Leviticus 1 – The Burnt Offering
A. Introduction: the idea of sacrifice in ancient Israel.
1. (1) God speaks to Moses from the tabernacle.
Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying,
a. Now the Lord called to Moses: The story of Leviticus picks up where Exodus left off. Israel is still camped out at the base of Mount Sinai, and they will remain there all through the Book of Leviticus.
b. From the tabernacle of meeting: This indicates that the tabernacle was now completed. The sacrificial system could now be implemented in detail with the place of sacrifice ready.
2. (2) What to do when you bring an offering to Lord.
“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock; of the herd and of the flock.'”
a. When any one of you brings an offering: In the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai, there were three major facets. The covenant included the law Israel had to obey, sacrifice to provide for breaking the law, and the choice of blessing or curse that would become the script for Israel’s history.
i. The sacrificial system was an essential element of the Mosaic covenant, because it was impossible to live up to the requirements of the law. Sin was dealt with through sacrifice.
ii. This was not the beginning of God’s sacrificial system. Adam knew of sacrifice (Genesis 3:21), as did Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:3-4), and Noah (Genesis 8:20-21).
iii. The idea of sacrifice to the gods was not unique to Israel. Other nations and cultures practiced sacrifice, often ultimately involving human sacrifice. The universality of sacrifice is evidence that the concept was know to man before the flood, and was carried to different cultures from the survivors of the flood in Noah’s day.
b. Brings an offering to the Lord: Because sacrifice was already known to Israel, these instructions to the priests are not particularly new – they are mostly a clarification of a foundation that was already known to Israel through the traditions of their fathers.
i. God had a wise timing in bringing the law of the sacrifices at this time. Before the Tabernacle of Meeting was built, there was no one place of sacrifice, and the procedures for sacrifice couldn’t really be codified. But now with the completion of the Tabernacle, Israel could bring their sacrifice to one place and follow the same procedures for each sacrifice.
ii. The fist seven chapters of Leviticus deal with personal, voluntary offerings. Chapters 1 through 5 are mostly instructions to the people who bring the offering, and chapters 6 and 7 are mostly instructions to the priests concerning offerings.
c. You shall bring an offering of the livestock – of the herd and of the flock: This means that an Israelite worshipper could not offer a “wild” animal. They could only bring domesticated livestock from their herds. This shows that an offering to God must cost something.
B. The procedure for the Burnt Offering.
1. (3) Bringing the animal for the burnt offering.
“If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord.”
a. If his offering is a burnt sacrifice: The burnt offering, as its name implies, was completely burnt before the Lord. It was a total sacrifice. The burnt offering was a general offering of propitiation and consecration to God.
b. Let him offer a male: The animal offered had to be a male, because male animals were thought to be stronger and therefore more valuable.
c. Without blemish: The animal must not have any obvious defect. God would not accept a defective sacrifice. We have a tendency to always want to give God “second best” – if not our third or fourth best. Yet this principle shows that God would not receive sacrifice marked by defect.
i. There are countless anecdotes and funny stories illustrating this tendency to give God lesser things. These include the story of the farmer whose cow gave birth to twins, and he swore he would give one of the calves to God. He didn’t decide which one to give to God, until one day one of the calves died. He said to his wife: “Guess what? God’s calf died today!”
ii. Israel did not always live up to this standard, and much later the Prophet Malachi rebuked Israel for offering God sub-standard sacrifices: And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably? (Malachi 1:8)
iii. Jesus fulfilled this standard perfectly, being a sinless and pure sacrifice without blemish (John 8:29, 8:46, 14:30, and 15:10).
d. He shall offer it of his own free will: God did not want a coerced sacrifice. Each animal had to be freely offered. This illustrates the principle that God wants our hearts, freely given to Him.
2. (4) The transference of guilt.
Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
a. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering: This was a clear picture of identification with the sacrificial victim. Through this symbol, the guilty one transferred his guilt to the sacrificial victim that would die for the sin of the offerer.
i. It was not enough that the victim merely died. The one receiving atonement had to actively identify himself with the sacrifice. In the same way, it is not enough to know that Jesus died for the sins of the world. The one who would receive His atonement must “reach out” and identify himself with Jesus.
b. To make atonement for him: The idea behind the Hebrew word for atonement (kophar) is to cover. The idea is that an individual’s sin is covered over by the blood of the sacrificial victim.
i. Leviticus is a book all about atonement. “The word kipper (“to make atonement”) is used almost fifty times in Leviticus . . . It is used about fifty times more in the rest of the OT.” (Harris)
ii. But there is a difference between the Old Testament idea of atonement and the New Testament idea. In the Old Testament, sin is “covered over” until redemption was completed by Jesus on the cross. In the New Testament, sin is done away with – and a true “at-one-ment” was accomplished by Jesus’ sacrifice.
iii. Significantly, the burnt offering was more about total surrender to God than about sin. Yet this shows that when we come to God with total surrender, we sure realize we must deal with sin.
3. (5-9) The procedure for offering a bull as a burnt offering.
He shall kill the bull before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And he shall skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar, and lay the wood in order on the fire. Then the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; but he shall wash its entrails and its legs with water. And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.
a. He shall kill the bull: It seems as though the one who brought the offering – who laid his hands on the head of the bull – was the same one expected to actually kill the animal.
i. In each place the laying of hands on the sacrificial victim is mentioned (Leviticus 1:4-5, 3:2, 3:8, 4:4, 4:15, and 4:24), the killing of the sacrifice – by the one who put their hands on the head – is mentioned also.
ii. Of course, the priest would assist as necessary, and the priests would do the heavy work of skinning and cutting the animal up. But the one who brought the offering delivered the deathblow. The individual Israelite cut the jugular vein of the bull, in the presence of the priests at the Tabernacle of Meeting. This was a solemn testimony to the need for sacrifice.
b. He shall kill the bull before the Lord: This is the second occurrence of the phrase before the Lord in Leviticus; it occurs more than 60 times – more than any other book in the Bible. What happens in Leviticus happens before the Lord, and every sacrifice that was made was to be made before the Lord.
i. How our own sacrifices to God would change if we did them with the understanding that we do it before the Lord! For who is this who pledged his heart to approach Me?’ says the Lord. (Jeremiah 30:21)
c. Bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around: The blood of the animal – representing the life of the animal (Leviticus 17:11) – was sprinkled on the altar of sacrifice.
d. And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire: The rest of the animal, having been washed from any excrement or impurity, was burnt on the altar. The totality of the offering, burnt before God, was a sweet aroma before God’s throne.
i. This reflects the heart behind the burnt offering. It was a desire to give everything to God, an “I surrender all” attitude. When everything was burnt before the Lord on the altar, there was nothing held back.
ii. Taken together, all this shows that there was an order to the sacrifice God wanted respected! This was not a “do your own thing” matter. You couldn’t offer a burnt offering, a grain offering, a peace offering, a sin offering, or a guilt offering just anyway you wanted to. You had to bring your offering the way God wants you to.
4. (10-13) The procedure for offering a sheep or a goat as a burnt offering.
‘If his offering is of the flocks; of the sheep or of the goats; as a burnt sacrifice, he shall bring a male without blemish. He shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar. And he shall cut it into its pieces, with its head and its fat; and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; but he shall wash the entrails and the legs with water. Then the priest shall bring it all and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.
a. If his offering is of the flocks; of the sheep or of the goats: The procedure was essentially the same as that for offering a bull, except that a sheep or a goat was not skinned. Since the entire animal was to be burned, only the impurities of the entrails had to be washed before the sacrifice was burnt. A bull presented as a burnt offering had to be skinned (Leviticus 1:6), but not a sheep or a goat.
5. (14-17) The procedure for offering a bird as a burnt offering.
‘And if the burnt sacrifice of his offering to the Lordis of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or young pigeons. The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off its head, and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out at the side of the altar. And he shall remove its crop with its feathers and cast it beside the altar on the east side, into the place for ashes. Then he shall split it at its wings, but shall not divide it completely; and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.
a. If the burnt sacrifice of his offering to the Lord is of birds: This procedure followed the same principles, adapted to the sacrifice of birds instead of bulls, sheep, or goats. The animal was killed and its blood was offered, the carcass was prepared, and then burnt before the Lord.
b. He shall bring his offering of turtledoves or young pigeons: God would not accept any kind of bird, but He would accept turtledoves or young pigeons as sacrifices. The fact that God would accept a bull, a goat, a sheep, or a bird shows that God was more interested in the heart than in the actual animal being offered. If the sacrifice was made with the right heart, God accepted the poor man’s bird as much as the rich man’s bull.
i. At the same time, the sacrifice had to correspond with what one could afford. It was wrong for a rich man to only offer a bird as a burnt offering. Therefore, when God made His offering for sin, He gave the richest, most costly thing He could – Himself.
© 2004 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission