Chapter 1 Burnt Offerings Leviticus 1
Leviticus 1:1-17 NLTse The LORD called to Moses from the Tabernacle and said to him, (2) “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. When you present an animal as an offering to the LORD, you may take it from your herd of cattle or your flock of sheep and goats. (3) “If the animal you present as a burnt offering is from the herd, it must be a male with no defects. Bring it to the entrance of the Tabernacle so you may be accepted by the LORD. (4) Lay your hand on the animal’s head, and the LORD will accept its death in your place to purify you, making you right with him. (5) Then slaughter the young bull in the LORD’s presence, and Aaron’s sons, the priests, will present the animal’s blood by splattering it against all sides of the altar that stands at the entrance to the Tabernacle. (6) Then skin the animal and cut it into pieces. (7) The sons of Aaron the priest will build a wood fire on the altar. (8) They will arrange the pieces of the offering, including the head and fat, on the wood burning on the altar. (9) But the internal organs and the legs must first be washed with water. Then the priest will burn the entire sacrifice on the altar as a burnt offering. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the LORD. (10) “If the animal you present as a burnt offering is from the flock, it may be either a sheep or a goat, but it must be a male with no defects. (11) Slaughter the animal on the north side of the altar in the LORD’s presence, and Aaron’s sons, the priests, will splatter its blood against all sides of the altar. (12) Then cut the animal in pieces, and the priests will arrange the pieces of the offering, including the head and fat, on the wood burning on the altar. (13) But the internal organs and the legs must first be washed with water. Then the priest will burn the entire sacrifice on the altar as a burnt offering. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the LORD. (14) “If you present a bird as a burnt offering to the LORD, choose either a turtledove or a young pigeon. (15) The priest will take the bird to the altar, wring off its head, and burn it on the altar. But first he must drain its blood against the side of the altar. (16) The priest must also remove the crop and the feathers and throw them in the ashes on the east side of the altar. (17) Then, grasping the bird by its wings, the priest will tear the bird open, but without tearing it apart. Then he will burn it as a burnt offering on the wood burning on the altar. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
I tried to avoid the subject of sacrifices in the first book I wrote on the Tabernacle. This book is much different since it follows the progression of the Tabernacle as Moses recorded it. I wanted to avoid the subject because there are a number of other books written about the sacrificial system. I haven’t read one that follows the sequence Moses used to record details about the sacrificial system. In this book I think it’s important to address that system based on one general rule of context I noticed Moses used.
Look back at how Moses closed his previous book. Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle. Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. The cloud of the LORD hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:34-38 NLTse).
Moses ended his book of Exodus by describing God’s presence inside the Tabernacle. Then Moses began Leviticus by telling how God called him from the Tabernacle. We can’t help but see how Leviticus is a continuation of Exodus. The explanation of the sacrificial system is linked to God’s presence inside the Tabernacle as well as the arrangement of the items inside the Tabernacle, and how Aaron is dressed. All of those items are linked in a spiritual manner we haven’t been shown up to this point. To understand the sacrificial system, we have to find out how it pertains to God’s presence, articles in the Tabernacle, the steps, and wardrobe of the high priest.
As we’ve seen at the end of Exodus, taking one item out of the Tabernacle robs people of the full view of the system and spiritual meaning of the items. We also have to keep all the previous events in mind. Notice how Moses described the individual sacrifice first. God is still calling His people back. The main emphasis at the beginning of this story is God’s presence inside the Tabernacle. The introduction of a chapter and book establishes the main theme. Moses quickly moved to an individual offering.
Moses first described details for a burnt offering. This is one of a series of sacrifices. The sacrifice could be a bull, sheep, or goat. It must be a male with no defects. We can see a link between the sacrifice without defects and the requirement for Aaron to wash before he begins serving in the Tabernacle.
Like Aaron and his sons, the individual had to lay their hands on the animal’s head. This translation used the word purify. Other translations use the word atone. Animals never purified people from their sins, they only reminded people about the price. The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4 NLTse).
The individual had to take the animal’s life in God’s presence as well as Aaron’s. If people didn’t understand God’s spiritual presence, Aaron’s presence was a physical reminder. I wonder if people really feel, and understand Jesus’ presence when they confess their sins to Him. How does this scene Moses describe effect the way you pray? Blood from the sacrifice was splattered on all four sides of the alter. Not just one side. Not a little sprinkling, but blood was thrown on all four sides of the altar.
Aaron cut the animal into pieces the way Moses showed him. Did you ever try cutting up an animal? It isn’t an easy job. The sharpest knife has trouble cutting through tough tissue connecting joints. Blood can splatter everywhere. At the very least Aaron’s hands were cover in blood, no matter how careful he was.
While Aaron prepared the animal, his sons build a fire. First the head and fat were burned for this sacrifice. Aaron had to be careful to cut away all the fat that was burned as an offering. While that portion of the sacrifice was burning, Aaron washed the legs and internal organs with water.
It seems strange to wash the legs and internal organs which are discarded when an animal is butchered for food. In this case, God wanted those parts washed, then burnt. This is another example of something unusual. When God does something unusual, it’s time to pay attention. As usual, Moses has not filled us in on any of the details in regards to the spiritual meaning of any of these items or ceremonies. If we looked ahead at the Gospels, we can see how Jesus was reject just like those particular parts of those animals, but highly accepted by God. Moses indicated in was a special aroma to God.
Most Christians know why the sacrifice had to be without defeats. This of course pointed to Jesus’ perfect life, ministry, and sacrifice. But how many people think about that life and ministry? To ensure the animal was free of defeats it had to be carefully inspected. Why don’t we look at Jesus life in the same way? Think about that for a moment. Why don’t people carefully inspect Jesus’ life? Most people use the excuse, “that’s God’s job.” Did God have to inspect Jesus to ensure He was the perfect sacrifice? God knew every moment of Jesus’ life. Some people may consider that inspection a priest’s role. Aren’t we all supposed to be priests?
What about Jesus’ ministry? Why doesn’t anyone inspect or study His ministry? After all, that theme is mentioned in the New Testament over two hundred times. Have we completely failed as priests and disciples?
What is a sacrifice? How would most people define a sacrifice? Do we live in a world that looks at a sacrifice as an animal or someone else paying a price for our sins? Or can we call modern views on sacrifices a mistake? Is that what a sacrifice is?
Webster defines a sacrifice as:
: the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone
: an act of killing a person or animal in a religious ceremony as an offering to please a god
: a person or animal that is killed in a sacrifice
1 an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially : the killing of a victim on an altar
2 something offered in sacrifice
3 a destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else b something given up or lost <the sacrifices made by parents>
4 loss <goods sold at a sacrifice>
I suppose most people think of a sacrifice in the Bible as an animal offered to God. But how does that relate to the other modern definitions? Think about the obvious comparisons for a moment. When Moses wrote about a sacrifice, people had to take the best of their flocks, closely inspect the animal, take it to the priests, have them inspect it, then confess their sins over the animal, and the high priest would kill the animal, wouldn’t that animal represent something the person had to give up? Is that the part of the sacrifice we have to consider? People gave up something of value. An animal had a number of uses. They provided wool and skins for clothing and material to make other useful items. They also represented a source of food. The animal also stood as a reminder, symbol, and reason to stop sinning. We call it sanctification which is a constant form of change to make ourselves right with God.
To me it seems a little strange to slaughter the animal on the north side of the alter. We find an equally strange story about the north. “How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world. For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’ Instead, you will be brought down to the place of the dead, down to its lowest depths. Everyone there will stare at you and ask, ‘Can this be the one who shook the earth and made the kingdoms of the world tremble? Is this the one who destroyed the world and made it into a wasteland? Is this the king who demolished the world’s greatest cities and had no mercy on his prisoners?’ (Isaiah 14:12-17 NLTse).
Some people may claim there is a connection based on the fact two verses contain the word north. For some people this seems to be enough evidence to claim an association. Looking at the context of the two chapters, we can see little to no chance of a direct connection. Leviticus chapter 1 is dealing with information about the sacrificial system. Isaiah chapter 14 refers to the protection God offers His people and describes a major threat. Although they are not connected, the command to slaughter animals on the north side of the alter is an interesting detail to consider.
Blood was splattered on all four sides of the alter. This could indicate the number four, or something else. At this point, Moses has not given any details to help us answer that question. Since the altar is a copy of the one in Heaven, we have to find an explanation that includes the ceremonies performed in Heaven. Once again, the best place to look may be the book of Hebrews for an explanation.
We can see details about cutting, washing, and burning the animal are repeated. We know repeated details are important. Is God giving special instructions to make sure there is a pattern followed? Or is there an explanation about that order of details we are not seeing?
Details become stranger when we look at instructions for a bird. Only two birds are accepted, a turtledove or young pigeon. It appears blood from birds was drained on one side of the altar. The priest had to remove the bird’s feathers before burning it. Those feathers and the bird’s crop were thrown into the ashes only on the east side of the altar. Before burning the bird, the priest had to grasp the sacrifice by the wings and tear the bird open, but without tearing it apart.
God must have had a good reason for all those instructions. They have to some how relate to Jesus’ ministry in Heaven, earth, or sacrifice. To try and guess at how they related would knock us off track from the progress we’ve seen thus far by sticking to the tried and true study method of accepting what we’ve been given. This method puts us in the shoes of the Israelites so to speak.
Imagine what they must have thought the first time they heard those instructions or saw the first sacrifice performed. Did those ceremonies draw them closer to God? Did they provide a clear view of a Savior? Or was that all another round of endless sacrifices and ceremonies for a new God. A few verses in Exodus told us midwives feared God. There isn’t much more telling us how Jews honored or worshiped God before Moses killed an Egyptian and left Egypt. The only other verse indicating Israel waiting for God to free them was presented when Moses returned to Egypt to tell them God was about to deliver them.
It seems strange to have so little information about how much Israel believed in God, worshiped Him, or how they prayed. It almost seems as if their belief in God was a minor portion of their lives. When Moses failed to deliver them after his first meeting with Pharaoh, Israel quickly gave up hope. Israel also gave up quickly after their first one on one meeting with God at His mountain.
What made those people want to back away from God on such a consistent level? It seems they wanted to be freed from more than Pharaoh. It seems many of the Israelites wanted total freedom. They wanted the benefit of being freed from slavery and didn’t want any type of control to follow.
Moses didn’t record Israel’s reaction to the sacrificial system or the price they had to pay. Based on their initial reaction to God, Israel would soon find a way around the demands of God’s sacrificial system. If they were reluctant to invest time to listen to God, what would their reaction be to a system that would eventually cost them tens of thousands of animals?