Giving the very best to God runs contrary to human nature; yet in this study we will see men coming to the tabernacle court with a young bull, a ram or a he-goat to give it sacrificially to God. These were champion animals, the very best in their herd or flock. Their surrender to God and their sacrifice was costly, both immediately and in terms of potential progeny and benefit. Why such sacrificial giving, what is its purpose and significance and has it relevance for us today? These are all questions to be answered.
Be assured at the outset that the Levitical offerings will yield spiritual riches to the earnest and thoughtful seeker, but disciplined consideration is required. Spiritual appreciation and personal devotion cannot simply be switched on mechanically. Believers of former generations majored on typical teaching, which was beneficial in their public worship and teaching ministry.
The challenge to a new generation of believers is: Are you prepared, with honest endeavour, to master the detail and meaning of these offerings and turn fallow ground into hallowed ground?
A detailed introductory overview of all five principal offerings: the burnt, meal, peace, sin and trespass offerings, is not required here. Such overviews have been supplied in an earlier volume, “The Glory of the Lord’s Death”.1
1 Paterson, J. and Wilson, T. “The Glory of the Lord’s Death”, Assembly Testimony publication, 2014, chapters 3 and 4.
However, some additional comments may be necessary to avoid any risk of misdirection at the outset of this consideration. First, we must establish the proper context. The immediate need for these offerings was in relation to a people redeemed from Egyptian bondage by blood and by power, Exodus chapters 12–15. The Law had since been given on Sinai; the tabernacle had been constructed and God was now dwelling in the midst of His earthly, called-out people. The Levitical offerings, therefore, are post-redemption offerings and should be considered, not as securing salvation, but maintaining the fellowship of a redeemed people with God. They are the means whereby a redeemed people, with all their flaws and failures, can be maintained in a proper relationship to God Who is holy and righteous.
Secondly, we must recognise that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” 2Tim.3.16. Therefore the details of the Levitical offerings must have present relevance. It would be tragic if a modern mindset should only see them as being the contents of an archaic handbook for priests of a long bygone age. They are much more.
Thirdly, the typical teaching of these offerings, if properly understood, will enhance our appreciation of the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Multifaceted gleams of His glory can be perceived, to enrich our communion and worship. In the burnt offering Christ is seen as the innocent sacrificial victim, offering a sweet-smelling savour for acceptance. As the officiating priest, Christ can be perceived as a mediator between God and His people. As the offerer Christ is seen as a Man under law, standing as our substitute to fulfil all righteousness. Without Old Testament illustrations how could we ever understand the glories of “Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God” Heb.9.14?
Although there are many references to the burnt offering throughout Scripture, our consideration will be restricted mainly to Leviticus chapter 1 and some verses in chapter 6. The passages before us can be divided into six sub-sections, as follows:
We must not allow ourselves to think of the burnt offering in terms of death and sadness. The burnt offering is very closely associated with Israel’s festivals and outstanding national days of gladness. For instance, when King Hezekiah reinstated temple worship in the eighth century B.C. we read, “And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished” 2Chr.29.27,28. Therefore let us anticipate that our consideration should lead us to song, joy and worship. Burnt offerings were to be offered on an obligatory basis as a result of Divine direction, such as the continual or daily burnt offering, Ex.29.42; or in relation to the Feasts of Jehovah, Leviticus chapter 23. They could also be offered by an individual Israelite on a voluntary basis according to Leviticus chapter 1.
A select range of clean animals, Leviticus chapter 11, were suitable for the burnt offering: a young bull; a ram or a he goat; turtle doves or young pigeons. Some authors have suggested that scales of appreciation, degrees of apprehension and levels of faith are represented by these various offerings.2 However the choice of offering would more likely depend on what was affordable in practical terms, as well as the sense of gratitude to God in the various circumstances of life. Nevertheless each of these categories of offerings was without blemish and was a sufficient and acceptable offering when presented by a true heart in Israel.
2 Jukes, A. “The Law of the Offerings”, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, reprint 1976;
Kane, D. “Meditations on the Levitical Offerings”, published privately, 1996.
When these instructions were first given there was an understanding in Israel that God was very near. It was evident that God dwelt in their midst in the tabernacle and, later, in the temple. However His presence amongst them eventually came to be taken for granted; they maintained an outward form of worship, but instead “brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick … Should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord” Mal.1.13.
For us today the act of simply quoting Matt.18.20, for example, will not guarantee God’s presence if our affections are not warm toward our Lord Jesus Christ, or if we are disobedient to God’s Word. Indeed Matt.18.20 will be to our condemnation if we act in such hypocrisy.
Leviticus chapter 1 opens with God’s call. This was the One Who had called to Moses out of the midst of the burning bush, Ex.3.4; and out of the mountain (Sinai), Ex.19.3. Exodus closes with the erection of the tabernacle, which was covered by the cloud of the Lord, with the glory of the Lord filling it, Ex.40.34-38. The next verse in Scripture, Lev.1.1, therefore, relates to a further call of God to Moses; a call “from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubims” Num.7.89. “And He called” is the common Jewish designation or title given to the book of Leviticus.
The “Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation” prefaces the first three chapters of the book and embraces the three sweet savour offerings: the burnt; the meal; and the peace offerings. These speak of Christ as the perfect Man meeting the claims of a holy God. Because the offering of Christ is accepted, man in faith can draw near to God and be accepted on the basis of His merits. The burnt offering typifies Him as Man coming to do the will of God; being prepared to bear the full cost of sacrifice; accomplishing His will; and glorifying Him in His death. John’s Gospel portrays that burnt offering aspect of the life and death of the Saviour, namely going into death for the glory of the Father and bringing to Him complete and eternal satisfaction.
We remember that the Law was originally delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, with its thick cloud, thunders, lightnings, smoke, earthquakes, prohibitions and sanctions excluding approach, Exodus chapter 19. However, the nation that had bound itself to complete compliance to the Law sinned grievously. Moses then broke the tables of the Law and interceded for the people, Exodus chapter 33. The Law was again given to Moses, “And the Lord passed by before him [Moses], and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin ...’” Ex.34.6,7. Thus the same Law was renewed but on a remedial basis. This replaced the original covenant, where blessing or condemnation depended solely upon man’s complete obedience, or otherwise. The Law is now, as it were, clothed with grace. Then, in Leviticus, relevant instructions are given, not from Mount Sinai, but out of the tabernacle and from off the mercy seat. While God here speaks words of grace and blessing, we must remember that those being addressed are still in the dispensation of Law and “(the law made nothing perfect,) but the bringing in of a better hope [did]; by the which we draw nigh unto God” Heb.7.19. The institution of the offerings thus enunciates God’s appointed basis of approach to Him, Who dwells in the sanctuary in their midst.
Although there had been burnt offerings before these, they were as a result of exercise by godly individuals, for instance Noah, Abraham and Job. Now we have specific regulatory provisions to standardise the conduct of the burnt offering in relation to tabernacle and, later, temple service. Hence, we have the statement, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord …”. The word used here for “offering” indicates that this is intended as an approach offering, with the emphasis on bringing the offering near to present it to God with solemnity. What a blessing that it is possible for a man to approach God! Man is the recipient of such condescending grace; yet God receives pleasure in man approaching Him with gratitude of heart as expressed tangibly by his voluntary offering.
We then have reference to the main categories of offering: “ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock”. There is no mention at this point of the possibility of offering turtledoves or young pigeons, hence indicating what was normally expected as a burnt offering. As another has said, “the offering presents the perfections of Christ as He gave Himself up to death because of His love to God and for God’s glory. Without reserve He surrendered His life in obedience to God in sharp contrast to Adam who forfeited his life by disobedience”.3 Therefore, the question to be asked by the offerer at the outset is not, “What is the least that I can bring that will be acceptable?”, but “Is the best that I can bring good enough for God?”
3 Kane, D. ibid.
Although we shall consider in more detail these categories of offering as we proceed, some introductory comments should be made. The young bull speaks of inherent strength, patient service, unwearying toil and productive potential. In the offering from the flock the ram speaks of strength and protection, with the he-goat setting forth carefulness of step and surefootedness in treacherous places.
This section opens with, “If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd”. This approach offering is also an ascending offering. Furthermore, it is not any young bull that is being offered, but ‘the son of the herd’, the very best.4 This is the pinnacle of devotion and gratitude, a man giving unreservedly to God that which is costly to ascend as a sweet savour of satisfaction. As the sacrifice burns slowly, the fragrance of that which speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ ascends as incense to God in worship. There is nothing as precious to God as true worship and there is nothing more costly to self. There is nothing perfunctory here, which stands as a rebuke to any who purport to worship with tired clichés and repetitive rigmarole!
4 Leckie, A. “The Tabernacle and the Offerings”, Precious Seed Publications, 2012.
The appropriateness of the offering is considered next, “let him offer a male without blemish”. Then, as now, a male animal will command a higher value, which restates the cost associated with this offering. As another has said, “the offering must be a male, symbolic of strength, initiative, activity and responsibility” and without blemish speaking of One Who was “a Man among men, living in the midst of defilement but Himself remaining undefiled”.5 How careful the offerer would be in selecting the best animal for the altar. His eye would be on all potential animals, scrutinising and discriminating until making his final selection. There must be no outward blemish; “there must be no abnormality, deformity, or defect”.6 The animal must be typical of One Who is “sinlessly perfect, perfectly sinless, in thought, word and deed”.7 Detailed consideration of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the days of the week should lead to enhanced quality in our remembrance, thanksgiving and worship.
5 Flanigan, J.M. “Christ in the Levitical Offerings”, John Ritchie, Kilmarnock, 2011.
6 Paterson, ibid.
7 Flanigan, ibid.
Next, “he shall offer it of his own voluntary will”, that is for his acceptance. The burnt offering in Leviticus chapter 1 was a voluntary offering; there was no statutory compulsion. It may have been a spontaneous response in gratitude to God as that of Elkanah and Hannah for answered prayer, 1Sam.1.24-28, or by David in gratitude for Divine restraint, 2Sam.24.18-25. Whatever the reason, the offerer was accepted in all the acceptability of the offering. Likewise, believers today are “accepted in the beloved” Eph.1.6.
Where it was to be offered is also detailed: “at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord”. This refers to the area in the court of the tabernacle between the gate and the door; the place where the brazen altar and laver were located. This location gives the most comprehensive view of the tabernacle and its environs to Israelites who are not priests. However, it is “at the door” as this is only as far as such an offerer might approach. Sinful men are unworthy to enter and can only draw near to God on the basis of sacrifice. The offering is sanctified by the brazen altar, which is the exclusive place of offering. Although others would see it, essentially the offering was for the eye of God. It was the offerer’s responsibility to present his offering at this place and no other. When God gives specific instructions, it is the hearer’s responsibility to obey fully and specifically.
The next activity of the offerer is described: “And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering”. The hand of the offerer is outstretched, approximately at eye level, to lean down upon the head of the young bull. Pictorially he is identifying himself completely with the offering. There is nothing transferring from the offerer to the burnt offering, but, symbolically, the acceptability and perfection of this offering transfers to the offerer. Not only is identification acknowledged, but the hand of the worshipping offerer upon the head of the victim conveys the thought of absolute dependence. This is verified by the next phrase, “and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him”.
Thus, the individual is enabled to draw nigh to God with perfect acceptance; the offering is accepted for the offerer. Textually “shall be accepted” is not proposing future acceptance, rather it is indicative of present certainty. The value of the offering is transferred towards, or is imputed to, the offerer. In type the offerer stands in all the good of consecrated self-surrender, even unto death. This typifies the acceptance we have in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world” 1Jn.4.17.
However, it must be noted that there are instances in Scripture where an offerer did not find acceptance with God. Remember the words of Samuel to the disobedient King Saul: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” 1Sam.15.22. Also, in the penitential psalm, King David says, “For Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” Ps.51.16,17. Such passages teach that the offerer must come with gratitude and a devoted heart. That which is hypocritical, insincere or mechanical will not be accepted.
The word for “atonement” here contains the thought of ‘covering’. While no actual sin is in view in relation to this approach offering, nevertheless there is recognition on the part of the offerer of personal inadequacy and limitation in the presence of a holy and infinite God and of the need to be ‘covered’. We must remember that this was a solemn act on the part of the offerer in the tabernacle court: there was no place for a casual attitude here. ‘To cover’ implies that God is graciously disposed towards the offerer.8 Atonement in the burnt offering focuses on what goes up to God for His satisfaction and our acceptance. This could not be secured without death by the shedding of blood and the altar fire consuming the offering to provide a savour of rest unto God. The wider doctrines associated with the words variously translated as “atonement” are not the subject of this chapter. However, “the explanation of this English word as being at-one-ment is entirely fanciful”.9
8 Boyd, J. “The Levitical Offerings”, Precious Seed Publications, 2009.
9 Vine, W.E. “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”, Oliphants, London, reprint 1975.
The offerer then slays the young bull. Strong, patient, untiring and perfect service ends in death. Looking at the offerer as a worshipper we concur with the comment, “his own life has not been acceptable so he offers another life which will be wholly burnt upon the altar … he himself becomes responsible for the death of the sacrifice in which he is accepted”.10 Killing the son of the herd “before the Lord” required steadfast purpose, strength and skill. Bringing the sacrifice of praise to God in relation to His Son requires the development of aptitude and skill: there is no room for haphazard application in the realm of worship. We need reverent appreciation of One Who said, “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father” Jn.10.17,18.
10 Flanigan, ibid.
Only after the young bull was killed did proper priestly activity begin. First of all: “the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar”. Only the priests could so act. The blood of the voluntary burnt offering was not taken into the tabernacle sanctuary as per the Day of Atonement, Leviticus chapter 16. The volume of bovine blood expressed at slaughter is considerable, averaging in the region of 13.5 litres.11 The word for “sprinkle” here really indicates splashing in large quantities, whereas the word in Leviticus chapter 16 is to sprinkle as drops.12 Here all the blood was splashed or poured out upon all four sides of the brazen altar; this was highly visible and unmistakable. Every view toward the brazen altar evidenced shed blood, which speaks of its universal and comprehensive value. The altar sanctified the gift laid upon it and upheld its value.
11 Harwood, R., MRCVS, personal correspondence.
12 Grieve, P. “Leviticus – What the Bible Teaches”, John Ritchie, Kilmarnock, 2010.
Again, the location is emphasised, “that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation”. Approach to God must be by the altar. Approach is facilitated by the altar being in line with the only gate into the tabernacle court. Moving in this area must be with an appreciation of the holiness of God. Without that which answers to our Lord Jesus Christ, to His Person and His vicarious death, movement in sacred precincts would be impossible.
The next responsibility of the offerer is to remove the hide from the young bull, “And he shall flay the burnt offering”. This in itself would be an arduous task, requiring strength as well as skill. Unless the offerer had previous experience of such an activity it is unlikely that this could be accomplished successfully. Therefore, the suggestion that the text might be better rendered ‘he shall have it flayed’ has obvious attraction.13 Assistance from those with skill, whether from Levites or associates, would be required to make the offering suitable for the altar. The hide was the only part of the offering of the herd specifically stated that did not go on the brazen altar. Rather it became the property of the officiating priest, Lev.7.8. Removal of the skin exposes the inwards to view. Typically, it speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ, perfect both inwardly and outwardly.
13 Flanigan, ibid.
Without a trace of Adam’s sin,
As Man unique in origin,
All fair without, all pure within,
Our Blessed Lord!
(I. Y. Ewan)
Then the offerer will next “cut it into his pieces”. The dissection and scrutiny of the constituent parts of the carcase is a further step in revealing inward perfection and worth. It typifies the skilled employment of the Word of God to reveal and expose the inherent perfections of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our salvation depends upon the eternal Son of God, taking holy manhood and making propitiation through His death. That should stimulate intense and detailed interest in Scripture in relation to the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like the intense interest of the offerer cutting his offering into its constituent pieces, we should have a thoughtful and worshipful interest in exposing to our wondering view the internal perfections of the Lord Jesus Christ. Detailed consideration of John’s Gospel, which is that most closely associated with the burnt offering, will reward a lifetime of study with the unfolding of His essential and moral glories, without any possibility of ever exhausting that subject.
The officiating priest “shall put fire upon the altar”. Live embers upon the brazen altar are spread evenly by him prior to laying “wood in order upon the fire”. Care and intelligent understanding must govern his approach to, and attendance at the altar. Fire speaks of the righteous and holy character of God: “For our God is a consuming fire” Heb.12.29. The wood offering aspect will be expounded in a later chapter of this volume. However, it is sufficient here to note that significant preparatory work was needed to cut wood to size, lay it upon the altar and in such a way as to aid combustion and apply the even intensity of the flame to bring out the sweet savour of the burnt offering. It is necessary to note the practical point for us today, that worship requires detailed preparatory study of Scripture. Without intelligent application to the text of Scripture, meditation upon it, with due comparison of text with text, there can be no developed appreciation of the glories of Christ. Measured preparation of the wood was arduous and unseen, but was vital to the outcome. Much time spent in private meditation and study may be required to set out in a cogent and lucid way the perfections of the Saviour in our worship. However, that time and energy, like the wood, all goes on the altar and is appreciated by God.
“The priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts” upon the brazen altar, or as in Mal.1.12 on “the table of the Lord”, to become, in effect, the food of God. It is only the death of the young bull that allows its constituent parts to be scrutinised and establishes its perfection and value. Again, it speaks of the inward purity of the thoughts, feelings and motive springs of the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone could say, “And He that sent Me is with Me: the Father hath not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him” Jn.8.29.
First of all the head is laid upon the wood that is on the fire. Surely this speaks of the mind, the understanding, the will and the thoughts of the incarnate Son of God? Only He could fulfil the command “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” Mk.12.30. Perhaps the most profound passage of Scripture dealing with His mind is in Phil.2.5-8: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Then the fat is to be laid upon the altar. The health and vigour, the holy and consecrated energy of the Lord Jesus Christ was all for God. This was also true of Him in adverse conditions: “Because for Thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face. I am become a stranger unto my brethren, And an alien unto my mother’s children. For the zeal of thine house hath eaten Me up; And the reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon Me” Ps.69.7-9.
All the parts were to be laid “in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar”. There was nothing random or careless here. Those who were orderly in their preparation (the wood) are also orderly in their presentation (the parts). Private reading and reflective preparation always underlie the public presentation of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ in worship to God. “Let all things be done decently and in order” 1Cor.14.40. Intelligent worship will always be orderly; it will fuse Scriptural accuracy with the warmth of devotion. It need not be lengthy and should be free from affectation and sham. While worship will bring us back time and again to the blessed themes inherent in the Person and work of the Saviour, we must take care that orderliness in presentation is not confused with mere mechanical repetition.
The next task of the offerer is summarised in the words, “But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water”. This brings the offerer into even closer appreciation and identification with the offering. One hand had leaned hard on the head of the young bull as his other hand had applied the knife to take its life. Now those same hands are employed in the washing of the inwards and legs. Before considering the typical significance we should note the practicalities here. This animal was led, perhaps some distance, to the tabernacle court, was killed, flayed and dissected all in the open air, in a semi-arid environment upon ground that was potentially sand or gravel. There is no specific mention of any trestle type tables being used to aid the dissection and preparation of this large offering, but even if such were employed, washing would still be required to remove any unavoidable accretions. Washing was therefore a practical necessity to ensure the proper presentation of the offering.
Developing the practical aspect further, we see the offerer carefully washing the inwards. He is becoming ever more intimately acquainted with the internal organs of his offering and gaining an even deeper appreciation of what was surrendered in death. This is not surface work: this involves detailed consideration, careful examination and handling, all of which requires dexterity and sensitivity. It would be sad if any believers today are content to know the Lord Jesus Christ in only a superficial way with little subsequent development in their spiritual experience. Consideration of this aspect of the burnt offering teaches us that there is ever greater intimacy and appreciation of our Lord to be enjoyed.
The internal perfections of the Saviour are indicated by the washing of the inwards. What were His desires, motives, thoughts and feelings when here as Man upon earth? In Scripture water in a receptacle is typical of the Word of God, which can be applied in the power of the Holy Spirit. This practical washing of the inwards is intended to make the offering typically what the Lord Jesus Christ was intrinsically. Remember it was written of Him, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: Yea, Thy law is within My heart” Ps.40.8. He said, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work” Jn.4.34. Also, “For I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” Jn.6.38. These, and many other verses, demonstrate the feelings and thoughts of the Saviour during His consecrated life here, devoted to God. He was perfection personified. Meditation on such passages should lead us to wonder; and wonder should lead us to worship.
Similarly, the legs were washed by the offerer. This speaks of the walk of the Saviour on earth in fellowship with God. “Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as He walked …” Jn.1.35,36. The movements of the Lord Jesus Christ are instructive: how He walked, where He walked, with whom, for what purpose, are all subjects to enthral the reader of the four Gospels.
Once the washing of the inwards is complete, the activity reverts to the officiating priest, “And the priest shall burn all on the altar”. The word for “burn” indicates that the fire causes the ascending of a perfume or incense. Everything in full surrender is tested by the fire and all ascends with acceptance to God. The Lord Jesus Christ, whether in His mind, His vigour, His feelings or His walk, is brought to the test of Divine and infinite holiness and righteousness. The result of this testing provides comprehensive attestation of His perfections.
So we have an ascending offering, “a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord”. This reminds us of Eph.5.2, “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour”. The burnt offering of the herd, all its strength and vitality, therefore ascends to God as a sweet savour for His appreciation. Another has stated: “These are the words the Holy Ghost uses to make known to us God’s thoughts of that Blessed One and His sacrifice. Fire signifies generally God’s testing judgment. Fire and the sweet savour go together. Tested to the utmost, and the more He was tested the more the sweet savour came out.”14 His testing revealed only perfections.
14 Kingscote, R.F. “Christ as seen in the Offerings”, Crimond House Publications, reprint 2011.
We now consider an offerer coming with either a sheep or a goat for a burnt offering. Obviously these animals are considerably smaller and of less financial value than a young bull. We are not told specifically why a smaller offering is brought. It is possible that the offerer could not afford more. In this case the degree of appreciation was commensurate with the person who offered from the herd. Alternatively, the offerer may have a young bull, but his gratitude or level of appreciation was of a lesser standard. However, “the believer’s acceptance before God does not depend upon the extent of his appreciation of Christ but upon God’s appreciation of the supreme sacrifice He made at Calvary”.15 While the value of Christ’s sacrifice does not decline, the standard of response, as typified in the burnt offering, and the reasons for that, may vary.
15 Kane, ibid.
Whereas only one type of offering was appropriate from the herd, two possibilities exist “of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice”. These typify different features of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are no longer considering the strength and productive labour of the young bull, but lowliness (the sheep) and surefootedness (the goat).
Typically, the sheep speaks of One Who could say, “I am meek and lowly in heart” Matt.11.29. The sheep displays passive submission, gentleness, patience and unresisting self-surrender when it comes to face slaughter. “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, So He openeth not His mouth” Isa.53.7.
In type the goat speaks of One Who was careful in His walk. One of the examples in Prov.30.29-31 of being “comely in going”, or exhibiting ‘stateliness of step’, is “a he goat”. “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps” 1Pet.2.21. Majestic and beautiful in stately movement, with steady step and resolution of purpose, surefooted and without any misstep or slip, the goat typifies these aspects in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Without a waver in His ways,
Steadfast and true through all those days,
Subject of everlasting praise,
Our Blessed Lord!
“He shall bring it a male without blemish” relates to both categories of offering from the flocks. In addition to meekness in the sheep and surefootedness in the goat, we have the ram and the he goat exhibiting protective strength in their magnificent horns. Remember One Who prayed in the upper room, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy name: those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled” Jn.17.12. Irrespective of the circumstances, there is One Who is the leader of His flock, whether typified as the ram with the sheep in the lowland pastures or as the he goat on the upland crags.
As well as bringing his offering from the flocks, the offerer “shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before the Lord”. The north in Scripture often indicates danger, darkness or death, but such an interpretation would seem incongruous in relation to the tabernacle court. This is a different location for the killing of the ram or he goat to that of the young bull, Lev.1.3. The man who offers from the herd has a central view of the gate, the brazen altar and, beyond that, the laver and the door. The man who offers from the flock has a more oblique view, seeing things from a different angle, standing on the shadowed side of the brazen altar. While not wishing to make undue distinctions, not only does the type of offering vary but perspectives may also vary, yet all bring out the multifaceted glories of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Near the cross, O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadow o’er me.
(Fanny J. Crosby)
The details in these verses in relation to the burnt offering from the flock parallel those regarding the burnt offering from the herd, so discussion on these need not be repeated here.
This section opens with the words, “And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the Lord be of fowls, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves, or of young pigeons”.
The first thing to note is that there is a sharply declining scale in the nature of the offering from the herd to the flocks to the fowls, albeit each offering is a sufficient offering. Secondly, the larger the offering, the smaller the offerer appears and vice versa. Thirdly, with the declining scale of the offering the offerer has fewer duties to perform and the priest has more. Fourthly, fowls are always offered as pairs.
In relation to motherhood and purification, the offering of the fowls was indicative of relative poverty: “And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles (turtledoves), or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean” Lev.12.8. Joseph and Mary came to the temple “when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished … to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” Lk.2.22-24. If the offering of fowls for a burnt offering is viewed as a poverty offering, it speaks of One Who experienced it, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” 2Cor.8.9. However, these fowls are not earthbound, and so are also suggestive of One Who could say, “I came down from heaven” Jn.6.38.
Turtledoves and young pigeons each speak of gentleness, cleanness, mourning innocence, fidelity, and a homing instinct: all that we associate with a ‘dove-like spirit’. While the raven sent from the ark by Noah could find floating carrion to rest on, “the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark” Gen.8.9. Hezekiah could say, “I did mourn as a dove” Isa.38.14. Yet there is also a sweetness in song: “the time of the singing of birds is come, And the voice of the turtle[dove] is heard in our land”, and, “O my dove … let me hear thy voice; For sweet is thy voice” S of S.2.12,14.
Turtledoves, in flocks of hundreds and sometimes thousands, are a common spring and autumn passage migrant through Israel: “Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; And the turtle[dove] and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming” Jer.8.7. As a passage migrant, its flesh is palatable.
Young pigeons refer to the progeny of the rock dove, from whence we derive our domestic or feral pigeon. These are a resident species in the wild but have also been domesticated via the use of dovecotes to provide an alternative meat supply. However, with age the flesh of pigeons is much less palatable, hence the fresh meat of pigeon squabs is preferable. The principle that we should not offer to God that which is rejected by man is supported by Mal.1.13,14.
With the exception of the offerer bringing the fowls to the tabernacle court, the priest does everything. “And the priest shall bring it unto the altar.” This offering is small and delicate so a skilled hand is needed to present it, ensure that all is done carefully and that the limited volume of blood is drained appropriately. The priest will then “wring off his head”, or pinch it off cleanly, “and burn it on the altar”. The smallness of the bird amplifies the violence of its end. Its little head is reverently laid on the brazen altar before the eye of God.
The next priestly act is to ensure that “the blood thereof shall be wrung out at the side of the altar”. This would require a smooth action to rotate the bird’s body to allow the blood to drain downwards within seconds of the head being removed and placed on the altar. If done competently a sufficient amount of blood will be released.
An interesting feature is then seen in relation to the offering of the fowls. The officiating priest “shall pluck away his crop with his feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east part, by the place of the ashes”. It is appreciated that the R.V. renders this as “its crop with the filth thereof” with “feathers” as a marginal reading; and Spurrell as “the crop with its contents”.16 However, others have asserted that “there seems little reason to abandon the thought of plumage or feathers here” and have provided their rationale.17 Many apply as its meaning that everything that is outward and ornamental, all that is undigested and/or stale, should be discarded from worship. Also, they assert that there is nothing in these to speak of the Lord Jesus Christ, hence they are discarded.
16 Spurrell, H. “A Translation of the Old Testament Scriptures from the Original Hebrew.” James Nisbet & Co., London, 1985.
17 Grieve, ibid.
While we have instructions about what did go on the altar in relation to the offering of the ruminant animals (male cattle, sheep and goats), there is nothing said about what was discarded. However, a visit to an abattoir to witness the slaughter of any of those species will demonstrate that a significant volume of what is within the animal is not suitable for the altar! The oft-made statement in relation to the burnt offering that ‘all went on the altar for God’ is only true of all that is typical of life and energy surrendered in death.
In relation to the fowls, and only the fowls in Leviticus chapter 1, there is instruction in relation to what was not to go on the altar, namely crop and feathers. Yet, specific direction is given to the subsequent handling of these. The question then arises as to why this might be so.
Let us consider the feathers first. What is it that makes birds distinct from all other creatures? It is not flight, nor egg-laying, even though those may be the features that come first to mind! It is feathers that are the unique and inherent distinctiveness shared by all birds, to the exclusion of all other species. Doves and pigeons have hundreds of feathers: down feathers, contour feathers, and flight feathers, without which a bird cannot become airborne. In relation to the Lord Jesus Christ we read of “the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” Jn.17.5. While He relinquished nothing of His Deity on incarnation, nevertheless His eternal glory was not in outward radiant manifestation during His sojourn here, although His moral glories were evident to those with eyes to see them. Also, His going back to glory will only be by way of sacrifice, and it is suggested that this is what is emphasised by the removal of the feathers.
Not all birds have crops, but doves and pigeons certainly have. It is part of the oesophagus intended to produce crop milk to feed offspring. However, we read concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, “He was taken from prison and from judgment: And who shall declare His generation? For He was cut off out of the land of the living” Isa.53.8. Death, leaving no heirs, was keenly felt in Israel. Yet as a result of His death at Calvary we read, “He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” Isa.53.10,11. His acquisition of a seed will only be by way of sacrifice and may be alluded to by the removal of the crop.
Crop and feathers are then cast “beside the altar on the east part, by the place of the ashes.” This is not a dismissive, but a reverent action. This location is directly in line with the gate, the brazen altar, laver and door, so has a similar viewpoint to that of the burnt offering from the herd. We shall consider the “place of the ashes” in more detail later in relation to the law of the burnt offering.
With the heads of the fowls already on the altar, and the crop and feathers removed, the turtledoves or young pigeons will now appear very much smaller in the hand of the priest. Their smallness and delicateness precludes any further division, or discrimination of carcase parts, as per the burnt offerings from the herd or flocks. Such would incur breakage, which would not typify One of Whom we read, “A bone of Him shall not be broken” Jn.19.36.
However, there is a partial division to open the carcase of these birds, “And he shall cleave it with the wings thereof”. Either the wings were carefully pulled apart to allow the tender flesh on these birds to split along the breast, or a careful incision was first made along the breastbone. Thus, the inwards of the bird were exposed to priestly view, but care was taken in this procedure to ensure that he “shall not divide it asunder”. This would remind us that due care and reverence need to be taken in relation to our considerations: “there is an inscrutability about the Deity and humanity of Christ”18; One Who is “wholly God and wholly man in a mysterious hypostatical union impossible of definition”.19 The acacia wood and pure gold in the ark of the covenant could be distinguished but never separated, conjoined but never blended, so there are aspects and facets of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ that can be reverently pondered and wondered at, but they can never be divided or separated. Hence the birds, while split open, and their inwards disclosed, cannot be divided asunder. So we may muse upon His love to God and to man, His desires, His purpose, the features that are seen in perfection in Him, but we must be careful to hold all together as with bowed head we look on with holy and priestly awe.
18 Kane, ibid.
19 Ruoff, P.O., “The Spiritual Legacy of George Goodman”, Pickering & Inglis Ltd., London, 1949.
There is no washing of the offering of the fowls because none is required as, in expert and priestly hands, there should be no practical contamination of that to be presented.
The offering from the herd, the flock or of fowls are equally “a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord” Lev.1.9,13,17.
Whereas Leviticus chapter 1 gives directions to the offerer and the priest in relation to a voluntary burnt offering, the “law of the burnt offering” in Leviticus chapter 6 relates to priestly duties associated with the disposal of the ashes, the garments to be worn and the mandatory continual burnt offering.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering’”. The word “command” is used here for the first time in Leviticus as the priestly family is responsible to comply with Divine direction and details. So attention to detail is required, with severe penalty being incurred in respect of failure to obey Divine command. There are no grounds whatever for anyone to conclude that Biblical detail and requirements are either non-essentials or trivia. That is a dangerous mindset. It was blatant violation of Divine instruction that led to the death of two of Aaron’s sons, Lev.10.1-3; Num.26.61. Also, it was disregard for and direct violation of Divine commands in this, and other areas, that led to the characterisation of Eli’s sons as “sons of Belial” 1Sam.2.12, and their dishonour and death, 1Sam.4.11.
The words, “It is the burnt offering, because of the burning upon the altar all night unto the morning” relate to the evening sacrifice of a lamb. The fragrance of that which speaks of gentleness and submission ascends throughout the night. Those in the camp of Israel could rest securely all through the darkness of night under the shelter of the value of the evening sacrifice. The altar fire, burning slowly all night, causes an aroma of acceptance to ascend to God. For believers today it is encouraging to recall that the acceptability of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ remains constant, as does our security, irrespective of the darkness of the night of our experiences.
Dear, dying Lamb! Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.
The priests were responsible to keep the fire burning on the altar and also in relation to the sacrifice: “and the fire of the altar shall be burning in it” (a phrase that is repeated in Lev.6.12 in relation to the morning sacrifice). This parallels Psalm 134, the final psalm in the fifteen consecutive “Songs of degrees”: “Behold, bless ye the Lord, All ye servants of the Lord, Which by night stand in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the Lord. The Lord that made heaven and earth Bless thee out of Zion”.
There is a need for us to ensure that in praise and service our exercise is fanned into flame, is kept warm and is evenly applied: “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee” 2Tim.1.6. It is not lack of gift that is our problem today, but lack of sustained exercise of gift! On occasion the fires of exercise may wane because of sin and the atmosphere around, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” Matt.24.12. However, as well as external discouragement there can be internal Laodicean-like lethargy, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth” Rev.3.15,16.
There is also the need to keep worship and service in proper balance. We remember the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” Jn.4.23,24. There is something inappropriate if any brother should presume to engage in gospel preaching or Bible teaching without his voice first having been heard audibly and acceptably in worship. Should such be the case then something has gone sadly awry in personal and, possibly, assembly testimony.
We should each personally reflect upon all of these practical issues and, with Divine enablement, seek to remedy them.
We then have information given about the garments of the priest: “And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen breeches shall he put upon his flesh”. These are equivalent to the garments worn by the high priest when entering the most holy place, the holy of holies, on the Day of Atonement, Lev.16.4. The similarity of dress here required in relation to the removal of the ashes elevates this activity well beyond the mundane. These were garments appropriate to close contact with the death of the victim, Ex.28.42,43. Garments that speak of spotless righteousness are required when taking up the ashes to place them beside the brazen altar.
Careful handling is required on the part of the officiating priest: “and take up the ashes which the fire hath consumed with the burnt offering on the altar”. The ashes are the evidence that the testing fires are past and can never be repeated. We remember it was the clean hands of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus that reverently handled the body of our Lord Jesus Christ when He had exhausted the righteous judgment of God at Calvary, and died upon the cross.
The next act also speaks of the place of a dead Christ: “and he shall put them beside the altar”. There was reverence in relation to the ashes. The feathers and crop were similarly handled, which supports the view that they have relevance to our Lord Jesus Christ. The location is given “on the east part” Lev.1.16, that is facing the gate of the court. The first rays of sunrise would therefore illuminate the ashes pertaining to the evening sacrifice that had ascended fragrantly to God during the hours of night.
Then something unexpected happens, “And he (the priest) shall put off his garments, and put on other garments, and carry forth the ashes without the camp unto a clean place”. So the priest divests himself of his linen garments and puts on ‘ordinary’ clothes before removing the accumulation of ashes from beside the altar to a clean place, that is, without the camp where the sin offering was burned, Lev.4.12. However, the priest is now only distinguished from all other people by: where he is coming from; where he is going to; and what he is carrying. This priest has officiated at the brazen altar, has witnessed the sacrificial offering up of a life, is going to visit the clean place where the sin offering is burned outside the camp, and is carrying the evidence of a sacrifice consumed. Surely he will be marked by a dignity and seriousness that others do not manifest? He is linked with the sanctuary and the place of reproach; and so are we today. While we are ‘ordinary’ people we should be a distinct people owing to our association with the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The law of the burnt offering states, “And the fire upon the altar shall be burning in it; it shall not be put out”. Care had to be taken to ensure that the altar fire was not extinguished: it was vital that it be kept aflame. We have considered the evening sacrifice, now we turn to the morning sacrifice. “And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order upon it; and he shall burn thereon the fat of the peace offerings.” An evening and a morning sacrifice is indicative of the need to ensure a continual ascending of fragrant worship to God.
As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.
The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.
The law of the burnt offering ends with the stirring words, “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.” The continual ascending of a sweet savour to God, as a result of the consuming fire testing to the utmost the perfections of the offering, is the measure of the Israelite’s acceptance. Dispensationally, Israel will awake in a future morning to realise the value of the burnt offering through the long night of their rejection. Practically we today can revel in the acceptance we have in the value of Christ’s acceptance before God, not only in time, but for all eternity!
We have considered the instructions concerning the voluntary burnt offering in Leviticus chapter 1. We have also considered the law of the burnt offering in Lev.6.8-13, which governs the offering of a lamb every evening and morning: the continual burnt offering, Ex.29.42.
Space constrains any extensive coverage of the subject of the burnt offering throughout Scripture. As well as the continual burnt offering, two lambs were offered for a burnt offering every sabbath, and burnt offerings were also made on the first day of each month, Num.28.9-11.
In addition, burnt offerings were associated with the annual Feasts of Jehovah: the Passover; Unleavened Bread; Firstfruits; Pentecost; Trumpets; the Day of Atonement; and Tabernacles. Burnt offerings were also associated with: consecration ceremonies; dedications; cleansings; and the completion of vows.
Throughout Israel’s Old Testament history burnt offerings had daily, weekly and monthly importance; were an integral part of their annual festivals; and featured at important events in national and personal life.
Ezekiel’s prophecy shows that burnt offerings will be reinstated in relation to the future millennial reign of Christ.
It is ever God’s intention that His people keep the relevance of the burnt offering before them.
May we too muse upon, and ever walk in the light of that which foreshadows Calvary’s love, devotion and sacrificial surrender.