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Sacrifice and Atonement

This is second installment in our series on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  There will be 8 total to support our Lamp Lighters program this quarter.  Specifically, we have gotten feedback that we need to improve lamp lighters for older kids.  These topical guides serve to connect with older kids by driving discussions of the various Lamp Lighters topics into the family.  We are going to put out one for each of the 8 pages of materials that we distributed this quarter. 

This article will focus on the ideas of Sacrifice and Atonement, which are found on the second page of lamp lighters for Year 1, Quarter 3.    

We want you to slowly read through this material and refer back to it throughout the coming weeks and bring it up in discussion with your family in the car or while waiting in line at the DMV.  Pause the soundtrack to “The Greatest Showman/Hamilton" for fifteen minutes while you discuss what ‘atonement’ means.  Talk about these ideas.  Are some of the ideas challenging? Do you agree with all these points? What are the scriptures saying to you during this important time? 


We first must divorce this concept from our cultural ideas of sacrifice. The prevailing cultural attitude toward sacrifice aligns much more closely to non-Israelite, ancient near-eastern neighbors, than to the views found in scripture.

What does it mean when I say, “I am making huge sacrifices so my kids can go to college?”

Normally this means that I am paying some sort of cost, perhaps enduring something unpleasant, forking over large sums of money, putting in lots of time and effort for something in the future.  We don’t kill animals, but our culture still talks about sacrificing other commodities that are available to us.  The prime idea that sits behind our cultural notions of sacrifice is, “you sacrifice something valuable now to have greater returns later.”

If we are not careful, we will import these ideas into the Bible, where they absolutely do not belong.

There is no doubt that almost all cultures throughout time view sacrifice in this manner.  Sacrifices were usually demanded by the gods. Most creation stories from Israel’s neighbors include stories about the gods creating people to serve their needs; they need food, shelter, and worship.  You would offer sacrifices to please and serve the gods of your city or nation.  This would put you in their favor, then you could count on them to back you up when you needed help from a god.  For good measure, most people-groups would diversify their investments.  Don’t put all your chips in one basket, but spread around the sacrifices; who knows, you might need more than one god to protect your city when the Assyrians come, right?

A comprehensive reading of scripture will help you understand that God does not operate this way. Sacrifices are not something that God needs, and therefore demands so that he is happy.  Sacrifices, rather, are a way that God worked with the Israelites within their ancient context to bring them to the realization that they could never offer, give, sacrifice enough to ‘get right’ with God.

God doesn’t need their gifts, because God is in absolute control, he owns “the cattle on a thousand hills”. Through the narrative and poetry of the Old Testament, the authors are clearly communicating that the sacrificial system isn’t for God, but for humans.  God desired to be with the Israelites in spite of their broken, sinful state.  Sacrifice was a constant reminder of this brokenness.  It was a costly, physical sign that God had condescended to come to dwell in their midst at the Tabernacle and later the Temple. 


  1. What do people mean when they talk about sacrificing things in our cultural context?

  2. What do people think of when you talk about ancient sacrifice?

  3. Is there a difference between how they think about sacrifice in that context and ours?

  4. How can the Bible’s stories about sacrifice reshape the way we view this idea?

  5. How would a different view of sacrifice change the way you thought and acted in your own life toward God and others?


  • Do you ask your children to make sacrifices with regard to school, church, or sports?

  • What are the differences in how we should discuss sacrifice in the scriptures and in our culture?


I’ve heard several classes and sermons discussing how atonement is what makes God and man ‘at one’, which is true and exactly the purpose of this concept.  Let’s think deeply about how this process works as well.  The idea of Biblical atonement is to ‘cover’.  If someone has a debt that you cover, then they no longer owe that debt because it is something you has been paid for.

Many people have a picture in their mind of an angry God who wants them dead because of their sin, whose wrath is satisfied because of a sacrifice.  The Bible provides a different picture, though.  God loves us and desires to be with us so much that he provided a means to atone or cover sin to approach God. 

The atonement of the law differs from what Christ’s sacrifice accomplished. In Hebrews 8-10, the author makes it clear that the sacrifices offered by Israel were a shadow of the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice.  They were an unclear image of what Christ was going to do on the cross.

The atonement of the blood of animals offered a temporary cleansing for a few people, but needed to be done over and over, keeping the people’s sins ever before them.

The atonement accomplished by Christ, though, was of a better nature. The author in Hebrews claims that it accomplished the purification of sins for all time, for everyone who would take Christ as their better sacrifice. 


  1. If you realized you had sinned under the old covenant, what would you need to do to make your relationship right with God and your community? (Leviticus 4, 5)

  2. If you wanted to praise God for the blessings he had given you throughout the year, what would the right action be? (Leviticus 7:9-14)

  3. How does Jesus’ sacrifice change the way God deals with our sin?

  4. How is the old covenant a shadow of a newer and better covenant?

  5. How does the new covenant change the way we approach God and others?


If you go out to lunch with someone, and the bill comes, and you reach into your pocket, pull out your wallet and tell them, “I’ve got you covered,” you are using the same idea as atonement. 

  •           What would it look like to continually ask to be covered?

  •           What is the cost of asking Jesus to cover you forever and remove all guilt and debts? (Romans 6:1-4)

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