How an Israelite would offer their burnt offering matters to God. Unless it is offered in the prescribed way, it will not be acceptable, a pleasing aroma (Lev 1:3, 9, 13, 17). And when we dig into the mechanics of bringing a burnt offering, fascinating things seep from the text’s pores.
For the first time in my life, I’ve been spending significant time studying the book of Leviticus. You know, that book you and I have always avoided, except perhaps for annual reading plans? It’s all been fulfilled by Jesus, so we don’t need to know it very well, right?
Let me share just a few highlights of the beginning of my study.
Leviticus 1-7 lists the regulations for five types of sacrifice, each of which has a different focus. The first type is the “burnt offering” (Lev 1), and the thing that distinguishes the burnt offering is that it is the only sacrifice where the entire corpse of the animal is consumed in the altar’s fire. Every other sacrifice has some portion reserved for priest or people to cook and eat.
In addition, the burnt offering is not directly connected with sin. I have tended to flatten my understanding of Old Testament sacrifices to little more than substitutionary payment for sin. And yet, the first type of sacrifice, the bread and butter of the Mosaic system, is not a payment for sin. It is the sacrifice someone would offer when they simply want to draw near to God and express their loyalty or praise to him (“vows or freewill offerings” – Lev 22:18). The burnt offering simply makes it possible for people to draw near to God in worship, offering oneself completely, leaving nothing out.