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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 1

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and RevelationSeiss' Lectures

Verses 1-17

Second Lecture.
The Burnt-Offering

Leviticus 1:1-17

Origin of Sacrifices—Man a religious being—Revelation the assistant of Nature—Necessity for a Mediator—The Victim—Its Fate—What it availed—Its Freeness for all—The whole picture surveyed for the joy of the Saint and the alarm of the Sinner.

It is a little surprising, upon first view, that God should appoint or sanction rites and services of worship, the observance of which would make his sanctuary look so much like a solemn slaughter-house. But, where sin is stayed and quenched, there must be blood. Blood is the substance of life; and as sin involves the forfeiture of life, "without shedding of blood there is no remission." Hence, "almost all things are by the law purged with blood."

These bloody rites, however, did not originate with "the law." It is a question with learned men how they did originate. Some refer them to some primitive enactment of God, and others regard them as the natural outgrowth of man’s consciousness of sin, and his desire to appease the Divine anger felt to attend upon it. It is certain that they are nearly as old as man. They date back to Noah, to Abel, to Adam himself. They have been found among nearly all nations. And when God gave commandment to Moses concerning them, they already formed a part of the common religion of the world. They are not here spoken of as a new institution, now for the first time introduced; but are referred to rather as an ancient and well-known element of man’s worship, to which the Divine Legislator meant only to affix a more specific ritual. That offerings would, and ought to, be made, seems to be taken for granted, whilst these new commands relate only to the manner in which they were to be made. "If," that is, in the ordinary coarse of things already familiar, or, "when, any roan of you shall bring an offering to the Lord, ye shall bring" so and so.

There is a worship, at least a disposition to worship, which has descended upon all serious men from the very beginning. If man is not naturally a religious being, there is something in this universe around him, or something which he drinks in with his mother’s milk, which does infallibly impress and move him with religious feelings and desires. There is in all, at some time or other, some motions towards the idea of a God—a groping and searching, and unquietness of soul, as if struggling to feel its way to some acquaintance with its Maker, and to render some sort of homage to him. There is a theology even in Nature, and a faculty of worship or religiousness which is somehow natural unto man. Revelation does not deny this, but takes it for granted, and often appeals to it, and proceeds upon it as its original ground-work. It does not propose to engraft a religious department on man’s constitution, but recognizes such a department as already in existence, and proposes merely to assist, and guide, and guard it against falsehood, idolatry, and superstition. Natural religion, in the present degenerate and corrupt condition of humanity, is not adequate to its original purpose. "Nature, left to herself, and unassisted by Divine teachings, certainly wanders into mazes of perplexity, involves herself in error and blindness, and becomes the victim of folly, full of all sorts of superstition." So said the knowing leader cf the glorious reformation; and all the records of time attest the truth of his statement. Man needs to hear a voice from heaven—a supernatural word—to guide him successfully to the true God, and to the right worship of that God. Nature may dispose him to make offerings, and a common religious consciousness may approve and sanction them; but it yet remains for God to say what sort of offerings are proper, and how they are to be acceptably presented. And the whole system of revelation and grace is aimed, not at the creation of something wholly new, but simply at the renovation, improvement, and guidance of what already exists. The saint is only the sinner cleansed of his sins, and set right before God. The new man, generated through grace, is only a holier product from a holier seed on the same original soil, where once grew the base overgrowth of iniquity and vice. The "new earth," which is to be through the mediation and reign of Jesus, is only the same earth, renovated and reclaimed, which has been from the beginning, and which always will be. The Gospel was not given to supersede Nature, but to restore, renew, and exalt it.

You will notice, in the delivery of the laws and enactments contained in this book, that, although they were designed for the whole Jewish people, they were first given to Moses alone. The record says, "The Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto him," and commanded him to "speak unto the children of Israel." The people themselves had previously requested this, and prayed that God might not speak directly to them, lest they should die. There is an awful terror in the natural conscience at being brought face to face with the Almighty. The sinner wishes to avoid God all he can. As soon as Adam became a transgressor, he could no longer endure the voice of the Lord, and so tried to hide himself among the trees of the garden. When the voice of the Mighty One was heard upon the quaking mount, and the Lord came down upon Sinai, Israel was afraid, and cried out with terror. And at the face of Him who sitteth upon the throne, in the scenes revealed in John’s Apocalypse, even the kings, and great men, and rich men, and mighty men of the earth, pray to the rocks and mountains to fall on them, that they may only be hidden from Him. To bring the sinner and his God harmoniously together, a mediator is necessary. There must be a daysman betwixt us, to lay his hand upon us both. And some such mediator was Moses between God and the ancient Hebrews. The Lord treated with them through him. They could listen to him, when they could not endure to hear God himself. He was a brother man, and him they could approach, when, to stand face to face with Jehovah, seemed to threaten death itself. And if ever we are to be brought into peaceful communication with heaven, it must be through some mediatorial personage, in whom there is a modification of the consuming fires of the divine glory, and with whom we can treat on terms of fraternal confidence and affection. "There is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus."

Another peculiarity in the delivery of these laws and ordinances, was, that the Lord spake them "out of the tabernacle;" from the mercy-seat. He had previously spoken from the burning mountain, but in this case he spoke from the tent of propitiation, This itself is significant of the nature of the ceremonial system. It was a system of remedies for sin, and hence a proclamation of mercy and good to the guilty. The moral law was an expression of God’s wrath upon transgression. It contained not one ray of hope for the offender. It was therefore delivered in connection with its appropriate symbols of terror and indignation. The ceremonial economy was a remedial institution. It connected with the ministration of life and peace to fallen man. It was therefore given in a gentler form, and was made to proceed from the seat of mercy. The law given from the mountain is a minister of death. It is holy, just, and good; but its whole aspect is dark, imperious, threatening, and destructive to every offender. The Gospel is equally uncompromising with sin, and in like manner presents death as the just penalty of disobedience, and holds up blood as the only extinguisher of transgression; but, at the same time, it is a system of divine mercy, in which Jehovah comes down from the mountain of his wrath to make friends with repenting sinners over the blood of sacrifice. It "bringeth glad tidings, and publisheth peace."

The first seven chapters of this book treat of Offerings. It begins with the bloody offerings, and with that particular kind of bloody offerings, which was the most complete and significant of all the Hebrew sacrifices—the holocaust, or whole burnt-offering. This wholly burnt sacrifice, lying, as it does, at the very threshold of the typical institutes, serves as a solemn proclamation to Jew and Gentile, that every man is deeply guilty before God, and never can approach him or secure his favor except by bloody and consuming expiation. Blood—blood—blood—is the perpetual and exacting cry of the law against every violator of its precepts; and until that cry is hushed, and that demand satisfied, no one can see the face of God, and live. This holocaust, therefore, comes before us, as a practical type or illustration of that sacrifice by which sin is expiated and covered, as also of the portion awaiting those offenders for whom that sacrifice does not avail. In this light, then, let as proceed to consider it.

I. Consider the sort of victim required for this sacrifice;—a bullock, or a sheep, or, in case of great poverty, a young pigeon or dove—the very purest, cleanest, and best of creatures—nothing else would answer. And even these had to be the finest and most desirable specimens. If a bullock or a sheep, it had to be "a male without blemish"—the most perfect of its kind. It is impossible to induce purity by anything impure. No imperfect being could become a perfect sacrifice, or effect a perfect righteousness. And when a victim was needed to atone for the world’s guilt, none would answer but the very Chief of all the flocks of God. The meek dove had to be brought from the pure olive groves of heaven, and the prince of the herd from the blessed pastures which are laved by the waters of life. Pure and perfect as the bright world from which he came, Christ, our sacrifice, "was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners"—"a Lamb without spot"—the first, the purest, the gentlest, and the best in all the domain of the great God. He was the very Prince of creation, who knew no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.

II. Consider next what was done with the victim selected. If a bullock, the divine command was "Kill it before the Lord, and flay it, and cut it into his pieces." If from the flock, the word was "Kill it on the side of the altar northward, and cut it into his pieces." Who was to do this, is not clearly specified. Any one, good or bad, priest or private, the worst or best, may become the executioner of the divine sentence. When Jesus was made an offering for us, earth and hell joined in the infliction of the sacrificial stroke. But whoever laid hands upon the victim, it was to be slain and cut into pieces. If a bird, the word of the Lord was "Wring off his head, and pluck away his crop with his feathers, and cleave it with the wings." Fit picture this of the end which awaits the unforgiven, and of what actually befell the blessed Savior who "was once offered to bear the sins of many." The plucking and tearing off of the skin was to show how naked the sinner is, and how completely he is exposed to the fires of divine wrath, and how unprotected Jesus was when he submitted to bear our sins in his own body on the tree. The cutting into pieces was to show what a complete undoing of the sinner it is for him to have his sins visited upon him. It is like the severance of every joint, the dislocation of every limb, the tearing asunder of every member. What, then, must have been the anguish of Jesus as he stood in the sinner’s place and received the strokes of the sacrificial blade upon him, the same as if it had hewn him into fragments! The victim was to be separated "into his pieces." There was a certain order to be observed in the awful mutilation. All the tender openings of nature were to be followed. There is not an avenue to pain through which God’s judgments will not strike in upon the finally condemned. There was not a tender susceptibility in the Savior which was not made to feel the edge pressing into it when he stood as the offering for the sins of men. There is no telling how deeply "he was wounded for our transgressions."

But in addition to this terrible mutilation, the victim was yet to be put upon the altar and burned The command was "the priest shall burn all on the altar." And a particular method was also to be observed in this burning. First the head and the loose fat were to be placed upon the fire; the head from without, and the fat from within. After that the legs and the entrails were to be given to the flames; the outward and the inward together. Man has a double nature; and in all divine services, and under all divine inflictions, both departments fare alike. We cannot give our bodies to God and reserve our hearts, nor serve him in the spirit without bringing that service out into controlling influence over the flesh also. The whole man must go, or nothing. Nor is the ultimate doom of sin a mere bodily suffering, or the mere consuming of the exterior members; nor yet mere mental wo and spiritual grief. As the Savior says, it is the destruction of "both body and soul in hell." Christ as our sacrifice, suffered not only in the outer man, but in his whole inner and outer nature conjoined. The nails, and thorns, and thongs he did not more feel in his flesh than the pangs of unutterable grief in his inmost soul. True, only, his "body was broken;" but as no part of the victim was saved from burning, so every part of Christ’s mysterious nature came under the curse which he bore for us; the prophet is witness that God also made "his soul an offering for sin." It was the whole Christ that suffered for us; and if his body only was broken, he himself said that his "soul" too was "exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." And just so every sinner who turns away from forgiveness in Christ, shall be subjected to the fires of divine indignation; and his whole nature, stripped, lacerated, dismembered, shall lie and consume in unquenchable flames. For so it is written, "The wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs, they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away." Psalms 37:20.

III. Consider further what was to be effected by the presentation of this particular kind of sacrifice. If the man who brought it would lay his hand upon its head, and so acknowledge it as that by which he hoped and prayed and trusted to be forgiven, the Lord said "it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him." That is, the devoting of such a victim to death and fire was to answer as a substitute for the death an burning of the sinner himself. The word rendered atonement, primarily signifies to cover; especially in the sense of an adhesive covering, as with pitch or plaister. From this original meaning came its metaphorical signification of appeasing, pacifying, covering over anger or wrath. "Its predominant usage," says Bush, "is in relation to the reconciliation effected between God and sinners, in which sense atonement for sin is the covering of sin, or the securing of the sinner from punishment. Thus when sin is pardoned, or its consequent calamity removed, the sin or person may be said to be covered, made safe, expiated, or atoned." The English word atonement, or at-one-ment, clearly expresses the idea. It involves such a removal or covering of the cause of offence or variance as to produce reconciliation and friendly relations.

The idea here is, that the sinner who should bring the prescribed offering, and lay his hand on it in humble confession, should thereby be absolved, forgiven, exonerated, saved from the consequences which would otherwise follow his transgressions. What a beautiful illustration of our reconciliation to God through the death of his Son! People sometimes revolt at this Gospel doctrine of substitution. Some dispute its possibility, and some quibble at the justice of it. But God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts. There are many fields of contemplation into which man has not yet looked, and many principles of jurisprudence which he has not yet fathomed; and why should we set up the poor deductions of our weak reason against the revelations of an economy as deep and broad as the mind of God. By whatever laws of right or love the victim was procured, by whatever principles of justification the innocent take’s the place of the guilty, or by whatever juridical metonomy the sufferings of Jesus become the payment of the penitent sinner’s forfeitures, so it is written, and such is the very nerve and marrow of the Gospel, that "he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed." We may start back, and affect to lift up our hands in horror at the thought of a transfer of our guilt to the immaculate Christ; yet, the Holy Ghost is witness, that "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all," yea, and "made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be the righteousness of God in him." Let man’s philosophy cavil, and unbelief vaunt itself, it is the word of God’s inspiration, that "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." He was "delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification." So that he is the true holocaust, upon whom, if the sinner will penitently lean, he is saved from condemnation, and reconciled to his offended sovereign. Be his sins as numerous as the sands, or deep-dyed as the robes of the mother of harlots drunk with the blood of the saints, if he contritely and obediently take Jesus as his sin-offering and his hope, his iniquities are covered, and at-one-ment between him and the Father is made.

IV. There yet remains one other particular to be noticed with regard to this atoning offering; and that is, the perfect freedom with which any and every one might avail himself of its benefits. It was confined to no special time, and demanded no specific juncture of affairs. It was as free at one season as at another, and could be resorted to whenever any one felt himself moved in that way. If the worshipper could not bring a bullock, a sheep would answer. And if too poor to furnish either, a dove or pigeon was just as acceptable. There was no reason why any one should not come and share the benefits of a full expiation through the burnt-offering of atonement. All that a man wanted was the consent and determination of his own heart—the motion of "his own voluntary will." Now this was not accidental. It was meant to set forth a great Gospel truth. It tells of the perfect freeness with which one and all may be saved, if only there is the proper effort made. It was the lifting up of the voice of mercy even in that remote antiquity, crying, "Come; whosoever will, let him come." Jesus is the turtle-dove for the poor as well as the lamb for the rich. And there is no reason why any sin-burdened soul should bear its guilt one single day or hour longer. If you are thirsty, and anxious to draw near to God; the altar of sacrifice, and the house in which he dwells, is before you. If you are in need of a victim; there is one close at hand, even the choicest of the flock of God. "Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven, that is to bring Christ down from above; or, Who shall descend into the deep, that is to bring Christ up again from the dead. The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thine heart; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Whatever be the peculiar nature or weight of the sin, your effectual offering is before you, ready to bear it all away. Just believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; put your hand in humble confession upon his holy brow; lean upon him as your sacrificial lamb; and God hath said, "It shall be accepted for you, to make an atonement for you"—your peace is made with your offended Maker.

No mortal has a just pretence

To perish in despair.

Such, my friends, is a brief sketch of the burnt-offering according to the word which the Lord spake unto Moses. What startling significance gathers around the spectacle of its presentation! Draw near, ye children of Adam, and survey it yet again. Behold that bound victim led to the slaughter—the prince of the pastures seized for immolation—the meek dove torn from its peaceful nest to die. Behold the fires kindling into flame, and the knife of the sacrificer warming with blood. See the noble creature transmuted into a mass of disjointed bones and mangled flesh. Not its pitiful look of despair, nor its last cry, or struggle, or quiver of wo, could relax a muscle of the strong executioner, or abstract a jot from the terrors of the strokes or the fires. Its joy, and its peace, and its hope, are gone—clean gone for ever. The flames are feeding on its beauty, and consuming all its tender parts. Its end has come! What meaneth this scene of anguish and fierce infliction? What is it, but another version of the pathetic story told in the last chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? What are we to see in it but the blessed Savior expiating the guilt of man? What is it, but God’s own fact-picture of the breaking of the body and shedding of the blood of Jesus for us and for many for the remission of sins?

Draw near, then, oh Christian, and see what thy Lord hath done for thee. Thus did he come down from the great fields of heaven, and bow his head to the sacrificial knife. Thus was his blood spilled, his flesh laid bare, and his whole nature torn, disjointed, and given to the burning flames of penal condemnation, that thy soul might live. Thus was he marred, and mangled, and consumed on Calvary, to avert eternal death from thee. Look, and let thy heart be melted into grateful, penitential joy; for, as thou believest and leanest on his mysterious immolation, thy sins are cancelled and remembered no more. Head there the cost of thy salvation writ in blood, and that the savory smoke which ascends to call thy pardon down is fed by the torn body of thy dying Savior, Oh, rejoice, and be glad, that Heaven has thus thought on thee, and expended so much on thy good, and never let thine heart turn again from him who has thus loved thee, and given himself for thee, Thou art bought with blood; and let thy humble gratitude never cease to ascend for what thy Lord and Life has done for thee.

But let the sinner also come and look on this bloody scene. The rites of the burnt offering have also a solemn lesson for him. Fearfully do they prophesy of the turpitude and damning heinousness of sin. Some think that sin is nothing; that God never will concern himself about it; and that he is at any rate too good and merciful to punish it. Let such answer, then, why he has chosen such awful illustrations of his consuming wrath upon it? Why has he himself ordained so much blood, death-agony, and burning, as the only means of covering it? And, above all, why did he leave his own Son to such unspeakable suffering when found in the room and stead of the guilty? Did God fail to love his Son in that dreadful extremity? Did he take pleasure in those bitter pangs which so oppressed his only begotten in the garden, and so completely consumed him on the cross? If too merciful to punish sin, had he forgotten to be gracious at that dreadful momentwhen the shafts of his violated law went forth to drink up the life of the darling of his bosom? Ho, ye morning stars, who sung in your joy over the world at its birth, and ye elders of the heavenly ages, who beheld the sun blaze its first light, and have kept the celestial records for uncounted years, when, where, or how, could there have been a more overwhelming testimony of God’s abhorrence of sin, or of his unfaltering determination to punish it to the utmost?

Had he condemned criminals enough to crowd the pit, and reddened a thousand worlds with the blood of slain offenders, it would not have been an expression of his holy indignation at sin at all commensurate with this one solitary example of the sacrifice of his only Son as an atonement for it.

There was once a Roman governor, who made a law prescribing death as the penalty for a certain crime. To some the enactment seemed somewhat harsh and unnecessarily severe, and it was questioned whether he really would enforce the law. But presently a circumstance occurred which forever swept away all doubt upon that point. It happened that his own son was the first offender. The boy whom he. had carried in his arms, and dandled on his knee, and upon whom his heart was set with bright hopes, stood before him as the culprit. It was a case to tell all that was in that sovereign’s heart as to his sincerity when he made the law. If he did not mean to execute it, here was an instance in which the fact must be revealed. If ever there were to be any relentings or relaxations of the law’s rigor, they would here make their appearance. If there should be no yielding now, what offender could ever afterwards dream of impunity or escape? And when all the tender and softening affections which worked in that father’s heart towards his own son failed to move him from his integrity as a law-giver, and the darling object of his love and pride received the immolating sentence unmitigated from his lips, it not only laid a sublime capstone upon the monument of Roman virtue, but gave to the law a sanction and a seal undoubtable. It was parental affection writing down in the life-blood of its own offspring the stern adherence of sovereignty to the terrific sentence, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." And when God spared not his only Son when found in the sinner’s place, but launched upon him the law’s fall penalty, and put him under a curse at which the world shook and trembled, what unforgiven sinner can ever think of going unpunished? To reach sin, to kill sin, to satisfy justice and right in their demands against sin, God did not turn back when his only begotten was the victim! Whom then will he spare? In whose case will he turn back? O what an alarum is rung into the ears of a drowsy world from Calvary! Come, thou careless one, at rest in thy prayerlessness and sin, and dreaming of peace and safety, come, survey this ritual scene again. And with thine eye upon the suffering victim, within sight of its agonies, within sound of its groans, let me ask thee, If God did not spare his own Son from an immolation like this, how can he spare thee in thy impenitence and unbelief?

And then, thy doom, if thou art unsaved! Who shall tell it? Who can fathom the Saviour’s agonies? Bead his anguish in the garden, when his great soul itself was ready to expire under the pressure. Head his wo upon the cross, which brought from him a cry at which creation shuddered. Consider the strength of that wave which could thus overwhelm the Prince of all God’s hosts. And, "if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" If the stroke invoked by sin so overwhelmed the soul of Him whose voice could hush the storm and stop the ocean’s billows, yea drive out devils and raise the putrid dead; what shall be thy portion, helpless mortal, when that stroke comes to be visited on thee!

Oh! think of this, and repent thee of thy follies. The great Lord asks, "Why will you die?" Haste thee, O! sinner, to thy refuge in the great offering made for thy redemption. Forgiveness, peace and life are within thy reach. Christ has been offered to purge away thy guilt. Embrace him then as thine, lest eternity should find thee in thy sins and in thy blood.

Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Leviticus 1". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sei/leviticus-1.html.
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