Is there anything more adorable than a sweet little lamb? When my daughter Meg was a toddler, my mother brought her a special gift—a soft, cuddly lamb. She named it Leemie, and this stuffed toy became her constant companion day and night. She would drag it along with her blanket, take it on every outing in her stroller, and snuggle with it at night. I can’t begin to count the times Leemie had to take a bath in the washer. Even today, she sits atop pillows in a guest bedroom waiting for Meg when she comes to visit.
Leemie is a very special lamb to our family.
I wonder if God also loved lambs and counted them as special? I think so because He sent His Son, the Lamb of God, to reestablish our relationship with the Father. To understand this, we need to trace it back to the beginning, the Garden of Eden.
The First Atonement
Adam and Eve lived in a perfect world until the serpent deceived them to eat fruit from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. After God discovered the couple hiding, ashamed and covered with fig leaves, God Himself provided clothing to cover their nakedness.
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them ~ Genesis 3:21 NASB.
This act of God required shedding the blood of an innocent animal to cover man’s sins.
I’ve often wondered…why couldn’t God have taken care of forgiving sins in heaven? Why did He have to shed the blood of innocent goats, rams, bulls, and lambs in Old Testament times?
As I pondered this in prayer, God enlightened me with a startling fact. There is no blood in heaven. Heaven is a spiritual place without flesh and blood. When we die, we leave our mortal flesh behind to return to dust as our spirits are released into eternity.
Therefore, since only innocent blood can cover and forgive sins, a sacrifice had to be performed on earth, not in heaven.
Do you recall the story of Abraham and Isaac? Just when Abraham, directed by God, was about to sacrifice his son, the Lord stopped him, saying, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’ ~ Genesis 22:11b-12 NASB.
God’s test was not only about Abraham’s faith but also a foreshadowing of God’s sacrifice of His Son, our Messiah, for the ultimate forgiveness of mankind’s sins many years later.
The Passover Lamb
Fast-forward from Abraham to the Book of Exodus. God used Moses to deliver the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt and establish the everlasting tradition of Passover. It’s interesting to me that the tradition involves every family taking a sweet baby lamb into their house and treating it as a pet before it became their sacrifice. Here are God’s directions:
‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the Lord’s Passover. For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt ~ Exodus 12: 3, 5-7, 11-13 NASB.
Did you realize that lamb’s blood covering the doorposts and lintel is in the shape of a cross? Not only did the lamb’s blood protect each family from God’s judgment, but also the families, standing with sandals on their feet and staffs in their hands, roasted and ate their lamb before fleeing to the Promised Land.
The Law of Atonement
What procedure did God establish in the Old Testament for the forgiveness of sins? God created the Law of Atonement, outlined in Leviticus 16. Once a year, the high priest would take two goats and cast the lot to see which goat God chose to be a sacrifice and which to be a scapegoat. The one died on the altar, and its shed blood atoned for the sins of the people from the previous year. Here’s what happened to the live goat:
‘When he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat. Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness’ ~ Leviticus 16:20-22 NASB.
Barred from the camp, the scapegoat wandered in the wilderness until it starved and died, and with it, all of Israel’s sins.
The lamb, along with goats and other sacrificial animals, is central throughout the Old Testament, beginning in the Garden of Eden and continuing with the Laws of the Mosaic Covenant.
Have you ever wondered…
How does Passover relate to the Cross of Christ?
Why don’t we sacrifice animals for the forgiveness of sins now?
How did God establish His New Covenant through Christ?
Where is the Lamb in Revelation?
We’ll explore these answers in the next post of The Lamb of God in the New Testament.
Until then…be blessed!