Evidence #115 | November 26, 2020

Lehi's Sacrifices

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The types of animal sacrifices that Lehi’s family offered on separate occasions indicate they understood the ancient Israelite laws and customs governing different sacrificial activities.

Peace Offerings

The peace offering, or well-being offering (Leviticus 3:1–17), may have been the most common sacrifice for ancient Israelites. In this offering, an animal taken from the flock or herd was slain, appropriate parts were offered to God upon the altar, and the remainder was eaten in a family meal in fellowship with God. Motivation for this form of sacrifice could be the fulfilment of a vow or a spontaneous expression of joy or thanksgiving. Reasons to give thanks could include deliverance from captivity, danger, sickness, misfortune, or the completion of a safe journey across the desert or the sea.1

Priests preparing offerings. Image via blogs.bible.org

For most Israelites, such occasions were rare, “for only kings and aristocrats could afford the depletion of flocks. For the commoner, the occasion had to be a celebration—and because meat was probably too much for the nuclear family, it had to be a household or even a clan celebration—hence the joyous character of the sacrifice.”2

These circumstances nicely fit the first instance of Lehi offering sacrifice in the wilderness. After establishing a camp at the valley of Lemuel, “he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God” (1 Nephi 2:7). Lehi had been obedient to the Lord’s commandments to preach and depart from the land, and he had been delivered from those who had sought his life (1 Nephi 1:20). The Lord had also protected his family on their wilderness journey and had provided a suitable location for their camp. This offering was clearly a peace offering of thanks.

Burnt Offerings

On two subsequent occasions, however, Lehi’s family offered “sacrifice and burnt offerings” (1 Nephi 5:9; 7:22; emphasis added). What was the need for an additional sacrifice? In contrast to the peace offering, the ola or burnt offering was not eaten, but was entirely consumed by fire on the altar and was needed to atone for sin (Leviticus 1:1–16). As one biblical scholar explains, “Only after the head of the family had made expiation for his own sins and for those of his family, rendering himself and his family acceptable before God, were they in a position to enjoy a festive meal.”3 When transgression had been committed, the burnt offering was a foundational prerequisite to reconciliation between family and God, after which peace and rejoicing could be restored.

This, again, is consistent with the circumstances described by Nephi after they returned from successful missions to obtain the plates and bring back Ishmael and his family. During their mission to obtain the plates, Lehi’s sons had been protected from the dangerous and crafty Laban and had indeed obtained the records. But Laman and Lemuel had also murmured, violently abused their brothers, and had only been stopped through the intervention of an angel of the Lord (1 Nephi 3:28–31; 4:4).

During the second mission, after Ishmael and his family joined Lehi’s sons in the wilderness, there was further murmuring and outright rebellion against the divine command to leave Jerusalem. When reproved, Nephi’s brothers had bound him and attempted to leave him to be devoured by wild beasts (1 Nephi 7:6–19). Afterward, the brothers repented, confessed, and asked Nephi’s forgiveness (1 Nephi 7:20–21).

In both cases, the family was delivered from danger, able to accomplish their divine objective, and protected on their journey to and from Jerusalem, thus providing justification for their offering of “sacrifice” (presumably a peace offering). However, the actions from some family members on these journeys apparently required a burnt offering before peace could be fully restored. Hence, they offered “sacrifice and burnt offerings” on both occasions (1 Nephi 5:9; 7:22).

Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

Conclusion

In each of these three cases, the actions of Lehi and his family are consistent with the rules and customs governing ancient Israelite sacrifices. As summarized by S. Kent Brown,

When Lehi “made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks” (1 Ne. 2:7; also 5:9; 7:22), he was sacrificing a peace offering which served as a thanksgiving for safety in travel, whether for oneself or for others. In each instance, members of the family had safely completed a long journey. When he offered “burnt offerings unto the Lord” (5:9; also 7:22), Lehi was bringing to the altar sacrifices that would atone for sin, sin that would stain the camp and those within it. And in each case, one can readily detect sin in the prior behavior of family members, whether it took the form of complaining, family jousts, or the taking of human life.4 

The consistencies and nuanced differences involved in these sacrifices, which can easily be missed in a casual reading of the text, add another touch of authenticity to the Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon Central, “What Sacrifices did Lehi Offer to God in the Wilderness? (1 Nephi 7:22),” KnoWhy 545 (January 9, 2020).

Book of Mormon Central, “How Could Lehi Offer Sacrifices Outside Jerusalem? (1 Nephi 7:22),” KnoWhy 9 (January 12, 2016).

S. Kent Brown, “What Were Those Sacrifices Offered By Lehi?” in From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1998), 1–8.

1 Nephi 2:71 Nephi 5:91 Nephi 7:21–22

1 Nephi 2:7

1 Nephi 5:9

1 Nephi 7:21–22

  • 1 See Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16 (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1991), 218–219, 413. The todah “was particularly appropriate for expressing gratitude over one’s deliverance from danger or misfortune.” Baruch A. Levine, In the Presence of the Lord: A Study of Cult and Some Cultic Terms in Ancient Israel (Leiden: Brill, 1974), 43.
  • 2 Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 221.
  • 3 John E. Hartley, Leviticus (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1992), 39.
  • 4 S. Kent Brown, “What Were Those Sacrifices Offered By Lehi?” in From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1998), 6.
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Customs and Ceremonies
Lehi's Sacrifices
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