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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 1

 

 

Introduction

Chapters 1-3 The Regular Pleasing Odour Offerings.

The offerings which are mainly intended to rise as a pleasing odour to Yahweh are first described ; the whole burnt offerings, the grain offerings and the peace sacrifices. While containing within them an important element of atonement, they also express dedication, worship, thanksgiving, tribute, a desire for fellowship with God, and the promise of obedience. These fall in line with the ancient offerings and sacrifices before Sinai, although being more extensive and more complicated.

We must not be too dogmatic about the differing significance of these sacrifices, as if we could limit them to one idea, for in all the animal sacrifices there was the presentation in one way or another of the blood to God, and the offering to Him of the fat along with the vital organs. The former sought atonement, the latter offered a pleasing odour to God. But we cannot doubt that each offering had its own special significance, and therefore its unique place within the system. And each presented an aspect of the greater offering, when our Lord Jesus Christ was offered up and sacrificed for us.

Chapter 1 The Whole Burnt Offering (‘olah - ‘that which ascends’).

We should note that in these first seven chapters the offerings and sacrifices described are seen mainly from the viewpoint of individual offerings and sacrifices rather than from that of communal ones. We are being shown the essence of each offering. But all the communal offerings and sacrifices are based on them. And in the end, for the Christian, a large part of their significance lies in the fact that, as the writer to the Hebrews especially made clear, they point forward to Jesus Christ’s offering of Himself on our behalf.

As we have seen in the introduction the whole burnt offering (‘olah) is the most ancient of sacrifices. We call it the ‘whole burnt offering’ because it was wholly offered up and burnt on the altar, (and it was sometimes actually called that - see Psalms 51:19), but its usual name (‘olah) means, ‘that which ascends’. The idea is of a total giving to Yahweh and it is seen as ascending up to Him in Heaven. It includes worship, thanksgiving for all His mercies, dedication, tribute and atonement, all that a man offered to God and sought from God. It was the basic sacrifice of the patriarchs. However while it is wholly offered up Leviticus 7:8 tells us that the priest who offers the whole burnt offering is allowed the skin for himself.

The whole burnt offering could be of a bull-ox, of sheep or goat, or of specific birds depending on the wealth and occupation of the offerer. These animals and birds were of especial value to a man as they would otherwise be eaten by him, or would provide clothing and milk for him. Thus they were sacrifices in more ways than one because the sacrificer was sacrificing the opportunity of he and his family eating them, and of them providing his family with clothing, and there was therefore a cost to offerings and sacrifices, especially those that were wholly consumed in the offering. And for a poor man to offer a bird may well have been far more costly to him than for a rich man when he offered a bullock. For him food was in short supply. Our first lesson is thus that what we give to God must not be without cost, for otherwise it will mean nothing to us, but that He does not demand from us what we cannot afford to provide. He does not demand too much.


Verse 1-2

Yahweh Commences Instructing Moses Concerning Offerings And Sacrifices (Leviticus 1:1-2).

Leviticus 1:1

‘And Yahweh called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the tent of meeting, saying,’

Notice the ‘and’ at the beginning. This connects the verse to the last verses in Exodus, where ‘the tent of meeting’, that is, the Tabernacle, was dealt with, and where the cloud and fire covered the Tabernacle to denote God’s protective care and presence. Now we are to learn how God spoke to Moses from there, from the midst of the cloud and fire, and the detailed activities which were to take place in that Tabernacle, as revealed by God to Moses. God was, as it were, there and awaited their approach. Note the threefold emphasis on God as actually speaking to Moses from the tent, ‘Yahweh called -- and spoke -- saying.’ Compare Numbers 7:89.

“The tent of meeting.” The idea behind this name is that it was the tent where men came to meet with God. All the focus was on God. That was why men assembled there, to meet with God, and that was why it was called the tent of ‘meeting’. The word mo’ed (meeting, assembly) is used elsewhere to describe the assembling of men together.

At this point in time the ‘tent of meeting’ has become the Tabernacle, which has replaced the smaller Tent of Meeting which had been outside the camp (Exodus 33:7-11). This one was in the middle of the camp surrounded and guarded by the tents of the priests and Levites (Numbers 1:53). The tents of the other tribes, divided into their tribes, would then surround these on all four sides at a discreet distance (Numbers 2). Moses would presumably approach the entrance to the Tabernacle where Yahweh would speak to him from the cloud that abode on the tabernacle because of the glory that filled it (Exodus 40:34-35), as He had spoken face to face with him in the old Tent of Meeting. At these times the people would probably keep at a discreet distance (compare Exodus 33:7-11).

Leviticus 1:2

‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When any man of you offers an oblation (qorban) to Yahweh, you shall offer your oblation of the dumb beasts, of the herd and of the flock.’

This day when he approached Yahweh Moses was given instructions for when any man of Israel wished to bring God a qorban (a gift or oblation). This offering is not described as being for any particular reason and is therefore clearly seen as an act of worship and love, as it was with the patriarchs. The whole of the offering goes up to God in dedication and worship. But the way it is offered confirms that it has within it an atonement aspect, a desire to be at one with God through the shedding of blood. This is in fact specifically stated. The oblation is of ‘dumb animals’, either of the herd or the flock, animals that were valuable and could supply labour, milk and clothing, and could be eaten. There had to be a cost. But the dumb beasts had no choice in the matter. The choice lay with the offerer whose offering it was. The offering represented him and those for whom he was making the offering.

The writer to the Hebrews contrasts this fact with what was true about Christ, Whom he sees as fulfilling the reality of which the offering was a ‘type’, a foreshadowing picture. Jesus Christ too was offered at great cost, but in His case He was not led bleating to the place of sacrifice, blandly or resistingly, but offered Himself voluntarily of His own free choice (Hebrews 10:9), and it was that which rendered His offering of Himself so fully efficacious. He offered Himself up in full yieldedness to God as One Who was fully obedient, and through His blood therefore attained mercy and full reconciliation for all who would come through Him (Romans 3:24-25; Romans 5:9-10). But in His case too each person has to decide whether they will identify themselves with His offering of Himself, and respond to Him. Each of us must personally ‘lay our hand’ on Him to identify ourselves with Him.

“Speak to the children of Israel.” As the people had requested, God now spoke to them through Moses (Exodus 20:19 compare Number 7:89). They had already demonstrated their unwillingness to meet God face to face. The ‘children of Israel’ are called such because they looked back to Jacob/Israel as their ‘father’ but this was mainly by adoption for in fact they were a conglomerate people made up of many nations (see e.g. Exodus 12:38). Many of them were originally descended from servants of different nationalities in the ‘household’ of Jacob who went down into Egypt with Jacob, and these had been augmented at the Exodus by ‘a mixed multitude’. A large section of ‘the children of Israel’ were therefore adopted children, not truly descended from Jacob/Israel.

“When any man of you.” ‘Man’ is emphasised. The offerer would be the man of the household who would represent the whole household, or sometimes a leader would represent a larger group such as a sub-tribe, as Aaron and his sons would at the highest level represent the whole of Israel.

“Offers.” Literally ‘causes to draw near’ (hiphil of qereb). Thus the qorban is ‘what is brought near’, any offering brought to God.

“You shall offer.” Plural verb. It is assumed that all will at some stage come with their individual offerings. And at times they will all offer together.

“Of the dumb beasts, of the herd and of the flock.” Compare 1:10, ‘of the flock, of the sheep, or of the goats.’ The first stated is the general category which is then divided up into two, they were dumb beasts comprised of herds and flocks.


Verses 3-9

The Offering of a Bull-Ox (Leviticus 1:3-9).

The bull-ox was the most costly of offerings, and would be made by the very wealthy offerer or when the offering was to be of supreme importance, e.g. when it was for a priest or for the community. But God in His goodness will later make provision for lesser offerings for those who could not afford the most costly. To the poor man two birds would have an equal ‘cost’ to him, in comparison with what he owned, as the bull ox to the wealthy man.

Leviticus 1:3

‘If his oblation be a whole burnt offering (‘olah - that which ascends) of the herd, he shall offer it a male without blemish, he shall offer it at the door of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted (literally, “for good pleasure for him (the offerer)”) before Yahweh.’

This refers to a male offering from ‘the herd’, therefore a bull-ox. First we have three general conditions. It has to be male, it has to be without blemish (or more literally ‘perfect and complete’) and it has to be offered at the door of the tent of meeting, that is, in the court of the tabernacle where the altar is. It was to be male because that represented the life-implanter, and because it represented vigorous strength. (It was because of these factors that the male was seen as superior). It was to be ‘perfect and complete’ or without blemish because nothing that was imperfect could be offered to God, and because indeed it was being offered in its perfection as the thing most worthy of God that man possessed, and it was to be offered ‘at the door of the tent of meeting’, that is in the courtyard of the tabernacle, both because it must be brought before God and because it must be offered in a holy place so that the important aspects of the offering should not be defiled. Once the process of the offering begins all that is involved in it is holy. When the offering is made all must be concentrated on God.

In Hebrews 9:14 this offering is pointed to as a type and shadow of Christ, Who was also without fault (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 9:14). He too was the lifegiver (Hebrews 10:14-17), was strong (Hebrews 2:18), and was the perfect offering. But unlike them He was not a dumb animal, but a responsive and obedient human being, perfect and complete in all the will of God (Hebrews 10:9). Because of what He was, and because of His willingness and obedience, His sacrifice of Himself could accomplish what no animal sacrifice could. They were but shadows. He was the Reality.

Each one of us therefore must come to God daily, in our own personal sanctuary (Matthew 6:6), offering Jesus Christ to God in prayer as our whole offering as a token of our love, our worship, our gratitude, our submission and as indicating our dependence on Him for atonement and purity.

“Accepted before Yahweh.” To put it literally the offerer comes, “for good pleasure for him before Yahweh”.’ The translation ‘Accepted’ takes the good pleasure as coming from Yahweh because of his offering. Yahweh is pleased with the man’s offering and accepts his worship. The alternative possible translation ‘Voluntary’ takes the good pleasure as being the offerer’s. He comes because it is his good pleasure to do so.

As in our thoughts we see the strong and virile bull ox being led by the offerer into the court of the Tabernacle to be offered to Yahweh, with the offerer’s eyes fixed on God’s own earthly Dwellingplace, for such an approach would not, when rightly made in the best times, be made without deep thought, we can imagine the joy and gratitude in the heart of the offerer as he felt that he was offering to Yahweh the strength, virility and usefulness of himself and the whole of his family, and that God would receive it from his hand and bless them, while at the same time applying His atoning mercy. As he slew the offering he would recognise that thereby their sins were being punished in the death of the bull ox, and as the carcase of his bull ox was placed on the altar and the smoke of the offering ascended upwards, his praise too would rise upwards and his voice would cry out in his gratitude and praise to God.

For as the prophets and the psalmists would make clear, it was the reality that the offerings represented that was acceptable to God, not just the offerings blandly made. Without worship from a true heart the offerings were meaningless, without obedience the sacrifices were in vain (Isaiah 1:11-18; Hosea 6:6; 1 Samuel 15:22; Amos 5:21-24).

Leviticus 1:4

‘And he shall lay his hand on the head of the whole burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.’

The bringer of the offering was then ‘to lay his hand’ on its head. This is a slight understatement. It was done by exerting hard downwards pressure on the offering. It was no light touch. This was the sign that he was identifying himself with the offering and was, as it were, becoming united with it. It is not done with offerings where there is no death involved (the live goat on the Day of Atonement is not an exception because it is vitally linked with one that was slaughtered, the two being seen together - Leviticus 16:21). Thus it signifies being united with it in its death. Although not mentioned this laying on of the hand is also to be assumed where the offering is of a sheep or goat, or of a bird, for identification with the offering was essential. The identification was personal and specific on behalf of himself and those he represented.

The laying on of the hand/hands generally indicated the identification of the someone or something on which the hand was laid as one who will act on one’s behalf, or of someone who will take over one’s own service (Numbers 27:18). In this case he was declaring the bull ox to be his representative, both in its dying and in its ascending to God. There was something of himself and his family in the offering. It was to be seen as representative of them, and as coming from them, and as dying for them, and as making atonement for them. It was both substitute and representative in a way that a grain offering could not be. It was a full act of worship, the symbol of their giving of themselves in totality to God as His servants, and a seeking of reconciliation through it. There are no real grounds for suggesting that the sin was seen as flowing from the offerer to the offering. Had it been so it could not have been wholly offered to God on the altar. This was not a sin offering. But any who were burdened with guilt may well have seen it that way.

“And it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” It was ‘accepted’ for him (as representing his family group), received with pleasure and good favour. Yet it was certainly an ‘atonement’ offering. The verb in the piel means ‘to make atonement, to remove that from His sight which had brought displeasure to God’, and to restore the relationship between the man and his God. It probably comes from the verb ‘to cover’ (caphar - compare Genesis 6:14 and the Arabic kafara) and the piel makes it intensive. It therefore indicates a total covering, a complete satisfaction and a dealing with what is amiss, an intensified covering. But a holy God could not ‘cover up’ sin by hiding it. Rather He dealt with it by providing a cover that neutralised it. He made sin as though it was not. Sin’s power and demand for death was then no more. It was not hidden, covered up, and waiting possibly to be uncovered. It was remembered no more. It was gone for ever. All that was wrong and evil about it was obliterated under the overpowering influence of God’s holiness, operative as a result of the death that had satisfied the demand of sin.

Others see the derivation of the verb as from Akkadian kuppuru, ‘to wipe away’. Or connect it with the Hebrew noun koper, a ransom, therefore ‘to deliver by a ransom’.

So as the man brought his offering in gratitude and worship on behalf of his family group who were seen as at one with him, he was also conscious of the need for at-one-ment, of being made ‘at one’ with God by their sin being ‘covered’ and neutralised (or wiped away, or being removed by a ransom being paid). And with the sin neutralised (or removed), the blood and the carcase was then holy, for it had required God’s holiness to be sufficient within it to neutralise the sin, it had become the place of God’s saving activity, indeed it was then so holy that it had to be dealt with in a holy place, and in extreme cases burnt outside the camp in a clean place because it was too holy for the camp.

In the same way it is Christ’s own perfect holiness that enables the sinner to be made perfect in God’s sight as a result of His death for sin (Hebrews 10:14). For we do not come to a bull ox, but to the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19), and our sin is laid on Him and His righteousness is put to our account (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are declared righteous and covered with the cloak of righteousness in Him (Isaiah 53:11; Romans 3:24-26).

Leviticus 1:5

‘And he shall kill the young bull before Yahweh, and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall present the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about on the altar that is at the door of the tent of meeting.’

The offerer himself kills the young bull-ox (‘son of a bull’). He is identifying himself with its death, indeed signifying that he is the cause of its death. And this is done as he slits its throat in the sight and presence of Yahweh. He acknowledges thereby the deserts of his sin. The blood is then caught in a bowl and the priests ‘give’ (‘present’) the blood, and sprinkle it round about the altar so that each side of the altar is splashed with the blood. This activity of the priests brings out that the blood is holy and cannot be presented by the offerer himself, an intermediary is needed, and also that the blood is special in its symbolism ‘It is the blood that makes the atonement for the whole person’ (Leviticus 17:11). It is the symbol and evidence of the death of the offering with which the offerer has identified himself, and its correct presentation is clearly of first importance, for whatever the offering or sacrifice might be the blood is always specially applied (although as we shall see in different ways). It is the final reminder that the wages of sin is death, and that that death is therefore being offered to God, a life offered in death, to meet the requirements of the Law for the punishment of sin.

The whole offering is then offered to God by fire, and with it the worship, love and self-dedication of the offerer. To speak of it just as a substitute is to undervalue it. It is a substitute and more. It is total consecration, a total giving of themselves, along with a plea for reconciliation because of a death suffered. However substitution was certainly an important aspect of Israel’s thinking, as witness the substitution of Levites for the first-born sons and the ransom made to cater for the difference in numbers (Numbers 3:44-48), and the substitution of a firstborn ass or man by a lamb (Exodus 13:13).

The sprinkling (flinging the blood against all sides of the altar) is an indication of the application of the blood as something acceptable to God. It is an essential step in the making of atonement, in the making of men at one with God because sin has been dealt with. The idea may be to link it with the offering that is being offered up on the altar, without the blood itself ‘ascending up’, or indeed to surround the offering with the atoning blood. It needs to remain on the altar before Yahweh because of its atoning significance, while the remainder goes up to God.

The question may arise as to whether the application of the blood is purifying the altar or is an act of propitiation and is purifying the person who has brought the offering. Numbers 15:24-26 makes clear that such an offering results in forgiveness for the offerer for unwitting sin. So the latter is certainly true. But it may well be that we are also to see it as purifying the altar which has been tainted by man’s sin (see 8:15; Numbers 7)

Hebrews tells us that this is a type of what Christ did for us when He died on the cross. That He ‘through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God’, that He might cleanse and make us holy in conscience and spirit in order to make us fitted and ready for service (Hebrews 9:14). There too it speaks of full cleansing and consecration, and neutralisation of sin by His holiness (Hebrews 2:10-11; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:14).

Leviticus 1:6

‘And he shall strip/de-gut the burnt-offering, and cut it into its pieces.’

The offering is then stripped of its skin, and de-gutted so that the guts can be washed. The word may mean either or both. The offering needed to be de-skinned because the skin for all but the most important offerings goes to the priest. Then it was cut in pieces by the offerer. This was in order to prepare it for being offered, and made it manoeuvrable. Perhaps it was also seen as laying bare the bull-ox’s inwards so that it was known inside and out (compare how the bird is deliberately torn open, but not in half - Leviticus 1:17). All that it is, is to be laid open before God.

If we too would come to God we too must be fully laid open before Him so that all lies open before the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).

Leviticus 1:7-9

‘And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar, and lay wood in order on the fire; and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall lay the pieces, the head, and the fat, in order on the wood that is on the fire which is on the altar, but its inwards and its legs shall he wash with water: and the priest shall burn the whole on the altar, for a whole burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a pleasing odour to Yahweh.’

The priests then again take over. They put the fire in place on the altar (from the perpetually burning fire maintained on a part of the altar - Leviticus 6:13) and lay wood on top of it, and then they lay the pieces on the altar to be burnt up, including the head (which would have been separated in the skinning process), the fat, and the innards and the legs, but the latter two only after they have been washed by the offerer with water. Possibly mainly in mind here is the removal of the waste that is in the bowels and intestines, and the legs would also have been contaminated by contact with the ground. The purpose of the washing with water is therefore to remove contamination and earthiness, and symbolises the need for the inner cleansing of the offerer. It must be offered to God in pristine condition free from earthiness. Only then can the offering be a pleasing odour to Yahweh.

Note the specific instructions about the fire and the wood. The whole burnt offering must have the fire placed and the wood newly prepared for it (whereas the peace sacrifice can be placed on top of a whole burnt offering - Leviticus 3:5). Similarly with ourselves, each offering of ourselves that we make must be made afresh (compare Romans 12:1-2). There is no room for partial consecration.

It is ‘an offering made by fire (ishshah).’ Fire was the usual way by which an offering was made to God where the whole of what was offered was to be His and beyond the reach of man. It was to pass from this world. Furthermore fire regularly purifies, refines and cleanses. What was offered to God had to be made fully pure. Fire made it acceptable. ( Numbers 31:23; also compare Deuteronomy 13:16 where it denotes being offered to God permanently).

Note on An Offering By Fire.

Fire was regularly the way by which God revealed Himself to His servants. Consider the smoking furnace and the flaming torch of Genesis 15:17; the burning bush of Exodus 3:2; the pillar of fire which led them and was on the tabernacle (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 40:34; Exodus 40:38; and on through the wilderness journey); the fire on Sinai (Exodus 19:18; Exodus 24:17). See also Deuteronomy 4:11-12; Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 4:33; Deuteronomy 4:36; Deuteronomy 5:4-5; Deuteronomy 5:22-26; Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 9:15; Deuteronomy 18:16. It is therefore very probable that the continually burning flame of the golden lampstand in the Holy Place, the fire on the incense altar and the continually burning fire on the bronze altar of whole burnt offering were also intended to be symbolic of God’s presence, a dim representation of the glory that they pleaded not to have to behold in full. Thus to burn strange fire before Yahweh, fire not appointed by Him, was a heinous offence punishable instantly by death. It did not adequately represent Him (Leviticus 10:1-2; Numbers 3:4; Numbers 26:61).

It would seem reasonable therefore that the consumption of things by fire in a holy setting would be seen as God taking them to Himself, for as we shall see it occurs not only on the altar, but whenever holy things are finally dealt with in a holy setting, and in Judges 13:20 the angel of Yahweh ascended to God in the flame of the altar when the flame went upwards, burning and offering up the whole burnt offering and the grain offering. An offering by fire was thus one that on the whole went directly to God, while His priests were also to be maintained from a portion of them, ‘The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the offerings of Yahweh made by fire, even His inheritance (rightful due)’ (Deuteronomy 18:1).

Fire also dealt with those things that God ‘devoted’ to Himself in judgment (compare Deuteronomy 4:24) for Him to do with as He wanted. They were to pass from the sphere and control of this world into His control. Notice the continual emphasis on permanence. It was not just a matter of destruction. Consider Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24); the idolatrous city (Deuteronomy 13:16); the cities of Midian taken to avenge Yahweh (Numbers 31:3; Numbers 31:10); Jericho (Joshua 6:24); Aaron’s sons when they offered ‘strange fire’ (Leviticus 10:1-2); the men who complained against and displeased Yahweh (Numbers 11:1-3); the ‘leading men’ who claimed equality of holiness with the priests and blasphemously offered incense, the company of Korah (Numbers 16:35; Numbers 26:10); Achan (Joshua 7:15; Joshua 7:25); all idols ( Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 7:25; Deuteronomy 9:21; Deuteronomy 12:3); His people when they become idolatrous (Deuteronomy 32:22). The fire of Gehenna and the lake of fire are equally symbols of God’s final dealing in judgment.

There are some, however, who consider that it should be translated ‘food offering’.

End of note.

“Of a pleasing odour to Yahweh.” Compare Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18; Exodus 29:25; Exodus 29:41. It was an offering acceptable and pleasant to Him because of what it represented in terms of worship, dedication and love on the part of the worshipper. Without the latter it was totally unacceptable (Isaiah 1:10-15). The phrase deliberately avoids the thought of God actually partaking of the offering. He receives it as something to enjoy, as something pleasant.

We may see from this that when we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1-2) we must be particularly careful to do so thoroughly and totally each time we do it, ensuring full cleansing through the blood of Christ as we do so (1 John 1:7-10). No part of our lives must be left out. We are to be a whole offering and thus pleasing to God. Compare how Paul saw himself and his companions as a pleasing odour to God, a ‘sweet odour of Christ’, because of their service on His behalf (2 Corinthians 2:15), and the provision sent to him as God’s servant were ‘an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God’ (Philippians 4:18) because they witnessed to their faithful love. And he also speaks of Christ as offering Himself for us as a ‘sweet smelling odour’ (Ephesians 5:2) on our behalf. Our service in Christ and through Christ and because of Christ is a sweet smelling odour to God.

So the offerer brings the bull-ox, lays his hand on it, slaughters it, cuts it up and washes its inner parts, while the priests catch the blood as its throat is slit, sprinkle it on the altar, set the fire and the wood, and lay the pieces on the altar together with head, fat and innards so that it is burnt up.

In the same way we must identify ourselves with Christ’s death for us, recognise that we have been crucified with Him and must therefore die to ourselves, and apply his death to each part of our lives which is displeasing to Him, seeking cleansing in His blood. He on His side, as our Priest, has already arranged for the reception and completion of our offering, which was offered once for all in Him (Hebrews 10:12), and He will now bring all that we are to God.


Verses 10-13

The Offering of a Ram or a He-Goat (Leviticus 1:10-13).

Much in these next three verses is summarised because it is the same procedure as for the offering of the bull-ox. The three things emphasised are the death with the offering of the blood, the offering of the remainder by burning on the altar, and the washing of the innards and legs. These were the essentials of the offering. The offering ‘at the door of the tabernacle’, the laying on of the hand, the ‘giving’ (presenting) of the blood and the building up of the fire are all assumed. (As hands are later constantly laid on sheep and goats (Leviticus 3:8; Leviticus 3:13; Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 4:29 etc.) we can be sure that it happened here, as with the bull ox). This brings out that the essence of the offering was of it being offered up.

Leviticus 1:10

‘And if his oblation be of the flock, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt-offering, he shall offer it a male without blemish.’

Again the offering was to be a male without blemish. To offer a female would be to avoid offering the life-giver, the strength of the flock. (Females were, however, acceptable for lesser offerings). To offer anything that was blemished would be an insult to God and would indicate the attitude of Cain rather than that of Abel (Genesis 4). For dedication to God only the best is good enough.

Leviticus 1:11-13

‘And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before Yahweh, and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall sprinkle its blood on the altar round about, 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 which is on the altar, but the inwards and the legs shall he wash with water; and the priest shall offer the whole, and burn it on the altar: it is a burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a pleasing odour to Yahweh.’

“He shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before Yahweh.” This is the only case where such specific directions are given about where the slaughter was to take place, and it is probably to be seen as applying to all whole burnt offerings, and sin and guilt sacrifices (but not necessarily peace offerings because of their multiplicity), unless we are to see it as contrasting with the fact that the offering of the bull had pride of place at the door of the tabernacle. However, that is unlikely. Slaying in the courtyard was itself probably seen as ‘slaying at the door of the tabernacle’. For in fact to the east of the altar was the place of the ashes where rubbish could also be dealt with (Leviticus 1:16). And to the west was the tabernacle itself, and, between the tabernacle and the altar, the laver (wash basin). This side had to be kept clear for the movement of the priests in and out, and out of respect for Yahweh. The offerers would have gathered in the courtyard, but would not be expected to crowd the actual entrance to the Tabernacle.

Thus it was probably recognised that northwards of the altar was where all actual slaughter would take place (it was so later in the Temple) with the exception made when there was a multiplicity of peace offerings (see Leviticus 6:25). If this was not a general instruction it is difficult to see why comparative instructions were never repeated in any form elsewhere in these chapters, and why it should only be applied to the sheep and goats offered as a whole burnt offering. Thus northward of the altar appears to be where in general all the animals were to be slain. It ensured orderliness. The same instructions as before are then summarised.

The pattern for the sheep and goats is the same as for the bull-ox, although with these the priest is said to ‘offer’ (hiphil of qarab - cause to draw near) the whole before he burns it. This is because the offerer offering it at the door of the tent of meeting is not mentioned and it was necessary to thus emphasise that the offering was ‘offered’ before Yahweh prior to being offered up. It must not be seen as done casually or mechanically. The pieces here are arranged on the altar by a single priest in contrast with the bull ox, presumably because of their smaller size.


Verses 14-17

The Alternative Offering of Birds (Leviticus 1:14-17).

A further offering was available as an alternative for the poorer members of the community. It differs in presentation because of the nature of the offering but for all practical purposes it follows the pattern already described. Only the differences are emphasised. We may therefore again assume the general pattern, including probably the hand laid on for identification.

Leviticus 1:14

‘And if his oblation to Yahweh be a burnt-offering of birds, then he shall offer his oblation of turtle-doves, or of pigeons.’

The type of birds that may be offered are prescribed, either two turtle-doves or two young pigeons. Both were edible birds and may well have been reared domestically, although wild doves and pigeons lived in the hilly country in Palestine. Thus they were available to anyone at the cost of obtaining them. The dove especially was a bird of peace, thus symbolising the prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)

Leviticus 1:15-16

‘And the priest shall bring it to the altar, and wring off its head, and burn it on the altar; and its blood shall be drained out on the flat side of the altar, and he shall take away its crop with its contents (waste material, filth), and cast it beside the altar on the east part, in the place of the ashes,’

In this case the actual slaughter is carried out by the priest. This was because, in view of the smallness of the offering, the limited amount of blood was more easily dealt with in this way, and the slaughter was quick and easy. Having been ‘identified’ with the offerer the bird is brought to the altar, its head wrung off and burned on the altar, and its blood drained off on the side of the altar. The crop and its contents (‘its waste material’) were thrown into the ash pit which was available for the fat impregnated ashes to the east of the altar. (‘Feathers’ (LXX) is an alternative possible translation instead of ‘contents, waste material’. The word occurs only here but see Ezekiel 17:3; Ezekiel 17:7 for an almost parallel word rendered feathers).

So the unclean parts are removed before the birds are offered up, a reminder that when we offer ourselves up to God we must first ensure that any uncleanness within our hearts is dealt with by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7) while we are making our offering.

Leviticus 1:17

‘And he shall rend it by its wings, but shall not divide it in two; and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a pleasing odour to Yahweh.’

Each dead bird was then to be ‘torn by its wings’, but not to be totally split, after which it was burned on the wood on the altar which was over the fire. The rending is presumably to reveal its innards (which were too small to wash, unless that is the purpose of the rending), but it is interesting that it is not to be torn in two. It is not mimicking Genesis 15. It is a whole offering. The purpose would seem to be in order to stress that both the inner and the outer was offered to Yahweh. It is an offering of the whole. It was laid bare before God. Nothing is to be hidden from or withheld from God.

In the same way when Jesus Christ was offered nothing was hidden. He was, as it were, torn open and laid bare before God. And He was found perfect, and therefore fully satisfactory so that He could make possible our approach to God, by His righteousness being put to our account. His holiness, together with His death, neutralised our sin as He bore it on Himself. In the same way also, when we bring our lives to God, nothing must be allowed to be hidden. Our inmost hearts too must be laid bare. But in our case the crop and what is unclean must be removed by forgiveness and atonement.

“It is a whole burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a pleasing odour to Yahweh.” This offering is as acceptable to Yahweh as a bull-ox, because He sees the heart of the offerer. That it is a fire-offering stresses that it is purified and wholly burnt up. And if the heart is right the offering smells pleasing to Him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/leviticus-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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