Questions: Why does God choose to speak to us? What kinds of sacrifices does He desire? Why? For whose sake? What does He reject? What does He require? What does He forbid? Who gets to share in it?
“Read More” to pursue answers from Leviticus.
Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence
And fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.
One of the many powerful things I learned from my DiaBlogue with Alan is that how you look at Scripture makes a huge difference in what you see. In particular, I’ve been struck by Bob Mumford‘s distinction between sovereignty and providence, especially here in Leviticus. It is easy to read all these laws as simply a way for God (and/or His priesthood) to establish sovereign control; which is true — but not the whole truth! It is equally accurate to read this as God’s gracious provision, to help solve a series of essential, life-threatening problems that would otherwise have destroyed His people.
How? Let us see.
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, [even] of the herd, and of the flock.
Intriguingly, God starts with the how, rather than the why or the when. From this I presume that the children of Israel were already in the habit of bringing offerings, but were (at best) inconsistent in their quality:
The word translated “voluntary will” (ra-tsone) is a fascinating one — often translated “delight” or “pleasure.” Sacrifice — at least this one — is supposed to be a joy, not a duty! Though there is an element of ritual and obligation even here:
Then follows fairly detailed butchering instructions, with the blood being sprinkled:
And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: 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 tabernacle of the congregation.
and losing their hide:
And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces..
but all the rest apparently getting burned:
and the priest shall burn all on the altar, [to be] a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
Which is as true for the flocks as it is for the herd:
And if his offering [be] of the flocks, [namely], of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice; he shall bring it a male without blemish…and the priest shall bring [it] all, and burn [it] upon the altar: it [is] a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
And also for the birds:
though they spill their guts first:
And he shall pluck away his crop with his feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east part, by the place of the ashes:
before similarly becoming toast:
And he shall cleave it with the wings thereof, [but] shall not divide [it] asunder: and the priest shall burn it upon the altar, upon the wood that [is] upon the fire: it [is] a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
Intriguingly, God seems to want a “balanced diet”, as this chapter’s burnt offering is accompanied by next chapter‘s grain offering:
And when any will offer a meat offering unto the LORD, his offering shall be [of] fine flour; and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense thereon:
which is offered up the same way — or perhaps only a part of it:
And he shall bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests: and he shall take thereout his handful of the flour thereof, and of the oil thereof, with all the frankincense thereof; and the priest shall burn the memorial of it upon the altar, [to be] an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD:
In fact, unlike the burnt offering the “meat” (Old English for grain/food) is not simply reduced to ashes, but apparently (in part) for the use of the priests:
Now, that is fascinating; the portion reserved for the priests appears to be even more holy than the stuff burned up. God goes over several variants, but the standards of quality are consistent, and the results are still the same:
And the priest shall take from the meat offering a memorial thereof, and shall burn [it] upon the altar: [it is] an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD. And that which is left of the meat offering [shall be] Aaron’s and his sons’: [it is] a thing most holy of the offerings of the LORD made by fire.
Though, there is one additional caveat:
I presume this is a reminder of the Exodus, but I dare say we’ll hear more about leaven later. Surprisingly, honey falls under the same injunction. Conversely, salt is not merely allowed, but required:
And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.
Next, God discusses first-fruits:
And if thou offer a meat offering of thy firstfruits unto the LORD, thou shalt offer for the meat offering of thy firstfruits green ears of corn dried by the fire, [even] corn beaten out of full ears.
And — in the following chapter — jumps to peace offerings:
And if his oblation [be] a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offer [it] of the herd; whether [it be] a male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the LORD.
What’s unusual here is the special treatment given to the fat:
And he shall offer of the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire unto the LORD; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that [is] upon the inwards, And the two kidneys, and the fat that [is] on them, which [is] by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away.
and the same for the sheep:
And he shall offer of the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire unto the LORD; the fat thereof, [and] the whole rump, it shall he take off hard by the backbone; and the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that [is] upon the inwards, And the two kidneys, and the fat that [is] upon them, which [is] by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away.
That is, all the fat gets burned up:
And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: [it is] the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat [is] the LORD’S.
The rest, presumably, is for the priests; just not the fat or the blood:
[It shall be] a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood.
Not sure if this is retroactive to cover the burnt (sin?) offerings, or only applies to the peace offerings. Still, we advanced Westerners would probably all be healthier if we followed that dietary advice!
More importantly, what have we learned from our bloody introduction?
- God only wants what is pure
- Some things He keeps for Himself, others He shares with His priests
- He has strict — but different! — rules for both what He and His people can partake
- To sacrifice is (at least sometimes) a joyous privilege
This last point is the most intriguing to me, and hints at a deeper purpose behind the whole sacrificial system. Maybe the whole process of ritual offerings was designed to speak to some deep emotional/psychological/spiritual need within humanity, which is why it was so vital for society — and those who properly understood it were filled with joy!
If it was truly so essential as all that — and its near-universal occurrence throughout ancient societies implies that it was — then it raises the vexing question of what we moderns have substituted in its place — or ought to. Are we keeping our sacrifices to ourselves, treating ourselves as gods? Or are instead sacrificing something else, to gods we fail to recognize?
Perhaps we’ll find out as we dig deeper.
God, I confess that I have lost the awe and wonder that I need to have towards your holiness. I give my tithes and offerings with rote regularity, but my spirit is still proud and individualistic. Teach me anew the joy of laying it all down upon your altar, that I may be hollowed out and refilled with your holy fire. Make me a living sacrifice, without spot and blemish, a delightful aroma in your nostrils. Help me to see Christ and your gracious provision as we walk through Leviticus together. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.