Saturday, February 4, 2012

Offerings (Leviticus 1-7)

The following quote is taken from

"The first seven chapters of Leviticus have extensive rules regarding animal and food sacrifices.  These offerings are supposed to be burnt so that God can smell them.  If you read through these it seems clear to me that the priests were getting their followers to make a big feast for them every week.  The priests were very particular about what kind of food to bring and how to prepare it."

            Let's examine the first seven chapters of Leviticus.  You can read the full text here:

            (A side note: I find it interesting that this section is included under "Ritual Human Sacrifice" on the website, since there were no human sacrifices commanded in Leviticus 1-7.)
            Leviticus is one of the books of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  At this point in the story, God had freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and had led them into the wilderness.  There, he gave them the Law.  The first seven chapters of the book of Leviticus describe the various offerings that the people had to make to God: the burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering, sin offering, and guilt offering.
            The primary purpose of these sacrifices were not so that the priests or those making the offering could eat them, although the priests received a portion of some of the grain and sin offerings (Leviticus 2:3, 10; 5:13; 6:26-30; 7:7-10, 28-36) and some offerings were eaten as a communal meal by the one who was presenting the offering (Leviticus 7:16-21) .  The primary purpose of these sacrifices were to make atonement for sin, to make oneself right with God.  The animal being sacrificed died in the place of the person offering up the animal.  The animal had to be without defect or blemish, in order for the offering to be accepted by God.
            A burnt offering (chapter 1) was a voluntary act of worship.  It was an expression of devotion.  The animal, once slaughtered, was completely burned on the altar.  None of it was set aside, and none of it could be eaten.  This represented a whole commitment and complete surrender to God.
            A grain offering (chapter 2) was also voluntary, it was a recognition of God's provision, and symbolized devotion to God.  A portion of the grain offerings were set aside for the priests.  Since the priests lived near the Tabernacle and had no land of their own (Numbers 18:20-24; Deuteronomy 10:9, 14:27), God made provision for them by providing grain and meat to be eaten.  However, God commanded that the blood and fat of the animal were never to be eaten (Leviticus 3:17; 7:22-27).  Those were always reserved as an offering to God, and there were serious consequences for any priest who attempted to take the best part of the animal for themselves (1 Samuel 2:12-17).   
            A peace offering (chapter 3) was voluntary, it expressed thanksgiving and fellowship (a portion of this offering could be eaten both by priests and by the one making the offering).
            Sin and guilt offerings (chapters 4-7) were mandatory.  Priests also had to make this kind of an offering themselves (Leviticus 4:3-12).  The offering made atonement for sin, and allowed the one presenting it to be forgiven by God (Leviticus 6:7).
            We come now to the comments on "God wanted to smell some burnt flesh" and "these offerings are supposed to be burnt so that God can smell them".  While the phrase "a pleasing aroma to the Lord" is used 37 times in the Torah, the meaning is not literal.  God did not want them to sacrifice animals just so that he could smell the aroma.  (The smell of an animal burnt whole is not appealing in the slightest.)  It was what the offering represented that pleased God - a complete dedication and surrender to him, a willingness to make a sacrifice to him and acknowledge him as sovereign.  Burnt offerings on their own, without the person's commitment and dedication to God, meant nothing to him.  Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22).  (See also Jeremiah 6:18-20; Amos 5:21-24).