Leviticus 1 ~ 20160417 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/17 Leviticus 1; The Whole Burnt Offering; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160417_leviticus-1.mp3
Context of Leviticus
To understand Leviticus, we need to understand the context. In the Hebrew text, Leviticus begins with a conjunction, 'and', linking it with Exodus. God's people were slaves in Egypt. God rescued his people from Egypt with an awesome display of his character and power. He set them free and blessed them and brought them out. In spite of their grumbling, he brought them to the foot of Mount Sinai, where he entered into a covenant agreement with them, he would be God to them, and they would be his people. But in the middle of his instructions to them, they committed spiritual adultery and went after other gods. They forfeited any claim to a relationship with him. But Moses prayed for them and God graciously forgave them. He took them to be his own people, and they built him a tent as he instructed so that he would live with them in the middle of their camp.
In John 1 we are told
The word 'dwelt' could literally be translated 'tabernacled' or 'pitched his tent among us'. Jesus is the greater tabernacle, God's presence with us. The Tabernacle was the place of divine revelation and divine worship. It was the place where God spoke to man, and where man approached God in acceptable worship. In Exodus, God had spoken to the people of Israel from the top of Mount Sinai out of thunder and lightning and thick cloud and smoke and trumpet blast, and the people were terrified (Ex.19:16-19; 20:18-21). Here in Leviticus, God's glory cloud has filled the Tabernacle and his glory cloud was on the Tabernacle by day and fire by night, and God spoke to Moses from the tent of meeting.
The tabernacle was a tent structure. At its heart was the most holy place, a room inside of the tent that housed the ark of the covenant, a gold plated box containing the covenant documents, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God, God's commandments. This box had an elaborate gold cover called the atonement cover or mercy seat. A heavy curtain separated this inner room from the rest of the tent, the holy place, where the altar for burning incense, the table with the bread of the presence, and the branched lamp stand with 7 oil lamps stood. Surrounding this tent structure was a courtyard surrounded by 7.5 foot high tent walls with an entrance on the east side. In the courtyard between the entrance to the courtyard and the entrance to the tent stood the bronze altar of burnt offering and a bronze basin for washing. The altar was about 7.5 feet square and about 4.5 feet high, with a bronze grate and the associated pots and shovels and forks and firepans.
Outline of Offerings
Chapters 1-7 of Leviticus describe 5 different kinds of offerings. Chapters 1-5 focus on the offerings from the perspective of the worshiper who brings an offering to the Lord's tent. Chapters 6 and 7 focus primarily on the responsibilities of the priests in these offerings.
The first three offerings, the burnt offering, the grain offering, and the peace offering, are all said to be 'a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD” (1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9; 3:5, 16). These three offerings are voluntary. Leviticus 1-3 do not give occasions for when a burnt, grain or peace offering must be given. It merely says 'when anyone brings...', where in chapters 4-6, dealing with the sin and guilt offerings it says 'if anyone sins ...he shall offer...'. Those offerings have specific occasions and are obligatory, and they are not said to be 'a pleasing aroma'; they are a way to deal with specific offenses.
The bronze altar in the tabernacle courtyard was called 'the altar of burnt offering' because this was the primary type of offering. The peace offering was to be offered on top of the burnt offering (Lev.3:5), so a burnt offering was a prerequisite to a peace offering. A burnt offering and a peace offering were to be offered to the Lord by the priests every morning (Lev.6). Burnt offerings were offered in combination with sin offerings, peace offerings, and grain offerings for the ordination of the priests (Lev.9). Burnt offerings combined with sin or guilt offerings were offered for certain types of purification, and a burnt offering was to be offered on some of the feast days along with other offerings.
The Burnt Offering in Genesis
The burnt offering or whole burnt offering was not something new to the people of the Exodus. All the way back in Genesis 6 God destroyed all mankind with a flood because “the earth ...was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Gen.6:12), but he showed grace to Noah and preserved him and his family through the flood. When they disembarked,
Noah offered a burnt offering to the Lord. The offering didn't change mankind; before the flood 'all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth' and after the flood 'the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth'. But the pleasing aroma of the burnt offering changed God's attitude toward man's sin, and he promised never again to destroy the earth with a flood.
Back in Genesis 22, God said to Abraham:
God did not intend for Abraham to sacrifice his son. This was a test of Abraham's obedience, of his love for the Lord.
God provided himself a lamb for the burnt offering. But Abraham demonstrated that he loved the Lord more than anything. He was willing to give to the Lord that which was most precious to him.
So when God gave instructions for the burnt offering, this was something that would have been familiar to the Israelites.
This chapter breaks down into three sections, based on what kind of animal is being offered as a burnt offering. Verses 3-9 give instruction for offering an animal from the herd, verses 10-13 are for animals from the flock, and verses 14-17 are for birds. With this breakdown, God was making provision for everyone to approach him. If you were of average means, you could bring a lamb. Even the very poor could afford a bird. But if you were wealthy, you could offer a bull. It was not the offering that mattered, it was the heart of the worshiper. And the offering was to be costly. In the ancient world, you couldn't go through the drive thru and order a ¼ pounder completely detached from where it came from. You couldn't swing by the local supermarket and pick up a pound of hamburger neatly wrapped in plastic. Meat was a luxury item, and it was costly. Even for a farmer, to offer his best bull or best sheep was truly a sacrifice. As David said “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” (2Sam. 24:24). For any but the very very poor to offer a bird would communicate that their relationship with the Lord was not important to them.
Offerings from either the herd or the flock were to be males without blemish. This was to be the best, the most valuable animal. For Abraham to offer his only son was the most costly gift he could give.
Peter contrasts the inestimable worth of the blood of Christ with the temporary triviality of silver and gold. Romans echoes Abraham in pointing to the value the Father places on his own Son.
God the Father gave Jesus up for us all. This is the greatest of all offerings, and it is the offering God made for us!
The Purpose of the Offering
The purpose of this offering is clearly stated in these verses:
The goal is to be accepted before the LORD, to experience God's favor. This happens through making atonement. The sacrifice removes the effects of sin or uncleanness. This is clearly an instance of substitution. The goal is to be accepted, and he lays his hands on the head of the animal, and the animal is accepted for him. In Leviticus 16:21, the laying hands on is accompanied by confession of sin and the sins are put on the head of the animal. The act of laying hands on the live animal's head is a symbolic act of identification. This is not something you can have someone do for you. You must personally lay your hands on the head of your animal, so that before God it is identified with you, and it gets what you deserve. And this is an act of faith, believing what God said that 'it shall be accepted for him'.
We come to be in Christ Jesus through faith, depending on his word and sacrifice for us. To lay hands on the animal literally means to press into, to lean on, or to put weight on. We must lean into Christ, to place our full weight on him, trusting that he is able to bear up under the weight of our sin.
Our Sin Nature
Notice that the burnt offering makes atonement, but it does not make atonement for specific sins. It is a preliminary offering, and it is more general. Specific instances of sin are dealt with by the sin offering and the guilt offering. Each offering pictures a specific aspect of Christ's sacrifice. None of them is complete without the others. To gain a full understanding of the cross, we must look at all of the offerings. Often we feel guilty for a specific sin we have committed. I did something I know does not please the Lord, or I failed to do something I know the Lord asked me to do, and my conscience is troubled. The burnt offering shows me that this bad fruit grows up out of a corrupt root. Jesus said:
My sinful actions are symptoms of a deeper problem. They are evidence of a corrupt heart.
Jeremiah tells me:
It is a precious truth that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1Pet.2:24); specific sins, individual sins. And this we will see in the guilt and sin offerings. But it is an equal treasure that “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2Cor.5:21). Jesus did not just take our individual sins. He became sin for us. He attacks the root of our sinfulness and gives us a new heart. When we lean into Jesus, we confess that we are sinful by nature, that our sin runs deeper than mere outward actions, that it comes from the core of our very being. And yet there is hope! It shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
Participant or Spectator?
Notice the part of the worshiper in the sacrifice. There are specific roles assigned to the worshiper and to the priests. We are a spectator society. We pay good money to sit on uncomfortable seats and watch other people do things we wish we could do. The sacrificial system was not like that. The worshiper is actively involved. This is very hands-on. Notice the things the worshiper does in the sacrifice. The initiation of the sacrifice comes from the worshiper. No one came knocking on his tent door reminding him that he was due to make a sacrifice. It says “when any one of you brings an offering to the Lord”. Certainly the Holy Spirit stirs the conscience and convicts of sin, but the worshiper must choose the proper animal and bring it to the sanctuary. The worshiper lays his hand on the head of the live animal.
The instructions for animals from the flock are the same. Offerings of birds are simplified only because the bird is smaller. After pressing his had on the head of the animal, the worshiper slits the throat of the animal. The priests catch the blood in a container and splash it against the altar. The blood is given by God to make atonement, and the altar is holy, so the priests serve as a buffer between the worshiper and the holy things. The worshiper skins the offering, and cuts it into pieces. If you have ever done anything like this, you know it is a bloody, messy, labor intensive task. I don't think it is possible to butcher, skin and quarter an animal without being virtually immersed in its blood. Here is real identification with the sacrifice. Here is a sober realization that the wages of sin is death. I selected this animal to be my substitute, I led it to the sanctuary, I placed my hand on its head, confessing my sin, I slit its throat, I peeled back its skin, exposing its flesh, and cut it up into pieces. I am now covered in its blood. Covered in its blood. It is this gory imagery that inspired some of the great hymns, like this one written by William Cowper in the late 1700's:
A Godward Offering
The unique thing about the whole burnt offering is that the whole animal went up in smoke. No part was held back. No part went to the priest, no part went to the worshiper. All was consumed in fire on the altar. All of it was for the Lord, a pleasing aroma. This first and foundational of all offerings is an entirely Godward offering. The attention is entirely on making a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Jesus' sacrifice was first of all a sacrifice to God.
Jesus' sacrifice was a sacrifice of obedience, an expression of love to his Father.
As Jesus gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God, so we too are to walk in love.
This is our example, full obedience, sacrificial love, holding nothing back. The picture is a whole burnt offering ascending in smoke to God.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org