The Lord's Day Evening
September 26, 2004
“The Burnt Offering”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to the third book of the Old Testament, the third of Moses’ five books, or The Pentateuch–the book of Leviticus. Tonight we begin a study in this great book.
Now perhaps this is the first time that you have worked your way through the book of Leviticus. Never fear, there is a New Testament counterpart that does much to help us understand the significance of the ritual that we will study in some detail. It is the book of Hebrews, the New Testament commentary on the book of Leviticus, especially in its significance as setting forth Jesus Christ.
It is, I think, particularly appropriate that we would undertake to begin our study of Leviticus on the day after Yom Kippur. Our Jewish friends in the area have just yesterday, on Saturday, beginning at sundown on Friday night and continuing through Saturday, celebrated that ancient Jewish feast, the Day of Atonement. The laws for that feast are set forth here in the Book of Leviticus, especially in chapter sixteen. And so we're beginning our study of the great ceremonial law of God, even on the day after Yom Kippur.
Before we read God's word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask His blessing on both the reading and the proclamation of His word. Let's pray.
Our heavenly Father we bow before You tonight, owning again the truth that all Scripture is given by inspiration. As we begin to study through the sacrifices of the Book of Leviticus, through its institution of the priesthood, through its setting forth of the doctrine of the Day of Atonement, as it sets forth before us the holiness code, and the blessings and curses of those who walk with or who do not walk with God. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful truth from Your word. We ask, O Lord, that You would show us Christ, and that by Your Spirit we would trust and rest in Him only. These things we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Before we read God's word, I do want to draw your attention to one word in this passage that you may not be familiar with. Verse eight (and you’ll see it again elsewhere), the word suet. Now those of you who are chefs or butchers may be well used to that term. But it refers to the fatty part of the animal around the kidneys. So be aware of that as we read through the passage. Let's hear God's word.
Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying,
“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock. 'If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. 'He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf. 'He shall slay the young bull before the LORD; and Aaron's sons the priests shall offer up the blood and sprinkle the blood around on the altar that is at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 'He shall then skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces. 'The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 'Then Aaron's sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head and the suet over the wood which is on the fire that is on the altar. 'Its entrails, however, and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer up in smoke all of it on the altar for a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD. '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. '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. '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. '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. 'But if his offering to the LORD is a burnt offering of birds, then he shall bring his offering from the turtledoves or from young pigeons. 'The priest shall bring it to the altar, and wring off its head and offer it up in smoke on the altar; and its blood is to be drained out on the side of the altar. 'He shall also take away its crop with its feathers and cast it beside the altar eastward, to the place of the ashes. 'Then he shall tear it by its wings, but shall not sever it. And the priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar on the wood which is on the fire; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD.
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Let me ask you to take your bulletin in hand and keep out the outline of Leviticus with you for just a few moments as I make some introductory remarks. This is our first in a series on this book, and perhaps a little background will help us appreciate more what we're encountering here in this book.
The first sixteen chapters of Leviticus contain at least these four things: In chapters one through seven, we see the regulations relating to the five great sacrifices. Those regulations are gone over twice. We’ll explain why in just a moment.
Secondly, we see the formal initiation of the Aaronic priesthood. You see in chapters eight through ten that particular section of the first sixteen chapters of Leviticus.
Thirdly, we see a discussion of the distinction between that which is clean and unclean. And we see this especially in chapters eleven to fifteen.
And finally, in chapter sixteen, we see the rituals of the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, set forth. Now that's what we see, roughly, in the first half of the book.
In the second half of the book, in the final eleven chapters of the book, from chapter seventeen to chapter twenty-seven, we see the ceremonial holiness code set forth for Israel.
Now we've already said in Leviticus 1-7 we see the ritual of the five great sacrifices described. But why is it that they are described in order from chapter one to chapter five, and then again from chapter six to chapter seven?
Well, the first time they are described from the standpoint of what is required of the one who is offering the sacrifice, the one for whom the sacrifice is being made–the offerer, the one who needs to be atoned for, the one who wants to come into fellowship with God, the one who wants to thank God. The second time it is explained from the standpoint of the requirements of the mediator, or the priest: the one who is officiating over the offering of the sacrifice. And you get a little bit of not only different perspective, but you get a fuller understanding of the sacrifice as it is dealt with from these two directions.
Now, it's important for us to recognize that the sacrifices that are being spoken of in Leviticus 1-7 are different from the sacrifices of the great festivals. Some of those festivals will be described in this book of Leviticus. Some of them have been described elsewhere in the book of Exodus, or will be described later in Moses’ writings. Those sacrifices, those festivals, were corporate gatherings of the whole of Israel, ideally, in which obligatory sacrifice was made. These sacrifices, however, are distinct. These are voluntary sacrifices. Notice the language that God gives to Moses: “When any man of you brings a sacrifice….” There's no command that He must bring this sacrifice; there's no command at what time he must bring this sacrifice. This is a voluntary sacrifice. It is a personal sacrifice. It's not something that he has to do at the same time with the rest of Israel. He does it when he feels the need to do it. He perhaps feels a need for the forgiveness of sin; or, in some of the other sacrifices, he feels a desire to thank God for His blessings; or perhaps he wants to commit himself in deep petition to God for something, and he wants to seal the seriousness of his prayer with a sacrifice. There are many reasons these sacrifices are brought, but they’re for personal reasons.
I think so often we will make contrasts like this: in the Old Covenant religion was corporate and external, whereas in the New Testament (or the New Covenant) religion is personal and internal. Well, of course that's a false dichotomy, because here in the book of Leviticus you have commands for both corporate and personal religion, and commands that pertain to both externals and internals.
The later prophets especially would focus on the heart of the one bringing these very sacrifices being right before the Lord, if these sacrifices are to mean anything. And so these sacrifices, unlike the sacrifices of the festivals, are voluntary; they’re personal; they’re spontaneous. They’re not commanded by God to be done in a particular time in a particular place. They’re brought by the voluntary desires of individuals in Israel.
Now you may be interested to know that the very first word of the book of Leviticus is “And”. Now, it's appropriately translated then in most of your Bibles, but this connects it directly with what we studied–oh, about nine months or a year ago–that is, the book of Exodus. And if you’ll allow your Bibles to flip back one page to Exodus 40, you will remember that the last time we were together in the book of Exodus we had finished a rather exhaustive study of the tabernacle. And what we're seeing in Exodus 40 is the filling of the tabernacle with the Shekinah glory, the manifest glory of the presence of God dwelling in the midst of Israel in the focal point of His presence, which is the tabernacle–right smack-dab in the middle of His people.
And so Leviticus, you see, is tacked onto those instructions about the tabernacle. The tabernacle instructions are given first, the instructions for the sacrifices of the tabernacle, and for the priestly work in the tabernacle, and for the congregation being drawn to the tabernacle. And so we see something of continuity between Exodus and the tabernacle narrative and the book of Leviticus. They go together like hand in glove. They are all part of one piece of the worship of Israel.
Now what is the function of this ceremonial system? You know, Gandhi, it is said, was reading happily through Genesis and Exodus. And he got to Leviticus, and he closed his Bible up. Now maybe it's because we were talking about slaughtering bulls, and maybe his Hindu sensibilities were offended by slaughtering sacred animals, at least in the eyes of his own homeland. But maybe it was just the incomprehensible goriness of what is described here, the mystery of what's going on here, the seeming nonsense of this action. What is the function of this ceremonial system?
Well, don't cheat too quickly! Don't turn too quickly to the book of Hebrews. The book of Hebrews helps us, to be sure, but there's plenty of evidence within the book of Leviticus itself to help us understand why God was commanding these things to be done. We’ll try and tease these things out as we work through the various sacrifices. But let me give you a brief overview.
First of all, the ceremonial system–this ritual system of sacrifice–was to serve as a means to aid the believers’ experience of the presence of God. You will have already noticed three times in the passage we've read, that God was pleased with the soothing aroma of the sacrifice, and that the believer was found acceptable and was able to draw near to Him. The sacrificial system clearly was designed to enable the believer to draw near, so as to experience the presence of the Lord.
The very purpose of the tabernacle being put down in the midst of Israel as she traveled in the wilderness was so that the people of God would know that God was in her midst. You remember that was the whole point of Moses’ prayer when God was about to rain down His righteous wrath on the children of Israel after the incident with the golden calf. Even when He had relented and told Moses, “OK, I won't destroy them, but I won't go up with them–I’ll clear the way before them, but I won't go up with them.” You remember Moses’ prayer: “Lord, if You’re not going to go up with us, if You’re not going to be right in our midst, then just kill us here.”
And so the tabernacle is the visible manifestation that God is right in the middle of His people, and the ceremonial system is the means whereby His people were going to enjoy the experience of that presence. By doing the sacrifices, you get to do what? You get to draw near to the tabernacle, which is on the outskirts of the Holy of Holies, which is the focal point of the presence of God with Israel. And so the system is designed to help you draw near to God.
Secondly, the ceremonial system provided a means to render thanksgiving to God. We’re going to see that in one of the sacrifices. It's especially designed to help a believer expresses thanks to God. One of the truths of both the Old and the New Testament is that a thankful heart is made to be a contented heart, and a thankful heart is a heart that is not only reveling in what God has given, but able to endure times in which God seems not to have given that which one might desire. And so a thankful heart is a great spiritual asset and weapon in the life of the believer, and the ceremonial system is designed to help cultivate a thankful heart. When God has blessed you, one of the quickest ways to ruin your experience of that blessing is not to thank Him. And so, upon the blessing of God, being attuned to giving thanks to Him and expressing that thanksgiving in a tangible way, the believer is taught to cultivate thankfulness. And the ceremonial system, as we’ll see in one of these great five sacrifices, is designed to cultivate that.
Thirdly, the ceremonial system is desigined to express the desire of renewed fellowship with God. There is a sacrifice in these first five great sacrifices that is specifically designed to enable the believer to renew fellowship with God.
Fourthly, the ceremonial system is to be a means to deepening the believer's petitions to God. It's to cultivate our practice of prayer, our life of prayer.
Fifthly, the ceremonial system is to be a means of expressing our need for forgiveness, and even Jewish commentators of the day on the ceremonial system will admit this loudly, that the ceremonial system was designed to express our recognition of our own need for the forgiveness of sins. But what we as Christians emphasize is that the ceremonial system also pointed to the way that those sins would be forgiven. God's program for dealing with sin–and of course now we do have to allow our minds to move to the book of Hebrews, which tells us that the blood of bulls and goats cannot forgive sins.
“ Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain
could give the guilty conscience peace, or wash away the stain.”
No, these sacrifices clearly pointed to something greater, something that would bring about the forgiveness of sins.
And finally, we can say by way of introduction, that the function of the ceremonial system was to bring the whole congregation into contact with the tabernacle, not only during the festivals, but at various times during the ordinary course of life. As the tabernacle was the focal point of the experience of the presence of God with His people, these sacrifices afforded the individual believer in Israel an opportunity to draw near and come into contact with the tabernacle where God's presence was experienced. It was an invitation from God: “Come to Me, and come to Me by these sacrifices. Draw near to Me, my people, and bring to Me these sacrifices.”
Now my friends, remember, when you hear God's call to the children of Israel in the desert, “come to Me by these sacrifices,” remember the invitation that your Lord issued in Matthew 11:29-30: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus’ words, and you will find words throughout the New Testament just like this are directly echoing the intent and expressing the fulfillment of precisely what was set forth in the book of Leviticus symbolically, pictorially, tangibly in the sacrificial system. God says, “Come to me by these slaughtered beasts.” Jesus says, “Come to Me, I will give you rest.”
Now with that, let's look at this passage briefly in the time that we have together tonight. We’ll have opportunity to go over these things several times, so even if we're not able to, and we won't be able to, thoroughly do justice to this passage, we will be able to revisit these things.
Let me outline it for you quickly. Verses 1 and 2 is an introduction not only to this section of the book, especially chapters 1-7, but it's an introduction to the whole book. It sets the framework for it. We’re still at Sinai. Remember that. We’re still at Sinai. The people of God have just in a few days past worshipped another god, out of accord with the word of God. The people of God, just a few days past, have experienced the coming of God in the tabernacle, and now God is speaking to Moses and giving Moses words to speak for Him to the people and to the priests of the people, about how to draw near to Him. And so verses 1 and 2 give us an introduction not only to chapters 1-7, but the whole book. There's the first section that we’ll look at tonight.
Secondly, if you look at verses 3-9, this is the beginning of the instructions about the burnt offerings. The burnt offerings, or the holocaust offering–so called because the whole thing goes up in smoke before the Lord–the burnt offerings begin to be described here.
First, the burnt offerings from the herd; then, verses 10-13, the burnt offerings from the flock; and then, verses 14-17, the burnt offerings of the birds. So we have four sections: The introduction (1 and 2); we have the instruction about the burnt offering of the herd (verses 3-9); we have instructions about the burnt offering that comes from the flock (verses 10-13); and then, the burnt offering of birds (verses 14-17). You understand that this is all the same offering: these are simply different types of burnt offerings which are acceptable from the people of God to offer as their burnt offering. Clearly, there is a different valuation to each of these three kinds of offerings, because some people in Israel are rich and they can offer a burnt offering from the herd. And there are some people in Israel who are poor, and all they could offer is the burnt offering of birds. And so God makes provision so that everyone in Israel, from richest to poorest, is able to make a burnt offering if they so desire. And so different instructions are given pertaining to each of these types of animal sacrifices, but this is all about one kind of offering, the burnt offering.
Now notice again, in verse 1 we read:
“Then the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.”
II. Worship: God cares how we worship Him.
And we've already mentioned the voluntary–the personal, the spontaneous–nature of these sacrifices. This speaks of personal religion, of heart religion, of heart motivation to worship the living God. And notice again how this book, just like we saw so frequently in the book of Exodus–especially in the second half of the book of Exodus–is concerned to convey this truth: God cares how we worship Him. Did you notice the detail that we read in this first chapter? God told them where to slaughter the animal; where to put its blood; how to divide it or not to divide it; He went into minute detail. Why? Because He cares how we worship Him.
That is an Old Testament principle and a New Testament principle. The book of Hebrews says that this ceremonial ritual has now been transcended in Jesus Christ, but the principle is still there. David Peterson, the great Anglican evangelical Old Testament and New Testament scholar who is a Principal at the Oak Hill College in England, has done a study of the book of Hebrews, and he defines worship from his study of Hebrews this way: “Worship is engaging with God on the terms that He proposes, and by the means which only He can provide.” Now that's his definition of worship based on his study of the book of Hebrews.
You could use that for Leviticus. The principle is the same: we meet with God, we draw near to God; we engage with God on the terms that He proposes. We don't come in any old way. We don't come in any old way we choose. We come on the basis of the term that He proposes, and through the means which He alone makes possible. ‘Come to me and I will receive you,” He says, ‘if you come with this burnt offering, with this atoning sacrifice which is to be lifted up to Me.’
And so we learn here that God cares about how we worship. And that's not just an Old Testament principle, that's a New Testament principle. You can't say, “I want to be a friend of God, but you know, I'm just a little iffy about Jesus. Jesus is a wonderful man, great moral prophet, but I can't believe that He's the sinless Son of God and Savior of sinners. I’ll come to God some other way.” Worship is engaging with God on the terms that He proposes, and by the means which He alone makes possible. No man comes to the Father but by the Son, and it is Jesus’ very fulfillment of this sacrificial system that establishes that truth beyond all question of recall.
So there's the first thing: God cares about how we worship Him.
III. The Lord accepts and communes with those who come into His presence through the death of an atoning sacrifice.
But there's another thing that we learn from this great passage, and that is that the Lord accepts and communes with those who come into His presence through the death of an atoning sacrifice. Let's look in some detail at verses 3-9. Notice three or four things about this passage.
First of all, this burnt offering is sometimes called the holocaust, coming from the Hebrew olah, to refer to this burning, and the smoke going up to the Lord of this sacrifice. It all goes up in smoke.
Let me say something very important about this sacrifice. This is the only one of the five great sacrifices that is wholly given over to the Lord. The other sacrifices have parts of those sacrifices that are held back for the priests, or even shared in by the one offering the sacrifice. This sacrifice is wholly given to the Lord. It is wholly consumed before the Lord, and it is clear that this sacrifice indicates that no one can approach the Lord, no one can be acceptable to the Lord, without a substitutionary sacrifice. This sacrifice makes it clear.
Listen to the language, verse 3:
“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.”
You see, the main function of this sacrifice is to render atonement, to render propitiation, to quit the righteous wrath of God, to provide for the sin and defilement of the one who is offering the sacrifice, but who desires to come into the presence of the Lord so that communion with God can be enjoyed.
And the blood of the sacrifice…what is the significance of that? Well, the blood is the life force of us. It is the life force of the animal, and the draining of the blood assures the death of the animal, even as it symbolizes the life force. And so you notice, what are the two constituent parts of every sacrifice of an animal? The blood and the body.
Now hear Jesus on the night in which He was given up: “This is My body, which is given for you. This is My blood of the covenant, which was poured out for you.” Jesus is speaking of Himself and about His death in the terms of the two constituent parts of the Old Testament levitical sacrifice of the burnt offering. Jesus is explaining His death and the significance of it to His disciples in terms which are unmistakable. We lay our hands upon that sacrifice as we enter into the tent of meeting, and when we do so, we own that that animal is our property, and that that animal symbolizes us. It is our symbolic substitute. And that we are offering ourselves symbolically through that animal.
Do you remember Paul's words in Romans 12:1-2: “Render yourself as a living sacrifice, acceptable to God….” Paul is drawing on this very language, out of the book of Leviticus and the Old Covenant sacrificial system.
And again, why the different kinds of offerings? From the herd, from the flock, and from birds? Two reasons: one, so that everyone in Israel, rich or poor, could offer; secondly, and just as importantly, because the principle is established in the sacrificial system that no one should come to God with a sacrifice that costs him nothing. And so, the beginning of the teaching of God of the costliness of the ultimate sacrifice begins here.
There's so much more to be said. May the Lord bless His word thus far, and prepare us or this study in the weeks to come. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we marvel at the richness of this book. We thank You that You have explained it to us in the New Testament, but that You have very clearly set forth Your truth here in Leviticus, and in the commentary of Moses and of the prophets. Help us to attend and to listen to them all. Help us by grace to see Christ in every word. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away. Amen.