Today, we start our journey through the book of Leviticus. And while some of the commands are given in such detail (and are often repeated) that they can become tedious to us, I encourage you to read every word. These are the very words of God. And realize, after the Ten Commandments were given, and after the instructions for the Tabernacle and the priestly garments were given, and after the incident of the Golden Calf, God commanded Israel to leave for the Promised Land without His presence going with them. And as we know, Moses interceded, and God promised He would go. But before they left, the Tablets of the Law were remade, the covenant renewed, and the Tabernacle actually built. All of that had to happen for God’s presence to be among Israel. But they don’t actually depart until Numbers 10. That means that what God commands from the time the Tabernacle is built until their departure is just as important for Him to dwell among His people. We should pay close attention!
So here we are, the Tabernacle built, and God’s presence is in it. And the first command He gives is about the Burnt Offering. He gives rules for offering bulls (1:3), sheep or goats (v. 10), and birds (v. 14). This is to provide a means of offering to God what you had, no matter what your economic class was. Rich or poor gave to God what they had. This shows us that not only does God require of His people no matter who they are, but it also shows that He makes Himself available to all who would worship Him.
Note that the bull or sheep had to be a male without blemish. This points us to the righteousness of Christ, Who fulfilled the law perfectly. As we have seen, not even Moses was without blemish. Not even Abraham was without blemish. There is only One Who is without blemish, and He is the only acceptable sacrifice unto God. We also see the idea of substitutionary atonement here (see v. 4), which, again, points us to Christ. Note that blood has to be spilled for atonement to be made (vv. 5, 11, 15).
The burning of the various mammals and birds that result in a “pleasing aroma to the Lord” (vv. 9, 13, 17) echo the offering of Noah to God after the flood (Gen 8:20-21), reminding us of God’s mercy towards sinners.
Chapter 2 records the laws for Grain Offerings. Note that no leaven is allowed in the offerings that are burned (2:11). There are two reminders here. First, it recalls the Passover, when God saved Israel from their captivity. Second, as leaven represents sin, it reminds us that the heart of the worshiper is what matters to God. The unleavened bread is the outward sign of the unleavened heart. Note also that God requires all offerings to be seasoned with salt, which is referred to as “the salt of the covenant” (v. 13). This is again an outward sign of the inward heart. Salt was used as a preservative in the ancient world, and here it signifies the preservation – or the keeping – of the covenant between God and man, by man (see Numbers 18:19).
We also see that only some of the grain offering is burned as a reminder of why it has been given: it is given to God. Yet, God provides for the priests out of what is freely offered to Him by His people. Note that all of the grain offerings are to be mixed with oil. This is because they are anointed as set apart to God, much like the priests who will eat of them. This also points us to the Anointed One Who will be our sacrifice, and of Whom we must all eat (John 6:51). In verse 14, we see that the requirements for the offering of first fruits are different than the other grain offerings. This is a reminder to Israel that God requires our first and our best.
Chapter 3 describes the Peace Offering. This is another type of burnt offering of an animal. While it can be male or female, it must still be without blemish (3:1), because it must be pure to take the sins of the one offering (symbolized by the laying of the hand on the head – vv. 2, 8, 13). And once again, the spilling of blood is required. This offering points us to the peace that Christ gives us through His sacrifice (see Col 1:20).
As we go, we will see that God gives a lot of detail, and very often repeats the details multiple times. This should remind us that God is not just holy, but holy, holy, holy. He requires absolute perfection, all the time, every time. The fire of the altar is meant to remind us of God’s wrath for sin that we deserve for falling short of His requirements, but for which a Holy Substitute is offered, and accepted, in our place.