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Shemot/Exodus 38:1 And he made the altar of the burnt offering of acacia wood
In describing this detail from the narrative of the construction of the tabernacle and all its furniture, the text uses two cultic technical terms: altar and burnt offering. , altar, here with its vowels shortened in construct form, is derived from the root , to slaughter - most often for sacrifice, sometimes for eating (see 2 Chronicles 18:2), also in divine judgement (Ezekiel 3:17-19, 2 Kings 23:20) - so that the altar is defined as the place for sacrificial slaughter. Altars were built by many biblical characters and in many places: Noah; Avraham at Shechem, Bethel and Hevron; Yitz'chak at Beer Sheva; Ya'akov at Shechem and Bethel; Moshe at Rephidim and Horev; and many others. This matches the command given to Moshe: "You shall make an altar of earth for me ... in every place where I cause My name to be remembered ... you shall not build it of cut stones ... and you shall not go up by steps to My altar" (Shemot 20:24-26, NASB) - multiple altars, made of earth or uncut stone, without steps. By the time Israel is about to enter the land, that freedom has narrowed, "But you shall seek the L-rd at the place which the L-rd your G-d shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come, and there you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes ..." (D'varim 12:5-6, NASB), to be just one place, and sacrifice is forbidden away from that one place.
, burnt offering, here preceded by the definite article, comes from the root , to go up, ascend or climb, which is also the origin of the word 'aliyah' to go up - immigrate - to the Land, or to go up to the bimah in synagogue. The burnt offering then, is the offering that goes up, because it is entirely consumed in flames on the altar and it arises as a fragrant aroma before the L-rd (B'Midbar 28:2) as the priest makes it go up as smoke upon the altar (Vayikra 1:9,13,17).
Given the precision and quantity of the instructions given in the Torah concerning the various sacrifices, the places and occasions where and when they should be offered, and the way in which this is to be done, how should we relate to this manifestly important part of G-d's relationship with our people? How, as believers in Messiah Yeshua, who the Scriptures tell us changes not (Hebrews 13:8), and "the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17, ESV), do we respond to this clear call for sacrifice? The rabbis of the Talmud struggled with the obvious fact that G-d had allowed the Temple - the place of sacrifice - to be destroyed and concluded, since the commands to bring sacrifice were given as a permanent ordinance throughout our generations, that there must be another way to do this. They put these words in G-d's mouth: "When Israel recites the Scriptural order of the offerings, I will consider it as if they had brought the sacrifices and I will forgive their sins" (b. Megillah 31a). Also, "Rav Yitz'chak said: The Torah writes 'this is the Torah of the sin offering' (Vayikra 6:18) to imply that whoever involves himself in the study of the sin offering is regarded as if he had actually brought a sin offering" (b. Menachot 110a). So the morning prayer service includes reading passages from the Torah that deal with the washing in the laver, the removal of the ashes, the daily burnt offering and the incense to substitute for the physical daily offerings prescribed in Shemot 29:38-46.
As New Covenant believers we recognise Yeshua as our sin offering: "we have been separated for G-d and made holy, once and for all, through the offering of Yeshua the Messiah's body" (Hebrews 10:10, CJB), but the requirement for sacrifice remains. Rav Sha'ul writes, "I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of G-d's mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for G-d. This will please Him; it is the logical 'Temple worship' for you" (Romans 12:1, CJB). How do we do this? Rav Sha'ul tells the Philippians, "I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent - they are a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, one that pleases G-d well" (Philippians 4:18, CJB). In John's vision we read, "Another angel ... was given a large quantity of incense to add to the prayers of all G-d's people on the gold altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense went up with the prayers of G-d's people from the hand of the angel before G-d" (Revelation 8:3-4, CJB).
Further Study: Ephesians 5:1-4; Mark 12:32-33
Application: How will you respond to G-d's call for sacrifice in your life? That call is different and yet the same for all of us, whether in material things, money, time or prayer, service and worship. What matters is finding out what is pleasing to G-d in your life and giving it wholeheartedly to Him.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
Comment - 11Mar07 12:27 JonathanS: I found the part on Ha'olah, very interesting. Especially given its derivitives and link to the word Aliyah. Could it be that making aliyah is a form of offering fragrant to the Lord? Leaving one's possessions and setting one's sights on a new life in Eretz Yisrael? And that this has a parallel with unchaining oneself from the world!
Comment - 13Mar07 16:22 David: Excellent instruction on the on-going role of sacrifice for any and all who follow G-d. It is often found necessary to offer myself anew several times during a given 24-hour day but what peace follows when done!
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