Saturday, February 24, 2018

Priest’s Special Instructions on how to Officiate the Burnt Offering

Leviticus 6:8-13:
8]Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 
“Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law for the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it. 
10 The priest is to put on his linen robe, and he shall put on undergarments next to his flesh; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire reduces the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. 
11 Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. 
12 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it. It shall not go out, but the priest shall burn wood on it every morning; and he shall lay out the burnt offering on it, and offer up in smoke the fat portions of the peace offerings on it. 
13 Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out.

Thoughts on the Passage
Earlier in the book of Leviticus Moses shared with the people the instructions God had given him for various types of offerings to be made under various circumstances.  Here in this passage we have some instructions specifically for the priests officiating at burnt offerings.  But more specifically, the instruction is for the two daily burnt offerings that are to be made regularly by the priests.

Robert Jamieson tells us this daily service “consisted of two lambs, one offered in the morning at sunrise, the other in the evening, when the day began to decline.” A slow fire was to be used with the pieces of the sacrifice so placed that they would feed the fire until the next sacrifice at night or in the morning. It was not allowed to go out. These sacrifices were a “daily expression of national repentance and faith.”  This was a special fire and later in the book we learn of it being kindled from the Lord Himself (see Leviticus 9:24), and so there were special instructions regarding how to dispose of the ashes and what clothing was to be worn – certainly nothing that were not officially “holy”.

David Guzik adds that the fire had to be tended by the priest at all times. He suggests that the long-burning character of the burnt offering is an appropriate illustration of the work of giving ourselves completely to God.  He writes, “Coming to God as a living sacrifice is not a quick work and we may feel that we are roasted on the fire for a long time.”

One supposes that because these fires were to be keept alive continuously, then the burnt offerings of individuals would simply be placed on the altar in the process – almost like a continuous assembly line of sacrifices if people were waiting to make their offerings. If so, this reminds me of my visit to the Hershey Chocolate factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania with my grandson last summer. There we got to design and make our own chocolate bar and our product had to merge in on the assembly line with the products of so many others. Such may have been the way things worked at the Tabernacle.  
Matthew Henry reminds us that the priests, even though they were rulers in the house of God, they too had to be ruled. Oh how I wished that many church leaders today would realize this and save themselves the disgrace that often accompanies that are not subject to others in authority or to God Himself, although they claim He alone is their overseer and no one else. Those that have the command of others must also be commanded, says Henry. Aaron and his sons had rules they had to follow.

The ashes of the burnt offerings had to be properly disposed of. Every morning the altar had to cleared of the ashes and put on the east side of the altar.  [This reminds me of the fancy barbecues today, that unlike those my parents used, have side-areas for dishes, etc.] And this step was to be taken in the priest’s linen garment – a garment the priest always wore when doing service at the altar.
Once that was done, his more everyday clothes or perhaps less praiseworthy priestly garbs had to be donned in order to carry the ashes to a clean place outside the camp.

Henry says that “some think this care which was taken of the ashes of the sacrifice typified the burial of our Savior; His dead body (the ashes of his sacrifice) was carefully laid up in a garden, in a new sepulchre, which was a clean place.”

Back at the altar, the priest himself must not only keep the fire going, but he cleans the hearth, and carries out the ashes. I often think of how this compares to what goes on in many households today – one prepares the meal (the one who is best at barbecuing), someone else usually cleans up the barbecue, and some is asked to take the refuse out.  But not when it came to God’s servants doing the Lord’s work – they oversaw the sacrifice; they cleaned up the altar; and they took ashes to their final site. A great lesson to help us all remember that as we serve God, in any capacity, we must think of nothing as being below our ‘pay grade’, to use a reversal of the common excuse people have today for not doing more challenging work – as in “sorry, that’s above my pay grade”.  Well, I believe when we are God’s servants, there’s nothing below our pay grade and with His help, there’s nothing above it.

Returning to the ever-burning fire on that altar, Henry says “the Jews tell us that fire never did go out upon the altar, till the captivity in Babylon.” Their reference is Isaiah 31:9 where God is said to have His fire in Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem.

But what about us?  Have we kept that “fire from heaven” eternally burning in our own hearts?  Do we need to stir the coals up at times? Do we need to ask for His help in so doing?

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