|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 28
Meditation Title: What is a Burnt Offering?
Lev 1:3,4 "If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD . He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
Where the people wanted to just bring something to God as an expression of their relationship with Him, the Lord tells them to do it in a particular way. There is a sense of reassurance about this because once there is a set way laid down, it means that the person bringing the offering will not be worrying whether what they bring is acceptable to the Lord. In addition, the prescribed way will no doubt leave the Israelite pondering on the significance of what he has done, and that in itself will deepen his relationship with the Lord. Note also that the offering brought is to be an animal from herd or flock (v.2). This will involve putting the animal to death at the doorway of the Tent (Tabernacle), and that also will leave the Offeror with a whole new appreciation of the value of life.
But what is this first offering all about? The other offerings give clues by their names – fellowship, sin, guilt etc. but this first one simply is described as ‘burnt'. Well, first of all that suggests that this is an offering that is just simply given to God. Once it is completely burnt, the animal is completely gone. The owner no longer gets any benefit from it. The fact that it is completely burnt up means that the owner completely gives it away and there is no taking it back. It is a complete letting go of the animal to God.
Remember we said yesterday that this offering was given freely. It is therefore to be an expression of an open heart to God, but even that is tested by ensuring that the Offeror conforms to the instructions. For those who come with very full hearts, they give the biggest and the best – a bull with nothing wrong with it (v.3a). This giving will be real! But perhaps the farmer doesn't own a bull and only has a flock of sheep or goats. That's all right; they will be acceptable (v.10). But perhaps he doesn't own a herd or a flock and so all he could obtain by catching, breeding or buying, would be a pigeon or a dove. Well that's all right (v.14). What does this say? It says that anyone could come and bring an offering regardless of their financial standing. No one is to be excluded because they are inferior. Provision is made for all classes of people in the congregation and each one is given some simple instructions to follow.
The giver must come with it to the entrance to the Tent where it is checked and approved (v.3b). Once approved the giver himself must put it to death (v.5,11) after he has placed his hand on its head (v.4a), identifying with it, as if to say, I transfer my sin to it so that it is received as atonement (v.4b), or a substitute taking my punishment due for my sin. Even when bringing a basic gift to God, there is a reminder of His holiness and our sinfulness. We can't approach casually.
The priests, in their official intermediary capacity, take some of the animal's blood and sprinkle it on all sides of the altar before the pieces of the animal are cut up and burnt on the altar. The blood represented the life of the animal (Lev 17:11 ) and so even before the altar is used there is a symbolic marking it with the signs of the life of the substitute. There is no casual use of this altar, it requires the laying down of a life before it can be used to approach God. Even the messiest part of the animal, its legs and entrails are washed before burning, indicating a required holiness of approach. When all this is done, it is said to provide a pleasing aroma to the Lord ( 1:17 ); simply He is pleased when the person reveals their heart by the obedience in their approach. This offering alone is completely burnt up and is the only one not eaten by others. In that sense it stands out as the basic offering that indicates total giving to the Lord.
This offering, the Law shows us, was offered morning and evening every day for all Israel at the Tabernacle (Ex 29:39-42), with double offerings on the Sabbath (Num 28:9,10), and extra ones on feast days (Num 28 & 29) It was, as we've said, the basic offering, given for no other reason than to express love to God, total commitment to Him.
We can sometimes forget that God is holy and cannot be casually approached. The only reason we can approach so easily on a Sunday morning or any other time we turn to God, is that Jesus has become our sacrifice to take our sin and open the way to God. Even our desires to bless God have to be sanctified because of their imperfection. When Jesus died to open the way up to God for us, it was for ‘whoever': “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). Jesus is God's means of approach for us today. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6)