Posted by Mark Herzer

Leviticus 1:3-17, Burnt Offerings of bulls, goats, and birds

These verses cover the three types of the same sacrifice, a burnt offering (vv. 3, 10, 14) – a whole offering completely burned to ashes (the word means to ascend, go up as in the smoke of the sacrifice going up to God). The donor offers up a bull from the “herd” (v. 5), or a sheep or goat from the “flock” (v. 10), or an “offering of birds” (v. 14) — they are listed according to their value, the most expensive and costly to the least. That is why the sections start of with “IF” — options according to their abilities were presented to them. This offering is “to the Lord” (v. 2) and performed “before the Lord” (vv. 3, 11). Most likely the bull as well as the animal from the flock and one’s birds were all offered on the “north side of the altar” (v. 11).

The sacrifice makes atonement (“covers over”) for the offerer (v. 4). The laying on of his hand on the head of the “of the burnt offering” (v. 4) means the animal served as his substitute.[1] “He lays his hand upon the animal’s head, indicating that it is his substitute as well as his own property, and that he is giving of himself symbolically in the ritual.” (Tyndale) The ritual means either a transference of guilt or simply an identification of the one offering the animal.

Flaying (v. 6) the animal allowed the priest to keep the hide (Lev. 7:8, “The priest who offers a burnt offering for anyone may keep its hide for himself.”) and the cutting them most likely enabled the sacrifices to burn completely through. The collected blood (v. 5) was dashed against the altar. It is probably the worshipper who probably had to slaughter and flay the animal.

When offered according to God’s prescription, the sacrifice would be “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (vv. 9, 13, 17). Some have suggested that male animals were more expendable since the females would be able to replenish the herd and flock – this was a kindness to them.[2]

The NT makes it clear that the blood of these animals did not in and of themselves cleanse them from their sins: “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb. 10:4) Those sacrifices looked forward to the ultimate sacrifice which is Christ, the perfect lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In Eph. 5:2 we read that Christ “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Let me apply two important truths to us:

  1. Let us marvel at the costly sacrifice. These offerings came from their herds and flocks — their property. It cost them something. Wild undomesticated animals would have cost them nothing. The animals had to be unblemished (vv. 3, 10)- the best of the animals. However, we have a debt we cannot pay but our Lord paid it in our behalf with His own life. So we read, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20) God paid our debt with the death of His Son. Let us gratefully respond by glorifying God with our lives!
  2. Secondly, though we no longer sacrifice animals to satisfy divine justice, we are taught from Mk. 12:33 this simple truth, “And to love him [God] with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” We do this in response to the once for all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus which secured our pardon and salvation. In response, endeavor to keep the two great commandments out of gratitude!

[1] This practice is common and abundant examples will be found in chs. 3 & 4.

[2] Males were also considered to be of higher value in that culture.


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