Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 1

Simeon's Horae HomileticaeHorae Homileticae

Verses 3-4


Leviticus 1:3-4. If his offering be a burnt-sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering; and it shall be accepted for him, to make atonement for him.

THE institution of sacrifices may be considered as nearly coeval with the world itself. As soon as man had fallen, he needed an atonement; and an atonement was provided for him by God himself; who promised, that “the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head:” nor can we reasonably doubt, but that God himself, who, we are told, “clothed our first parents with skins,” appointed the beasts, whose skins were used for that purpose, to be offered up first in sacrifice to him. Whence, if God had not originally sanctioned it, should Abel think of offering up “the firstlings of his flock?” and why should that very sacrifice receive such a signal testimony of the divine approbation? Even the distinction between clean and unclean animals was known before the flood; and an additional number of the clean were taken into the ark, that there might be wherewith to offer sacrifice unto the Lord, when the deluge should be abated. Abraham also, and Melchizedec, and Job, all offered sacrifices, before the Mosaic ritual was known: so that Moses did not so much introduce new institutions, as regulate those which had existed before; and give such directions respecting them, as should suit the dispensation which his ritual was intended to prefigure.
Sacrifices are of two kinds, propitiatory, and eucharistical; the one to make atonement for sins committed; the other to render thanks for mercies received. Of the propitiatory sacrifices we have an account of no less than six different sorts; (all of which are stated in the seven first chapters of Leviticus;) “the burnt-offering, the meat-offering, the sin-offering, the trespass-offering, the offering of consecrations, and the peace-offering [Note: Leviticus 7:37. They were not altogether propitiatory; but are numbered with the propitiatory, because they were in part burnt upon the brasen altar.].” It is of the first of these that we are to speak at this time.

We shall notice,


The offering itself—

[The burnt-offering was the most ancient and dignified of all the sacrifices, and at the same time the most frequent; there being two every day in the year, except on the Sabbath-days, when the number was always doubled. The things of which it consisted, varied according to the ability of the offerer: it might be taken from among the herd, or the flock, or of fowls [Note:, 10, 14.]: that so no one might have any excuse for withholding it at its proper season. By this accommodation of the offering to the circumstances of men, it was intended, that every one should evince the sincerity of his heart in presenting unto God the best offering that he could; and that no one should be discouraged from approaching God by the consideration that he was not able to present to him such an offering as he could wish. “The turtle-dove or young pigeon “was as acceptable to God as the “ram” or “bullock,” provided it was offered with a suitable frame of mind. Indeed the directions respecting the poor man’s offering were as minute and particular as any [Note: 4–17.]: which shewed, that God has no respect of persons; and that his Ministers also must at their peril be as anxious for the welfare, and as attentive to the interests, of the poorest of their flock, as of the most opulent.

One thing was indispensable; that the offering, whether of the herd or of the flocks, must be “a male, and without blemish.” It was to be the most excellent of its kind, in order the more fitly to shadow forth the excellencies of our incarnate God; who alone, of all that ever partook of our nature, was truly without sin. Had the smallest imperfection attached to him, he could not have been a propitiation for our sins. The utmost care therefore was to be taken in examining the offerings which prefigured him, that they might, as far as possible, exemplify his spotless perfection.]


The manner in which it was presented—

Here also we notice very minute directions respecting,


The offerer—

[He must bring his sacrifice “of his own voluntary will.” He must feel his need of mercy, and be very desirous to obtain it. He must see that no mercy can be found, except by means of a sacrifice: and he must thankfully embrace the opportunity afforded him; not accounting God his debtor for the sacrifice offered to him, but himself a debtor to God, for his permission to approach him in such a way.
He must bring his sacrifice to “the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, before the Lord.” Whilst, in doing this, he acknowledged that the Lord dwelt there in a peculiar manner, he publicly, before all the people, acknowledged himself a sinner like unto his brethren, and needing mercy no less than the vilest of the human race. Not the smallest degree of self-preference could be allowed; but all must be made to see and feel that there was but one way of salvation for ruined man.
Further, he was to “put his hand upon the head of his offering.” By this significant action, he still more plainly declared, that he must perish, if ever his sins should be visited upon him; and that all his hope of acceptance with God was founded on the vicarious sufferings of this devoted victim.]


The offering itself—

[This must be “slain,” (whether by the offerer or the priest, is uncertain [Note: We apprehend it was by the priest, or some Levite assisting him. See 5. The same ambiguity as to the meaning of the word, “they,” may be seen in 2 Chronicles 29:22; but it is plain, from 4 of that chapter, that neither the priests nor the offerers killed the sacrifices; but the Levites killed them, and the priests received the blood.],) and its “blood be sprinkled round about upon the altar.” The slaughtered animal was then to be “flayed,” and “cut into pieces,” according to a prescribed rule: “the inwards and the legs,” which might be supposed to need somewhat of purification, were “washed,” and, together with the whole body, “burnt upon the altar.” The skin alone remained, as a perquisite of the priest [Note: Leviticus 7:8.]. Do we not see in these things a striking exhibition of the sufferings of the Son of God, who was in due time to become a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world? Death was the wages due to sin, and that too under the wrath of an offended God. True it is, that the consuming of an animal by fire was but a faint representation of that misery, which we must to all eternity have endured; and of that which our blessed Lord sustained, both in his body and in his soul, when he died under the load of our iniquities.

The partial washing of the sacrifice might probably denote the perfect purity of Christ; or perhaps it might intimate the concurrence of the Holy Spirit, through whose divine agency he was fitted for a sacrifice, and by whose almighty aid he was enabled to offer himself up to God: for it was “through the eternal Spirit that he offered himself without spot to God.”]


The benefits resulting from it—

[”It was accepted for the offerer, to make an atonement for him.” As there were two kinds of guilt, ceremonial and moral, so there were two kinds of absolution, one actual in the sight of God, the other merely external and shadowy. We observe then in relation to these sacrifices, that they cleansed from ceremonial defilement really, and from real defilement ceremonially. There were certain things, not evil in themselves, but made so by the special appointment of God, (such as the touching of a grave or a dead body;) and the persons who had done them were to be accounted unclean, till they were purified in the way prescribed: and their observance of the prescribed forms did really purge them from the defilement they had contracted, so that no guilt would be imputed to them, nor any punishment inflicted, either in time or eternity. On the other hand, there were things really evil, (as theft or perjury,) which subjected the offender to punishment by the laws of man: now the guilt of these crimes was not purged away by the appointed sacrifices, any further than the exempting of the person from the punishment denounced by law: his conscience still remained burthened with guilt; and he must, notwithstanding all his sacrifices, answer for his crimes at the tribunal of God. This is the distinction made for us by God himself, who says, that “the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, did really sanctify to the purifying of the flesh:” but they “never could make a man perfect as pertaining to the conscience:” in that sense, “it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats could take away sins.”

It may be asked then, What benefit was there to counter-balance the cost and trouble of the sacrifices? I answer, that an exemption from temporal judgments, whether inflicted by God or man, was a great benefit: but to be encouraged to come to God as a merciful and gracious God, and to have Christ so clearly and constantly exhibited before their eyes, was an unspeakable benefit, which would have been cheaply purchased by the cattle on a thousand hills.]

In this ordinance we may find,

Much for our instruction—

[Of all the subjects that can be offered to our view, there is not any that can bear the least comparison with that leading subject of the Gospel, Christ crucified: and I had almost said, that the New Testament itself scarcely unfolds it more clearly, than the ordinance before us. What would the most ignorant of the Jews imagine, when he saw the sacrifice led forth, the offerer putting his hand upon it, and the priest slaying it, and afterwards reducing it to ashes? Would he not see that here was a manifest substitution of an innocent creature in the place of the guilty, and that that very substitution was the means of reconciling the offender to his God? I will grant, that a person ignorant of the typical nature of those ordinances, might be led to ascribe the benefit to the ordinance itself, without looking through it to the sacrifice which it shadowed forth; but he could not be so blind as not to see, that acceptance with God was by means of a vicarious sacrifice. Yet, behold, we Christians, who live under the meridian light of the Gospel, need to be told, that we must be saved entirely through the atonement of Christ: yea, after all that a minister, or God himself, can say, the great majority of us will seek acceptance, in whole or in part, by our own righteousness. Go back to the Law: ask a Jew to teach you: let those whom you despise for their ignorance, be your preceptors. It is a shame and scandal that salvation by Christ is so little known amongst us [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:34.], and that the preachers of it are yet represented as setting forth a “new doctrine [Note: Acts 17:19.].” Be instructed then, ye opposers of Christ crucified, who are yet ignorantly “seeking to establish your own righteousness:” learn, even from the Law itself, to embrace the Gospel: and “kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way.”]


Much for our imitation—

[Every one whose conscience convicted him of sin, offered, “of his own voluntary will,” the best sacrifice he could; grudging nothing whereby he might honour God or promote his own salvation. An irreligious man might have asked, ‘Wherefore is all this waste of cattle, which, instead of being consumed by fire, might be sold, or given to the poor?’ But the man who fears God, would reply, that nothing can be wasted which is in any way conducive to God’s honour and our salvation. This is the spirit that should animate us. We may be called to make sacrifices for God: our reputation, our interest, our liberty, our very lives, may be called for in his service: and shall we be backward to make the sacrifice? Alas! too many of us are rather for a cheap religion; and their chief anxiety is, to get to heaven at as cheap a rate as possible, and to sacrifice for God as little as they can: if they are poor, Their little can’t be spared; and if they are rich, Their victim is too costly. Away with such low and niggardly thoughts: let the large and liberal spirit of Christianity possess your souls: let nothing that you have endured, move you; nor any thing that you can endure: be willing to be bound, or even to die, for the Lord’s sake. As for your lusts, let them be sacrificed, and utterly consumed: the sooner they are mortified, the better. And those things, which, if not called for by God in the way of his providence, you might innocently retain, bring to the altar with your own hands, and, of your own voluntary will, offer them to God: spare not any thing one moment, if it stand in competition with your duty, and the maintenance of a good conscience before God. In a word, “present your own selves to him a living sacrifice; for that is your reasonable service; and it shall be accepted of your God [Note: Romans 12:1.].”]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Leviticus 1". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.