Leviticus can be a tougher read, even for those who spend a lot of time in the bible. Filled with exacting tabernacle building blueprints, pages of bloody sacrifice instructions, and a litany of purification rituals, it’s sometimes difficult for God’s people today to truly connect to this book.
The temple sacrificial system and Levitical priesthood were phased out when Jesus Christ gave His life for us as the eternal Passover Lamb and was resurrected to sit down at God’s right hand as our High Priest (Heb. 8-10).
So it can be tempting to ask why we should care about Leviticus today, except as a historical record.
It’s an understandable question, and there are LOTS of good answers. The most obvious answer is that God had it included in the bible for a reason, and we know that all scripture is God-breathed and given to us for instruction (II Tim. 3:16). But let’s go even further than that.
The book of Leviticus tells us about the creation of the Levitical priesthood in the tabernacle (and later temple), under a high priest. This was a precursor and prophetic “shadow” of when God’s firstfruits become eternal kingly priests in His kingdom, with Jesus Christ as our High Priest (Rev. 20; Heb. 4:15).
However, if we pull back even further and look at it in totality, Leviticus is ultimately a book about holiness, sanctification, and sacrifice—being set apart for God’s use. God was showing His newly-established nation how to worship, serve, and obey a holy God. He tells them, “You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2).
This study is focused on bringing one aspect of Leviticus to life—the burnt offerings—and putting it into a context that God’s ekklesia today can meditate on and use in our lives. The burnt offering ritual (along with the other offerings listed in Leviticus) helps us understand God’s perspective on proper worship, showing us how God wants us to view and worship Him.
What was the burnt offering?
There are a total of five types of sacrifices outlined in Leviticus. We might assume that they’re all dealing with sin, but in fact only two of the five were specifically for that purpose.
The other three were all “sweet savor” (or “sweet smelling aroma”) sacrifices that were completely voluntary. They include the burnt offering, the grain or meal offering, and the peace offering (or fellowship offering).
Let’s start with the initial command for the burnt offering:
“Let [the person bringing the offering] offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will…then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
He shall kill the bull before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar…And the priest shall burn all [parts of the animal] on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord” (Lev 1:3-9)
So we see that this sacrifice was offered freely, was completely burned up, was intended to be accepted by God on the person’s behalf, and that God viewed it as a sweet fragrance. These elements are consistently called out when the burnt offering is mentioned throughout Leviticus and beyond.
So how does this connect to our lives today?
100% commitment: wholly dedicated to God
Paul gives us one of the keys:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren…that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable [rational] service” (Rom. 12:1).
What does Paul mean by a “living sacrifice”? It feels almost like an oxymoron, since the animal being sacrificed was killed.
But (figuratively) so are we.
When we answered God’s calling, committed ourselves to God, repented, and came out of the watery grave of baptism, we were “crucified with Christ”. Paul tells us that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Our sins, our past life, and our carnal nature were put to death (Rom. 6).
“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin…do not let sin reign in your mortal body…and do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present [offer, submit] yourselves to God as being alive from the dead” (Rom. 6:6-13)
The burnt offering was completely consumed by the fire. This is one of the few offerings where the priests didn’t get to eat some of it. It was TOTALLY burned up, entirely dedicated to God. Nothing was held back or kept in reserve.
It’s worth asking: am I offering 100% of myself in complete surrender to my Creator? What am I holding back? Are there areas of my life where I don’t want to let God in? Do I give God just enough of my time to “tick the boxes” on prayer and bible study, then go on with the rest of my life?