and you shall burn all the ram on the altar; it is a burnt offering to YHWH, a soothing fragrance Exodus 29:18
Burnt Offering – “What goes up.” That’s the meaning of this Hebrew word (‘olah). It’s the right description of the burnt offering because the smoke from this fire ascends to God and He delights in it. Of course, there are a few things about this offering that we might miss if we think it is simply the sacrifice of an animal in the fire. We will need to look a little deeper.
Most of the instruction about the burnt offering is found in Leviticus (cf. Leviticus 1, 6, 9 and 10). The first thing we learn is that the burnt offering was strictly voluntary. Why is this detail important? Because the burnt offering was a symbolic expression of the complete and total sacrifice of the heart of the one who brought the offering. In other words, God does not compel heart submission. We must choose it.
Secondly, we learn that the burnt offering was an offering of total destruction. The animal was burned to ashes. The ashes were left overnight and then removed to a sacred place. Nothing was left behind. In the same manner, a heart submitted to God must be ready for God’s full consumption. There can be no reserve. It’s all or nothing. That’s another reason why it must be voluntary. You’ll notice in the prophets that the complaint against the burnt offerings is about the hearts of the ones who make the offering, not the rituals they perform.
Finally, we discover that only certain animals and birds are acceptable as burnt offerings. Bulls, sheep, rams or male birds are on the list. Nothing else. Why wouldn’t God accept any kind of burnt offering? Because even though I volunteer the offering, I do not set the requirements for the offering. It is not my offering. It is God’s! He determines how the offering will be presented, what is appropriate and what must be done with the results. This is a crucial lesson. Too often we come voluntarily to God, ready to offer ourselves to Him with the stipulation that we determine how we will present the offering. It doesn’t work that way. God gives us the opportunity, the structure and the process. If our heart offering is going to be acceptable and useful to Him, we must follow His pathway, not ours. Willingness alone is not enough. It must be willingness combined with submission to God’s design. God specifies the way that we must come to Him. Just as there is only one path to salvation (through the Messiah), there is only one path of full surrender (according to His instructions). Too often we think that because we have the right road to salvation, any other path will do for dedication. Leviticus reminds us that we aren’t the designers of any part of this program.
Why is the smoke of this offering a soothing fragrance? Well, now you know. It has nothing to do with barbeque. It is all about the symbolic representation of the willingness of the presenter to give entirely, without conditions, a life ready for God’s use, according to God’s design. This is not the only offering in the Torah, but it is a very important one. If you want to see the paradigm example of a burnt offering, and everything that it means to make such an offering, you might re-read the gospels. Yeshua might have died on the cross, but His life was a burnt offering from beginning to end.
Topical Index: Offerings