The burnt offering, peace offering, sin offering, and trespass offering were bloody sacrifices that involved the slaying of oxen, sheep, goats, doves, and pigeons. The meat offerings were bloodless and consisted of vegetable productions, such as corn, flour, meal, bread, cakes, oils, and salt. It was not until the Israelites settled in Canaan, though, that the whole Levitical law was bound upon them because until then they couldn’t have obeyed it in its entirety.
The Burnt Offering
This offering was so called because the whole of the body of the sacrifice except the skin was entirely consumed by the altar fire as an incense to God. Only male animals were permitted to be offered as burnt sacrifices, and the offerer could bring any of the animals that have already been named.
When one brought a bullock as his offering, he led it up to the tabernacle door where the priests were in attendance arrayed in their robes of office. They examined it and had to declare it without any blemish that could disqualify it for sacrifice. A list of these disqualifications is found in Lev. 22: 17-26. Then the person could offer it to the Lord there before the entrance to the holy habitation. A person could die if he was found offering sacrifices elsewhere. This was set up by God to keep the people from falling into idolatry.
After putting his hand on the head of the animal for sacrifice, he slew it on the north side of the altar. The hand on the head was a solemn act of devoting the animal to the Lord that would stand in as the person’s substitute.
The officiating priest received the blood and sprinkled it around the under part of the altar. The sacrificer then skinned and cut up the carcass, assisted by the Levites. The legs and inwards were washed with water and sprinkled with salt, and all the parts of the body (some say in natural order) were laid on the altar by the priest, and the whole being was consumed by the fire which ascended to God in a sweet savor. The sprinkling of blood, and the laying of the parts of the victim on the altar are what principally constituted the presenting of the sacrifice.
An Israelite who could not afford a bullock could offer a male sheep or goat, which would have been presented in the same manner. An Israelite which was very poor could bring a turtle dove, or pigeon, which was sacrificed in the same manner as the larger animals. Instead of the offerer preparing the bird, the priest did it. This was probably to save the smaller amount of blood for the sacrifice, as the priests had much more practice and worked with greater care than the ordinary person would have.
The burnt offering must have been intended to be an atonement sacrifice – the victim bleeding, suffering, and dying for the sin of the offerer, in order that he might escape deserved punishment. The entire body of the victim consumed on the altar was significant of the dedication of the offerer of himself to God. The reference in Romans 12: 1, is evidently to the burnt offering, and helps to confirm this view.
When several offerings were presented to God on the same occasion, the sin offering always took precedence, seeming to teach that the offerers were first reconciled to God, and then by the burnt offering they dedicated themselves to God. It is also worthy of notice that the first sacrifice that was ever offered on the altar was a sin offering.
Other than just a person wanting to offer a free-will burnt offering, they had to be offered by individuals at the removal of ceremonial uncleanness of different kinds. The public ones were offered daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.
It is a Christian’s duty to be constantly looking by faith to Him as crucified for them, and to be continually striving, in their daily life, to fulfill their part of the offering that Jesus gave for us. “Ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
The Meat Offering
When the Scriptures were translated into English, “meat” did not mean flesh, as it does now. It just meant food in general. The following were varieties of meat offerings:
a meat offering of flour, upon which oil had been poured
a meat offering baked in the oven, consisting of unleavened cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil
a meat offering of fine flour unleavened, mingled with oil, and baked in a pan. When baked it was parted in pieces, and oil poured on it, the oil being used as butter is with us on bread.
a meat offering made of fine flour, with oil, and baked in the frying pan
a meat offering of first fruits – “green ears of corn dried by the fire”, with oil and frankincense
The offerer brought one of these offerings to the priest, who took a part of it (called the “memorial”), and laid it on the altar to be burned. After this part was taken out for the offering, the rest of it belonged to the priest. No honey or leaven was allowed to be mixed with the meat offerings, but salt was applied to them all.
Leaven in Bible days would only keep a few days at most, but unleaved bread would keep for a long time. This was probably the reason that leaven was forbidden in the offerings. Salt has quite the opposite effect. It is a powerful preservative and was applied to the offerings to show the enduring nature of the covenant between God and the Hebrews.
Drink offerings of wine commonly accompanied the meat offerings. They were never offered separately, but just added as a part of the meat offering.
By bringing a meat offering, an Israelite dedicated to God a part of the choicest ingredients that constituted his daily bread. By this act, he acknowledged that he was indebted to his Maker for everything that he possessed. God did not stand in need of food, but the gifts were a sweet savor to Him, and the priests were nourished by them because the greater portion went to them and their families as food to live on.
These were taken from the herd or from the flock. They consisted of the same kind of animals that formed the burnt offerings, and were also required to be without blemish. Unlike the burnt offering, though, they could be either male or female.
They were slain and skinned, and their blood was sprinkled in the same manner as the burnt offerings, but only their fatty parts were burned. This offering was done in a peculiar way, with part of it being lifted or heaved up and down, and the other part being waved from left to right – hence the name “heave” and “wave” offerings. The priests got the breast and the right shoulder, and the rest belonged to the offerer, who could invite his friends and the poor to feast on it along with him. The priests ate their own portion, and the altar fire devoured God’s part. Since the offering was shared among three parties, this signified their being at peace and holding communion together – hence the peace offering. They were given nationally, and sometimes offered on a grand scale.
The main design of this offering was to express thankfulness to God for mercies received – not for sin or atonement. It was also sometimes called the “thank offering”. They were evidently intended to keep alive in the Israelites the combined flame of gratitude, piety, and charity.