Fire on the altar

Vayikra (And He Called) Leviticus 1:1-5:26

Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 43:21-44:23

Messianic Scripture  Romans 8:1-13, Hebrews 10:1-14

Our Torah portion covers the first fives chapters of our new book of Torah, Leviticus.  In this portion and also in the next eight chapters G-d speaks to Moshe mainly about the sacrificial system of the Torah. I expect most of us have a hard time getting through these verses since they seem to have little to say to us today. However, I pray today may change your mind and give you new insights into how these verses can speak to you. In Leviticus 1:9 we read where, as the smoke of the offering rises to heaven , it will be a “soothing aroma to the L-rd.” At the time these sacrifices were a symbol of His children’s obedience to Him.

This seems difficult to reconcile with verses in the prophets like Isaiah 1:11-13, Jeremiah 6:20 and Malachi 1:10.  Historically, the early church used these verses to argue that G-d had given the sacrifices to the Jews as a punishment and Yeshua had done away with them because G-d hated these sacrifices. However, that makes little sense when we read over and over that they pleased Him.

I believe the answer lies in our hearts. When the prophets speak against the sacrifices their condemnation was directed toward the heart condition of the people bringing them. Some of the people bringing their sacrifice were just going through the motions of worship. Their hearts were far away from G-d. They were putting on a show to hide their true self. Rituals performed with no heart involvement are an abomination before G-d. It was then and it is now. G-d is interested in our heart condition. Our outward rituals should reflect our inward condition. When G-d’s people perform religious rituals today without examining their heart, those rituals are still a stench in the nostrils of G-d.

Now, on to our portion today and what it can show us about the purpose of these rituals of sacrifice. My question this week holds the answer. Let us look at Leviticus 1:2. One phrase of this verse will be of great help. In most English translations this phrase reads, “When one of you offers a sacrifice to the L-rd…” However, in Hebrew the order of the words is different and gives us another way of reading this verse. When we read it as it actually is written it reads, “When one offers a sacrifice of you…” Read this way the verse says the essence of sacrifice is that offer of ourselves. We bring before G-d our actions, our thoughts, our emotions. We give G-d something of ourselves.

Each of us, as humans in the world, deal with things common to all creatures such as the need for food, for water, for shelter. These are types of things we might call fleshly needs. Ecclesiastes puts it very well in verse 3:19. Yet we are not simply an animal as we read in Psalms 8:4-7. We are far more than mere animals. We have a spiritual side as well. We are moved by more than mere survival. Our soul is that force that causes us to look up, beyond this physical world, beyond survival, in search of meaning, a purpose to our existence. 

Even the animals used as a sacrifice help us to understand this place we find ourselves. Bulls, are no respecter of barriers. They will roam wherever they can unless retrained by fences. When an Israelite brought a bull it could have reminded the person that there are boundaries that should not be crossed such as the boundary between the holy and the profane, things permitted and forbidden. We all struggle with boundaries. We don’t like to be fenced in.

When I think of sheep and goats it reminds me of their herd mentality. It reminds me of the drive we all feel to move in a given direction because others are doing. We don’t want to be seen as out of step with our modern world. We want to feel part of a flock, to be “in.”

Now to the word sacrifice in Hebrew. The word is Korban. At its root it means to be brought close. So here the meaning can be read as bringing something close to G-d. We bring those parts or actions of ourselves close to G-d to be cleaned of the fleshly sins in our lives. We bring them to be replaced with a G-dly view of how we are to live in our world.

We as believers in Yeshua are able to rise above our animal or fleshly desires. We come to the Father and offer up those sins, those fleshly things in our lives that are keeping us bound up. We bring those things close to G-d. We are forgiven and renewed, no longer slaves of our flesh but a servant of the living G-d.  As you read these verses think of these sacrifices and what they might represent in your life and leave it on the altar for the fire to consume.

Bless each of you this week. David