 4:1–5:13, 6:24–30, symbolizing the substitution necessary for atonement. When a sin offering was made, the worshiper would place one hand on the head of the animal and make confession of his sin while he killed the animal with his other hand. Part of the blood from that animal would be sprinkled on the veil and on the altar of incense in the Holy Place.
Worshipers would progress next to the Guilt Offering (Lev 5:15–6:7, 7:1–6), by which their communion with others against whom they had sinned would be restored through some sort of reparation before the offering was made.
They would next offer a Burnt Offering (Lev 1, 6:8–13), which would be wholly consumed, symbolizing the totality of dedication of one’s life to God’s service. These three offerings provided atonement by which sinners were enabled to enter restored communion with God.
A worshiper may also voluntarily offer a Grain Offering of flour (Lev 2) as an expression of thanksgiving for what God had done. After a handful of this offering was burnt on the altar, the rest would be given to the priests for food.
Finally would be the Peace Offering (Lev 3, 7:11–36), which did not gain the worshiper peace—that had already been gained through the atoning sacrifices. Rather, the Peace offering was a celebration of peace already established, and it would often conclude with the worshiper eating part of what had been offered, again picturing free and open communion with God.
Thus, the order of worship in the temple could be summarized this way:
God reveals himself and calls his people to worship (Temple entrance)
God’s people acknowledge and confess their need for forgiveness (Sin, Guilt, and Burnt Offerings)
God provides atonement
God speaks his Word (reading of the Law)
God’s people respond with commitment (Grain Offering)
God hosts a celebratory feast (Peace Offering)