Leviticus 1 Commentary


The burnt offering (1:1-17)

Of all the offerings, the burnt offering was the most ancient. It had been in general use among God’s people long before Moses set out laws to regulate it. The offerings of Noah, Abraham and the Israelites in Egypt were all earlier forms of this sacrifice (Gen 8:20; 22:2; Exod 10:25). It was called the burnt offering because all the flesh was burnt upon the altar. None of it was eaten.

Thanksgiving, devotion and atonement were all in some way symbolized in this sacrifice, but by far the outstanding characteristic was that of dedication or consecration. The burning of the whole animal on the altar symbolized the complete devotion and dedication of the offerers (cf. Rom 12:1). Before the burning, however, a blood ritual reminded the offerers that, without atonement, they could have no relation with God. They had to deal with sin first (1:1-5). The washing of the animal’s internal organs before burning may have suggested the need for inner cleansing before offering oneself to God. The sacrifice went up to God as something specially pleasing to him (6-9).

The law did not specify a particular kind of animal for the burnt offering. The choice of animal depended largely on the family circumstances and financial capacity of the offerers. Although the initial regulations were for more expensive animals such as cattle, similar regulations were set out for less expensive animals such as sheep and goats (10-13). There were even regulations for birds, which were the only animals that some poor people could afford (14-17).

An additional point found in ‘the law of the burnt offering’ in Chapter 6 is that the fire on the altar was never to go out. As a continual expression of devotion to God, an offering of consecration was kept burning on the altar continually. It was renewed each morning and evening (cf. Exod 29:38-42). When burning the evening sacrifice, the priests were to arrange the pieces of the sacrifice so that they fed the fire all night. The priests tended the fire and removed the ashes at the time of the morning sacrifice. The fire had little chance of going out during the day, because individuals would offer sacrifices constantly (6:8-13).

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