The final leg of our journey through some of the key Old Testament rituals will involve a look at the five primary sacrifices offered in the tabernacle (and later the temple). The first is the "Burnt Offering". Scholars seem to agree that the burnt offering was a way of approaching Yahweh with a plea of some kind.
The animal offered was to be a male without blemish. Males were somewhat expendable, since only a few would be required to produce many offspring. But they were also the most valuable, productive and strong. So giving one up for sacrifice was just what the word implies. A sacrifice. But as King David later observed, there is something wrong with the idea of giving God something that doesn't inconvenience us in any way. (2 Samuel 24:24)
When I served as the worship pastor of our church a number of years ago we were going through a time of great change that was difficult for everyone. God was calling us to something higher and better in our approach to worshiping him corporately. But pursuing that course meant a lot of change, which came with some painful stretching and growth. During this time the sacrificial system of the Old Testament and the life of King David served as inspiration to me. Above the door to our music rehearsal room I posted a paraphrase of David's words which read, "I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing."
Here we have a strange procedure described that is found in a number of Old Testament rituals. There is some disagreement about what exactly is meant by the action of the offerer laying their hands on the offering before it is consumed.
For quite awhile it has been concluded that this action represents some form of substitution, as the object of sacrifice becomes the representative of the offerer. It's not that sin is transferred to the object of sacrifice, but rather that the object stands in place of the offerer in some way. There does seem to be some kind of at least symbolic transfer of sin happening in the way this action is described in Leviticus 16:21-22, but this symbolic action is not always done in the context of dealing with sin, and so can't be assumed to always have this meaning. For this reason, I've concluded that substitution seems to be the common link between all uses of this action in sacrificial rituals. It's also consistent with the work of Jesus, who became the ultimate object of sacrifice, standing in our place when the time for justice and punishment came.
The Hebrew word for atonement here is used about 150 times in the OT. A key word worth looking at and trying to understand. In its root form it conveys the idea of covering or hiding, but later came to mean pacify, cleanse, forgive or make reconciliation. In whatever sense these ancient sacrifices and offerings atoned for sin, we know their effectiveness was temporary at best.
(Hebrews 10:1-2, ESV) For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?
The symbolic implication of sacrificial blood sprinkled on the sides of the altar is that in order to meet with Yahweh, sacrifice is required. Again, this consistently pairs the ideas of God's desire for relationship with the need for his separation from us until sin is dealt with.
The entrails and legs were specifically washed so that there would be no animal dung on the altar.
The offering is described as a food offering with a "pleasing aroma". The food sacrifice was pleasing to Yahweh, but he did not require it or actually eat it as a meal, unlike the gods of religions in the surrounding areas during this time period.
The various animals mentioned here are included as options dependent on the desire and wealth available to the offerer. Birds were for those with the lowest income.
In summary, the burnt offering, despite being described first, was not the most common sacrifice offered. Nor was it mandatory, which will become more obvious as we notice the change in wording when mandatory sacrifices are described.
It's hard to overstate the massive change in status quo that Jesus brought. His sacrifice meant, among many other things, doing away with this entire way of approaching God with our concerns. Compare this entire chapter, including its detailed instructions, and the groundwork laid for this ritual in the construction of the tabernacle, which we've spent weeks looking at, with the simple, concise words of the Apostle Paul.
(Philippians 4:6, ESV) do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
As a geek I often feel like something of an outsider. Whether real or only perceived, I feel as though in order to fit in with some groups I have to be more physically attractive, stylish, charismatic or conversant in the memes of the day. I feel a number of little hoops I need to jump through in order to develop friendships with some people.
Unlike the dysfunctional people we all are, God has every reason to expect some hoop jumping from those that want to have a relationship with him. And it was right for him to expect what he did from even those who came to him voluntarily. But now God has made it possible for us to come to him at any given moment, under any circumstances, without deep meditation or lengthy preparation in advance. Jesus places his perfect record in place of our own, so approaching God with our concerns is no more presumptuous than it is for Jesus to approach God the Father.
When we may feel like a fifth wheel or an oddball in other groups, we can rest in knowing that God wants to hear our thoughts, our dreams and our fears whenever we are interested in sharing them with him. And this can again serve as a model for how we should aim to openly allow others access to friendship with us.