Leviticus 1:5-9—“‘5 He shall kill the bull before the LORD; and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 6 And he shall skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces. 7 The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar, and lay the wood in order on the fire. 8 Then the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; 9 but he shall wash its entrails and its legs with water. And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.’” Now, once the person lays their hand on the animal, commits it (and their life as well) to God, the person themselves would take the knife, make a wide cut from ear to ear, slice through the jugular vein, and what came out? Blood. How much blood? A LOT!! Lots and lots of blood. This was a large animal. A human being my size (about 6’ tall, 200 lbs.) has roughly 7½ quarts of blood. Just to be conservative, let’s say the livestock the person brings weighs roughly 1000 lbs.—5 times my body weight. Multiply 7½ by 5 and you’ve got just under 9.5 gallons. So each time a person brought a bull as a sin offering, that animal would pour out (conservatively speaking) almost 10 GALLONS OF BLOOD. That’s a lot of blood. Not to mention the fact that once the blood starts flowing, the animal is going to jerk and thrash. This was not a neat and tidy procedure. And this was but one of several offerings of animals offered countless numbers of times every day, day after day, week after week, year after year, for almost 1500 years. It’s a lot of blood.
Once all the blood was drained and the animal was dead, the blood was sprinkled around the altar and on the altar. Then the animal was flayed—that is, its skin was removed, it was cut into pieces and laid on the fire. Now, they did not have to make a fire, since the fire on the altar of burnt offering was to always be lit (see Leviticus 6:13). But the sons of Aaron were to always keep it kindled that it would never go out. Also, they didn’t just go throwing the whole carcass on the fire. The head and the fat—what “fat” is meant here is not clear from the text, but many scholars who have studied for decades longer than I have even been alive tend to think it is the fat surrounding the intestines and/or the liver. Then, once they separated the fat from the intestines they washed the intestines—along with all four legs, which had been separated from the rest of the body—and then the whole thing got laid on the fire, it was all burned, and nobody ate any of it. It was an offering to YHVH.
Now, what if you couldn’t afford livestock? What if the most you could give was a lamb or a goat? God provided a way. Leviticus 1:10-13—“’10 If his offering is of the flocks—of the sheep or of the goats—as a burnt sacrifice, he shall bring a male without blemish. 11 He shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the LORD; and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar. 12 And he shall cut it into its pieces, with its head and its fat; and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; 13 but he shall wash the entrails and the legs with water. Then the priest shall bring it all and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.’” The rules for offering a lamb or goat were basically the same, the only difference being the lamb or goat—that is, an “offering from the flocks”—was killed on the north side of the altar. Why the north side? Don’t know. That’s what God wanted.
Now, what if you couldn’t afford an offering of livestock OR an offering from a flock? What did the poor do to show their appreciation to God for even the measliest circumstances and the little they had? God even provided for these, Leviticus 1:14-17—“‘14 And if the burnt sacrifice of his offering to the LORD is of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or young pigeons. 15 The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off its head, and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out at the side of the altar. 16 And he shall remove its crop with its feathers and cast it beside the altar on the east side, into the place for ashes. 17 Then he shall split it at its wings, but shall not divide it completely; and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.’” Ever hear the phrase “I’ll wring your neck?” Or if your family raised chickens in days gone by, you may have had to go get a chicken for dinner, and rather than drive to Kroger’s, mom or dad told you to go to the coop, pick one out, and kill it. And how did you kill it? You would wring its neck. Well, that is the command here. The person would take that pigeon or turtledove, grab the body with one hand, the head with the other, and twist in opposite directions. It’s that simple. But before you placed it on the fire, you had to remove “the crop with its feathers.” This would be the lower end of the alimentary canal. In layman’s terms, the intestines and all points south of the intestines if you get my drift. Then you would split the wings (but do not separate them). And once you have properly prepared this bird, you give it to the priest and he would burn it.
No matter which kind of animal you bring, doesn't it seem like a lot of work for something that’s going to be destroyed? Don’t you think there were people—maybe even Aaron and his sons—that would be thinking, “Oh, come on now. These animals are going to be thrown on a fire and turned to ash anyway. What difference does it make how they're killed and prepared?” The “difference” is that God said this is how it is to be done. Just like if someone were to say, “Why is it only the Levites that get to be priests? I descended from Judah, the scepter shall never depart from our hand, and so I should be just as entitled to mediate as any Levite!” No, you don’t. God said only Levites can be priests, only Levites can mediate the old covenant. And if God says these animals were to be killed, cut up, and burned in a certain way, then that’s how it is to be done. Unfortunately, we see a similar thinking in the minds of many who call themselves “Christians” today. “What difference does it make if we play Led Zeppelin or Eminem in our worship service? Just so long as we get people to come, that’s all that matters!” That thinking is just as wrong as the Reubenite who thinks he should be priest. We will see in a few weeks how wrong that thinking is when we read about Nadab and Abihu, who said, “What does it matter what kind of incense we burn, just so long as we offer something.” And when God strikes them down, Moses tells Aaron what God commanded him to say, Leviticus 10:3—"'By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.'"
Now, if we flip over to chapter 6, we find commands that God gave to the priests about how they were to carry out these sacrifices. It wasn’t as if God simply told the priests to perform these rites—tell them, “Have at it, guys!”—without some kind of guidelines. And we find these guidelines starting in in Leviticus 6:8-9—8 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “9 Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the burnt offering: The burnt offering shall be on the hearth upon the altar all night until morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it.’” The Burnt Offering and the Sin Offering were the only two of the five offerings that were not to be eaten. When you bring your bull or sheep or goat or pigeon or turtledove as a burnt offering, as a sacrifice to YHVH, once the priest puts the carcass on the altar, it stays there until morning. It was to be completely consumed by the flames of the altar.
Then, Leviticus 6:10-11—“‘10 And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen trousers he shall put on his body, and take up the ashes of the burnt offering which the fire has consumed on the altar, and he shall put them beside the altar. 11 Then he shall take off his garments, put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.’” You see how tedious and time consuming even one offering is. Not only did the priest have to slit the throat of an animal that did not want to die and would fight with every effort against that death. But then they had to drain copious amounts of blood—gallons—and catch it and sprinkle it and pour it out in the right places. Then they had to cut up this beast in just the right manner, and do what was needed to be done with the parts. Meanwhile they are being covered in blood. And the labor and the smell of it all. But on top of that, in the morning they had to put on their priestly garments, scoop up the ashes, put them in a pile beside the altar, THEN take off the priestly garments, put on other garments, take the ashes outside the camp—which would have been a hike of at least, probably, a mile or more. Dump the ashes, walk the mile or so back to the camp, put the priestly garments back on, and start the day.
And if that wasn’t enough, they had to tend the fire on the altar of burnt offering. Leviticus 6:12-13—“‘12 And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be put out. And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order on it; and he shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. 13 A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.’” We will see, once we get to chapter 9, that God initiated this fire—and it was to never go out. Someone had to always be watching to make sure there was always a fire going on the altar. Day and night, rain or shine, summer, winter, fall, spring. Whether it was the 1st of Nisan or the 17th of Tevet or the 30th of Shevat, that fire had to be burning. Interesting bit of symbolism, isn’t it? That God started the fire and His priests were to keep it going. In much the same way, God begins a fire in the heart of the person, draws them to Christ (John 6:44), and the Holy Spirit—His Minister who will “convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)—keeps it going in the heart of believers. Perhaps as Paul told the church at Thessalonica, “do not quench the Holy Spirit” (1st Thessalonians 5:19). This never-ceasing fire was also a symbol that so long as it was burning, they were reminded day to day of their sin. The reason for that fire was to offer sacrifice for sin, and if it were not for their sin, they would not need that fire. Hebrews 10:3—In those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.
There is another thing this fire symbolized. This fire—as well as the pillar of fire that led them by night—showed the world that they were the worshippers of YHVH—the Almighty. What did Jesus command us in Matthew 5:14-16—“14 You are the light of the world…16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Just as that fire on the altar showed the world that they were God’s people, Jesus commands us to let our light shine to show the world that we belong to Him. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary says this—“As nobody lights a lamp only to cover it up, but places it so conspicuously as to give light to all who need light, so Christians, being the light of the world, instead of hiding their light, are so to hold it forth before men that they may see what a life the disciples of Christ lead, and seeing this, may glorify their Father for so redeeming, transforming, and ennobling earth’s sinful children, and opening to themselves the way to like redemption and transformation.”
So, to finish up on the subject of the Burnt Offering, I will say this: Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, made Himself a Burnt Offering to the LORD. Ephesians 5:2—And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. He was an offering without spot or blemish. He volunteered His body to be burned, consumed by the wrath of God for sin. He offered His whole earthly life to the service of God. And when we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, we, metaphorically, put our hands upon His head and acknowledge the grace and favor, shown us by God, that we did not deserve nor ever can deserve. And when we acknowledge the offering of Christ, we ourselves become and offering to God, 2nd Corinthians 2:15 (KJV)—For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish. Apart from the grace and mercy of God we have nothing—material, immaterial or, especially, eternal. Thanks be to God, through the Lord Jesus Christ!