Five Aspects of the Burnt Offering
T. Stephen, Peterhead, Scotland
GENESIS HAS WELL BEEN NAMED the book of beginnings. How blessed it is to think that God, at the very roots of man's history, had the sacrifice of Christ in mind, as is revealed to us in this book. The selection of three instances will help us into God's thoughts concerning His Son, the first being Abel's sacrifice.
He offered to God 'The firstlings of his flock and the fat thereof, Gen. 4. 4. The emphasis here is on the 'firstlings and the fat' suggesting to us the personal excellence of Christ in death. The fat was always claimed by God and was not even shared by the priests in the Levitical economy; it was all for God. For He alone can appreciate fully the value and greatness of the Lord Jesus in His death; this is the part that ministers unutterable pleasure to God. In contrast to the forbidding of the law, we have been welcomed in divine grace to feast on the fatted calf, Luke 15. 23. In the Father's house, the festal joy of all its happy associates will for ever be the personal excellence of Christ.
Then we consider Noah's sacrifice, Gen. 8. 20. Here, the importance is laid upon the fact that it was clean beasts that were offered. In this the Holy Spirit would teach us about the moral purity of Christ, for His sinless and holy humanity is a vital and integral part of the offering. It was this that gave Noah's offering its sweet savour character, and on the grounds of this sacrifice he claimed the purged earth for God. And next we consider Abraham's offering, Gen. 22. His offering comes much nearer to the divine revelation of truth we now possess. The closer similarity lies in this, that Isaac who was 'his only son, he whom he loved', was to fill the altar of burnt offering. Verse 8 tells us that 'they went both of them together', to mount Moriah. What a precious feature of the burnt offering this affords us ! The loving, holy submission of Christ to death stands directly and supremely in relation to the will of God, and all other considerations are subordinated to this one, Phil. 2. 8. He became obedient unto death. Think of the outcome of this - God swore an oath that blessing would reach every nation on earth through this sacrifice. What is done for God's glory is always associated with man's blessing.
In the opening of Leviticus there are five offerings which fall into two groups, viz., the sweet savour or ascending offerings covering the first three, and the sin-offerings, the last two.
Now the burnt offering takes precedence in order, leaching us that what is for God's pleasure is infinitely greater than what meets our need as sinners (although they are inseparable). The other features of this offering are, approach, atonement, acceptance and worship. This requires the function of the priesthood, especially in the flaying of the animal and in the setting forth of his parts upon the altar. These mainly consist of the head, the fat, the inwards and the legs.
The head and the fat being grouped together tell us of the intelligent apprehension of the will of God, and the strength and energy whereby it was devotedly carried out by our blessed Lord. The inwards were uncovered by the priest and scrutinized by the priestly eyes, teaching us that in the holy affections and inward virtues of Christ there was everything that ministered to the Father's pleasure, and also that there we have something which forms a vital part of our priestly worship. The legs tell us of the perfect walk of Christ in accord and communion with the Father. The washing of the inwards and the legs would suggest the following thought to us. In relation to the believer, when the Word of God (i.e. the water) is applied to our hearts and walk it only serves to bring out our imperfections, but when applied to our blessed Lord, it only brings out His perfections. The more we examine Him in the light of God's holy Word, the more His moral glory shines out in all its sinless perfections.
Psalm 40. 6-8. We have now travelled from Moses to David who, in these verses, has something more to say of the burnt offering.
The 40th Psalm is a recounting of the delivering grace and power of God and also of the blessedness of the man whose trust is in the Lord. In the mind of the Psalmist there is a gradual accumulation of enjoyed blessing until he rises to a spiritual crescendo when he bursts forth and declares that God's thoughts to him cannot be reckoned up in order; they are more than can be numbered. Just at this juncture, the Holy Spirit makes him insert this precious passage which tells us of the sacrifice of Christ. There is no apparent reason for this and, to the casual reader, it seems a little bit disconnected with the context. But no such thing can occur in the holy Word - it has a divine construction.
Is it not that God would teach him and us, that while David could rise in praise to God in such an ecstasy of enjoyed spiritual blessing, that He had something infinitely more precious than that? In the prophetic utterance, His mind looked forward to one who was going to accomplish all the will of God. This takes our minds away from ourselves and brings them to focus on the blessed Lord, the one who came here and gave perfect expression to the will of God on earth, its triumphal accomplishment being when He uttered those words 'It is finished' and bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
'In the volume of the book it is written of me' - no mere fragmentary disjointed occasional reference! The whole heart and core of the divine revelation is of God's glorious Christ who fills out the prophetic word, whose sacrifice and death were indeed the true burnt offering.
The gospel written by John brings the progress of divine revelation to a grand finale, for nothing can exceed it in greatness as it stands in relation to believers in the family aspect. Likewise the apostle Paul in the Ephesian epistle gives us the glory and greatness of the Church's position -divine fulness marks all Ephesian truth.
It must be noted that in John's gospel the Lord is always on His way back to the Father from whom He had come out; and anything short of this would limit God's thoughts of Christ His glorious Son. Thus it will be seen that ascension is presented to us, not so much in its historical sense, but rather as a characteristic truth which is taught from the very commencement of the gospel right to its finish. The burnt offering was, as has been previously noted, essentially an ascending offering.
In John 20. 17 we find its perfect antitypical fulfilment in the ascended Christ. With His ascension to the Father, we are brought into all the blessedness of the new spiritual relationship of the family, to enjoy the Father's love and affection forever. If we would learn the measure of the Father's appreciation of the death of His Son, we can only do so by measuring the heights of glory to which He has ascended. Mary would have taken Him back into His former associations in which she knew Him before His cross, but He tenderly adjusts her when He tells her that those relationships were ended for ever. May our hearts learn more and more of the meaning of those wondrous words spoken by our Lord when He said, 'Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God'.
In Ephesians, another essential feature of the burnt offering is seen, viz., 'acceptance' (cf. Eph. 1. 6; Lev. 1 4) - we have been accepted in the Beloved. This has a bearing on the bridal aspect of the Church and would teach us that we have been accepted in all the meetness and acceptability of the Son. Eph. 1. 20-23 gives the height of His position and glory, which are to be shared by His Church, His partner and co-sharer in the same.
According to Lev. 7. 8, the priests were allowed to have the skin of the animal for themselves. This would suggest, that to give a practical manifestation of Christ in our priestly character is both our privilege and God's desire for us.
In Romans 12. 1 we are besought to yield our bodies living sacrifices which is our reasonable or intelligent service, i.e. our priestly service. And surely, these graces which, throughout this chapter, we are exhorted to exhibit would be the practical side of burnt offering truth. Also in Eph 5. 2 it is distinctly associated with the believer's walk. Heb. 13. 15 and 1 Peter 2. 5 have the sacrifice linked with our praise and thanksgiving. Heb. 13. 16 and Phil. 4. 18 teach us that the communication of our temporal means either in gifts to the Lord's servants or, in good works, secures the pleasure of God and is indeed a sweet smelling savour to Him. So then, our bodies yielded in service, our feet in our walk, our lips in our praise, and our means in our communications to the saints all serve to give us that aspect of practical truth associated with the burnt offering.
'Tis meet that Thy delight,
Should centre in Thy Son;
That Thou shouldst place us in Thy sight,
In Him, Thy Holy One,
Thy perfect love has cast out fear;
Thy favour shines upon us here.
A sacrifice to God,
In life or death are we;
Then keep us ever, blessed Lord,
Thus set apart to Thee,
Bought with a price, we're not our own;
We died, we live to God alone!