1 Nephi 2:7 — LeGrand Baker — Lehi’s Sacrificial Offering

1 Nephi 2:7 

7. And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.

The altar would have been from stones conveniently lying about, probably smooth stones from a stream bed. The Lord had instructed Moses that the altar he built was to be made of stones that had not been cut or shaped by man (Exodus 20:24-26).

There was a difference between an offering that is a sacrifice and a burnt offering. Under the law of Moses a burnt offering was something that was entirely lost to its owner – something that was given up and completely consumed by fire. Each morning and evening, at the Temple, an animal was slaughtered, skinned, cleaned, and quartered. The parts were heavily salted,{1} then placed on the fire atop the great altar in the Temple precinct. There, the entire animal was burned. Also, on special occasions, the Israelites offered burnt offerings to the Lord, when the entire animal was burned up by the fire (cf. Leviticus 1:3-9).

Sacrifices were not at all like that. In the scriptures, to sacrifice does not mean to lose something or to give it up. The word sacrifice comes from the same root as sacred, sacral, and sacrament. It means to set something apart and to make it sacred—to move it from the realm of the profane to that of the holy. Sacrifice itself comes from the Latin sacrificere, “to make sacred.” A thing that is sacrificed is sanctified. In 3 Nephi when the Savior spoke out of the darkness, he instructed the Nephites that they were no longer to make blood offerings or sacrifices but rather that their sacrifice should be a broken heart and contrite spirit. What that meant was that they were to sanctify their hearts and their spirits so that they would become holy and without blemish.

In our time, we are required to make only two sacrifices: The one that is the same for each of us is tithing. Unlike a fast offerings—which is somewhat like a burnt offering, that is, something that we give away—tithing is, in the most classical sense, a true sacrificial offering. We do not give it up. Rather, we set it aside, sanctify it, make it holy, dedicate it to be used for sacred purposes. Thus tithing is the only universal, tangible sacrifice we are all required to make.

The other sacrifice that is required of each of us is not a thing, but our whole selves—not to give up our lives but to sanctify our lives—to make sacred all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do. If we understand what that means, then that sacrifice is as individualistic as our callings and circumstances are different. However, in the end it is the same for each of us: To sanctify ourselves with a broken heart and contrite spirit in order that we may come to where the Savior is.

The psalms teach that. So Lehi and his family understood it. Nevertheless, they were also under the Law of Moses, so it was appropriate that when they crossed the river (analogous to the children of Israel’s crossing Jordan) they built an altar and sacrificed to the Lord. We are not told the exact nature of their sacrifice, but it may have had one or a combination of meanings. It may have been an expression of thanks, of re-commitment, or of rejoicing, but it was probably all three.

The sacrifice Lehi probably made was a peace offering Leviticus 7:11-16). Under the Law of Moses, such sacrifices were to be performed in the following manner: The animal was killed and cleaned, then only a portion of its blood and fat were sprinkled upon the fire, but the entire animal was not burned. Rather, the Law required that the sacrificial animal must be entirely eaten that same day, or the next. When made for thanksgiving, the persons also brought to the table bread and wine. This is what some scholars call the sacred temple feast. It was an ordinance celebrating the unity of God and his children, and would have been the most appropriate sacrifice for Lehi and his family at that time.{2}

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FOOTNOTES

{1} See Baker, “What does it mean to be the ‘salt of the earth’?” Ensign, April 1999, 53-54.

{2} See: Leviticus 7:11-16, 19:5-10, 22:29-30; Deuteronomy 27:4-7; 2 Chronicles 29:27-32; and Jeremiah 17:24-27.

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