The central truth in the Mosaic dispensation was the doctrine of the Messiah, the Christ, as it is in the new dispensation, the Gospel. Hence Nephi: We talk of, we rejoice in, we preach and prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies for the instruction of our children concerning to what Source “they may look for a remission of their sins.”
From this point of view we may regard the Old and New covenants as grades of the same school, the second being the more advanced of the two. Or, we may say that the Law is the Gospel foreshadowed, promised, and that the Gospel is the Law substantiated, realized, fulfilled.
The tabernacle (and, later, the temple) with its dividing veil, furniture and Glory of the Lord, represented the entire universe, visible and invisible, and was the palace of the King, the center of the divine government.
The sacrifices were the visible representations of the first and chief principle of true religion and worship, the doctrine of the atonement. They were impressive lessons on the holiness, Fatherly love, justice, and responsibility of God in the government of his children; and of the obligations of man to him, as members of his household.
The festivals, weekly, monthly, yearly and cyclic, were further reminders of the duty to serve God by taking care of his children. They were sermons on true worship, as expressed in human fellowship and brotherly love. (See 1 John 3:14-28)
The education furnished by these two grades, is necessary for the advancement of man to the next dispensation—the Millennial reign of the Son of God on earth.
But although the Law and the Gospel are parts of the same divine educational system, and therefore one, they present marked differences. It is the differences between Moses and Jesus, Sinai and Calvary; or, the destructive forces of nature that passed before Elijah at Mt. Horeb, and the still small voice in which the prophet immediately recognized the presence of God. (I Kings 19:9-18)
A more detailed review of the Mosaic dispensation may be offered here.
The Tabernacle. This was the temple of Israel in the wilderness, the sanctuary of Jehovah, as their God, and his palace as their King. Here he dwelt, here he manifested himself. It was a rectangular structure, representing heaven in the “holy of holies,” and earth in the “holy place.” (Ex. 25)
The Temple. Later, the temple of Solomon was built according to the same pattern. It was similarly furnished, and, in addition, it had a great baptismal font resting on twelve oxen of copper. This was placed in the court of the priests “on the right side of the east end, over against the south,” near the altar of burnt offering.
The Priests. All the priests were the descendants of Levi, and they were all devoted to the public service. (Num. 4:1-20) During the reign of David they were divided into three divisions, of which one assisted the priests, another furnished the singing and music, and the third acted as porters and guards of the temple.
Sacrifices formed one of the chief parts of the divine service under the Mosaic Law. From the vegetable kingdom were offered flour, cakes, parched corn, frankincense, and wine for drink offering. The animals offered were oxen, sheep, goats, and, in some cases, doves, but never fishes. Human sacrifices were expressly forbidden. (20-25)
Sacrifices were either an expression of gratitude for blessings received, or an expiation for sin. There were, therefore, thank-offerings, sin- or trespass offerings and burnt-offerings. The latter were offered in atonement for sin in general. They were consumed by fire and were presented daily. Sin-offerings were atoning for sins of commission, and trespass-offerings for sins of omission. (1 Cor. 10:18) Sacrifices for special favors were called “sacrifices of praise.”
By all this shedding of blood, God impressed upon the minds of the people his abhorrence of sin and his demand for holiness in his worshipers.
The Festivals of the Mosaic dispensation were equally significant. The weekly Sabbath—one day of every seven—was devoted to rest, worship and instruction. (Lev. 23:33-37)
The Day of Atonement. The tenth day of this month was the day of Atonement, which was a day of fasting and confession of sins. It was on this day that the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the atoning blood before the Lord. (Lev. 23:26-32)
The Sabbath Year and Year of Jubilee. Every seventh year was a sabbath year, a year of rest, as every seventh day of the week was a day of rest. (Lev. 25:8-17)
Double Sabbaths. The weekly Sabbaths were similarly arranged. Once a year two Sabbaths came together, the 49th and the 50th day after the first offering of the first fruit of the harvest as a wave offering. The harvest was then completed, and bread made of the new flour, as well as new grain, were offered as a second first fruit. Many burnt offerings were also presented at this time. This festival was the “feast of weeks,” also called Pentecost. (Lev. 23:15-21)