Too often we paint the Law of Moses in caricature. The caricature is of an onerous rulebook whose subjects must unthinkingly check all the boxes. We key in on the most bizarre passages from Leviticus (no mixed fiber clothing or shellfish!), only drawing the conclusion, “this is weird stuff.” We imagine a stream of mandated sacrifices grudgingly offered by people afraid of what God might do if they stop.
To be clear, the Law of Moses is obsolete. We are righteous apart from this Law (Rom 3). Jesus is the preeminent lawgiver, not Moses (Heb 3). Paul warned those who sought to return to this Law that they would fall from grace and be severed from Christ (Gal 5:4). Yet we cheat ourselves when our appreciation of the Law of Moses goes no deeper than caricature.
Set our caricatures against the peace offering. Also known as the fellowship offering, it was to be an unblemished herd animal sacrificed at the altar, blood sprinkled on the altar, the fat portions burned to God, and the remaining eaten by the worshipper and priest (see Lev 3)—nothing unusual yet. But there was no mandated time or occasion for the peace offering. It did not have anything to do with atoning for sin. There was not even a command to do it! When was the peace offering made? When a person spontaneously wanted to sacrifice and worship God. The Law didn’t mandate the peace offering—it merely laid out the procedure for the worshipper who wanted to draw closer to God, give thanks, or rededicate themselves.
Against the caricature stands Joshua, who made peace offerings as a sign that Israel had renewed its covenant with God (Josh 8:31). An overjoyed David made peace offerings at the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Israel (2 Sam 6:17). David also penitently made peace offerings to avert the plague after his sinful census (2 Sam 24:25). During his righteous days, Solomon made peace offerings three times each year (1 Kings 9:25). They didn’t have to make the peace offering. Yet these godly men saw great value in “unnecessary” sacrifices and worship.
Even under a covenant that was laden with rules meant to school God’s people on sin and holiness, God included an offering that was not required. Why? Because God has never wanted phrases like “Do I have to?” to be in his peoples’ vocabulary. He has always imagined a people who love him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and desire Him more than anything else. Making “unnecessary” sacrifices is always worth it if it means drawing closer to God.