THE BURNT OFFERING: Complete Consecration
Leviticus 1:1-17; 6:8-13
The sacrificial worship of Israel is detailed in the first seven chapters of Leviticus. Every step was minutely revealed to Moses concerning the five offerings, from the animals to be offered to the duties of the priest who functioned as a mediator between God and Israel. From sunup to sundown, every day of the year, thousands of animals were paraded before the priest, killed, and their blood sprinkled on the altar.
Many ask, why is the burnt offering mentioned first in the Leviticus order? There is no significance to the order in which the offerings appear – actually the burnt offering should follow the sin offering. Yet a number of reasons have been presented for the burnt offering being first. It was the first offering mentioned in the Scripture (Gen. 8:20) and most frequently presented by the patriarchs long before the Mosaic Law stipulated the specific sacrifices to be offered. Most likely the burnt offering encompassed the sin offering in the patriarchal period. The Lord instructed Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:2); it would have been the offering Moses had performed in the desert after leaving Egypt (Ex. 5:3); both Jethro (Ex. 18:12) and Job (Job 1:5) offered it long before the giving of the Law at Sinai. It was continually offered as a perpetual sacrifice: night and day; on major feast days; and at new moons in Israel. The term burnt sacrifice (v. 3) comes from the Hebrew word Olah, which means to ascend upwards. It refers to the whole offering which was consumed upon the altar and ascended to God. Finally, since the whole sacrifice was consumed upon the altar, it represented the fullest form of Israel’s consecration and worship.
One of five animals could be selected for the burnt offering. The first three were bull (v. 2), male sheep or goat (v. 10). Why was a male and not a female animal offered? There was no such stipulation made during the patriarchal period. In fact, during the confirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant a heifer was chosen for the burnt offering (Gen. 15:9). Most likely the male was chosen under the Law because its strength and horns were symbols of power. Here is a picture of Christ who was selected from the flock of His people (Jn. 1:11) and crucified in the strength of His youth as a perfect sacrifice (1 Pet. 1:19), making reconciliation for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17).
The fourth and fifth offerings were turtledoves or young pigeons (v. 14). This was the poor man’s offering (Lev. 12:8). The poverty of Mary and Joseph was very evident when they offered birds for a sacrifice at Jesus’ dedication (Lk. 2:21-24). These birds were probably chosen because of their abundance and easy acquisition in the land of Israel. There was no sex distinction in the birds like that of the animals. It was mandatory that two birds be offered: one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering (Lev. 5:7; 12:8,14:22).
Nowhere in the sacrificial system was a hen or a rooster ever used as a sacrifice. Yet, in the past, an old Orthodox Jewish custom was to kill a hen or rooster on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), since there was no temple in which to sacrifice. The bird would be held by the legs and swung over one’s head some nine times as the individual read: “This instead of me, this is an offering on my account, this is an expiation for me; this rooster, or hen, shall go to his, or her, death . . . , and may I enter a long and healthy life” (Hayyim Schauss, Guide to Jewish Holy Days, p. 150).
Only clean domesticated animals, as stipulated in the Law, were to be used in sacrifice. The docile animals pictorially represent Christ in His first advent coming “meek and lowly in heart” (Mt. 11:29).
Notice that the animals offered by the Israelite were according to what he could afford. The rich man brought his bull, the middle class his sheep or goat, and the poor his turtledoves or pigeons. For the rich man to bring a poor man’s offering was robbing God of His rightful due. Often the priest would not accept a man’s sacrifice if it was beneath what he could afford.
God wants the believer to give his best, whether it be talent or treasure. For the wealthy to give a small offering when he has great possessions is robbing God. Often the Christian brings gifts of no value to the church. God does not want us to offer that which costs us nothing, as did many in Israel (Mal.1:7-8,13). The believer is to give according “as God hath prospered him” (1 Cor. 16:1-2) in a cheerful manner (2 Cor. 9:7).
The Israelite must personally, of his voluntary will (v. 3), present his offering at the “door of the tabernacle” (v. 3). Gazing into the tabernacle court, the offerer would see the bloodstained brazen altar from which his burnt offering would ascend to God. He must have been impressed with the meaning of sacrifice – God could only be approached through the shedding of blood. The same is true with the believer today. He must voluntarily come through Jesus who is the only door into the presence of God (Jn. 10:7-9; 14:6).
The word offering (Heb. qorban) means something that is brought near to the altar and speaks of the sacrificial gift which was voluntarily presented. By presenting his sacrifice, the offerer was acknowledging a number of things. First, he believed in the true and living God. Second, God was to be approached properly in worship according to the pattern set down by Moses. Third, he desired to follow the Lord in complete consecration through obedience to His will. The same is true for the believer today who is instructed to voluntarily offer his life unto the Lord in service.
The voluntary nature of this offering speaks of Christ in His willingness to leave the glories of Heaven, be born and live in humility as a man and freely give Himself to die on the cross for the sins of man (Phil. 2: 5-8; Heb. 10:5-7).
When the Israelite “put [pressed] his hand upon the head of the burnt offering” (v. 4), a meaningful identification took place. The offerer identified with the sacrifice as his substitute – the animal was substituting its life for that of the Israelite. There is a double identification which took place: The sinful life of the Israelite was committed to the animal, and the acceptability of the offering was transmitted to the Israelite. The shed blood of the animal symbolically represented the offerer’s own life freely surrendered. Thus, the sacrifice was accepted by God as an atonement (v. 4) for the offerer, protecting him from divine wrath.
Although there is no mention of the offerer confessing his sins during the presentation of a burnt offering, it is implied by laying hands on the animal to be sacrificed. This is a graphic illustration of what happened on the Day of Atonement when the high priest laid his hands on the live goat confessing Israel’s sins over it (Lev. 16:21-22). The priest led the sin-burdened goat out through Solomon’s Porch and the East Gate which led directly to the Mount of Olives. At the top of the mount, a Gentile was to lead the goat into the wilderness of Judea and free it, signifying that the sins of Israel, which had been forgiven by God, were carried away (Lev. 16:20-22).
The identification with the sacrificial animal is a picture of the Christian’s identification with Christ (Rom. 4:5; 6:3-11) who died in his place (2 Cor. 5:21).
The Israelite killed the bullock (v. 5), sheep or goat (v. 10) on the north side of the brazen altar (v. 11). When he drew the sharp knife across the animal’s throat killing it, his responsibility was fulfilled concerning the burnt offering. This act left an indelible impression upon his mind concerning the significance of the sacrifice. First, he realized that the innocent animal was suffering the death which he deserved. Second, it was an unforgettable picture of the horridness of sin and the price that must be paid to make atonement for it. Third, the meaning of commitment would linger in his mind; every time he saw a bull, sheep or goat, this act of commitment would flash before him.
Today, the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, impresses upon the believer the meaning of Christ’s vicarious death on his behalf. Like the Israelite who killed the offering, each believer must remember that in his unregenerated state, it was his sin which crucified Christ (Acts 4:27).
THE OFFICIATING PRIEST
The Mosaic Law detailed the specific functions required by the priest for each sacrifice. First, he must catch the blood which gushed forth from the slain animal. The blood was then sprinkled “around about upon the altar” (v. 5) making it possible for God to show mercy to the one offering sacrifice.
The priest functioned as a mediator between God and man when he sprinkled the blood upon the altar. Likewise Christ, who is the believer’s mediating High Priest, once offered His own blood to put away sin (Heb. 9:11-15; 10:26).
The priest taking the sacrifice from the Israelite is a beautiful picture of Christ giving Himself over to the Father’s will. During His agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “. . . O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt. 26:39). While hanging on the cross, He committed His destiny into the hands of the Father (Lk. 23:46).
The second step for the priest was to flay the animal (v. 6); only the skin went to him (Lev. 7:8), while the rest of the animal was offered to God. The sacrifice was meticulously divided into its proper pieces and each piece examined for blemish or disease.
The offering of fowl was handled somewhat differently. The offerer was not required to lay hands upon the head of the bird, nor was he to kill it; that was the priests ministry (vv. 14-15). The bird was killed by wringing off its head and the blood wrung out at the side of the altar (v. 15) for an atonement. The bird’s crop and feathers were removed and cast on the ash heap near the east side of the altar (v. 16). The bird was not divided like the animals, but cleaved down the center spreading it open (v. 17) in order to remove the insides.
The third step was to prepare the altar by putting fire and wood upon it (v. 7) which has reference to more fuel being added for each new sacrifice. Once the fire had been initially kindled it was to be kept perpetually burning by the priest (Lev. 6:13). When fire is connected with the altar, it speaks of God’s holiness (Heb. 12:29) and judgment (Lev. 10:1-2). When fire is mentioned in connection with the sacrifice on the altar, it symbolizes God’s judgment upon the animal for the sake of the offerer. The perpetual fire upon the altar is typical of two truths. First, God’s standards for holiness and justice are unchangeable. Second, by means of the altar God is always ready to receive the Israelite’s sacrificial worship whenever he presents it.
The fourth step was to wash the animal’s “inwards [organs] and its legs” (v. 9) before placing the pieces upon the altar, since these were the parts subject to defilement. This symbolized the inward and outward cleansing of the sacrifice to be offered. Here is a twofold picture of both Christ and the Christian’s inward and outward walk. Christ was the perfect sacrifice, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22). The Christian needs to be cleansed for service by “the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26) inwardly, which will manifest itself outwardly in a holy walk. In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus symbolized the need for daily cleansing in order to have an unbroken fellowship with God (Jn. 13:1-17).
The fifth step for the priest was to offer the washed pieces, in the same order in which they appeared in the animal’s body, upon the altar (v. 8). The burnt sacrifice would ascend in a smoky vapor as “a sweet savor unto the Lord” (v. 9). The burnt, meal, and peace offerings are all called “sweet savor” since they were not offered for sin. By sweet savor is meant that the offering pleased God. Paul speaks of Christ’s sacrificial work as “a sweet smelling savor” (Eph. 5:2), referring to His voluntary obedience to the will of the Father and His death on the cross, ascending as a sweet aroma before God. The Christian’s life and testimony are a sweet savor unto the Lord as well (2 Cor. 2:15-16).
The final step for the priest, after completing the sacrifice, was to set aside his priestly garments, put on linen attire (Lev. 6:10), and then carry the ashes outside of the camp laying them in a clean place (Lev. 6:11). The disposal of the remains is a picture of Christ’s burial. After His sacrifice had been completed, He was taken from the cross by Joseph of Arimathaea, wrapped in clean linen cloth, and laid in a new tomb (Mt. 27:57-60).
The message of the burnt offering is complete consecration. It is a type of our Lord’s complete consecration to the Father’s will by giving Himself totally for the sin of man. Christ’s consecration can be seen through His birth (Heb. 10:5-7), walk (Jn. 8:29), agony in the garden (Mt. 26:39), and death (Phil. 2:8). The Father’s testimony to His consecration is summed up by Peter when he said: “For he received from God, the Father, honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (2 Pet. 1:17).
The Christian has an obligation to completely consecrate himself unto the Lord. He is to count himself as “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). He is to present his body as a living and holy sacrifice, the kind of sacrifice which will be accepted by God (Rom.12:1). The burnt offering was to be daily offered by the priest (Lev. 6:12) as a continual reminder to the Israelite of his consecration unto God. Likewise the believer must yield his life in daily consecration to the Lord if he is to have a meaningful and effective spiritual walk.