Exegetical Notes: Leviticus 1:3-9; 2:1-3; 3:1-5

Leviticus begins with the people of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. The glory of the Lord had just filled the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34–38) and God now tells Moses to instruct the Levitical priests and the people of Israel concerning sacrifices, worship, the priesthood, ceremonial cleanness, the Day of Atonement, feasts and holy days, and the Year of Jubilee. The central message is that God is holy and he requires his people to be holy. The book also shows that God graciously provides atonement for sin through the shedding of blood. Traditionally, Jews and Christians recognize Moses as the author, writing sometime after the giving of the Law. – The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Into to Leviticus.

The first seven chapters of Leviticus deal with the offerings and sacrifices of Israelite worship.

“The Lord called” – from verse one, emphasizes the importance of what is recorded in the upcoming chapters. This is the only instance where the Lord’s voice comes to Moses from the tent. Compare with Exodus 40:34-35, where Moses couldn’t even enter the tent because the glory of the Lord in the form of a cloud prevented his access. Other occasions record that Moses spoke from the Ark (Exodus 25:22; 30, 36).

Leviticus 1:3-9
“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord.

Verses 3-17 record what is most often referred to as “The Burnt Offering”, but is also referred to as “The Holocaust”. Most scholars consider it to be the principle/most frequent offering of the sacrificial system.

The various offerings were presented in a variety of means and methods.

“The word for burnt offering, ʿōlâ, is a noun that occurs 287 times in the Old Testament. It comes from the Hebrew root ʿlh, “to ascend,” and describes the smoke of the offering that ascends into heaven (see Judg 13:20). This offering was distinctive among the Israelite sacrifices in that the entire offering, apart from the skin, was consumed and no portion of it was eaten by the priest or the offerer.” Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 85.

The burnt offering was to atone for basic human sinfulness, honor God, and attract his attention. It was to be a male without blemish (as noted in verse 3) and was to be completely burned by fire.

“from the heard” – The first animals mentioned as a burnt offering are those that come from the herd. Animals from the herd were believed to be the most valuable of the sacrificial animals. The order of the animals listed in chap. 1—herd, flock, birds—thus indicates a gradation in value. That is, the type of sacrifice presented would correspond to the donor’s ability and resources. The Israelite of some means would offer a bull (1:3–5), the Israelite of average means would offer a sheep (1:10), while the poor would offer a bird (1:14). Hence, there is no indication that God desires to deprive his worshipers. Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 86.

“without blemish” – This communicates that the worshipper has genuine spiritual concerns regarding his own sinfulness and the holiness of God. It also foreshadows the perfect sacrifice of Christ (1 Peter 1:19).

He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

“He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering” -We can deduce at least a two-fold purpose for the act of laying the hand on the head of the sacrificial animal.
1) This prevents a man of wealth from sending an individual in his place to perform the sacrifice. This communicates that each man is sinful and in need of atonement.
2) The act of placing one’s own hand symbolized a transfer of one’s own personal sin upon the sacrificial animal. Thus the burnt offering becomes a substitute.

The author of Hebrews clarifies the nature of this sacrifice in what theologians deem a “shadow” (terminology is taken from Hebrews 9:5) of what actually is procured through the death of Christ. Consider:
“These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,  but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”Hebrews 9:6-14.

Therefore, the burnt offering does not provide atonement for sin, it represents a future atonement to be accomplished solely through Christ. See Hebrews 10:6-8.

Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

“the priests shall bring the blood” – “The fact that the blood was only to be handled by priests indicates that the blood was the most holy element of the sacrifice. It also reminded the offerer that each person deserved death, or to have his blood offered, for his sins.” Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 88–89.

Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces,

and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire.

And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar;

but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

“a pleasing aroma to the Lord” – Not in the literal olfactory sense, but meaning that it was satisfactory, or brought pleasure to the Lord.

Leviticus 2:1-3
1 “When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it

“a grain offering” – Leviticus 2:1-16 prescribe the appropriate offering of grain to the Lord. A grain offering is generally understood to secure or retain Yahweh’s good will toward the worshiper. Unlike the burnt offering, only a portion of the grain offering was burned. The remainder was a provision for the priests.

and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

“memorial portion” – which means “to remember” and indicates that the offerer is being mindful of God’s grace in providing him with food, or possibly of God’s rule over all creation. Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 95.

3But the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the Lord‘s food offerings.

“for Aaron and his sons” – The portions allocated to the priests were called qōdeš qŏdāšîm, “most holy part.” This food was to be eaten only by the priests themselves and could not be distributed for general consumption by their families. Ezekiel 42:13 states that the eating was to take place in a specified area of the tabernacle/temple precinct. Because the priests represent God, they have a right to those sacrifices offered to God. The grain offering apparently provided the main source of income for the priesthood. Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 95.

Leviticus 3:1-5
“If his offering is a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offers an animal from the herd, male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the Lord.

“peace offering” – peace offerings sought to render praise to Yahweh. Although this verse is very similar to the burnt offering described in Chapter 1:3, in contrast, the fatty potions were consumed by fire, while the remainder was to be eaten within the next day. The symbolism between some portions being burned for Yahweh and other portions being consumed by the worshipers communicates the idea of communion with God leading many scholars to refer to this offering as a “fellowship offering.”

And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering and kill it at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw the blood against the sides of the altar.

And from the sacrifice of the peace offering, as a food offering to the Lord, he shall offer the fat covering the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails,

“as a food offering” –

“The whole tenor of ancient Israel’s belief in Yahweh is irreconcilable with the idea that God is fed by the sacrifice, bound up as this is with God’s dependence on man. The central concept of the covenant asserts no less than that Yahweh already existed and had proved his power, before ever Israel sacrificed to him.… Here the offering of food and drink reminds men that God is the sole giver of life and nurture; and it is for this reason that their gifts to him take the form of the necessities of life.” Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 103.

“the reference to the offering as “food” is to be understood from the fact that this was the only offering shared with the worshiper, who would participate by actually eating the meat of the sacrifice. The worshiper in this sense shared a meal with the Lord, which means that he had fellowship with him.” Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 103.

and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys.

Then Aaron’s sons shall burn it on the altar on top of the burnt offering, which is on the wood on the fire; it is a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.