Leviticus 1 (NRSV)
Pentateuch scholar Thomas Wingate Mann has written, “Many a pious vow to read straight through the Bible from cover to cover has foundered on the shoals of Leviticus.” Let us not founder! Let’s meet God here. Remember that God has brought the people of Israel out of Egypt to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The people are on their way to the promised land, where they will learn about their kingdom. And they have built their tabernacle in obedience to God who calls them to be holy. Leviticus teaches them — and us — about the gift of sacrifice: not a grudging handing over what we would prefer to keep, but a happy response to a loving God who has kindly drawn near to us.
God says to Moses in the first verse of Leviticus, “Speak to the people of Israel.” Let us listen throughout Leviticus to hear God speaking to us.
The Burnt Offering
The Lord summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting,
The story of Leviticus picks up where Exodus left off. Israel is still camped out at the base of Mount Sinai, and they will remain there all through the Book of Leviticus.
–David Guzik (and all following quotes in blue)
saying: 2Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When any of you bring an offering of livestock to the Lord, you shall bring your offering from the herd or from the flock.
In the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai, there were three major facets. The covenant included the law Israel had to obey, sacrifice to provide for breaking the law, and the choice of blessing or curse that would become the script for Israel’s history.
The sacrificial system was an essential element of the Mosaic covenant, because it was impossible to live up to the requirements of the law. Sin was dealt with through sacrifice. This was not the beginning of God’s sacrificial system. Adam knew of sacrifice (Genesis 3:21), as did Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:3-4), and Noah (Genesis 8:20-21). The idea of sacrifice to the gods was not unique to Israel. Other nations and cultures practiced sacrifice, often ultimately involving human sacrifice.
3If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd,
The burnt offering, as its name implies, was completely burnt before the Lord. It was a total sacrifice. The burnt offering was a general offering of propitiation and consecration to God.
you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord. 4You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you. 5The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6The burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts. 7The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the parts, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9but its entrails and its legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.
Psalm 51:18-19 (New International Version)
In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
10If your gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, your offering shall be a male without blemish. 11It shall be slaughtered on the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall dash its blood against all sides of the altar. 12It shall be cut up into its parts, with its head and its suet, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 13but the entrails and the legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall offer the whole and turn it into smoke on the altar; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.
14If your offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, you shall choose your offering from turtledoves or pigeons. 15The priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head, and turn it into smoke on the altar; and its blood shall be drained out against the side of the altar. 16He shall remove its crop with its contents and throw it at the east side of the altar, in the place for ashes. 17He shall tear it open by its wings without severing it. Then the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.
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We have just read of the completeness of the burnt offering sacrifice — the entire animal burned on the altar, to be “an aroma pleasing to the Lord.” That picture brings to mind another act of worship — Mary, breaking open her jar of perfume and pouring it out on Jesus’ feet. Of course, both the burnt offering and the broken bottle of perfume point us to the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice of our Savior on the cross.
John 12:1-8 (Contemporary English Version)
Six days before Passover Jesus went back to Bethany, where he had raised Lazarus from death. A meal had been prepared for Jesus. Martha was doing the serving, and Lazarus himself was there.
Mary took a very expensive bottle of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet. She wiped them with her hair, and the sweet smell of the perfume filled the house.
A disciple named Judas Iscariot was there. He was the one who was going to betray Jesus, and he asked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” Judas did not really care about the poor. He asked this because he carried the moneybag and sometimes would steal from it.
Jesus replied, “Leave her alone! She has kept this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me.”
HERE Rita Springer sings “Fragrant Offering.”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.