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THE BURNT-OFFERING (CONCLUDED).
Lev. i. 5-17; vi. 8-13.
After the laying on of the hand, the next sacrificial act was—
The Killing of the Victim.
"And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord" (ver. 5).
In the light of what has been already said, the significance of this killing, in a typical way, will be quite clear. For with the first sin, and again and again thereafter, God had denounced death as the penalty of sin. But here is a sinner who, in accord with a Divine command, brings before God a sacrificial victim, on whose head he lays his hand, on which he thus rests as he confesses his sins, and gives over the innocent victim to die instead of himself. Thus each of these sacrificial deaths, whether in the burnt-offering, the peace-offering, or the sin-offering, brings ever before us the death in the sinner's stead of that one Holy Victim who suffered for us, "the just for the unjust," and thus laid down His life, in accord with His own previously declared intention, "as a ransom for many."
In the sacrifices made by and for individuals, the victim was killed, except in the case of the turtle-dove or pigeon, by the offerer himself; but, very naturally, 48 in the case of the national and public offerings, it was killed by the priest. As, in this latter case, it was impossible that all individual Israelites should unite in killing the victim, it is plain that the priest herein acted as the representative of the nation. Hence we may properly say that the fundamental thought of the ritual was this, that the victim should be killed by the offerer himself.
And by this ordinance we may well be reminded, first, how Israel,—for whose sake as a nation the antitypical Sacrifice was offered,—Israel itself became the executioner of the Victim; and, beyond that, how, in a deeper sense, every sinner must regard himself as truly causal of the Saviour's death, in that, as is often truly said, our sins nailed Christ to His cross. But whether such a reference were intended in this law of the offering or not, the great, significant, outstanding fact remains, that as soon as the offerer, by his laying on of the hand, signified the transfer of the personal obligation to die for sin from himself to the sacrificial victim, then came at once upon that victim the penalty denounced against sin.
And the added words, "before the Lord," cast further light upon this, in that they remind us that the killing of the victim had reference to Jehovah, whose holy law the offerer, failing of that perfect consecration which the burnt-offering symbolised, had failed to glorify and honour.
The Sprinkling of Blood.
"And Aaron's sons, the priests, shall present the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is at the door of the tent of meeting" (ver. 5).
And now follows the fourth act in the ceremonial, the Sprinkling of the Blood. The offerer's part is now 49 done, and herewith the work of the priest begins. Even so must we, having laid the hand of faith upon the head of the substituted Lamb of God, now leave it to the heavenly Priest to act in our behalf with God.
The directions to the priest as to the use of the blood vary in the different offerings, according as the design is to give greater or less prominence to the idea of expiation. In the sin-offering this has the foremost place. But in the burnt-offering, as also in the peace-offering, although the conception of atonement by blood was not absent, it was not the dominant conception of the sacrifice. Hence, while the sprinkling of blood by the priest could in no wise be omitted, it took in this case a subordinate place in the ritual. It was to be sprinkled only on the sides of the altar of burnt-offering which stood in the outer court. We read (ver. 5): "Aaron's sons, the priests, shall present the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is at the door of the tent of meeting."
It was in this sprinkling of the blood that the atoning work was completed. The altar had been appointed as a place of Jehovah's special presence; it had been designated as a place where God would come unto man to bless him. Thus, to present and sprinkle the blood upon the altar was symbolically to present the blood unto God. And the blood represented life,—the life of an innocent victim atoning for the sinner, because rendered up in the stead of his life. And the priests were to sprinkle the blood. So, while to bring and present the sacrifice of Christ, to lay the hand of faith upon His head, is our part, with this our duty ends. To sprinkle the blood, to use the blood God-ward for the remission of sin, this is the work alone of our heavenly Priest. We are then to leave that with Him.
Reserving a fuller exposition of the meaning of this sprinkling of blood for the exposition of the sin-offering, in which it was the central act of the ritual, we pass on now to the burning of the sacrifice, which in this offering marked the culmination of its special symbolism.
The Sacrificial Burning.
i. 6-9, 12, 13, 17.
"And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into its pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay wood in order upon the fire: and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall lay the pieces, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: but its inwards and its legs shall he wash with water: and the priest shall burn the whole on the altar, for a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.... And he shall cut it into its pieces, with its head and its fat: and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: but the inwards and the legs shall he wash with water: and the priest shall offer the whole, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.... And he shall rend it by 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 offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord."
It was the distinguishing peculiarity of the burnt-offering, from which it takes its name, that in every case the whole of it was burned, and thus ascended heavenward in the fire and smoke of the altar. The place of the burning, in this and other sacrifices, is significant. The flesh of the sin-offering, when not eaten, was to be burned in a clean place without the camp. But it was the law of the burnt-offering that it should be wholly consumed upon the holy altar at the door of the tent of meeting. In the directions for the burning we need seek for no occult meaning; the 51 most of them are evidently intended simply as means to the end; namely, the consumption of the offering with the utmost readiness, ease, and completeness. Hence it must be flayed and cut into its pieces, and carefully arranged upon the wood. The inwards and the legs must be washed with water, that into the offering, as to be offered to the Holy One, might come nothing extraneous, nothing corrupt and unclean.
In vv. 10-13 and 14-17 provision is made for the offering of different victims, of the flock, or of the fowls. The reason for this permitted variation, although not mentioned here, was doubtless the same which is given for a similar permission in chap. v. 7, where it is ordered that if the offerer's means suffice not for a certain offering, he may bring one of less value. Poverty shall be no plea for not bringing a burnt-sacrifice; to the Israelite of that time it thus set forth the truth, that "if there first be a willing heart, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not."
The variations in the prescriptions regarding the different victims to be used in the sacrifice are but slight. The bird having been killed by the priest (why this change it is not easy to see), its crop, with its contents of food unassimilated, and therefore not a part of the bird, as also the feathers, was to be cast away. It was not to be divided, like the bullock, and the sheep or goat, simply because, with so small a creature, it was not necessary to the speedy and entire combustion of the offering. In each case alike, the declaration is made that the sacrifice, thus offered and wholly burnt upon the altar, is "an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord."
And now a question comes before us, the answer to 52 which is vital to the right understanding of the burnt-offering, whether in its original or typical import. What was the significance of the burning? It has been very often answered that the consumption of the victim by fire symbolised the consuming wrath of Jehovah, utterly destroying the victim which represented the sinful person of the offerer. And, observing that the burning followed the killing and shedding of blood, some have even gone so far as to say that the burning typified the eternal fire of hell! But when we remember that, without doubt, the sacrificial victim in all the Levitical offerings was a type of our blessed Lord, we may well agree with one who justly calls this interpretation "hideous." And yet many, who have shrunk from this, have yet in so far held to this conception of the symbolic meaning of the burning as to insist that it must at least have typified those fiery sufferings in which our Lord offered up His soul for sin. They remind us how often, in the Scripture, fire stands as the symbol of the consuming wrath of God against sin, and hence argue that this may justly be taken here as the symbolic meaning of the burning of the victim on the altar.
But this interpretation is nevertheless, in every form, to be rejected. As regards the use of fire as a symbol in Holy Scripture, while it is true that it often represents the punitive wrath of God, it is equally certain that it has not always this meaning. Quite as often it is the symbol of God's purifying energy and might. Fire was not the symbol of Jehovah's vengeance in the burning bush. When the Lord is represented as sitting "as a refiner and a purifier of silver," surely the thought is not of vengeance, but of purifying mercy. We should rather say that fire, in Scripture usage, is the 53 symbol of the intense energy of the Divine nature, which continually acts upon every person and on every thing, according to the nature of each person or thing; here conserving, there destroying; now cleansing, now consuming. The same fire which burns the wood, hay, and stubble, purifies the gold and the silver.
Hence, while it is quite true that fire often typifies the wrath of God punishing sin, it is certain that it cannot always symbolise this, not even in the sacrificial ritual. For in the meal-offering of chap. ii. it is impossible that the thought of expiation should enter since no life is offered and no blood is shed; yet this also is presented unto God in fire. The fire then in this case must mean something else than the Divine wrath, and presumably must mean one thing in all the sacrifices. And that not even in the burnt-offering can the burning of the sacrifice symbolise the consuming wrath of God, becomes plain, when we observe that, according to the uniform teaching of the sacrificial ritual, atonement is already fully accomplished, prior to the burning, in the sprinkling of the blood. That the burning, which follows the atonement, should have any reference to Christ's expiatory sufferings, is thus quite impossible.
We must hold, therefore, that the burning can only mean in the burnt-offering that which alone it can signify in the meal-offering; namely, the ascending of the offering in consecration to God, on the one hand; and, on the other, God's gracious acceptance and appropriation of the offering. This was impressively set forth in the case of the burnt-offering presented when the tabernacle service was inaugurated; when, we are told (ix. 24), the fire which consumed it came forth from before Jehovah, lighted by no human hand, and 54 was thus a visible representation of God accepting and appropriating the offering to Himself.
The symbolism of the burning thus understood, we can now perceive what must have been the special meaning of this sacrifice. As regarded by the believing Israelite of those days, not yet discerning clearly the deeper truth it shadowed forth as to the great Burnt-sacrifice of the future, it must have symbolically taught him that complete consecration unto God is essential to right worship. There were sacrifices having a different special import, in which, while a part was burnt, the offerer might even himself join in eating the remaining part, taking that for his own use. But, in the burnt-offering, nothing was for himself: all was for God; and in the fire of the altar God took the whole in such a way that the offering for ever passed beyond the offerer's recall. In so far as the offerer entered into this conception, and his inward experience corresponded to this outward rite, it was for him an act of worship.
But to the thoughtful worshipper, one would think, it must sometimes have occurred that, after all, it was not himself or his gift that thus ascended in full consecration to God, but a victim appointed by God to represent him in death on the altar. And thus it was that, whether understood or not, the offering in its very nature pointed to a Victim of the future, in whose person and work, as the One only fully-consecrated Man, the burnt-offering should receive its full explication. And this brings us to the question, What aspect of the person and work of our Lord was herein specially typified? It cannot be the resultant fellowship with God, as in the peace-offering; for the sacrificial feast which set this forth was in this case wanting. Neither can it be expiation for sin; for although this is expressly represented 55 here, yet it is not the chief thing. The principal thing, in the burnt-offering, was the burning, the complete consumption of the victim in the sacrificial fire. Hence what is represented chiefly here, is not so much Christ representing His people in atoning death, as Christ representing His people in perfect consecration and entire self-surrender unto God; in a word, in perfect obedience.
Of these two things, the atoning death and the representative obedience, we think, and with reason, much of the former; but most Christians, though without reason, think less of the latter. And yet how much is made of this aspect of our Lord's work in the Gospels! The first words which we hear from His lips are to this effect, when, at twelve years of age, He asked His mother (Luke ii. 49), "Wist ye not that I must be (lit.) in the things of My Father?" and after His official work began in the first cleansing of the temple, this manifestation of His character was such as to remind His disciples that it was written, "The zeal of Thy house shall eat me up";—phraseology which brings the burnt-offering at once to mind.88See Psalm lxix. 9, and compare in the Hebrew such expressions as, "the fire hath consumed the burnt-offering;" and Deut. iv. 24, "thy God is a devouring fire," etc., in all which the verb signifying "to eat" is idiomatically used of fire. And His constant testimony concerning Himself, to which His whole life bare witness, was in such words as these: "I came down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me." In particular, He especially regarded His atoning work in this aspect. In the parable of the Good Shepherd (John x. 1-18), for example, after telling us that because of His laying down His life for the sheep the Father loved Him, 56 and that to this end He had received from the Father authority to lay down His life for the sheep, He then adds as the reason of this: "This commandment have I received from My Father." And so elsewhere (John xii. 49, 50) He says of all His words, as of all His works: "The Father hath given Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak; ... the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto Me, so I speak." And when at last His earthly work approaches its close, and we see Him in the agony of Gethsemane, there He appears, above all, as the perfectly consecrated One, offering Himself, body, soul, and spirit, as a whole burnt-offering unto God, in those never-to-be-forgotten words (Matt. xxvi. 39), "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." And, if any more proof were needed, we have it in that inspired exposition (Heb. x. 5-10) of Psalm xl. 6-8 wherein it is taught that this perfect obedience of Christ, in full consecration, was indeed the very thing which the Holy Ghost foresignified in the whole burnt-offerings of the law: "When He cometh into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body didst Thou prepare for Me; in whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hadst no pleasure: then said I, Lo, I am come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God."
Thus the burnt-offering brings before us in type, for our faith, Christ as our Saviour in virtue of His being the One wholly surrendered to the will of the Father. Nor does this exclude, but rather defines, the conception of Christ as our substitute and representative. For He said that it was for our sakes that He "sanctified," 57 or "consecrated" Himself (John xvii. 19); and while the New Testament represents Him as saving us by His death as an expiation for sin, it no less explicitly holds Him forth to us as having obeyed in our behalf, declaring (Rom. v. 19) that it is "by the obedience of the One Man" that "many are made righteous." And, elsewhere, the same Apostle represents the incomparable moral value of the atoning death of the cross as consisting precisely in this fact, that it was a supreme act of self-renouncing obedience, as it is written (Phil. ii. 6-9): "Being in the form of God, He yet counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; ... becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him the name which is above every name."
And so the burnt-offering teaches us to remember that Christ has not only died for our sins, but has also consecrated Himself for us to God in full self-surrender in our behalf. We are therefore to plead not only His atoning death, but also the transcendent merit of His life of full consecration to the Father's will. To this, the words, three times repeated concerning the burnt-offering (vv. 9, 13, 17), in this chapter, blessedly apply: it is "an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour," a fragrant odour, "unto the Lord." That is, this full self-surrender of the holy Son of God unto the Father is exceedingly delightful and acceptable unto God. And for this reason it is for us an ever-prevailing argument for our own acceptance, and for the gracious bestowment for Christ's sake of all that there is in Him for us.
Only let us ever remember that we cannot argue, as 58 in the case of the atoning death, that as Christ died that we might not die, so He offered Himself in full consecration unto God, that we might thus be released from this obligation. Here the exact opposite is the truth. For Christ Himself said in His memorable prayer, just before His offering of Himself to death, "For their sakes I sanctify (marg. "consecrate") Myself, that they also might be sanctified in truth." And thus is brought before us the thought, that if the sin-offering emphasised, as we shall see, the substitutionary death of Christ, whereby He became our righteousness, the burnt-offering, as distinctively, brings before us Christ as our sanctification, offering Himself without spot, a whole burnt-offering to God. And as by that one life of sinless obedience to the will of the Father He procured our salvation by His merit, so in this respect He has also become our one perfect Example of what consecration to God really is. A thought this is which, with evident allusion to the burnt-offering, the Apostle Paul brings before us, charging us (Eph. v. 2) that we "walk in love, as Christ also loved us, and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odour of a sweet smell."
And the law further suggests that no extreme of spiritual need can debar any one from availing himself of our great Burnt-sacrifice. A burnt-offering was to be received even from one who was so poor that he could bring but a turtle-dove or a young pigeon (ver. 14). One might, at first thought, not unnaturally say: Surely there can be nothing in this to point to Christ; for the true Sacrifice is not many, but one and only. And yet the very fact of this difference allowed in the typical victims, when the reason of the allowance is remembered, suggests the most precious truth concerning 59 Christ, that no spiritual poverty of the sinner need exclude him from the full benefit of Christ's saving work. Provision is made in Him for all those who, most truly and with most reason, feel themselves to be poor and in need of all things. Christ, as our sanctification, is for all who will make use of Him; for all who, feeling most deeply and painfully their own failure in full consecration, would take Him, as not only their sin-offering, but also their burnt-offering, both their example and their strength, unto perfect self-surrender unto God. We may well here recall to mind the exhortation of the Apostle to Christian believers, expressed in language which at once reminds us of the burnt-offering (Rom. xii. 1): "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service."
The Continual Burnt-offering.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering: the burnt offering shall be on the hearth upon the altar all night unto the morning; and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning thereon. And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen breeches shall he put upon his flesh; and he shall take up the ashes whereto the fire hath consumed the burnt offering on the altar, and he shall put them beside the altar. And he shall put off his garments, and put on other garments, and carry forth the ashes without the camp unto a clean place. And the fire upon the altar shall be kept burning thereon, it shall not go out; and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning: and he shall lay the burnt offering in order upon it, and shall burn thereon the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out."
In chap. vi. 8-13 we have a "law of the burnt-offering" specially addressed to "Aaron and his sons," 60 and designed to secure that the fire of the burnt-offering should be continually ascending unto God. In chap. i. we have the law regarding burnt-offerings brought by the individual Israelite. But besides these it was ordered, Exod. xxix. 38-46, that every morning and evening the priest should offer a lamb as a burnt-offering for the whole people,—an offering which primarily symbolised the constant renewal of Israel's consecration as "a kingdom of priests" unto the Lord. It is to this, the daily burnt-offering, that this supplementary law of chap. vi. refers. All the regulations are intended to provide for the uninterrupted maintenance of this sacrificial fire; first, by the regular removal of the ashes which would else cover and smother the fire; and, secondly, by the supply of fuel. The removal of the ashes from the fire is a priestly function; hence it was ordained that the priest for this service put on his robes of office, "his linen garment and his linen breeches," and then take up the ashes from the altar, and lay them by the side of the altar. But as from time to time it would be necessary to remove them from this place quite without the tent, it was ordered that he should carry them forth "without the camp unto a clean place," that the sanctity of all connected with Jehovah's worship might never be lost sight of; though, as it was forbidden to wear the priestly garments except within the tent of meeting, the priest, when this service was performed, must "put on other garments," his ordinary, unofficial robes. The ashes being thus removed from the altar each morning, then the wood was put on, and the parts of the lamb laid in order upon it to be perfectly consumed. And whenever during the day any one might bring a peace-offering unto the Lord, on this ever-burning fire 61 the priest was to place also the fat, the richest part, of the offering, and with it also the various individual burnt-offerings and meal-offerings of each day. And thus it was arranged by the law that, all day long, and all night long, the smoke of the burnt-offering should be continually ascending unto the Lord.
The significance of this can hardly be missed. By this supplemental law which thus provided for "a continual burnt-offering" to the Lord, it was first of all signified to Israel, and to us, that the consecration which the Lord so desires and requires from His people is not occasional, but continuous. As the priest, representing the nation, morning by morning cleared away the ashes which had else covered the flame and caused it to burn dull, and both morning by morning and evening by evening, laid a new victim on the altar, so will God have us do. Our self-consecration is not to be occasional, but continual and habitual. Each morning we should imitate the priest of old, in putting away all that might dull the flame of our devotion, and, morning by morning, when we arise, and evening by evening, when we retire, by a solemn act of self-consecration give ourselves anew unto the Lord. So shall the word in substance, thrice repeated, be fulfilled in us in its deepest, truest sense: "The fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out" (vv. 9, 12, 13).
But we must not forget that in this part of the law, as in all else, we are pointed to Christ. This ordinance of the continual burnt-offering reminds us that Christ, as our burnt-offering, continually offers Himself to God in self-consecration in our behalf. Very significant it is that the burnt-offering stands in contrast in this respect with the sin-offering. We never read of a continual 62 sin-offering; even the great annual sin-offering of the day of atonement, which, like the daily burnt-offering, had reference to the nation at large, was soon finished, and once for all. And it was so with reason; for in the nature of the case, our Lord's offering of Himself for sin as an expiatory sacrifice was not and could not be a continuous act. But with His presentation of Himself unto God in full consecration of His person as our Burnt-offering, it is different. Throughout the days of His humiliation this self-offering of Himself to God continued; nor, indeed, can we say that it has yet ceased, or ever can cease. For still, as the High Priest of the heavenly sanctuary, He continually offers Himself as our Burnt-offering in constantly renewed and constantly continued devotement of Himself to the Father to do His will.
In this ordinance of the daily burnt-offering, ever ascending in the fire that never went out, the idea of the burnt-sacrifice reaches its fullest expression, the type its most perfect development. And thus the law of the burnt-offering leaves us in the presence of this holy vision: the greater than Aaron, in the heavenly place as our great Representative and Mediator, morning by morning, evening by evening, offering Himself unto the Father in the full self-devotement of His risen life unto God, as our "continual burnt-offering." In this, let us rejoice and be at peace.
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