From patriarchal times, and from that memorable night in Egypt, the last that all Israel ever spent in it, as their home, we pass on to the laws about the offerings and sacrifices given by God to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. As yet we have only met with burnt-offerings, with sacrifices which had the character of peace-offerings, and with drink-offerings; now we are made acquainted, through the Mosaic ritual, with these and others as well; viz., meat-offerings, sin-offerings, and trespass-offerings. To these may be added heave-offerings and wave-offerings. But the burnt-offering, meat offering, peace-offering, sin-offering, and trespass-offering have this in common, that they all typify what is true only of the Lord Jesus Christ, whereas the heave-offering and wave-offering were not confined to that which is peculiar to Him, and the drink-offering did not typify Him at all, but testified of the joy of God, and of the offerer in Him.
Hitherto, in the history of sacrifice, we have met with no directions respecting the manner of sacrificing. Now we come to regulations minute and explicit, revealed to Moses. And the first to be described, though not always the first to be offered, where more than one kind of sacrifice was prescribed, is that called the burnt-offering, and so called, we are expressly informed, because it burned all night upon the altar (Lev. 6:9) unto the morning. It was the only offering which was burning all night, and it formed the basis on which all other offerings were burned by day on the brazen altar in the court of the tabernacle, or of the temple. No wonder then it has priority over all the other offerings in the Mosaic ritual. It was the only one they could never do without. It was the only one that was never to be absent from God's eyes till the true sacrifice, its antitype, should be offered up, and animal sacrifices thenceforth cease, until preparations should be made for the Lord's return in power.
Further, this was the only sacrifice of which the whole went up to God, so, in whatever way one might classify the offerings, this one would always come first. For it speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ in a character especially important, and ever to be remembered, as it tells of His whole surrender to death to do God's will, without which, as we well know, no sacrifice on our behalf could ever have availed before God. Sinful man could not have offered himself to God on his own behalf, or on behalf of others, and earth could never have provided that sacrifice with which the Holy One could in righteousness have been satisfied. There was needed for the sacrifice not only an offering free from sin, but one who was holy in all his ways; his life, his energies all devoted to God, and who could also die. One only can answer to all these requirements; viz., the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God.
But though earth could not provide the sacrifice, certain animals on the earth could be accepted as types of it. Israel could bring to the Lord Jehovah, and offer on His altar, that which in His eye was typical of the death of His Son. Of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl Noah offered his burnt-offerings to God. (Gen. 8:20.) Of clean beasts, and of clean fowls, Israel could offer burnt-offerings to Jehovah; but the occasions on which they were to be offered, the manner of offering them, and what animals were to be brought, they had to learn from the Mosaic ritual. On private and on public occasions burnt-offerings could be presented. For instructions about private occasions we turn to Lev. 1; for directions for public or special occasions we must turn elsewhere. On private occasions God allowed the offerer a choice. On public, and at times on special occasions also He prescribed what should be brought.
If anyone in Israel was moved in his heart to present a burnt-offering to God, it might be either of the herd, of the flock, or of fowls. In the case of no other offering was there such a choice. The wealthiest and the poorest could meet on common ground at the altar of burnt-offering; and whilst the rich man could bring his bullock, which required the services of more than one priest to sprinkle the blood and to place the parts of the animal on the altar, the poor man, who for his bird needed only the ministry of one priest, could return from the altar with the assurance of his God, that his turtle-dove or young pigeon was equally with the bullock "an offering made by fire of a sweet savour. unto the Lord." (Lev. 1:17.) How gracious was this! The Lord accepted the offering, not according to its intrinsic value, as man would have appraised it, but according to His. own estimate of that of which each was a type - the self-surrender to death of His well-beloved Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
Where the sacrifice was of the herd or of the flock, the offerer's identification with it was openly declared by placing his hand on its head. In the case of the bird this significant action is not mentioned. When a bullock, or sheep, or goat was brought, the offerer killed it, and the priests sprinkled the blood round about the brazen altar; then the offerer skinned the animal, washed the inward parts with water, and, having dismembered it, presented the parts to the priests or the priest to be placed in order upon the altar. When the sacrifice was a bird, the priest nipped off its head and burnt it on the altar, and squeezed out its blood at the side of the altar; then the offerer plucked away its crop with its filth (not its feathers), which was cast on the east part by the place of the ashes. Then, cleaving it with the wings thereof, he presented it a whole carcase to be burnt upon the altar. In every case the head was treated separately from the body; but in the case of the bird the body was burnt as a whole. Further, in every case the sacrifice was to be clean, and to be a male without blemish if, it came from the herd or from the flock.
Thus far we have detailed to us the part the offerer had in the service. He had to provide the offering, and to bring it, and to prepare its body for the sacrifice; whilst the priest's part was to deal with the blood, and to burn the carcase upon the altar. Hence, in the case of a quadruped the priest had no place at all in the matter, till the blood had to be sprinkled on the altar round about. In other words, death took place before the priestly service at the altar was called into requisition. The priest's place was at the altar; he ministered there, but, till death had taken place, in the ordinary way he had nothing to do. The death of the sacrifice must be an accomplished fact, and acknowledged to be such ere the priest's work could begin. The exception to this in the case of the bird arose probably from the physical difference between it and the beast. From the latter the blood readily poured forth; from the former it had to be squeezed out. (Lev. 1:15.)
This principle is an important one. It puts the offerer in his place, and the priest in his. The priest did nothing till the offerer killed his offering, after identifying himself with it. So the Lord offered Himself, and only after His death entered on his priesthood, as Heb. 8:4 clearly states. The priest was required for all that went on at the altar, but only after the death of the victim has taken place beside it, or in front of it, as the case might be. Accurate as the type was in this respect, it came short, as each must do of the full delineation of that of which it was but a type. Here we read of the offerer, of the offering, and of the priest, all three distinct; but the offerer, on whose behalf the sacrifice was brought, here killed the beast; whereas the antitype, the true sacrifice, offered up himself. (Heb. 7:27.) In reality the offerer, the offering, and the priest are one and the same person seen in three different characters. Christ offered Himself, being the Lamb of God, and the high priest, who has entered into heaven by his own blood. Everything, then, that had to be done in connection with sacrifice He has done, and done once for all (Heb. 10:14), leaving to man the only part he can take in it; viz., identification with the sacrifice, so as to share in the rich results which flow from it, by owning it to be the offering on his behalf, according to the value of which he stands accepted before God.
Under the law the offerer presented the sacrifice for his acceptance (not "of his own voluntary will," as our version has translated the Hebrew word lirzono), owning thereby the ground on which he stood before God. But we do not present the sacrifice, since that has been already done. Christ offered Himself without spot to God (Heb. 9:14), and offered up Himself as well. For though men crucified Him, He nevertheless laid down His life of Himself. (John 10:18.) None could have taken it from Him. Thus both actions, the presenting the sacrifice and the offering it up, indicated by the Greek words prosphero and anathero, were carried out by Him in His grace.
But more. The burnt-offering offered up for the man's acceptance, he learnt that it made atonement for him. Now this mention of atonement is instructive, since it shows that, apart from the aspect of sacrifice typified by the burnt-offering, atonement could not have been accomplished. There was needed for that, not only a substitute for the sinner - One who could bear the sins of the guilty one in His own body on the tree - but One who would surrender Himself wholly to do God's will by dying, on whom death could in no way have a claim. One essential element then in atonement was the sacrifice of One who could surrender Himself to die, apart from, though of course closely connected with, His position as the sinner's substitute. And the offerer in Israel, when he brought his burnt-offering, moved probably by the sense of Jehovah's goodness to him, but without reference to any sin that he had committed in the past, learnt his need of atonement through the provision Jehovah thus made to effect it.
Precious was this sacrifice to God. All of it went up to Him, the skin only excepted, which was to be the priest's who offered it. For the priest at the altar being always typical of Christ Himself, the skin, symbolical of the circumstances through which the Lord passed, would rightly belong to him; for who but the Lord can know what those circumstances were? And here the reader should be reminded that only one priest officiated at the altar to burn the sacrifice. When the animal was of the herd several priests were required to sprinkle the blood, and to lay the pieces on the altar on the wood, but one priest (v. 9) it was who burnt all on the altar. Precious indeed was all that was consumed thereon; for whatever the sacrifice might be in itself, all that was burnt on the altar was a sweet savour to God, and went up to Him, as it were, as incense; for all thereon burnt spoke of what the Lord Jesus Christ was in Himself to God, and not of what He was made for us. All that typified Him as a sacrifice was holy. What typified that which He was in Himself was, when burnt, as sweet incense to God. Precious was the burnt-offering to God, so it never was to be out of His sight, and all night long it burnt on the altar - ever in God's remembrance, ever under His eye. What a thought that gives us of its preciousness to Him. He could always, as it were, be looking on it, the witness to Him of that self-surrender to death of His Son, then future, but now past; then a secret known only to Him, but now shared in through grace by us who believe on Him whilst still the world is asleep, and the night has not passed away.
Precious was this offering. So at all their feasts, and on stated occasions provided by the law, as well as on special occasions as they arose in after years, this offering was always in season. Each morning and each evening it was offered up on the altar - the first sacrifice in the morning, the last in the evening. This was a standing ordinance in Israel, ever to be remembered and observed. At the close of each week, on the Sabbath, a special burnt-sacrifice was appointed in addition. At the commencement of each month a burnt-offering of the flock and of the herd was enjoined. At each of the feasts, and on each day of the feasts, special burnt-offerings were commanded; and so on the day of atonement. At Aaron's consecration, too, this sacrifice had its place, and again at the setting apart of the Levites. No mother in Israel would rejoice over the birth of her child, whether male or female, without bringing for her purification the appointed sacrifice for a burnt-offering. Each leper, too, that was cleansed was reminded of his need of it ere he could re-enter his tent in the camp, and be at home there again; and every one, whether man or woman, made unclean by an issue was taught the importance, in his or her case, of bringing a burnt-offering to God. So on special occasions Samuel at Mizpeh (1 Sam. 7), David on mount Moriah (2 Sam. 24), Elijah at Carmel (1 Kings 19), offered burnt-offerings to the Lord. And on that day when the Lord, under the symbol of the ark, first took up His Abode in Jerusalem, David sacrificed burnt offerings after they had carried it into the tent prepared for it on mount Zion. (2 Sam. 6)
Very prominent then was this class of sacrifice in Israel's worship, whether national or individual. The brightest day could not pass without it; the darkest was a fitting season for it; and we understand the reason of it, whatever those of old could have told about it. It spoke to God, and, we can add, it speaks to us too, of that self-surrender of His Son, even to death, the death of the cross, to whom in a marked way the Father's love flows out (John 10), and whom in consequence God hath highly exalted, and has "given Him a name which is above every name." (Phil. 2) C. E. Stuart.