Alright folks, I’m going to start off by making a statement that might catch you off guard.
The BURNT OFFERING (OLAH in Hebrew) was NOT offered up to atone for a sin that a worshipper had committed.
The gentile church in its superficial dealing with the Torah has painted this picture that the sacrificial system was just about sin atonement.
We’re going to see that the purposes of the Levitical Sacrificial system were actually quite wide and varied with sin atonement being just one of the aspects.
Okay, so let’s get right down to it.
Why in the world was the BURNT OFFERING offered up if it wasn’t to atone for sin?
Well, the best way for me to explain it is to think of a servant offering up a gift to a king for the purpose of being in his good graces.
It was NOT a situation where the servant had committed some wrong and now had to make amends.
He was offering up the gift in order to keep the relationship with his master peaceful.
Because this is what the Lord so earnestly desires.
God wants to be at peace with us.
Earlier I mentioned that the OLAH was technically categorized as a “food offering”.
So did the Israelites somehow think that the BURNT OFFERING or OLAH was food for God?
In terms of the mental imagery the Hebrews held concerning this sacrifice, it was more about the smoke trailing upwards from the burning sacrifice.
They had this mental image of the smoke billowing up to the heavens and pleasurably tickling the nostrils of the Lord.
They imagined that when the Lord “smelled” the smoke, He was happy and satisfied.
The smoke indicated to the Lord first that His people were in proper obedience to Him and second that SHALOM was now taking place.
The smoke soothed the Lord and allowed Him to have a favorable attitude towards the person offering up the OLAH.
So understand that an Israelite did not bring a BURNT OFFERING because he had committed a sin.
The purpose of this regular every morning and every evening sacrifice was to maintain a harmonious relationship with the Lord.
The OLAH or BURNT OFFERING did NOT remove sin or in some way change the sinful nature of the worshipper.
Having said that, there are some parts of Scripture that seem to speak of an atoning-like process taking place when an OLAH is offered.
I don’t think our English word “atone” best captures the nuance here, simply because when we think of “atone”, we have this idea that it means a wrong we have done has now been wiped clean off our slate.
The OLAH or burnt offering was NOT about having one’s slate wiped clean for any particular wrong that had been committed.
Rather, it was a gift of ransom BECAUSE OF WHO YOU WERE, as opposed to what you did.
Are you catching this subtle distinction?
This gift was necessary to allow a human being, an imperfect creature, to approach a PERFECT AND HOLY GOD.
So in a sense, it was a voluntary offering that was a matter of the heart.
When a BURNT SACRIFICE was offered up, it signified an acknowledgment of one’ corrupt condition.
It was an act of surrender to God’s justice system and His will.
The OLAH or BURNT OFFERING paved the way for reconciliation between imperfect man and a perfect God.
Another way to look at is that the BURNT OFFERING also protected you from God’s wrath.
Back in Genesis, when the Lord ordered Abraham to offer up Isaac, it was as a BURNT OFFERING that Isaac was to be sacrificed.
The original Hebrew says Isaac was to be an OLAH to the Lord.
Recall that this sacrifice was not about some wrong or sin that either Isaac or Abraham had committed.
It was about TOTAL OBEDIENCE AND SURRENDER to God.
This story also highlights the Principle of Substitution.
Remember Isaac was replaced by a ram whose horn had been caught in the bushes nearby.
The sacrifice of Isaac also demonstrated the idea of ransom-that a price has to be paid in order to have peace with a holy God.
However, in the final analysis, we all know that because the Lord intervened, Abraham never really carried out the killing and sacrifice of Isaac.
This obviously leads us to the question of why in the world would the Lord put Abraham, his wife Sarah, and Isaac through such a dreadful and heart-wrenching ordeal only to stop the process prematurely?
Well, the usual answer is that it was to test the faith of Abraham, but I also think it foreshadowed the Levitical Sacrificial system that would come into being about 500 years after this incident.
And of course, it also pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Yeshua-the Lamb who would be slain for the sins of the world.