Monday, March 15, 2010


I've been spending some time mulling over the Levitical offerings for the past several months. I'm repeatedly struck by the first seven or so chapters of Leviticus: the detail of the Law of the offerings is surprising. And while I generally avoid a lot of discussions of types and shadows in the Law, I think there are some lessons to be learned from the offerings.

I notice that in every offering, there is something left over for the priest. Well, all except one, maybe two. When I was growing up, I heard a lot about the Burnt Offering, which was wholly consumed on the altar. But I'm frankly unsure how to apply Lev. 7:8
And as to the priest that presenteth any man’s burnt-offering, the skin of the burnt-offering which he hath presented shall be the priest’s for himself.

Is "burnt offering" here limited in scope to the tresspass offering? I'm not sure. I tend to think it's the burnt-offerings in general, but I could well be wrong.

But in any case, there is one offering which unequivocally leaves nothing for either the priest or the offerer:
And every oblation of the priest shall be wholly burned; it shall not be eaten. (Lev. 6:23)

So when the priest brought an oblation (meal offering) for himself, it was to be wholly consumed, no one got any part of it but God.

But in every other offering, there was some left over. The priest got something from it. The priests ate the sin-offering and the trespass-offering (Lev. 7:6). The skin of both the sin-offering and the trespass-offering was given to the priest. The priest kept the majority of the meal offerings brought to him, unless a priest offered it for himself.

I think the great moral here is, the Law always considered the offerings as more than enough. There is always the idea that something is left over. And the everlasting statute given to Aaron and his sons is, that they are to eat what's left from the offerings (Num. 18:8--10).

We who are called to be priests (1 Peter 2:9) are called to eat from the "altar" where our sin-offering has died (Heb. 13:10). Christ Himself pointed to our eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:27--58). No, I don't think this is really talking about a sacramental observance of the Lord's Supper. But there is doubtless an aspect of feeding on Christ.

The sacrifice was not ours: we are merely profitting from what God has provided for Himself in the Son. But there is enough in the overflow of the altar to sustain us. It is this that feeds the "eternal life" we have "in the Son".

And I notice that when the offerings are burned on the altar, the ashes are shovelled out onto the ground on the east side of the altar:
And he shall remove its crop with its feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east, into the place of the ashes (Lev. 1:16)

And the priest shall put on his linen raiment, and his linen breeches shall he put on his flesh, and take up the ashes to which the fire hath consumed the burnt-offering on the altar, and he shall put them beside the altar. (Lev. 6:10)

So the priest is to take the ashes from the altar and put them on the ground on the east side, then he takes them outside the camp.

Now, every good little Sunday School child knows that the tabernacle faced east, and that the brazen altar, where the offerings were burned was in the "court" of the tabernacle along with the laver: inside the gate but outside the Tent of Meeting. If the ashes were put on the east side of the altar, then they were between the altar and the gate, literally the first thing you'd see when you came in through the gate.

When I was growing up, we were taught that the tabernacle was built partly as a physical analogy of man's approach to God. So to approach God, you come in through the gate and there's the altar where animals were sacrificed. Then beyond that was the laver where the priest washed. After that was the tabernacle proper, the Tent of Meeting, where only priests could go. In there was the shewbread, the altar of incense, and the gold candlestick. But then there was the veil, and on the other side was the Holy of Holies, where even priests couldn't go. One priest, once a year, was allowed in there, where the ark of the covenant was, topped with the Mercy Seat.

And it's just to draw that analogy, as Hebrews 9 & 10 does very carefully and with great detail.

But as I read Leviticus, I'm struck that really, the altar is not the first thing we'd see; because between the altar and the gate is the place of ashes. Depending on when we went in, we might not see any actual ashes: the priests were to clean them up and take them outside the camp. But if you've ever cleaned up a pile of ashes you know they leave a fairly permanent mark on the ground.

Ashes are proof that the offering was made. More than that, they're proof that it was totally consumed, that there's nothing left to burn. If we are to see the tabernacle's design as an analogy as our approach to God, it starts with seeing the offering is completed. Before we even see the altar, we see proof the sacrifice is done.

1 comment:

Chuck Hicks said...

"...there's nothing left to burn. If we are to see the tabernacle's design as an analogy as our approach to God, it starts with seeing the offering is completed. Before we even see the altar, we see proof the sacrifice is done."

That's a treasure to meditate upon. Thank you.