Yellow Balloons Devotional Series: Advent

Leviticus 1:10-13

Leviticus is largely about directions for sacrificial ceremonies and worship, and might seem hard for the modern reader to relate to. However, the New Testament reveals the great extent to which the entire Tabernacle enterprise symbolizes eternal truths that are as relevant to the New Testament believer as to the Old.

In particular, the New Testament book of Hebrews says that all the Tabernacle items are copies of the real thing in heaven. It further discusses the meaning of the priesthood and sacrifices, all of which look forward to Jesus Christ’s ministry on behalf of a fallen race.

Chapter 1 begins with God calling to Moses from the Tabernacle. This comes following all the instructions at the end of the book of Exodus that describe many details for how to construct the proper earthly dwelling place for the Suzerain (Ruler) God who redeemed Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Now that the Tabernacle has been constructed, God’s presence occupies the spot between the cherubim (over the ark of the covenant). God explains to Moses how to properly perform the services and sacrifices that will be carried out in the courtyard of the Tabernacle.

The first sacrifice given is the burnt offering sacrifice. In Hebrew, the word translated “burnt offering” is “Oleh” which means “to ascend.” The ancient Israelites visualized the gift (or offering) ascending by means of the fire and smoke to God, thus calling it an ascension. God permits three types of animals for burnt offerings:

1. Male Cattle

2. Male Sheep or Goats

3. Pigeons or Doves.

God declares He wants to be worshipped a specific way. The way He directs. The typical way religious worship transpired in this era centered around moral justification for perverse behavior and transactional manipulation. This can be seen in Leviticus 18, which lists typical behavior seen in Egypt and Canaan. That list includes a startling array of incestuous practices, as well as sex with animals. Pagan worship often included sexually immoral practices. Pagan worship also promised transactional blessings, giving people the illusion of control. The two alternative approaches to choose from are “love God and love others” (the result of obedience to God’s way) or “be god and exploit others” (the result of following the pagan way).

This can be seen in Jeremiah 44:18, where the people claim that when they worshipped the “queen of heaven” they got what they wanted. Worship of the LORD God was totally different. The Suzerain God’s promised blessings were largely interwoven with His commands. A community that practices His command to love one another as they love themselves would be greatly blessed through mutual collaboration, encouragement, and care for one another. This requires setting aside fleshly desires or seeking moral justification, but rather seeking to serve the best interest of others. The worship of the True God presumes He knows what is best for us, and it is in our best interest to seek and obey His ways. This contrasts with pagan worship that presumes we know what is best for ourselves, that it is in our best interest to seek a means to fulfill our appetites.

The LORD gives Moses instructions for burnt offerings that are from the flock, sheep or goats.

All of these instructions for a burnt offering from the flock mirror the previously given instructions for the burnt offerings from the herd, except that they contain an additional provision that flock animals should be slain on the side of the altar northward. The north side of the altar may have been designated for slaughter, blood, and other parts not being offered on the altar.

The text does not say why this provision to sacrifice northward was given for the sacrifices from the flock and not the herd. It may have applied to both but only mentioned here. Another possibility is it presages Jesus’ crucifixion. The precise location of Jesus’ crucifixion is unknown, but it is possible Jesus was crucified along the main road on the north side of Jerusalem. This northward command could presage The Lamb of God’s death on the north side of the city. Hebrews 13:11-13 tell us that Jesus suffered death “outside the gate” (of the city), and this was foreshadowed by the requirement to burn the hides of sin offerings outside the camp (Exodus 29:14). It does seem that every detail foreshadowed Jesus’ life and death in some respect. While it would make sense and be consistent with known practice for Rome to place their victims along this busy road north of the city in order to create the desired deterrence effect, the actual location is unknown.

Just as with the herd, the flock sacrifices are to be a male without defect, just as Jesus was a male without defect.

Later in Leviticus 1, we will see that on the east side of the altar is the place of the ashes. With hundreds or thousands of Israelites coming to offer their sacrifices, things could get very messy if proper order was not maintained. It would have been important to keep ashes on one side of the altar and blood on another. Then as with the herd animals, the priests are to sprinkle its blood around on the altar.

He shall then cut it into its pieces with its head and its suet. The “suet” is the fat located on the kidneys and loins. The Jewish sages discuss this statement at length. They state that the head and suet are mentioned separately from the other pieces here because when Aaron’s sons the priests would arrange the body parts on the wood which is on the fire that is on the altar they would place the head and its suet together, apart from the other pieces, covering the place of slaughter (i.e. the cut on the throat) with the suet. The sages determined this was done out of respect to God and His creation.

The statement, The entrails, however, and the legs he shall wash with water, further shows the respect that was to be shown to the offering even after death. When the animal was cut into its pieces it would have been easy to mistakenly puncture the stomach or intestines, releasing waste onto the entrails and legs of the offering. God wanted this washed and kept intact prior to being arranged on the altar.

Then, the priests are instructed to arrange them on the wood, the wood on the fire, and fire on the altar. This unusual wording, showing a “stacking” of components, might be a foreshadowing as to what type of death was determined for God’s own Son. He was on a wooden cross, and judgement (often represented by fire) was poured out upon Him there. Abraham also bound Isaac his beloved son and placed him on the wood which was upon the altar. Isaac was spared the fire by God’s intervention and provision of the ram (Genesis 22:11-13).

The fact that the priest is asked to arrange the body parts further emphasizes orderliness and respect for the life of the animal. Then the priest is instructed to offer all of it up in smoke on the altar. This means this particular offering of ascent is offered in its entirety on the altar with fire. The phrase it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD emphasizes the root word translated burnt offering, which is “oleh” and means “ascend.” The sacrifice is to be cooked on the altar such that the smoke “ascends” and creates the imagery that it is ascending to God, and He will be pleased by its soothing aroma. The sacrifice is said to go up as a soothing aroma to the LORD, which speaks of the function of the burnt offering sacrifice, to make an “atonement” for sin (Leviticus 1:4).

Some interpret the burnt offering to be an offering that was completely charred, which would make it inedible. However, Deuteronomy 12:21,27 indicates the burnt offerings of the herd and flock were eaten. It seems the passages that command the Israelites to completely burn up the offering include a specific instruction to do so, such as the command they be “burned with fire” (Exodus 6:30; 7:17;7:19).

Biblical Text:

10 ‘But if his offering is from the flock, of the sheep or of the goats, for a burnt offering, he shall offer it a male without defect. 11 He shall slay it on the side of the altar northward before the LORD, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall sprinkle its blood around on the altar. 12 He shall then cut it into its pieces with its head and its suet, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood which is on the fire that is on the altar. 13 The entrails, however, and the legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer all of it, and offer it up in smoke on the altar; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD.