The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD summoned Moses to the meeting tent, and said, 2“Tell the Israelites that when anyone brings an offering to be burned before me, they may select the animal from either the herd or the flock.
3“If it is from the herd it must be a male animal without any imperfections. You must bring it to the meeting tent entrance to be accepted on my behalf. 4Then you must place your hand on the animal’s head and it will be approved as reconciliation for you. 5You are to slaughter it in my presence and the priests, Aaron’s sons, will dash the blood against the four sides of the altar of sacrifice. 6Then the meat is to be butchered and separated into its parts. 7Aaron’s sons are to light the altar and stack wood on the fire. 8Then they are to lay the head and the fatty parts on the fire. 9The animal’s inner organs and legs must be washed with water, and the priest must then burn all of it on the altar as an offering by fire and a pleasant aroma for the LORD.
10“If the offering is from the flock, a sheep or a goat, it must be without any imperfections. 11It must be slaughtered in the LORD’s sight on the north side of the altar, and Aaron’s sons will splatter its blood against all four sides of the altar. 12Once it has been butchered the priest will arrange the parts on the wood, 13but the internal organs and legs must be washed with water before being placed on the fire. The priest will then completely burn it on the altar as an offering by fire, a pleasant aroma for the LORD.
14 “Birds may also be brought as a burned offering for the LORD, either doves or pigeons. 15Have the priest on duty bring it to the altar, remove its head and burn it on the altar after draining the blood on the side of the altar, 16but the crop and all it contains should be thrown on the pile of ashes on the altar’s east side. 17Then the bird’s body is to be torn open by the wings and the priest will burn it on the wood that is afire on the altar, and it will be accepted as an offering by fire, a pleasant aroma for the LORD.”
1-2: The Israelites won’t actually leave Mt. Sinai until the 12th chapter of the book of Numbers. There are lots more rules to cover and lots more arrangements to be made before they are ready to continue their journey. The book of Leviticus is that book of rules. The first rules to be covered have to do with the kinds of offerings the people may bring. Animal offerings are divided into two categories; those that come from the herd (bulls) and those that come from the flock (goats and sheep). It is said that these laws are given to Moses by the LORD at the tent of meeting, not at the sanctuary, although there is increasingly some confusion between the two.
Note that, for the most part, God is dictating the laws and rules and commandments to Moses at Mt. Sinai throughout Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. When we come to Deuteronomy, while they are camped across the Jordan from the Promised Land, Moses will be re-delivering the laws himself without the preface of ‘the LORD said to Moses,’ and there will be some differences, though not terribly significant ones.
3-9: Offerings from the herd must be of a male with no obvious injuries or defects. It is brought to the entrance of the tent, where the priests (Aaron’s sons for now) slaughter it and sprinkle some of its blood against all four sides of the altar. The owner lays his hand on its head while it is being slaughtered as a visible sign that it is his offering, and it is accepted by the priests for his atonement. The priests butcher the carcass, separating out and washing its entrails and legs while a fire is being built on the altar. Then the entire animal is burned on the altar. It is (to them, at least) a pleasing odor, and they imagine that God considers it so as well.
10-13: A sheep or goat may be offered following the same process, except that an offering from the flock is to be made on the north side of the altar.
14-17: Two kinds of birds may be offered: doves and pigeons. The bird’s head is removed by the priest and burned on the altar. Its blood is drained against the side of the altar. Its innards are removed and thrown onto the ash heap. Then it is torn apart by its wings and burned on the altar. I would not want to be a bird.
The whole system of sacrifices is strange to us and even a bit barbaric. Just remember that there is no currency except for valuing silver and gold and other precious metals. The animals that are sacrificed are the offerings the Israelites bring to God at the altar just as we bring our offering to the altar in our sanctuaries on Sunday mornings. Many of their offerings were for the purpose of asking for forgiveness for some wrong committed or some right omitted, and those offerings were beyond the tithe. Remember that next time you drop something into the offering plate.