Useful Bible Studies > Hebrews Commentary > chapter 5

Why did priests make sacrifices?

Hebrews 5:3

This was, at the same time, the best and the worst thing about Israelís priests.

Like everyone else, the people were sinners. That is, they had done many bad and wrong things against Godís law.

They had no right as sinners to stand in front of God. And they had no right even to offer their own gifts to God.

So God appointed priests to do these things for them. But the priests were themselves sinners! They were unfit for the purpose!

God had a simple solution for this problem. Before the chief priest offered his special sacrifice for the people, he must do the same for himself. (Compare Leviticus 16:11 and Leviticus 16:15).

These sacrifices were gifts of animals to God. Sinners deserve to die (Romans 6:23). But God accepted the death of the animal, instead of the person who gave it. It showed how Jesus would die on behalf of sinners. He died so that we can live.

Israelís sacrifices were both important and necessary. When people gave them with proper attitudes, they showed various things:

(1) They confessed that they were sinners. They had done many wrong and evil things.

(2) They declared that God was right. He knew about their wrong deeds. They deserved his punishment. But God was very kind. He accepted the sacrifice and he forgave.

(3) They declared that they could not save themselves. Only God could save them. So they depended completely on him.

(4) They showed faith. That is, they showed active belief and trust in Godís promises. They trusted that, one day, God would act to save them. He would free them from the evil forces that had made them sinners. He would rescue them from every evil thing. God did this by the perfect sacrifice Ė the death of Christ.

The greatest honour

Hebrews 5:4

The chief priests were sinners, as all people are. That is, they have done many wrong and evil things against Godís law.

Only the chief priests ever entered Godís most holy place. The author of Hebrews calls this an Ďhonourí. But it is a terrible thing for a sinner to enter such a holy place. It is a terrible thing to be in the place where God is present.

Aaron realised this soon after he became Israelís first chief priest. Two of his sons died because they carried out an unholy act in front of God (Leviticus chapter 10). And the two sons of Eli, a later chief priest, also died because of their wicked deeds (1 Samuel 2:12-36). God is holy, so his priests must be holy, too.

But it is still an honour to serve God. It is an honour to stand in front of God. In fact, it is the greatest honour that anyone could ever receive. People have known this since the beginning. They have always been jealous of people who have a special relationship with God. And they have tried to get this honour for themselves.

This was the reason why Korah opposed Moses and Aaron. Korah tried to force God to accept him as a priest. It was a terrible and foolish thing to do. He, and the men with him, died in a strange and unnatural manner (See Numbers chapter 16).

King Saul, too, tried to act as a priest. He offered animals to God by fire, because he was afraid of his enemies. His actions were foolish, and they were against Godís law. For that reason, God decided that the rule of Saulís family would not last. And God would give the country to a new king who genuinely loved him (1 Samuel chapter 13).

But there was even a good king, called Uzziah, who tried to act as a priest. He entered Godís house in order to carry out one of the priestsí tasks. Proud attitudes were the cause of his actions. The result was that he became ill immediately. He suffered a skin disease for the rest of his life (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).

So only God could appoint someone to be the chief priest. It was God who chose Aaronís family to be Israelís priests. And God appointed Christ to be our priest too, as we shall see in the next verse.

Next part: How Jesus became our chief priest (Hebrews 5:5-6)


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© 2014, Keith Simons.