The Burnt-Offering. (Lev. i.)
THE theme of Leviticus is sanctification. Exodus closes
with the tabernacle set up and the glory of the Lord filling the place of His
habitation. Leviticus begins with the Lord speaking to Moses thence. His
presence is in grace, but in holiness: "Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord,
forever." Holiness in grace is what sanctification implies.
First of all, then, as we open the book, we find given by God Himself the full details of those sacrifices which are the various aspects of that one Sacrifice in the power of which we are sanctified, or set apart to God. There are five, divided into two classes very distinct in character, according as they are or are not "sweet-savour offerings."
The term we have already had in connection with Noah's sacrifice. The burnt offering, meat offering (so called), and peace offering are all said to be "for a sweet savour unto the Lord." The sin and trespass offerings (which are quite distinct from one another moreover), are not that, although expressly guarded from disparagement, as "most holy." (Chap. vi. 17.) These last are indeed the special witnesses of divine holiness as against sin, while the former speaks more of the perfection of the offering on its own account. Judgment is God's strange act; in the self-surrender of One come to do His will in an obedience reaching to and tested by the death of the cross, God can have fullest and most emphatic delight.
It is evident that the burnt-offering has a very special place in the divinely appointed ritual of sacrifice. It not only comes first in order here, but in a certain sense is the basis of all the rest. The meat offering is often spoken of as an appendage of it: "the burnt offering and its meat offering" (as Lev. xxiii. 13, 18; Num. xxviii. 28, 31; xxix. 3, 6, 9, etc.). The peace offering is burnt upon it (Lev. iii. 3.). The altar, again, is especially styled "The altar of burnt offering" (ch. iv. 7, 10, 18, 25, etc.); and on it, night and morning, the "continual" burnt offering was offered: God would keep ever before Himself what was so precious to Him.
The very name of it speaks really of that: it is literally "the offering that ascends" - goes up to God. All the offerings did, of course; but of them all, this is the one that does: as of all the offerings consumed on the altar this is the only one that is entirely burnt, - the "whole burnt offering." It is especially God's side of sacrifice, as (of the sweet savour offerings) the peace offering was man's side. Yet, on the other hand, it was the offering "for acceptance;" as that verse should read which we have in our common version as "He shall offer it of his own voluntary will." It should be, " He shall offer it for his acceptance." The measure of our acceptance is not simply that sin is put away: it is all the preciousness to God of that perfect "obedience unto death" by which sin is put away. This by itself would show us that the peculiar acceptability of sacrifice to God is what the burnt offering expresses.
But this implies that voluntariness of character which, spite of the mistranslation already noticed, is clearly to be found in it. This attaches, indeed, to all the sweet savour offerings, as it could not to the sin and trespass. But here the perfect self-surrender of Him who says, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God," is tested in the substitutionary victim place. The offering is flayed and cut into [not pieces merely, but] its pieces: all is fully and orderly exposed. Then, head, fat, inwards, legs, the fire tries all, and sends all in sweet savour up to God.
This testing by fire we must carefully distinguish from what is by some confounded with it - the judgment due to sin. It has thus been said that while every offering did not set forth death, every one (as the meat offering, and the similar offering of fine flour, permitted to the extremely poor for a sin offering,) did set forth that of judgment. Older expositors have inferred from it that the Lord suffered for our sins after death. The whole thought is entire misconception, which would introduce confusion into the meaning of all the offerings. Consistency would then surely require that even the burning of the incense should typify judgment also; but who would not perceive the incongruity? The meat offering would also be true atonement. The sin offering burnt outside the camp and upon the ground, the true figure of judgment borne, would be indistinguishable from the burnt offering here. The distinction between the sweet savour offerings and the rest, carefully made in these chapters, could not be sustained; and judgment of sin would be declared a sweet smell to God. Moreover, the answer by fire, as on God's part the token of acceptance of the sacrifice, which we find again and again in the after-history, would connect strangely with the thought of judgment upon sin. In a word, if any thing is clear in these types almost, it is so that the altar fire must have another meaning.
Now, it is admitted that fire is the common figure of judgment; yet when it is said, "The fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is," we have another thought from that of wrath. "Our God is a consuming fire" - not, surely, of wrath to those who can truly say, "Our God" - but of holiness, yea, jealous holiness. It is this that implies of necessity His wrath against sin: it is no mere governmental display, but the result of His own nature - of what He in Himself is. But this holiness the Lord met indeed (as seen in all sacrifice) in the place of sin, and therefore of the wrath due to sin. All death, all blood shed in this way therefore was in atonement. Of the burnt offering it is especially said, "it shall be accepted for him, to make atonement for him." And of all blood connected with the altar it is said, "I have given it upon the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." (Lev. xvii. ii.) But while this is true of all sacrifice therefore, it is a very different thing to assert that judgment as distinguished from death is found in every offering, even where death was not and could not be. On the contrary, it may be maintained that death as the great public mark of divine judgment was what was kept prominently before the eyes of men in a dispensation which appealed to sight and sense, as all did more or less until the Christian. But then the judgment in this was not the judgment after death, but only the shadow of it: it was not judgment as distinct from death, surely. The blood was the atonement, so the law said; not the altar fire which consumed the victim.
How different, the thought of wrath consuming its object, and of holiness exploring that which, exposed perfectly to its jealous searching, yielded nothing but sweet savour -"savour of rest"! Here the circumstances of the trial only enhance the perfection found. In human weakness and extremity, where divine power exposed, not sheltered, or sustained and capacitated for suffering, not rendered less; where upon One racked with bodily suffering fell the reproaches of those who in Him reproached God - the taunts and mockings of heartless wickedness, taunting Him with His love; where the God whom He had known as none else, His all in the absolute dependence of a faith which realized human helplessness and necessity in all its terrors, in the utter loneliness and darkness from which all divine light had withdrawn: - there it was that the fire brought out nothing but sweet savour. Every part fully exposed and searched out -"head, inwards, legs" - mind and heart; spirit, soul and all the issues of these in word and work and way - all furnished that for God which abides perpetually before Him in unchanged and infinite delight. "Accepted in the Beloved," this delight it is in which we too abide.
Preceding the offering upon the altar was what was common to all these sacrifices - the laying of the offerer's hand upon the victim, and the necessary death and sprinkling of the blood. All these must be considered in their relation to the whole.
The "laying on of hands" we find in various connections both in the Old Testament and the New. It is given an important place in that summing up of the fundamental principles of Judaism - the "word of the beginning of Christ"* (Heb. vi. 1, marg.) - from which the apostle exhorts the Hebrew converts to go on to "perfection"- the full thing which Christianity alone declared. The fundamental points or "foundation" of Judaism he declares to be such truths as "repentance from dead works, and faith toward God, a resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." Four central and solemn truths these, but the real Christian "foundation" Christ come and dead and risen, is not among them. Consequently, as the apostle urges throughout the ,epistle, there was in Judaism no real "purging of the conscience from dead works," such as the blood of Christ gives, no perfecting of the worshipper for the presence of God, and no way of access into His presence. (Chap. ix, x.) What then took the place of these for a believer, in the old dispensation now passed away? In view of resurrection and eternal judgment, what had he to assure his soul? The words I omitted just now from the statement of Jewish principles supply us with the answer. He had "a teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands," - of those baptisms, namely, which in the ninth chapter (v. 10.) the apostle puts in contrast with that work of Christ of which they were indeed the shadow, and only the shadow. In place of Christian assurance in the knowledge of the one completed work of atonement, he had forgiveness of individual sins by sacrifices continually needing repetition. How immense the difference! Out of which, alas, the enemy of souls has cheated the mass of Christians, replacing the "perfection," which God has declared, by sacramental absolutions, or repeated applications of the blood of Christ, - the old Jewish doctrine in a Christian dress.
*Not, as in the text, "the principles of the doctrine of Christ," which surely we could not be called to "leave."
Baptismon didakes)- " teaching," rather than "doctrine." The difference is, that "doctrine " would intimate that the explanation of the baptisms was given, which was not: Christianity alone gives the "doctrine," as the apostle does in chapter ix. Again, it is really "baptisms." as also in ix. 10, - not "washings," but ceremonial purifications, but not to be confounded either with Christian baptism, or even John's, which are always baptismmata, not baptismoi .
Here, then, as a central part of Judaism, the "laying on of hands" had its place. It was the designation* of the offering as the sacrificial substitute of him who offered it. Its importance lay in this, that it expressed thus the faith of the offerer for his own part. It said, "This is my offering." On the day of atonement, the high priest in the same act said this for the people at large; but in these, each for himself said it. Faith must be this individual self-appropriating thing, although I do not mean by that what many would take from it, and what is taught by many.
*The actual solemn appointment. The transference of sin was implied In these cases, just because it was a substitutionary victim that was marked out; but no transfer of any kind was necessarily shown in the act itself. I cannot enter upon the question of its meaning in the New Testament, which would lead me too far from what is before us. but I believe it every where expresses the same thing.
When, in the vision of Zechariah the prophet, the high-priest Joshua, as the representative of guilty Israel, stood in filthy garments before the angel of the Lord, "He answered and spake unto those that stood before Him, saying, Take away his filthy garments from him."' But that was not enough. "And unto him He said, Behold I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee."' (Chap. in. 4.) How beautiful this direct assurance from God's own lips! Translated, too, out of the language of type and figure into the plainest possible words, that it may be fully understood. Just so in every case for solid peace must there be this direct assurance to the soul. It is God who appropriates the work of Christ to us: not, indeed, in spoken words now, but in written ones. But when, then, does the Word of God thus appropriate Christ to us? This very scene may give the answer, It is when we repent.
Should I not rather say, "When we believe"? That would be quite true, of course. Surely it is true that he that believeth on Christ hath everlasting life. Yet there are those (and not a few) who stumble here, and say, "O yes, if I were sure that I believed!" And objectors urge, "Your faith that believers have eternal life Scripture justifies, but where is the word to say that you are a believer? This is your own thought merely, and you may be mistaken."
So I drop right down upon this: "Christ died for sinners." That surely is Scripture, and you will not say, I am not a sinner, or that I have not Scripture for that! Here, then, I have solid ground under my feet; here the everlasting arms hold me fast. And this is repentance, when I take home to myself the sentence of God upon myself, and thus join the company of lost ones, whom (in contrast with those "just persons who need no repentance") the Shepherd goes after till He finds and saves. Search as you will, you will find no other representative of the "sinner that repenteth" but the "sheep that was lost." (Luke xv.) To such lost ones, "clothed in filthy garments," the Lord says still, even by the mouth of Zechariah, "I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee." Our appropriation here is but the apprehension of what He has done.
But if I urge "Christ died for sinners" in my own behalf, I have, as it were, my hands upon the head of the victim; and thus it is that my acceptance is declared to me. People confound this sometimes with what Isaiah says -"The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" but the hand of the offerer could not by any possibility be Jehovah's hand. And I can, however long ago the precious Sacrifice has been offered, by faith consent to it as offered for me. Without this there can be no acceptance, no salvation. It is here that the position of the one who denies atonement is so unspeakably solemn.
The death of the victim follows at the offerer's hands: priestly work has not yet begun. "And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord." It is thus emphasized that the death of Christ was our act;* not as being morally one with those who slew Him, (although that is surely true, and most important in its place,) but by our sin necessitating His death on account of it: "the Son of Man must be lifted up." It is "before the Lord," as showing that the necessity on the other side was a divine one, proceeding from the holiness of the divine nature.
*I cannot see that the offerer here represents Christ, and therefore as laying down His own life. It seems an unsuited act to represent this. The offerer when laying on his hands on the victim just before cannot represent Him, moreover; nor where he offers "for his acceptance."
Thus the "blood that maketh atonement for the soul" is now provided. "And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tent of meeting." This sprinkling of the blood is in testimony of the work accomplished, and for the eye of God, as much as that passover blood of which He declared, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." If the blood it is that maketh atonement for the soul, that blood is of necessity presented to God as the atonement was made to Him. It is not here put upon the person, and we have not yet got to consider that; but wherever put, the blood is for God. And indeed it is the assurance of that which gives it power, as the apostle says in Hebrews, to "purge the conscience from dead works to serve [or"worship"] the living God." Thus "the heart is sprinkled from an evil conscience." (Chap. ix. 14; x. 22.) It is faith's apprehension of the efficacy of that perfect work.
After the blood-sprinkling comes the flaying of the offering, the skin of which, as we learn afterward (ch. vii. 8), belongs to the priest that offers it. Christ is evidently the One typified by this sacrificing priest, and so we learn whose hand it is bestows that by which the shame of our nakedness is forever put away. It is the skin of the burnt offering, not the sin offering. It is not true that Christ's death merely puts away our sins: it furnishes (though not alone, as we may see hereafter,) the "best robe" for the Father's house. "Raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father" the place which as man He takes is the divine estimate of that "obedience unto death" of which He says, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father." (Jno. x. 17, 18.) This is the true burnt offering aspect of the cross - the full sweet savour. But the place He takes as man He takes for men. This gives us the measure of our acceptance in the Beloved, by which our nakedness is indeed covered, and its shame removed.
The burnt-offering having been flayed, is divided into its parts; all exposed to the light of heaven, then to the altar-flame. The word for burning even is not the word for ordinary burning, but for fuming as with incense: all goes up, not as the smoke of judgment, but as pure sweet savour.
It remains but to speak of the grades of the burnt offering, and with this of the different animals that are used. Of these the bullock, the highest, without doubt is the type of the labourer for God (I Cor. ix. 9, 10.): Christ was the perfect Servant, the character in which Isaiah liii. especially presented Him.
The sheep speaks of meek surrender to the divine will, a more negative thought in some sense; yet it is the "Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." Here too it is the male sheep, which gives the more positive character of devotedness, as appears in the "ram of consecration," in the eighth chapter.
The goat is the type of the Sin bearer as such, as our Lord's classification of sheep and goats would surely intimate. Hence it is the sin offering for the ruler and common Israelite as well as for the whole nation on the day of atonement.
The turtle dove and pigeon, birds of heaven both, naturally represent the Lord as come from thence. The type is brought out in great distinctness where in the cleansing of the leper the bird offered dies in a vessel of earth over running (living) water; a precious figure of that humanity full of the Spirit in which a Divine Being gained capacity to suffer.
The dove is the bird of love and sorrow: most suited associations of thought with a heavenly stranger whom love to God and man has brought into a world of sin. The pigeon - the rock-pigeon, with its nest (like the coney) there, - is as suited a thought of One come down to a strange path of faith.
All these are blessed types of our Lord in various perfections. They are connected with higher or lower grades of offering, not as in themselves of necessity conveying higher or lower thoughts. The lowest grade here is that of the birds, surely not the lowest thought of Christ's person - rather the contrary. The reason is one which can be easily understood. Does not the very glory of His Godhead prevent many realizing the perfection of His manhood? Do not many bring in the thought of the "bird," as it were, without the "vessel of earth" in which alone it could die? And the changes in the ritual here are quite accordant with this. The bird is not divided to the same extent as the bullock or the sheep: the internal perfection is not in the same way seen. There is little blood, too, for the altar; and there is no skin for the priest.* Is it not the necessary result where the Lord's manhood is dimly realized? Thank God that this is still a sweet savour offering to Him! What He finds in Christ is not measured by what we find, nor our acceptance by our apprehension of it. And these lower grades bring out our thoughts. Still we lose by their poverty. May He graciously bring His beloved people, even here, more to the knowledge of His own.
*The feathers are not rejected, as in our version: the margin is better.
Go To Chapter Nine
Home | Links | Literature