This Sunday we began a series in the book of Leviticus. Boy, am I excited! More excited than I probably should be.
But this Sunday was also Fall Fest, which meant I had much less time than normal in the pulpit. I had to decide between preaching only verses 1-2 or preaching the entire chapter. After much debate (and perhaps a few tears), I chose the latter. That left a lot on the cutting room floor.
Some of the stuff I cut out of my sermon I’m going to save for a later time. It’ll fit well into other chapters. But here are two thoughts that I slimmed down due to time.
Leviticus 1:4 “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” (ESV)
Why is the worshiper told to “lay his hand” on the head of his offering? Commentators point to at least three different possibilities, all of which have some Scripture to back it up.
1) Some think laying the hand on the head symbolizes ownership. “This is mine, and I now give it to you, Lord.” Famed Levitical commentator Jacob Milgrom leans this way (the guy wrote a 2000+ page commentary on Leviticus—wow!). After eliminating the other options for one reason or the other, he notes that the worshiper doesn’t have to lay a hand on the head of the bird in 1:14-17 and believes this points most strongly to the ownership option (Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 151-53).
2) Others think it symbolizes identification or substitution with the animal. “This animal is taking my place. It’s a substitute. I deserve to die for my sins. The wages of my sin is death. But this animal stands in my place.” Numbers 8:9-11 offers a good supporting text. The Levites are brought before the congregation of Israel and the people lay their hands on the heads of the Levites, who are presented before God as a “wave offering,” representing the entirety of the Israelites. Their service before the Lord stands in place of everyone else’s service.
3) Still others believe laying the hand on the animal symbolizes transference of sin. “My sins are leaving me and going upon the head of this beast.” Numbers 27:18-20 may lend support to this interpretation. Moses lays his hand on Joshua and transfers his authority to Joshua in sight of the people.
Which option is the best? I only offered option #2 in the sermon, which I believe has the strongest support in the context. But there may be elements of all three evident in the hand-laying ritual. Certainly they all bear some truth to the situation.
Leviticus 1:9b “ 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.” (ESV)
The idea of an offering being a “pleasing aroma to the LORD” carries over to the New Testament. One instance is in Paul’s writings in Ephesians 5:1-2. The text reads: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Notice that last line: Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. What is the Burnt Offering? A fragrant offering sacrificed up to God. The smoke “ascends” to God as the offering is completely immolated.
A Christian can be a fragrant offering to God by walking in love, loving others as Christ loved us. Our obedience is a beautiful aroma to the Lord when done with the right heart. Paul also notes in Romans 12:1-2 that our lives are “living sacrifices” before the Lord, “pleasing” to God.
The language of the Burnt Offering is not only all over the OT; we find its sweet fragrance in the writings of the NT authors as well.