The whole burnt offering had its origin at the gate of the garden of Eden (Genesis 4:4; 8:20) and extended to the cross; and it will never lose its significance as long as mankind is subject to temptation and sin. The entire sacrifice was laid upon the altar and burned (Leviticus 1:2–9) typifying not only a surrender of sin, but a consecration of the entire life to the service of God.
Wherever the people of God sojourned during the patriarchal age, rude altars of stone were erected, upon which to offer their whole burnt offerings (Genesis 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18; 35:3). After the long period of Egyptian bondage, Israel was so prone to idolatry that the Lord had the brazen altar built in the court of the tabernacle, and instead of burnt-offerings being offered anywhere by the father of the household, they were brought to the sanctuary and offered by the priests of divine appointment (Deuteronomy 12:5, 6). There were special occasions when burnt offerings were offered in other places than the sanctuary, as the sacrifice offered by David on the threshing-floor of Ornan (2 Samuel 24:18–25) and the memorable sacrifice offered by Elijah upon Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:31–38).
The accounts of the burnt-offerings in the Bible are a history of wonderful victories when individuals drew near to God by putting away their sins and surrendering their lives and all they possessed to the service of the Lord. Abraham’s great test of faith was a burnt-offering upon Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:2–13). Gideon’s wonderful victories dated from the whole burnt offerings offered before the Lord when he, by those offerings, showed he surrendered all to the Lord to be consumed on the altar as the Lord directed (Judges 6:21–28).
The whole burnt offering was a type of the full consecration that must come into every life that God can use to His glory. Paul urged the fulfilling of the antitype in the following words: “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” (Romans 12:1). The offering of the most costly animal was only an abomination to the Lord unless it was accompanied by the surrender of the heart and life of the one who offered it (Isaiah 1:10, 11; Amos 5:22).
This principle was beautifully illustrated in the Saviour’s passing by as of little value the large gifts of the rich who offered only for display, and stating that in the valuation of heaven the two mites which the poor widow gave with a heart full of love, were of more value than all the wealth given for vain display (Mark 12:41–44). The Lord regards the gifts and offerings made by His people to carry forward His work on the earth as “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God,” and He pledges to supply all their needs (Philippians 4:16–19). “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).
The whole burnt offering was offered as an atonement for sin (Leviticus 9:7). The individual making the offering laid his hands on the head of the animal, confessing his sins (Leviticus 1:4; Numbers 8:12); and then, if it was from the flock or the herd, with his own hands he took its life. If the burnt offering was a bird, the priest killed the offering. The blood was sprinkled round about upon the brazen altar, in type of the cleansing blood of Christ, and then the offering was burned upon the altar.
Every morning and evening a lamb was offered at the sanctuary as a whole burnt offering (Exodus 29:38–42). Each Sabbath day four lambs were offered, two in the morning and two in the evening (Numbers 28:9,10). These sacrifices typified a re-consecration of the whole congregation each morning and evening to the service of God.
Since the shadow has met the substance, it would be hollow mockery to offer burnt offerings morning and evening now; but the type had lost none of its significance, and contains lessons for us; for “to love Him [God] with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).
The heart filled with love to God and our fellow-men is an offering always acceptable to God. In order to keep the heart in this condition, it must be filled with the life-giving word of God. The Lord regards a “knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).The individual who will sacrifice selfish interests and pleasures sufficiently to take time morning and evening to study God’s word, will experience that love in the heart which always has been and ever will be far more acceptable to God than “whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
The Cross and Its Shadow, 132–134, Stephen N. Haskell, The Bible Training School, 1914.