First Things First (Leviticus 1:1-17)

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One of the questions that we discussed recently in our Grace Groups was, how would you answer someone who asks you—a modern, technologically-advanced inhabitant of Southern Africa—why you are studying all of the seemingly irrelevant and weird laws and details of Leviticus? No doubt, several answers were given to this question. Let me suggest two, which are essentially one. We are studying this book because it is God’s call to worship. And His call to worship is a call to commune with Him; it is His call to us to come and to know Him. We could say that we are studying this book to know God and to make Him known. That is why God gave Leviticus to the children of Israel, and why we are studying this book.

As we grow in our knowledge of God’s character, our character is also impacted and changed. And where there is a change in our character there is also a corresponding change in our conduct. In the words of Leviticus 19:2, because the Lord our God is holy, we are to be holy. After all, it is God who sanctifies us (Leviticus 20:8). But this change is to be lived before a watching world. Like the children of Israel, we are to so engage a watching world that it feels the weight of glory, the very heavy glory of God. But where does all this begin?

Now consider this: The children of Israel were at Sinai and the tabernacle had been constructed and erected. It had also been glorified by the Lord’s presence. In approximately a month’s time they were scheduled to begin their march to conquer the Promised Land. God was establishing His kingdom on earth. He had been moving human history towards this goal ever since Genesis 1. The fall had occurred but God’s purpose had not changed. He would have His people in His place under His precepts enjoying His presence. But where does this begin?

In the book of Leviticus we have the record of the Lord’s revelation to Moses concerning how His people were to live in His place in order to enjoy His presence. You could say that Genesis and Exodus are about who they were to worship while Leviticus is about how He was to be worshipped. In Leviticus God reveals His prescriptions—His precepts, if you will—to His people for the purpose of them worshipping God in all of life. If they kept the law of the Lord as revealed in Leviticus then they would experience God’s blessings; if they disobeyed then they would experience His judgement, or His curses.

Their obedience was to be comprehensive. Whether in the area of criminal justice, economics, child rearing, or social welfare, the nation of Israel was being called to worship God (to bow to His will) in every area of life. And by doing so they would be the means of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covering the earth as the waters cover the sea. But where does such a life begin?

Before the children of Israel could impact the nations for the glory of God, they needed to be sure that they themselves were right with God. After all, those who call others to repent must themselves be repentant. Those who call others to faith in God must themselves have faith in God. The best evangelists are those who themselves have embraced and experienced the Evangel. And it is for this reason that the book of Leviticus commences with seven chapters of revelation with respect to sacrifices. “The sacrifices described in Leviticus 1—7 remind us of the basic needs we have as God’s people: commitment to God, communion with God, and cleansing from God.”1 They were fundamental to all that follows.

Apart from acceptable sacrifices God’s people could neither enjoy communion with God nor carry out their commission for God. I trust we will see in this study that the same is true for the new covenant church. So, first things first . . .

An Introduction to Sacrifices

The tabernacle having been constructed, erected and filled with the shekinah glory of God, the Lord now spoke: “Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel’” (vv. 1-2).

A Blessed Invitation

We learned previously that, as the Exodus record ended, Moses was outside of the tent of meeting. He was seemingly cut off from communion with God by virtue of the glory of God. As Paul wrote, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is clearly displayed in the historical context of Leviticus. And yet, in spite of this, God who is abundant in lovingkindness (Exodus 34:6), took the initiative and called to Moses from the tabernacle and spoke with him. In the only instance in Scripture where God is recorded having spoken from the tabernacle to anyone outside of it, He called Moses and therefore those whom Moses represented to worship. He called them to communion.

However this invitation to communion was immediately confronted with an obstacle: Both Moses and the children of Israel were sinners. Therefore, in order for them to commune with God, they needed to meet the requirement of atonement for sins. Otherwise, to approach God who is holy would spell death for them—literally.

It is important to pause at vv. 1-2 to contemplate God’s sovereign grace in initiating our true worship. If you are worshipping the true God today in His appointed way (in spirit and in truth) then you are doing so only His grace. Apart from God’s sovereign and therefore free grace2 you would be worshipping a false god.

If we will worship God then God must initiate our worship. That is why Jesus said that God seeks true worshippers, those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). God takes the initiative. If He did not then, in spite of all of our religiosity, our worship would be rejected and we would remain hopelessly separated from God.

Please also note an obvious but all-too-often overlooked element here: The invitation to sacrifice came via the Word of God.

Many have observed that the tabernacle served two primary functions. First, it was a place from which the Word of God was revealed (Exodus 25:22; 30:6). Second, it was the place where Israel worshipped God. The two are inseparable. We cannot worship apart from the Word and where there is no Word there can be no worship. Verse 1 makes this clear. God initiated acceptable sacrifices and therefore acceptable worship by the revelation of His Word.

If we will worship God then we must hear His Word. And wherever His Word is eclipsed, worship cannot take place—regardless of how much activity may be take place. The Word initiates worship. Further, since this is true, we need to do all we can to get those who do not worship God under the sound of the Word of God. If it is true that God initiates worship via His Word then we need to expose those who do not worship God to His Word. Who knows whether God will initiate them to be worshippers as well (see Romans 10:13-17)?

Practically, invite people to study God’s Word with you. Invite your friends and family to church. Have lots of children so that your unbelieving family will come to church when you do a parent dedication!

Read the Word to your children. Read the Word yourself as a means to remind you of the invitation that you have received from God to worship. Listen to preaching.

Never take your opportunity to worship God acceptably for granted. You can only do so because God in His grace has initiated the invitation! When God calls you to worship do not turn a deaf ear to His voice.

A Basic Assumption

The book of Leviticus opens with seven chapters dealing with the regulations for sacrifice, and it operates from a historical context with which we may not be familiar. That is why the book opens with these words in v. 2: “When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD.” It does not say “if,” but “when.” There is an assumption here that the people will come to worship. All people are worshippers by nature; the issue, of course, is whom or what do they worship. This cannot be separated by how they worship. The true God must be worshipped and He must be worshiped in the correct way—the way prescribed by Him. The intention of chapters 1—7 is to give instructions to worshippers to ensure that they worship the true God correctly.

Most of us are somewhat unfamiliar with the concept of animal or grain sacrifices is—at least in terms of personal experience. But the children of Israel were very familiar with the concept. There was a basic assumption that they would worship and sacrifice formed a large part of this. This is why these opening chapters seem to assume that the reader will recognise these five different offerings.3

The children of Israel knew that sacrifices were a part of world history. They assumed that, in some way, sacrifices were related to how they could relate to God. It has always been this way. Allen Ross writes helpfully, “Sacrifice is at the heart of all true worship. . . . In the Old Testament it was not permissible to come into the presence of the LORD in the holy place without some kind of sacrificial gift. Sacrifice was the normal ritual act that symbolically expressed both the unworthiness and the dependence of the worshiper as well as the gracious provision of God.”4

The very first sacrifice in history was provided by God when He clothed fallen Adam and Eve with the skins of animals. We read of the first man-offered sacrifice in Genesis 4 when Abel offered to God from his herd and Cain from the produce of the field. Interestingly, there is no preceding Scriptural prescription for such sacrifice, but it is seems clear that this was a way of life for the first family. In order to please God in worship, faith-driven sacrifice was necessary (Hebrews 11:4, 6).

The next sacrifice that we read of is in Genesis 8:20-22 where Noah offered “burnt offerings” after his exit from the ark. That offering was a “soothing aroma” to God.

As you travel along in Genesis you read on many occasions where the patriarchs constructed altars. Clearly, these were for the purpose of sacrifice. Two very significant examples of sacrifices come to mind: those in Genesis 15 (confirming of Abrahamic covenant) and Genesis 22 (Abraham offering up Isaac).

In Exodus we read of sacrifice (burnt offering) in the story of the Passover and then in the covenant affirmation meal in Exodus 24:1-8 (the fulfilment of God’s promise of Exodus 3:12).

My reason for reviewing this history of sacrifice prior to Leviticus is to highlight that this was a way of religious life in the ancient world. Sacrifices were part and parcel of worship, especially in the life of the people of God.

As we learned previously, when God called His people to worship He did so expecting them to behave in a way that was cross-cultural. Their worship of the one true God was to be significantly different than way that the unbelieving nations worshipped their gods. This was the reason for these worship manuals which make up the book of Leviticus. And, of course, once we understand this it becomes quite apparent why the Israelites began with this book when teaching their children about God.

“Sacrifice is the heart of Israel’s worship, and therefore the regulations on sacrifice which are about to be announced are the most important.”5 And so, in Leviticus, we have the record of how God prescribed how this particular aspect of worship was to take place. “Here Moses explains how it is possible for the holy God to reside among sinful people. God’s presence may reside among the Israelites through the instrumentation of sacrifices.”6

Each of these sacrifices was offered by an individual as he felt the need to do so. Perhaps he wanted to praise God, to thank God, or to offer specific petitions to God. He would thus offer one of these sacrifices, depending on his desire and need. You will note the frequently recurring phrase “of his own free will,” or the word “voluntarily.” The individual had to meet the legislated detailed conditions for offering, but this was not a mere external act. The sacrifice was given willingly. The individual was to offer his sacrifice to God from the heart, for those who worship God acceptably do so “in spirit,” that is, enthusiastically, not grudgingly. God forces no one to worship Him. But by His grace He frees people to worship Him.

We would be wrong to assume that the mere act of offering a sacrifice pleased the Lord. Rather, only those offerings given by faith, motivated by love, and in accordance with the prescriptions as laid down by God, were a soothing aroma to Him. This would be a good place to emphasise that such an offering—in order to be acceptable to God—was to be offered from the heart by faith. “The rites were valid only if the attitudes and activities of the worshiper were in harmony with the spiritual standards of the faith. Without faith it has never been possible to please God.”7

Consider, for instance, the story of Cain and Abel. Cain’s offering was rejected, not because it was a bloodless offering, but as the writer to the Hebrews informs us (11:4, 6), because it was not offered by faith.

There is much that can be said about the matter of sacrifice in the Bible, and as we make our way through these chapters, we will from time to time make reference to some of these matters. For now, let us turn our attention to Leviticus as it describes the burnt offering. In a word, this was a sacrifice of “simply the best.”

The Instructions for the Sacrifice

The Lord laid down detailed instructions for the offering of a burnt sacrifice.

When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of the livestock—of the herd and of the flock.

If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. He shall kill the bull before the LORD; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. And he shall skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar, and lay the wood in order on the fire. Then the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; but he shall wash its entrails and its legs with water. And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.

If his offering is of the flocks—of the sheep or of the goats—as a burnt sacrifice, he shall bring a male without blemish. He shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the LORD; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar. And he shall cut it into its pieces, with its head and its fat; and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; but he shall wash the entrails and the legs with water. Then the priest shall bring it all and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.

And if the burnt sacrifice of his offering to the LORD is of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or young pigeons. The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off its head, and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out at the side of the altar. And he shall remove its crop with its feathers and cast it beside the altar on the east side, into the place for ashes. Then he shall split it at its wings, but shall not divide it completely; and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.

(Leviticus 1:2-17)

Worship must be regulated by God’s Word in order to be acceptable. The details are important. Samuel Balentine has written, “The readers of Leviticus will find God in the details.”8 Let us now briefly spend some time getting a handle on the details of this first sacrifice, the burnt offering.

“We are not left to our own devices when it comes to worshipping God. The people were to sacrifice what God commanded. They were called to trust God and offer what was acceptable to him.”9

The Purpose of the Sacrifice

The Burnt Offering fits in the category of a “meal” or “food” offering. The idea was not that God was hungry (cf. Psalm 50). Instead, because the worshipper was keen to express his sincerity and devotion to God in worship, he would therefore offer up that which was very valuable to him. It would be helpful for us to reflect on the reality that food was not as readily available in ancient days—and particularly in the wilderness—as it is in more industrialised nations of our day. For one therefore to offer up a food offering was costly, and thus to do so was to display a sincerity of heart.

The term “burnt offering” literally means “to go up” or “to ascend.” It refers most likely to the smoke of the fire-consumed sacrifice ascending to God. It is referred in other Jewish writings as a “holocaust” offering, thus describing the fact that the whole thing went up in smoke.

This was not necessarily the most important offering (the offering on the Day of Atonement would take that award) but it was one of the most frequent offerings. In fact, according to Exodus 29 and Numbers 28, twice a day (morning and evening) the priests were required to offer up a lamb as a burnt offering to the Lord. But here, in Leviticus 1, we have instructions to individuals who felt constrained to make such an offering to God.

The burnt offering might be sacrificed out of a sense of thankfulness to God, or out of a desire to praise Him, or because of a sense of sin before Him and a corresponding desire to be right with Him and to be in communion with Him. It was an act of wholehearted consecration to God.

The burnt offering was an offering in which everything was offered up to God, except the skin of the animal (7:8). “It signified both complete surrender to God by the offerer and complete acceptance by God of the worshiper who brought it.”10

Although, as noted, there were various reasons for making this sacrifice, the burnt offering made atonement for sin in a general sense (v. 4). “The burnt offering . . . reminds us . . . ‘of the necessity of atonement, not so much for what we fail to do, as for what we are,’ that is, sinners by nature and disposition as well as by practice.”11 This is perhaps why the whole animal was offered up: to atone for all that the sinner was. The result of a successful sacrifice was that “peaceful coexistence between a holy God and sinful man [was] a possibility.”12

The Price of the Sacrifice

Note that there was an economic cost to the worshipper. An essential ingredient of sacrifice is that it must be costly. “God in his mercy allowed sinful man to offer a ransom payment for sins, so that he escaped the death penalty that his iniquities merit. . . . The burnt offering was a high price to pay.”13 And, of course, it was well worth it.

Tidball writes instructively, “Worship that costs nothing means nothing. Worship that is cheap leads to cheap, superficial and diminished experience of the living God.”14 Second Samuel 24:18-24 gives a wonderful illustration of this truth.

And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” So David, according to the word of Gad, went up as the LORD commanded. Now Araunah looked, and saw the king and his servants coming toward him. So Araunah went out and bowed before the king with his face to the ground. Then Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.” Now Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up whatever seems good to him. Look, here are oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing implements and the yokes of the oxen for wood. All these, O king, Araunah has given to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” Then the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.

(2 Samuel 24:18-24)

Incidentally, the threshing floor mentioned here became the site for the temple that Solomon, David’s son, later built.

There were three options available to those who would offer a burnt sacrifice. It could be an offering from (1) the herd, (2) the flock or (3) a bird (turtledove or pigeon). Let’s pause here and make some important observations from the text with reference to these animals that were to be sacrificed.

The various creatures were all domesticated, which means that there had been some expense invested in caring for them. There was also, no doubt in many cases, an emotional attachment to the animals.

I have a friend who retired to a farm in another part of our country, where he now keeps cows. For the last few years, whenever a calf was born, he would name it after a friend or family member. He recently stopped doing this, because he has begun to slaughter the animals. He says it is somewhat harder to look Doug in the eye and slaughter him than it is to slaughter a nameless beast. Since the Israelites were livestock keepers, I assume that there would also have been some emotional attachment to their sacrifices.

Note also that the sacrifice was to be without blemish (vv. 3, 10). In other words, it was to be simply the best that they had to offer. Such a sacrifice again highlighted the economic cost to the worshipper, and to offer the best was an external statement of one’s sincerity in worship (see Malachi 1).

But it is also to be noted that, according to what was offered, there were varying economic costs. This is because God was making the benefits of sacrifice available to all and sundry. No one was barred from worshipping God because of their economic status. Demographics have nothing to do with devotion. “God’s grace is inclusive and His welcome is wide.”15

God did not intend to impoverish His worshippers, and yet worship was to expend a cost. This is precisely why Jesus commands His followers to take up their cross and follow Him.

The Place of the Sacrifice

If the burnt sacrifice appeared on a television documentary, it would probably be accompanied by a flashing warning: Don’t try this at home! There was prescribed place for the offering to be made: at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord. This, of course, was where the bronze altar was located. The animal was slain and burned there in the presence of the Lord.

Now that the tent was erected it was the only place where such sacrifices could be offered acceptably. Previously, sacrifices could be offered wherever an altar was constructed, but no more. One reason for this was to ensure that God was worshipped in accordance with His prescriptions. As Harrison has said, “One of the basic functions of liturgical form is to ensure that everything connected with worship is attended in an orderly and appropriate manner.”16 This is why, at BBC, we seek to order our worship as we gather.

The Preparation of the Sacrifice

Several steps were involved in properly preparing an acceptable sacrifice.

Identification

Verse 4 is extremely instructive with reference to how the Lord viewed the sacrifice. Though all of the acts were significant, this one would in some ways be the most emotional.

The worshipper was required lay his hand on the head of the animal. The word translated “put” (or “lay” or “place,” depending on your translation) means “to press down upon.” It pictures leaning one’s weight upon something. “Leaning implies dependency. Moses asserts that the worshipper is to rely on the gift for acceptance on his behalf.”17 This was probably to picture the worshipper’s identification with the animal to be sacrificed in his place. It was also a graphic illustration of one “leaning” or “trusting” entirely on the sacrifice as the means by which the worshipper was accepted: “It will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for them.” As perhaps the worshipper would feel the weight of God’s wrath (Psalm 88:7) he would now lean that weight upon another. This issue of substitutionary atonement is a heavy matter. “By the laying on of hands, not only does the sacrificer see the sacrificed on as his substitute, but he also gives himself wholly to God. He acknowledges himself to be God’s creature, required to serve God with all his heart, mind and being.”18

Let’s explore the meaning of the word “atonement.”

The Hebrew word is found numerous times in Leviticus (at least 58 times, in fact). It has traditionally been defined as “to cover.” It is famously translated in Genesis 6 by the word “pitch,” describing the resin with which Noah covered the ark. This word picture conveys to us the idea of God shielding His people from His wrath as, by faith, they entered the ark. Of course, this points to the Lord Jesus Christ, who shields those He saves from God’s wrath because He took God’s wrath for them. We are therefore said to be “atoned” or “covered” by Christ before a holy God. The word “atonement” has often been described as God’s gracious act of covering His people with the person and work of Christ, thereby protecting them from His wrath.

I support this use of “atonement.” However, recent scholarship has shown us that the word also carried with it the idea of purging or cleansing from sin. Further, the word also carries with it the connotation of paying a ransom to free another from an obligation.

Taking these various definitions together we can conclude that atonement is the means by which reconciliation takes place between those who are estranged. And when it comes to these sacrifices, it is sinful man and holy God who are so reconciled. “Atonement . . . means that by the sacrifice . . . the worshiper was cleansed of impurities and became reconciled or at one with God. . . . The purpose of this sacrifice was to turn away or appease God’s wrath against sin and defilement and thereby purge the offender.”19

Let me make one more observation with reference to the leaning. This made it impossible for someone else to make this offering on behalf of another. One could not be atoned for another. Each person stood alone before God.

Slaughter

After laying his hands on the animal, the offerer was required to slay it. I would guess that we are accustomed to thinking of the priests killing the animals. While this certainly happened a great deal of the time, in this particular sacrifice it was the offerer who slit the throat. “He shall kill the bull before the Lord” (v. 5; cf. v. 11). The exception here is if a bird was offered, in which case the priest was the one who killed it (v. 15).

This indicates to us that the worshipper was intimately and emotionally involved with this offering. “They were spared none of the violence and mess of offering a sacrifice, but were to experience it personally.”20 As he laid his hand on the head of the animal (thereby perhaps using pressure to keep it from moving) he would at the same time slit the animal’s throat. At this moment, no doubt, he would realise that the animal was dying in his place and at his hand. The idea here of substitution was both inescapable and tangible. “Slaying the animal is a form of judgment. The animal is condemned in the place of the one making the offering.”21 As Ross has commented, “This dramatic act was an emotional experience—the animal died at the hand of the offerer, crumpled to the ground at the offerer’s feet.”22

Throwing of Blood

The priests, of course, were present at the altar, and their responsibility was to catch the blood in a vessel. In the case of the bull and goat/sheep they would literally throw the blood on the sides of the altar. In the case of the birds the priest would have difficulty collecting its blood in a vessel so he was tasked with wringing off its head (v. 15). He would probably crush the lifeless body against the side of the altar forcing the blood to run out. This action illustrated the principle that the life of the flesh is in the blood, and since the blood was gone from the animal the sacrifice indeed was dead. A life had been sacrificed in the place of the worshipper. “This sudden display of the blood figuratively called out to God that satisfaction had been exacted through the death of the victim (cf. Heb. 12:24).”23

Butchering

The one making the sacrifice would then, in the case of the bull, butcher it. I assume that the reason for this was functional. It simply made it easier for the priests to handle when placing it on the altar. The same was true for those sacrifices from the flock (v. 12). With reference to the sacrifice of a bird, the worshipper would cut it down the middle without dividing it completely. It would then be placed by the priest upon the altar and consumed by fire.

This is reminiscent of the covenant which God made with Abraham in Genesis 15. Did this serve as a covenantal reminder to both the worshipper and to God? Was this a means by which the worshipper could lay hold of covenantal faithfulness of God?

Washing

There was one more important element with reference to the preparation of the burnt offering: the matter of cleanliness.

In each of these offerings the entrails were to be removed (vv. 9, 13, 16). In the case of an offering from the herd or the flock the entrails were to be washed, along with the legs (probably at the bronze basin), and then burned. The purpose was to wash away any excrement and other forms of uncleanness before being offered to God.

In the case of the birds, the crop (the gullet or stomach) was removed along with feathers (or perhaps the word means “contents”). These were not washed but were rather cast into the rubbish bin where the ashes were collected. These would eventually be disposed of outside the camp.

God is holy and nothing unclean is to be in His presence. Such actions would drive home to the worshipper a deepening sense of his own sinfulness and of God’s holiness. This would certainly engage his heart meaningfully in worship. Such should be our experience as we gather for corporate worship.

The Presentation of the Sacrifice

After the proper preparation had taken place, the priests would tend to the fire on the altar and would subsequently burn the sacrifice. I would imagine that as the smoke ascended so did the prayer of the worshipper: “Please God, accept this on my behalf. I give myself to you.” If all was done according to God’s prescription and from a heart of contrition and faith then it would be accepted by God as a soothing aroma. The worshipper would accept this by faith.

The Importance of the Sacrifice

There was one major reason for this burnt offering, and it was the same with all of the other offerings: the pleasure of the Lord. The burnt offering was a “sweet aroma” to the Lord (vv. 9, 13, 17). I like the way that the ESV translates this phrase: “a pleasing aroma.” Other good translations have it as “a sweet aroma” or “a soothing aroma.” The clear indication is that the Lord was satisfied. In other words, God did not simply accept the worshipper but it gave Him pleasure to do so.24

It must be emphasised that God was only satisfied when such worshipful sacrifices are offered according to His Word. When His instructions were followed to the letter, and when they were obeyed from the heart, then the Lord was pleased (see Psalm 51:16-17; Isaiah 66:1-6).

This was important, because if God was not pleased then He was displeased—and that would put the worshipper in grave danger.

Before the flood, God “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). One would think that God’s assessment might change after he had destroyed the earth and saved only Noah and his family, but when Noah disembarked from the ark, God’s assessment was much the same: “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” And yet despite the depravity of Noah, God accepted his offering as a soothing aroma (Genesis 8:20-22).

How could it be that Noah’s sacrifice was a soothing aroma despite the condition of his heart? It was so because God had initiated his salvation and provided a way of escape. God had also provided the animals to be sacrificed (see Genesis 7:2 with 8:20). We can assume from other Scriptures that God was pleased with these offerings because Noah had obeyed from the heart—from a heart touched by God’s grace.

You see, if God is pleased with the sacrifice then the offerer himself is assured that he is preserved alive wholly for the Lord. And thanks be to God that He provided a way to be right with Him—ultimately through His Son.

The Implications of the Sacrifice

God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He has not changed. He is still dangerous to those who try and approach Him in any way other than that which He has prescribed. Make no mistake: Everyone will one day stand before the Lord. Everyone will be summonsed to approach God. Everyone will one day be called to worship. How will you fare?

It all depends on whether you approach him your way or His way. And His way is the way of sacrifice. His way is the way of a sacrifice. His way is the way of the Sacrifice. His way is the Lord Jesus Christ who once claimed to be the way, the truth and the life—the only means by which a person could come to the Father (John 14:6).

The Lord Jesus Christ is the only one who can soothe the wrath of God, for He is the only one who can satisfy the justice of God. Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect fulfilment of the burnt offering of Leviticus 1. It is because of His sacrifice in our place that God’s wrath has been soothed and His chosen worshippers are saved.

In Hebrews 10:1-7 the writer clearly identifies the Lord Jesus as the One alone who could satisfy the wrath of God against believing sinners. Since it was impossible for the blood of bulls, goats and birds to take away sins, God sent His only Son to be the burnt offering by which we could enjoy everlasting communion with Him.

He was the burnt offering instead of Isaac. He was the lamb provided by the Lord (Genesis 22:8) to be the only acceptable sacrifice in the stead of believing sinners. He was the Lamb, a “male without blemish,” on whom the Father laid the iniquities of all who would believe upon Him. He was the One who died naked (as the burnt offering had been skinned) for sinners. He was the One who, of His own free will, laid down His life to be a sacrifice for His people. The burnt offering was a “type of complete exhaustion of wrath.”25 And God’s wrath that was exhausted on His only Son, Jesus Christ. He alone is the one whose sacrifice was the ultimate “sweet-smelling aroma” to God (Ephesians 5:2). Only the blind can miss the significance of Leviticus 1 and its relevant to the believer!

But if you have eyes to see let me urge you to lean upon the Lamb. Cast all the weight of your trust upon Christ and Christ alone. If you do so then your guilt is transferred to Him and His righteousness is reckoned to you. And when you lean then the Lord loves what He smells: His Son in whom He is pleased. And if God is pleased, then you are safe!

Finally, for those who have leaned upon the Lamb (and are doing so), let me make a final exhortation from the Word of God. If you have trusted Christ as your substitute—if you, in other words, have been saved—then with the apostle Paul I implore you to present your body to God as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1-2).

“If those God delivered from Egypt expressed their delight at his salvation, how much more should we, who look back to the greater salvation available through Christ, express our appreciation to him from hearts that overflow with gratitude—not because we must, but because we may?”26

Metaphorically, and yet very realistically, come to Christ again today and lay all on the altar. Recommit today to live for Christ in such a way that your life of self-sacrifice for Him will be a sweet smelling aroma to your heavenly Father. God seeks such to worship Him!

By all means, let us passionately pursue the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom on earth. But first things first: Offer to God your own life, wholly dedicated to Him.

Let me close with one quote from Tidball: “Believers who truly appreciate the wonder of God’s grace have no life of their own, nor do they desire one. For nothing pleases them more than being an aroma that is acceptable to God.”26

Show 27 footnotes

  1. Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 80.
  2. I use the word “free” in the sense that He is not compelled by anything except His own choice.
  3. The burnt offering (chapter 1); the grain or cereal offering (chapter 2); the peace offering (chapter 3); the sin offering (chapter 4); and the trespass or guilt offering (chapter 5).
  4. Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 73.
  5. Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 49.
  6. Mark. F. Rooker, Leviticus: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 80.
  7. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 73.
  8. Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to Be Holy (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 38.
  9. Philip H. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007), 37.
  10. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 85.
  11. Tidball, The Message of Exodus, 42.
  12. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, 56.
  13. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, 61.
  14. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 41.
  15. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 40.
  16. R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 40.
  17. Robert I. Vasholz, Leviticus: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 2007), 29.
  18. Rousas John Rushdoony, Commentaries on the Pentateuch, 5 vols. (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2005), 3:7.
  19. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 94.
  20. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 39.
  21. Vasholz, Leviticus, 29.
  22. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 91.
  23. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 92.
  24. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 95.
  25. Andrew Bonar, Leviticus: The Geneva Series of Commentaries (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1989), 11.
  26. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 45.
  27. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 45.