Book of Leviticus Chapter One Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Sacrifice And Obedience
Two key words for the Book of Leviticus are sacrifice and obedience, words that describe the life of Jesus Christ on this earth, and we should remember Him as we read this Book. The Hebrew title for Leviticus was "And He Called," but in 200 BC, the Septuagint translators into the Greek language, renamed it, "That Which Pertains To The Levites," adopted later by the Latin Vulgate translators and then taken into the English title. In places like Matthew 8:2-4, Jesus attributed the words of this Book to Moses, citing Leviticus 14:1-4. The scene in this Book of Leviticus continues Moses' words from the Book of Exodus, and both were written by him in final form shortly before his death in Moab, in about 1405 BC. Note that Leviticus is more than merely the words of Moses. It's the Word of the Lord, as seen in Verse 1: "Then the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying" words that continue through this Book.
The Lord continued in Verse 2: "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock." God GAVE of Himself in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God the Son, on the cross for our sins. He gave everything and it is expected we will also. The herd owner was to give from his own flock, not somebody else's. What you and I have and are belongs to God, and by giving, we not only confess our sin, but also acknowledge His ownership of us and our possessions. Note that there are five classes of sacrifice in the first seven chapters of Leviticus: the burnt offering, followed by the grain, peace, sin, and trespass offerings, each a descriptive parable of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for our sins. He gave it all for you and me, and it is expected that we will obey God on this earth, by trusting in the Lord who died for us. Jesus was clear: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29).
Verse 3 begins an instruction on the burnt offering, in which the victim was utterly destroyed in the fire of God's altar: "If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord." It's important to note that within humanity, only Jesus Christ qualifies as a "male without defect," and only "He may be accepted before the Lord." Jesus "was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). He passed the course which we all failed, but "the righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe" (Romans 3:22), imagery which is seen here in Verse 4: "He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf." Just like the owner of that spotless animal identified with its death by placing his hand on its head and was accepted by the Lord through his faith in doing it, we are accepted by our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice in Verse 5 that the penitent was the one who killed the animal: "He shall slay the young bull before the Lord; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer up the blood and sprinkle the blood around on the altar that is at the doorway of the tent of meeting." In Verse 6, he was also the one who prepared the sacrifice: "He shall then skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces." The priests then collected the blood and sprinkled it on the altar, continuing in Verses 7-8, as they lit the fire and properly arranged the wood so it would consume the sacrifice: "The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head and the suet over the wood which is on the fire that is on the altar." It is your sins and mine that killed the Lord Jesus, and we are to give thought to the reality that we are responsible for His death.
But before you run out into the street and shout, "I'm doomed, I'm doomed," consider Hebrews 9:11-14—"Christ came... not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption... how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." You might want to read that entire chapter in Hebrews and note that ALL the sacrifices in Leviticus are parables about your salvation and mine in Christ Jesus. The sinner came to the Tabernacle and offered a sacrifice. We come to Jesus Christ and offer Him our sins. He takes them upon Himelf, first to the Cross and then to the grave, and we are delivered—forever. We who were dead in sin, come alive in Jesus Christ.
Note how involved the one who brought the animal was in its destruction, as in Verse 9 and forward: "Its entrails, however, and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer up in smoke all of it on the altar for a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord." This animal would have been a favorite, perfect in appearance, a valuable creature now gone from the owner's holdings and removed from the gene pool of his stock. He had time to think, to ponder this loss and his sins, as he washed blood from its entrails and legs. How much will you give? Are you willing to ponder your sins as you look to the Cross, knowing you are in the presence of God? Are you a sinner? Will you trust in the Lord?
Not all of them were cattle ranchers. Most were sheep herders in the tradition of their fathers, leading back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Those families likely had no bulls—what would they offer? The ones with sheep or goats were called to sacrifice, just like those with cattle, as seen in Verse 10: "But if his offering is from the flock, of the sheep or of the goats, for a burnt offering, he shall offer it a male without defect." A close bond exists between the shepherd and his sheep. A beautiful animal such as the one to be sacrificed would be a treasure to the family, and might well be a "pet" of the shepherd's children. All of this would be in the shepherd's mind as Verse 11 unfolded for him: "He shall slay it on the side of the altar northward before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall sprinkle its blood around on the altar." He would be shocked into wonder about his sins and the God who brought him to this moment.
His thoughts would have continued during the unfolding of Verses 12-13: "He shall then cut it into its pieces with its head and its suet, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood which is on the fire that is on the altar. 13 The entrails, however, and the legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer all of it, and offer it up in smoke on the altar; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord." Would he recognize his sins as he cut this innocent animal into pieces and as he watched the priest arrange them on top of the wood? Was he going to see his need to be a better father, as he recalled the tears of his children when he took this lamb from their arms? Will we see our sins as we look to the Lord?
If you were God, what system would you invent for salvation that would be fair to all? You might give everybody precisely the same intellectual and physical capacities and have them live in exactly the same circumstances. But God in His wisdom made us different, knowing that faith is fair to all. A lessened intellect is designed to show us our need of God and so is a reduced physical capacity. Poverty might bring us to the Lord, and wealth has revealed the sins of many. And so we find the poor family in Verse 14: "But if his offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, then he shall bring his offering from the turtledoves or from young pigeons." A way was provided even for the ones too poor to own sheep, and you can see in your minds eye, a husband, wife and children, working together, scouring the hillsides to catch a turtledove so the father could take it to the priest at the appointed time. Did they think of their sinful thoughts and ways, as they tensely but quietly listened for the "coo" of a dove and the rustle of its wings? Just as we think back on our lives during times of stress, so did they.
The method of burnt offering for a bird differed somewhat from bulls and goats, as seen in Verses 15-17: "The priest shall bring it to the altar, and wring off its head and offer it up in smoke on the altar; and its blood is to be drained out on the side of the altar. 16 He shall also take away its crop with its feathers and cast it beside the altar eastward, to the place of the ashes. 17 Then he shall tear it by its wings, but shall not sever it. And the priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar on the wood which is on the fire; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord." Instead of the penitent, the priest killed the creature in this instance, and there were other differences, but the outcome was the same—it ended in "a soothing aroma to the Lord." The bringing of a sacrifice was an outward expression of inward faith, which is pleasing to God. For all, it is "the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" that saves us (1 Peter 1:19), reaching forward and backward to all places and times. How we come to God outwardly can be very different, but our hearts are His through faith in the Lord.
Dear Lord, I surrender to You. I confess my sins and thank You that You have provided a way for me. You died on the cross for me. I believe, Lord. I trust in You now. In Jesus Name. Amen.