Monday, January 12, 2009

Leviticus 1:1-17


The first sacrifice that the Lord describes to Moses is the burnt offering. Moses and the Israelites have just completed the tabernacle preparations, diligently watching to follow every detail. The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle and then the Lord called to Moses. The Lord then instructs Moses as to the objects offered in the burnt offering and the procedure for each offering. Though the text does not specifically mention the motive (nor frequency) of the burnt offering, we do see the same result...a soothing aroma to the Lord.

However, Moses isn't here. The glory of the Lord has not filled our church like a cloud. We don't have a tabernacle and certainly are not offering bulls, goats, lambs or turtledoves on an altar. We live in a different era, a different location and have a different expression of worship.

Is there really anything we can learn?


v 1
As Moses stands at the entry way of the Tent of Meeting--unable to enter due to the cloud of the Lord's presence--the word of the Lord is spoken. God begins His instruction. (For more detail, see this post.)

v 2
This instruction was not meant for Moses alone. Immediately, God reminds Moses that He is revealing His will so that Moses can now instruct the people. Though verse 2 does not introduce the term "burnt offering," clearly God is speaking to Moses already about it. This cannot be a overall statement that every offering must be from the flock or herd, for we will soon be introduced to the grain offering. However, we are reminded that the man it to bring His offering. Contrary to the disobedient practice we see throughout Israel's history, God was not interested in His people offering sacrifices wherever they chose. He desired that their offering be brought to His tabernacle, constructed to His design.

v 3
At this point, the "burnt offering" is officially introduced. A man will bring his offering forward, which will be a male without defect. The man offering the sacrifice certainly speaks to the patriarchal system, that a father would take headship of his home. The father is responsible to direct people to the Heavenly Father. As the offering is also male without defect, there is certainly nowhere else someone should look than the Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. He must follow these instructions to be accepted before the Lord.

v 4
The man lays his hands on the head of the offering. The text explains that this is necessary to make atonement for the man (and his family). Placing his hands on the animal's head show the symbolic transfer of the sin and guilt to the animal. The weight pressed upon the animal is similar to the yoke our own sin forces us to carry unless transfered to another on our behalf.

v 5
Next the man must slaughter his sacrifice. It is important to see his involvement in the death and bloodiness of the sacrifice. Many imagine the sacrificial system without seeing the gravity. The man would not simply bring an animal to the tabernacle, lay his hands on it, hand it over to the priests and walk away. Upon pressing down upon the animal, the man is then expected to slaughter the animal himself. The priests then immediately collect the blood and sprinkle it around the altar and the doorway of the Tent of Meeting.

v 6
Next, the man must skin the bull and cut it into pieces. Again, he is involved in all of the mess and death of the process. Blood would be seen, felt and smelt by the man.

v 7
But the man would not approach the altar. The priests would be in charge of arranging the wood and tending to the fire on the altar.

v 8
Then Aaron's sons, the priests, would arrange the pieces, placing the head and the fat from the kidneys/loins upon the altar.

v 9
However, all pieces of the bull were not offered on the altar at once. The man would then wash the legs and intestines with water. If the sacrifice was to be a male without defect, then certainly it would need to be clean as well. God would not want waste and dirt to be placed upon His altar. Therefore, the man must wash each of these things off, being sure to provide a clean offering.

Once clean, the sacrifice would be handed to the priests who would offer it on the altar. Perhaps suggesting the amount of water that may have been used, the sacrifice would be offered up in the smoke.

This would then provide a soothing aroma to the Lord. This is not simply a response to the odor of the offering, but more importantly, to the satisfaction of the offering to God.

v 10-13
If a man chooses not to offer a bull, he is allowed to offer a goat or sheep. The offering looks almost identical in function, except that the goat/sheep is slaughtered on the northward side of the altar instead of the toward the doorway. However, it is an acceptable offering for it results in a soothing aroma to the Lord.

v 14-17
Yet, a man can offer a turtledove or a young pigeon as well. There are visible parallels to the other sacrifices, but since it's a bird, it must have some adjustments. Rather than slaying the animal, the priest must wring the birds head off and drain the blood. Similar to removing the entrails and it and the legs, the man must then remove the crop and feathers. And instead of cutting the animal into pieces, the bird is torn by the wings, but not severed.


The Reason for the Burnt Offering

As the book of Leviticus opens up, God gives Moses specific instructions for an offering, but does not express the specific purpose. However, we can see other burnt offerings in the Scriptures that give us an idea. After Noah and his family depart from the ark, Noah then builds an altar to the LORD (Genesis 8:1-22). He then offers burnt offerings from the clean animals and clean birds unto the LORD. Certainly, Noah is offering his gift in thanksgiving for protection and survival. Since the flood was an outpouring of God's wrath upon the earth, it is also reasonable to assume Noah is offering the sacrifice for atonement; to acknowledge that the punishment of God had been poured out. This would also be an acknowledgement by Noah that he had averted that punishment only by the gracious working of God.

In similar fashion, Psalm 66 presents the context for a burnt offering. The attitude is clearly that of thanksgiving. The offerer is not coming because he has to but because he wants to. As the psalmist progresses through the song, he shows that his thanksgiving is specifically found in the deliverance of God. Just like with Noah, the psalmist acknowledges the parting of the Red Sea. He then uses that imagery to express God's sovereign deliverance to His people in the midst of their trials.

The Elements of the Burnt Offering

When we understand the motive for the burnt offering, then we better understand the distinctions between the animals sacrificed. The burnt offering was a costly offering, since every portion but the skin was devoured in the fire. In other sacrifices, the offer kept a portion of the sacrifice or gave a portion to the priests. However, in the burnt offering, it would be completely consumed.

It appears that God offers three particular types of sacrifices, each in descending order of value. The bull would be the most costly of sacrifices an Israelite could offer. Not only would it be the largest animal, but it would also be the least plentiful. Next in value would come the sheep/goat, as much of Israel's economy was built around shepherding. This sacrifice would be costly, but not as costly as a bull. Finally, for those who could not make an offering from the herd or flock, they were able to offer a turtledove or young pigeon. While the burnt offering would be costly, God gives a graduated scale for the offering, to keep it from being a crippling sacrifice. If one can afford to offer a bull, it is available for a burnt offering. However, a sheep/goat is available to the one who can afford it. And if neither is affordable, a person also can offer a turtledove or pigeon.

But what would motivate a person to give a bull instead of a pigeon or turtledove? To examine the true attitude of a burnt offering, we must see all the elements together. God does not demand when or under what circumstances a burnt offering must be given. God does not lay out financial perimeters for which gift must be given. The burnt offering was to be an expression of thanksgiving to God, particularly in light of His deliverance provided. The proper attitude of the sacrifice is not to ask, "How little can I get away with?" but to ask, "How can I best express my gratitude to God for His deliverance?"


We do not need to let culture, history or tradition get in the way from seeing the relevance of Leviticus. Christ is exalted in multiple ways. The sacrifice must be a male without blemish...clearly an illustration of Christ, Our Spotless Lamb who takes away our sins. The man offering his sacrifice would place his hand upon the head of the offering, to point to the atonement that would come through Christ Jesus. Even the result, as the sacrifice was a pleasing aroma to the Lord should direct the reader to remember God's satisfaction of the sacrifice of Christ. But even the attitude of the offerer can reflect the attitude of Christ.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.--2 Corinthians 8:9
When we consider the work of Christ, we see the perfect attitude toward selfless giving. Paul instructs that Jesus gave up all of His riches for our sakes and became poor. This is not merely a reference to the majestic glory and privileges in heaven. This is also a reference to His perfect, unified relationship with the Godhead. Jesus enjoyed the splendor of perfect relationship between God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Himself. However, when Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" His cry expresses the reality of ultimate poverty. He was separated from God has He bore our sin upont Himself.

And why would He do this? So that we might become rich. This is no reference to our financial standing, for the gospel is not intended as a way to grow one's "portfolio." The relationship between His poverty and riches is the same as ours. His poverty was experienced in a relationship severed between He and His Father, our riches are found in the establishment of that relationship, based only on the work of Christ. Though we have nothing offer before God and found ourselves in ultimate poverty, Jesus abandoned His great riches to give us that which we could never earn or deserve. He redeemed us through His blood and allows us to have the riches of a restored relationship with God. There is no greater deliverance than this.

In light of this deliverance, we now understand the motivation for the sacrifice. When aware of just how much we've been forgiven--and the great price by which it came--then we would not approach our opportunity to sacrifice with a cheapened, minimal attitude. This also is the heart compulsion of the offerer of sacrifice in Leviticus. He would not try to bargain down to a turtledove or pigeon. If a man offered a turtledove or pigeon, it would be a costly sacrifice to him, truly what he could afford. But since he had been delivered from much, he would then desire to give much to God.

This order must not be reversed. The burnt offering was not an attempt by the offerer to find forgiveness. The burnt offering was a sacrifice made to express joy for the forgiveness of sins received.

So how does the believer today express his joy for the gospel and express gratitude toward God. It is not profitable for us to create a new altar and offer animal sacrifices, for the greater joy is pointing to Jesus Christ on the cross. But if we do not offer an animal sacrifice, the answer it not to offer less:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, {which is} your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.--Romans 12:1-2
The calling for the believer is to offer all of himself to the Lord, not just an animal sacrifice. This is not to be done out of obligation or compulsion, but out of gratitude for God's deliverance to us. We offer ourselves as a fragrant aroma to the Lord, acknowledging His delivering work on our behalf.

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