How can a young believer approach the study of something such as the burnt offering? It should seem obvious that at least two aspects for study are before us: the ritual itself, or what was required; and the relevance of the ritual to us. Our tendency would be to rush to the second aspect and learn what this all means to us. But we shall see that it is necessary to grasp the former, the ritual, before we can fully appreciate its importance to us.
We need again to remind ourselves that these offerings were not so much about how to be saved. They were given to a redeemed people (Ex 12) who were taught about approach to God, fellowship with God, and the cleansing needed to remain in that fellowship. It is vital to have this mind-set before we approach the offerings.
Why did an Israelite decide to bring a burnt offering to God? Our understanding of this will determine much of what will be said about its relevance to us. It is tempting to pinpoint the problem or the issue as being a man who wants to worship and give all to God. There is, however, a difficulty with this being the entire and sole purpose. Notice that in verse 4 it is “accepted for him to make an atonement for him.” Although sin is not mentioned in the first three sacrifices (Lev 1-3), there is some deficiency of which the offerer is conscious and which moves him to bring his offering; he recognizes a lack in his relationship with God.
These offerings were all offered “according to the law” (Heb 10:8). The Lord Jesus summarized the law with two great truths: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all the soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27).
Acutely aware of his inability to love the Lord with every aspect of his being, the Israelite offerer would bring a sacrifice which symbolized his recognition of what he lacked.
The purpose of the burnt offering, then, was for the offerer to be accepted as a worshiper, despite the failure to love the Lord his God with every fiber of his being. This understanding of the offering is reinforced by remembering that the sacrifice in its totality – what the offerer should be – was given to God.
Hannah brought Samuel, who was the very dearest on earth to her, to the temple to consecrate him to God. She realized that even in this highest and holiest moment of giving, there was a lack; so she not only brought Samuel, she also brought a burnt offering to God.
As we progress down the chapter, we move from the largest to the smallest (bullock to bird), from the most expensive offering to the least expensive, and from the most easily accessible (from the herd) to the most difficult to obtain (from the skies). The significance of this will have to wait until the next article.
Allow just these interpretive notes:
The bullock – strength for work
The lamb – submission of will
The goat – skillfulness in walk
The birds – sensitivity in feeling
As to detail, we move from more detail concerning the offering to less detail by the time we reach the dove and pigeon. There are steps which are common to each and steps which are unique to some. In every instance, the victim is slain, blood is “splattered” round about the altar, and parts are placed upon the altar to be burned. In the case of the bullock, mention is made of flaying the sacrifice. In the cases of the bullock and the lamb, parts are divided and some placed on the altar and some washed and then placed on the altar. The procedure with the pigeon and dove is quite distinct: its head was wrung off, its feathers were plucked, and its crop was removed.
Notice that the “son of the herd” is slain “before the Lord” (v 5), the lamb or goat is slain on the north side of the altar (v 11), and the bird has its head wrung off at the altar (v 15). Why the different locations? Or are they not different locations but simply aspects of the same place? What do each stress or suggest to you? “Before the Lord” tells His interest in the sacrifice. It was for Him.
In Scripture, judgment always comes from the north, and here it suggests the intensity of the suffering. “The altar” may serve to link the sacrifice with the fire.
The head and fat were placed together on the altar. They would speak of intelligence (mind) and strength or zeal (fat). The inwards (answering to the heart) and legs were washed in water to remove any impurity and then placed together on the altar. All of this corresponds to the confessed deficiency in the offerer to love the Lord with all his heart, strength, and mind.
We will have occasion, however, to notice when we look at the significance of the sacrifice, that the linking together of head and fat, legs and inwards, and feathers and crop, all point to precious truth.
It is not until we get to Leviticus 7 that we learn that one part of the offering was for the priest: the skin of the burnt offering.
Three times over we are told that the offering ascended as “a sweet savor unto the Lord” (vv 9, 13, 17). Another translation terms it, “a savor of rest.” Here was something in which God found pleasure or rest. When we look at the relevance of these offerings to us, we will need to keep in mind that the Hebrew epistle tells us that God was never satisfied or pleased with these offerings. Yet, in so far as they pointed forward to something else, to Someone else, they were a savor of rest to Him.