As I blog through Dr. Jim Hamilton’s momentous and memorable biblical theology called God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, I come to an important explanation focused on the sacrifices of the Old Testament Levitical system. The OT sacrifices, and how they relate to us as New Testament believers, is something I have often wrestled with and, in some respects, continue to wrestle with. This excerpt from Hamilton’s book is very helpful:
The substitution seen in both the sacrifice of the ram in place of Isaac and the Passover lamb in place of the firstborn of Israel is also reiterated in the Levitical system. Wenham writes, “In some degree substitution seems to form part of the theology of all the sacrifices.” The worshiper places his hand on the head of the sacrificial animal (e.g., Lev. 1:4). The description of the Day of Atonement ritual in Leviticus 16 adds that when the high priest places his hands on the head of the animal, he is to confess the sins of the people over the animal (16:21), and this seems to make explicit what is implicit elsewhere. As Wenham writes, “In sacrifice it appears that the worshiper identifies himself with the animal he offers. What he does to the animal, he does symbolically to himself. The death of the animal portrays the death of himself.” The substitute is judged on behalf of the worshiper. The transfer of guilt from the worshiper to the sacrificial beast, and then the death of the beast, cleanses the worshiper of sin. The blood of the beast atones for the soul of the worshiper (Lev. 17:11). Kiuchi writes, “The offerer is viewed as the object of the Lord’s wrath to varying the degrees, and the offerings symbolize the offer appeasing the Lord’s wrath.” The worshipers are saved by faith through the judgment that falls on the sacrifice. God is glorified in salvation through judgment. (110-1)
This passage not only helps support Hamilton’s premise that the central and unifying theme of the Bible is God’s glory in salvation through judgment, but it is also crucial for understanding the sacrifice that Christ made on Calvary. The Levitical sacrifices are a shadow of Christ’s sacrifices and they point to the Son of God becoming our substitute and propitiating God’s wrath and cleansing us from sin. As God’s elect, he identifies us with himself in his sacrifice; he, as our substitute, is judged on our behalf.
These types of discussions are imperative if we are to understand the concept of penal substitution and Hamilton’s elucidating of the OT sacrifices is a welcome voice.