Further thoughts and teaching on the Burnt Offering

Moral Responsibility

The Bible is insistent that the offerer should kill the sacrifice himself (1:5,11). Wenham makes an interesting contrast with the participation necessary of the Old Testament believer and the sad apathy of what often passes for Christianity and the New Covenant today (page 55), writing that by using a little imagination

‘…every reader of the OT soon realizes that these ancient sacrifices were very moving occasions. They make modern church services seem tame and dull by comparison. The ancient worshipper did not just listen to the minister and sing a few hymns. He was actively involved in the worship’

In fact, the Tabernacle/Temple area must have looked something like a cross between an abattoir and the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, a place stained red by the volume of both spilt and shed blood that hadn’t been cleanly and efficiently collected in whatever receptacles that were then used.

That the offerer had to kill the sacrifice himself taught him something about his own personal moral responsibility - that he had to take the blame for the effects of his own sin. Certainly, in some emotional way the offerer should have been able to realise the severity of sin - unless he was totally callous or sadistic!

The priest applies and presents the offering but it’s the offerer who must take responsibility for his own sin. It’s not enough that a third party sacrifices on his behalf, in order that he must face up to what his own sin has meant for the life of the innocent victim.

The Purpose of the Burnt Offering

Simply, the Burnt Offering gained acceptance before YHWH (1:3) through the acceptance of the offering that made atonement on his behalf (1:4). The passage also talks about the rising smoke of the offering being a pleasing odour to the Lord (1:9, 13, 17). The conclusion of the sacrifice, the ascension of the offering heavenward, pleased the Lord - not because it smelt good (eau de BO) but because God sees the offerer’s heart and his intention in bringing the sacrifice. At the conclusion of the matter, God is pleased that the covenantal relationship is restored.

But why is it restored?

Wenham (page 57) writes

‘...the burnt offering does not remove sin or change man’s sinful nature, but it makes fellowship between sinful man and a holy God possible. It propitiates God’s wrath against sin. The idea that the burnt offering appeases God’s anger is expressed in many other passages...’

which he then goes on to quote and expound - Num 15:24, II Sam 24:25 [Cp I Chr 21:26], Job 1:5, Job 42:8 and

‘II Chr 29:7-8, describing the neglect of divine worship by Ahaz, mentions that the burnt offerings were not offered “Therefore the wrath of the Lord came on Judah and Jerusalem”’

It wasn’t just that the Israelites hadn’t offered sacrifice and that God grew angry but that they hadn’t sincerely offered the sacrifice that was meant to avert the wrath of God. Wenham concludes by stating (page 58)

‘On the basis of these passages we conclude that one function of the burnt offering was to prevent God’s displeasure at man’s sin from being turned into punishment’

We have also previously seen that the offering had the purpose of removing and nullifying the effects of sin - the spiritual death (separation from God) of the worshipper is resolved after its cause, sin, is dealt with (through the offering of either the sin or guilt offering).

Sin causes God’s anger to be directed towards the sinner - therefore there’s a need for propitiation.

Sin causes God's anger to be directed towards the sinner - therefore there is a need for propitiation. Christ's death must be seen to fulfil all the aspects of the burnt offering that it could only point towards. Christ is the propitiation for mankind (I John 4:10, Rom 3:25, I John 2:2 - see also my notes on ‘Propitiation’ on the web page here), He nullifies and removes the effects of an individual's sin (see my notes on ‘Yom Kippur’ part 7 and on ‘Baptism in Water’ part 2bii on the web pages here and here) and He causes men and women to be acceptable to the Lord through His sacrifice (see my notes on ‘Creation/Restoration of Creation’ part two section 1 and on ‘Justification’ on the web pages here and here).

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