But, most Christians are surprised to learn that the people of Israel were never required to offer sacrifices of any kind. In Leviticus 1:3, we're told as plain as can be written, that the person offering a sacrifice to God does so of his own free will. The people of Israel weren't “commanded” to bring their offerings to the Temple. They were invited. In fact, later, in both Isaiah and Jeremiah (still under the Old Covenant by anyone's definition), God, through the prophet, says, “Don't bother.”
The sacrifices offered (in most cases, more of a community BBQ than a ritual oblation) were intended as a celebration of the intimate relationship between God and man. His people were invited to share in fellowship, thanksgiving, commitment, and reconciliation. The differing sacrifices represent the different confessions we, as believers, bring to the awesome and loving God. From a Judaic tradition, the sacrifices actually represent prayer.
In Hebrew, the book of Leviticus is titled Veyikra. It means, “And He called,” describing how God spoke to Moses, when He was giving the instructions we find in the book of Leviticus. The first five chapters of the book tell Moses how the people of Israel are invited to participate in this sacrificial system: a system that is spoken of in terms of intimacy, reconciliation, hope, and trust.
In chapter 6, when the priests are given their role, re-iterating again the same process that had just been described, God uses the word, “Tzav.” “Command the priests,” there is no option of neglect or negotiation. While the people of Israel are spoken to in gracious and inviting terms, the priests are commanded: be available, be prepared, follow these instructions in perfect detail.
The tone of the reading makes perfect sense. These people are coming to the Tabernacle to worship because they want to. What if the priest doesn't want to? I mean, he's not the one who was blessed with the birth of a son, or an abundant crop, or reconciliation with a neighbor, or getting back on track in his relationship with God. How easy would it be for the priest to cut a few corners, maybe even go through the motions with a half-hearted, mind-wandering, lackadaisical, mish mosh?
The word, “Tzav,” says that's not going to be an option.
Peter wrote to the “strangers”, the perepidemos or resident alien (non-Jewish) believers who were scattered throughout Asia, in his letter known as 1st Peter. He describes them as, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light: which in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but has now obtained mercy.”
In Exodus 19:6, Israel was described as a nation of priests. Though the nation had a priesthood in the Tribe of Levi, the entire duty of the culture of Israel was to represent the character of God to the world that so needed His love. Peter, recognizing the role that the gentiles play, as prophesied in Deuteronomy 32:21, “that a people who are not a people will move Israel to jealousy” for their relationship with God: that we can be a kingdom of priests, though we are not of the house of Jacob, without being Jewish.
So, the word “tzav” applies to us. It does not command us in regard to the rituals we must perform on our own behalf. We are invited, like everyone, to bring our free-will offerings of prayer and our sacrifices of praise the altar of our heart. But, when it comes to others, we are commanded to be available, to be prepared to give an answer to everyone the hope that lies within us.