Read Leviticus 4:27–31. What ritual activities were performed along with the sacrifice?
The goal of the offering was to remove sin and guilt from the sinner, to transfer responsibility to the sanctuary, and to let the sinner leave forgiven and cleansed. (In extremely rare cases one could bring a certain amount of fine flour as a purification offering, and although this purification offering was bloodless, it was understood that “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” [Heb. 9:22, NASB]).
The ritual itself included the laying on of hands, the death of the animal, blood manipulation, the burning of fat, and the eating of the animal’s flesh. The sinner who brought the offering was granted forgiveness, but only after the blood ritual.
A crucial part of this process involved the laying on of hands (Lev. 1:4, 4:4, 16:21). This was done so that the offering “may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf” (Lev. 1:4, NASB). The offering applied only for the one who put his hands on the animal’s head. According to Leviticus 16:21, the laying on of hands would be accompanied by a confession of sin; this would acknowledge the transfer of sin from the sinner to the innocent animal.
The slaughter was, of course, basic to any animal offering. After the animal was killed, the spilled blood was used to make atonement on the altar (Lev. 17:11). Because the sins had been transferred to the animal by the laying on of hands, we should understand the death of the animal as a substitutionary death. The animal died in the place of the sinner. This may explain why the act of killing the animal had to be performed by the sinner, by the guilty one, and not by the priest.
Next time you are tempted to sin, envision Jesus dying on the cross and see yourself putting your hands on His head and confessing your sins over Him. How might this concept, played out in your mind, help you to understand just what it cost in order to be forgiven? How could this idea help you to resist succumbing to that temptation?