The Burnt Offering, Leviticus 1

How can I describe the first chapter of Leviticus? It's is one of many passages in the Bible that make me despise the term "quiet time." Leviticus 1 is the feeling you get when you run over your own dog. Leviticus 1 is that quarter your mom gave you to give in children's church.

Please allow me to explain and pull it all together.

Leviticus 1 is loud time with God.

There is NOTHING in Leviticus that can be described as "quiet time with God." Perhaps it is the influence of some of the ascetic movements in Christian history or our misunderstanding of the Biblical word "meditate (Psalm 1:2)" but who came up with this concept of "quiet time?" Biblical meditation is not a quiet emptiness or a silencing of the soul. It is a murmuring. It is filling up the mind and heart with the Word of God. It's chewing on and regurgitating Scripture. It's not "quiet time."

Quiet time is what K-5 kids do after lunch with a nap roll and a teddy bear.

I find the Bible to be very loud (especially Leviticus). I hear the Psalmist's voice at nearly the same volume as my aunt Birdell arguing with my aunt Ruth Ann. I imagine some of the Temple's worship scenes with the passion and fervor of a college football game. I don't hear Jesus tenderly speaking the Sermon on the Mount but projecting his voice in an open field, much like a man warning a sleeping family that their house is on fire.

So you're going to tell a 6'2" man who works in a carpet mill that if he wants to get close to God that he needs to work on his "quiet time?"

Please!

Bro. You need a conversation with God, not "quiet time." Mrs. Rayburn's K-5 will have "quiet time" today. You need to get your Bible out and wrestle with God. And I hope it kicks your butt! 

And that's the way I see the opening scene of Leviticus. The burnt offering is sickening, God-sized butt-kicking. 

It's loud, and it smells. You hear multiple priests offering prayers. You hear animals struggling for life. You see angry flames, and you smell smoke. You see blood. The burnt offering is not a "quiet time" but a disturbing collision of holiness with sin.  

I imagine the entrance of the Tabernacle to be like a worship service at a cattle auction. Leviticus is a long way from your "quiet time" of drawing Bible verse pictures in your journal and calling it meeting with The Almighty.

Imagine walking into the scene of Leviticus 1 and approaching a priest with a handful of colored pencils. They are ready to spill blood and cut meat, not draw pictures. This is a sacrifice - not scribble time.

Leviticus 1 is running over your own dog. 

There is nothing in the world that can make you feel better about yourself than your dog. We work so hard for people's approval. All you have to do for your dog is walk in the door, and they think you're amazing. 

For 9 years, I taught Bible at a Christian school and served as chaplain for the football team. I've been with some kids through hard things. But I don't think I've ever seen one of our players as down as he was when he ran over his dog on the first day of his senior year of high school. 

He grew up with that dog. In dog years, it was an old dog. And the dog was asleep under this young man's truck. He never saw his dog. The dog didn't hear his best friend crank the truck - and it was tragic. I can't think of a worse way for a great kid to start his senior year. It was awful. 

Leviticus 1 is like running over your dog again and again and again.

"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. "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. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. 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. 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."

Lev. 1:2-9

There is nothing in the Biblical text to suggest that the person bringing the burnt offering is as connected to that animal as my student was his dog. But there is a connection.

"Your offering."

"He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering."

So you pick it from your herd. It costs you. Then you lay your hand on the head of the offering, which I read to be a symbol of you confessing your sin upon the animal. You did it. You deserve it. But if you're going to live, then your animal must die.

And then you stand there to watch an innocent animal from your herd, with your sin, slayed, filleted, blood-slung, gut stripped, and burned. 

You might as well have run over your own dog. That animal suffered an awful fate because of you.

Decent humans don't just throw a bull at God and walk away. They feel the regret of causing a magnificent animal to lose its life.

And this is one of the scenes Leviticus captures that I think makes this reading so profitable for us Gentiles who are 3 million miles and 3,000 years away from the text. We know that it is Jesus who died for us. But I think we don't identify fully with the cruel, unjust nature of sacrifice. Yes, it is merciful. But it is awful.

We ask God to "forgive us of our sins" with about as much thought as we ask a waitress for a refill of sweet tea. We think you just ask for it, and it happens. But Leviticus shows us blood. When we read Leviticus, we smell smoke. The third book of the Bible reminds us that when we ask for forgiveness, it was God who brought His Son to be slayed, filleted, gutted, and blood-slung for sinners such as I.

We don't think twice about forgiveness.

Leviticus makes us think twice about sin.

Imagine sin truly costing you - one of your herd - one of your animals - your dog - or in the case of Christ - your son? 

Leviticus 1 is that quarter your mom gave you for the offering.

Getting a little kid ready for church is like giving a cat a bath. You mean well, but the devil comes out of it. There should be some sort of medal of valor awarded to mommas who have successfully delivered their child to Sunday School with clothes on their bodies. 

Fortunately, I always showed up to Sunday School with my clothes on. Here's to you mom! But just because I was wearing clothes did not mean that I was ready. There was one last step. It usually came after my mom licked her finger and rubbed saliva on some smudge on my face. Someone needs to develop an organic bathroom cleaner called Mom Spit.

So with one hand, my momma drug me across the church parking lot and with the other, she dug into her purse. And somewhere in the abyss of her purse, just past half a tube of lipstick, some gum, and a hot iron, she would bring out a quarter; the offering.

The offering was cool to have, but it was something I couldn't wait to give. When the ushers passed that plate around that quarter made me an insider. I had something to offer even though I didn't have a job. 

It's tough to do 3rd grade and also work 3rd shift. But the offering made me just as big as every adult in the room.

Me and James Simpson.

Me and Belvis Swanson.

Me and Ellen Eaker.

Me and Jerry Joe Guinn.

Like them, I gave an offering. 

In his book about Leviticus, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaks about the importance of giving to the Jews. He says that

"Giving is essential to self-respect. To be in a situation where you can only receive, not give, is to lack human dignity."

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Leviticus (29)

In his heart-wrenching yet hopeful book, The Happiest Man on Earth, Auschwitz survivor Eddie Jaku shares a story for his childhood. His mother would cook extra bread on Friday nights to take it to the synagogue and give it to Jews in need. 

"My father used to say to me there is more pleasure in giving than in taking, that the important things in life - friends, family, kindness - are far more precious than money."

Eddie Jaku, The Happiest Man on Earth (11)

If giving is such a part of the culture for the Jews, then these words, spoken to a new nation of nomadic ex-slaves in Leviticus 1:2, are filled with promise. It's a momma getting a kid ready for church by giving them a quarter. Leviticus 1 is God getting Israel ready for a respectable future.

"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock."

Leviticus 1:2

"When." Soon Israel would regain their dignity. No longer, slaves, they would begin to give again.

Like Abel who brought an offering before the Lord of the first of his flock (Gen. 4).

Like Noah who offered burnt offerings before the Lord (Gen. 8:20).

Like Abraham who gave his son Isaac (Gen. 22).

Like Jacob, who built an altar because God answers "me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I go (Gen. 35:3)."

"When." Leviticus meant that God was giving His people something to give again.

All together now (quiet times, dogs, and offerings).

So read John 3:16 against the backdrop of Leviticus 1. "For God so loved the world, THAT HE GAVE US, His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

God is like a momma getting her boy ready for Sunday School. He wants you to have something to give. But it isn't going to make the sound of a quarter clanging against an offering plate. He gave us His Son.

And the Son was slaughtered.

Not in a "quiet time" but in excruciating pain, Jesus became the burnt offering. Slayed. Filleted. Gutted. Blood-slung. Wholly burnt. Wholly offered to placate the sin of the sinner as a pleasing aroma before the Lord. 

We "pray/ask for forgiveness" and get up and walk away. We ask for forgiveness and then eat a burger. 

Leviticus makes you stand there and watch sin die. 

It's far worse than running over your dog on the first day of your senior year. There is something of sin that ought to make us sick to our stomach. Leviticus reminds us that it ought to bother us far more than it does. 

Put your colored pencils away. We aren't coloring Bible verses. We are slaughtering sin.

Hear the sound of lambs and calves and bulls die. Listen to the priest rip apart a bird (Lev 1:14-17). See the blood. Smell the smoke. Stand there and watch them dismember the lamb as you are forgiven.

Think of how much sin cost last time before you do it again the next time.

When you watch a sacrifice, it helps us better understand Paul's shock at a stupid question.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:1-4

By showing us sacrifice in the raw, Leviticus illustrates that grace does not encourage sin. Forgiveness is gruesome. How can we who died to sin (slayed, filleted, gutted, blood-slung) still live in it? 

This is not "quiet time" or coloring time. Leviticus 1 opens with a loud, bloody, disturbing scene. 

God has given us His Son so that we may not perish. He did not give us His Son so we may become petty. 

So let's stand in the slaughterhouse of Leviticus, shredded by our sin but grateful for the grace we have been given by the Father who gave us His son as an offering for our sin.

 

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