Leviticus Bible Study (Atonement)

Leviticus 1, Christ, Our Burnt Offering

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The book of Leviticus is a continuation from where the book of Exodus leaves off in the story. Exodus concludes with the tabernacle being completed and the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle. The Lord calls Moses to the tabernacle (also called the tent of meeting) to give instructions for worship. It is important to notice that the instructions in this chapter are not directed to the priests. The name of this book, Leviticus, is a bit misleading because the book is a bunch of laws and regulations for the priests. Most of the laws and regulations commanded are for the people. Notice that Moses is commanded by the Lord to give these laws “to the people of Israel” (1:2). The tent of meeting had two very important functions. First, this was the place of God’s revelation. When God had directions to give to the people, he called Moses to the tent of meeting and gave the command of the Lord. Second, the tabernacle was the place of worship where sacrifices were made. The book of Leviticus is God giving his revelation from the tabernacle about the worship to be made at the tabernacle.

God-Approved Worship

God is teaching the people, not simply the priests, how to worship him. God is revealing his worship plan. It was not up to the people to decide how to worship the Lord. It was not up to their personal preferences. God is going to give the people directions for worship. We learn something really important from this. We do not know how to worship the Lord properly. He has to tell us how to worship him. It is not for us to decide how worship must go. God must reveal to us how we are to approach him in worship. This should humble us in our approach to worshiping God. God does not accept worship that does not follow his revealed worship plan. We don’t know where to begin to worship. God must direct us.

Excellence Required In Worship

God also teaches that he demands excellence in worship to him. Verse 3 reveals that the worshipers who brought a bull had to bring one without blemish. In verse 10 we learn that those who bring sheep or goats must bring one without blemish. The meaning of bringing an animal without blemish is that the animal is complete and whole. It is not broken. The animal is not defective, maimed, blind, or having any other blemish. It is a whole animal. God was teaching a very important principle about worshiping him. You do not bring your trash to God. God does not accept whatever you bring. God will not receive our leftovers. Worshipers are not allowed to have an “anything is good enough” mentality. You do not bring your junk to the Lord. Do we prepare ourselves for worship so that we can bring God the very best of our hearts and minds? Too often we allow ourselves to come in hurried and unrested because being up too late Saturday night or doing other things on Sunday morning that by the time we get here we have great difficulty focusing on worshiping God. Our mind is other places or our bodies are just too tired to learn and focus on the Lord. We have to be careful that we are not giving our leftover to God as leaders. I do not believe that God would be pleased if I pulled a sermon out from five years ago and preached it again to you without any other work. God does not want heartless, mindless singing. Not being prepared to lead songs, lead prayers, and lead in the memorial of our Lord is showing that we do not care. Now we understand when we are filling in at the last minute for those who are sick or missing. However, we need to watch that we are not making this worship hour where we think, “anything is good enough.” This does not mean that we are perfect or always do things the best. We are bound by our talents and skills. But it does mean that we are trying our best and we are prepared to worship. God taught the people in their worship to bring their best to God and not to bring their trash.


Verse 3 tells us that the burnt offering was needed to “be accepted before the Lord.” Verse 4 describes the burnt offering as making atonement for the worshiper. Atonement means to cover and carried the idea of covering over the sins of the worshiper and covering the guilt of the people. The worshiper was to take the animal and lay his hand on the head of the animal. In doing this God seems to be trying to help the worship identify himself with the animal. This animal is dying on your behalf. This animal is dying because of what you have done. Life is given up because of the worshiper. It is important to notice that God never says the animal was a substitute or dying to take the worshiper’s place. But laying one’s hand on the animal seems to indicate the owning of the effect of the sin. This animal is no longer mine, but is being offered to God for atonement. The worshiper then slaughters the animal (1:5) and cuts it in pieces (1:6). The entrails and legs were washed with water. Please notice that the worshiper is directly involved. He did not hand the animal to the priest and let the priest do all the work. The worshiper kills the animal. The worshiper cuts the animal in pieces. The worshiper stains his hands in the blood of the animal. In verse 11 we learn that the blood was collected from the slaughter so that it could be thrown against the side of the altar. The worshiper learned that blood was required to be accepted by God to worship him.

No Obstacle

Perhaps one reason why we struggle with reading chapters in Leviticus like this one is the seemingly boring repetition. First God describes the burnt offering with a bull. Then if the burnt offering is from his flock God prescribes what must be done. Finally God gives instructions if the offering is an offering of birds. What is God teaching the people by these things? God is teaching his people something very important. God teaches us that he wants worshipers. There is no obstacle to worshiping God. There is no barrier to worshiping God. If a person did not have a bull, that did not prevent you from worshiping. If you did not have a sheep or a goat that did not prevent you from worshiping. You could go get a few birds and bring those as your burnt offering. God wants people to worship him. God has made worship simple so that everyone can come to him in worship. This is amazing! God is not preventing people from coming to him. God wants us to come to him and worship him. God’s requirements for worship are not unattainable. The requirements are not so lofty that few, if any, could achieve them. Everyone has opportunity to come and worship the Lord. This is what God wants. Listen to the words of Jesus as he made this very point.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23 ESV)

Focus on the last part of the verse. “For the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” The Father wants true worshipers. Psalm 149:4 tells us, “For the LORD takes pleasure in his people.” God desires all people to come to worship before him. This leads us to recognize that there is no excuse not to worship God. God did not want anything to get in the way of worshiping him. Your economic situation was not going to be a barrier for people to worship him. We cannot say the expense is too great too worship the Lord. God has not caused us to have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to worship him. God made it very affordable to his people. But worship did have a cost. A person could not come empty-handed. Worshiping God does have a price but the price is low enough that everyone can make the sacrifice to worship. There is no excuse to not worship our Lord. He wants us to worship him. This shows that God so earnestly desires us to come to him and worship him, far more than we desire to worship him.

Offering Completely Consumed

There is an unique aspect to the burnt offering. Verse 9 and verse 13 emphasize that the offering was completely consumed on the altar. Nothing was given back to the priest or to the worshiper. The worshiper nor the priest ate from this animal. The whole life of the animal was devoted to God. This offering showed that God demands our whole lives to be given to him. God took it all. God wanted everything. The burnt offering is picturing what Moses specifically declared in Deuteronomy.

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good”? (Deuteronomy 10:12–13 ESV)

What does God ask of you? He asks only everything you have. Everything is to be given to the Lord. It is the surrender of the worshipers whole being. Paul taught the same picture in his letter to the Romans.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1 ESV)

Fragrant Offering

At the end of each of the descriptions of the various burnt offerings, we learn that the offering is a pleasing aroma to the Lord (1:9,13,17). This is an interesting statement because the burning flesh of an animal is not a good smell. A goat on fire is not going to have a smell that is enjoyable. The statement means that God would accept this sacrifice of worship. It signified obedience to God’s will resulting in God’s favor toward the worshiper. In Leviticus 6:8-13 we read the instructions to the priests concerning the burnt offering where they were instructed to keep the fire burning on the altar and never let it go out. Burnt offerings were to be given morning and evening by the priests on behalf of the congregation (Numbers 28:1-4). Burnt offerings were made by the people at the beginning of every month, every Sabbath, and for the special feasts (Numbers 28:9-29:40). These regular offerings were performed daily and were pleasing to the Lord.

The apostle Paul takes this language concerning an offering as a pleasing aroma to God and applies it to the offering of Christ.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2 ESV)

Jesus is the offering that God would accept to make atonement for the people. He was the lamb without blemish through his perfect obedience resulting in our ability to now be able to approach God in worship. Jesus also fulfills the tabernacle system. Jesus is the revelation of God.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2 ESV) Through Jesus we learn the laws and commands of the Lord. Through the death of Jesus there is no obstacle that stands in the way of us worshiping God. We learn that we must not look at the requirements of the Law of Moses as silly rituals. These commands were showing the people what God required and foreshadowed at time when the Messiah would come give up himself fully to the Lord as a fragrant offering on our behalf. He is the Lamb of God who gave himself completely for our sins so that we can approach God. Just as the burnt offering was made so that the people could approach God to worship, so Jesus accomplishes the same thing. The writer of Hebrews notes six times that we are able to draw near to God through Jesus (Hebrews 4:16; 7:19; 7:25; 10:1; 10:22; 11:6). We will conclude this lesson with one of the places where the writer of Hebrews makes this point.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16 ESV)

God wants worshipers. God is seeking worshipers. God wants our whole lives as living sacrifices for him. Through Jesus we can worship the Lord.

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