Leviticus One: Burnt Offerings and the Poor

Too often people immediately skip over Leviticus because the first chapter is about burnt offerings. Realistically it is logical to skip it due to the fact that sacrifice of animals in no longer a practiced act for most in the 21st century. However, Leviticus one’s threefold nature offers a beautiful image of the God whom the author presents. After the introduction of what Moses should speak to the children of Israel (vs. 1-2), there are three types of burnt offerings: herd, flock, and birds. These three represent “a gradation in value” corresponding with the “donor’s ability and resources” (Rooker 2000). This alone is magnificent and displays Yahweh’s character as a one who includes the richest and poorest into His people. Though it was often not practiced, the desire for inclusion is apparent throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible.

But what else does Leviticus 1 speak to the reader?

As mentioned earlier, there are three sections, each for the different type of offering. The end of each section is always the same: “a burnt-offering, a fire-offering, a satisfying aroma to Yahweh” (עֹלָ֛ה אִשֵּׁ֥ה רֵֽיחַ־נִיח֖וֹחַ לַֽיהוָֽה). However, each section begins differently. The first section, which discusses burnt-offerings from herds, speaks solely of what to do if the offering is from a herd. The second section, which discusses  burnt-offerings from flocks, speaks solely of what to do if the offering is from a flock. And the third section, which discusses burnt-offerings of birds for the lower class, is unique in its introduction. Rather than simply expressing what is required for a burnt offering, it includes the phrase “offering to Yahweh” (קָרְבָּנֹ֖ו לַֽיהוָ֑ה). In consideration that Leviticus is centered around the theme of holiness, primarily due to God’s character, the author seems to intentionally connect the poor and lower class people of Israel to closer proximity to the holiness of God. While the wealthy, those who offer herds and flocks, are not far from God due to their social status, there exists in Leviticus 1:14 a special place for the poor and impoverished. Leviticus pronounces God’s care for the poor by exalting them to a special status.

In conclusion, one must never skip over Leviticus and deem it unimportant biblical sacrifice ritual. For within the ritual lies great depth of what the God of Israel envisioned his people to be. In Leviticus 1, the threefold division of the types of burnt-offerings offers insight not only to ancient Israel, but to the heart of God. By specifically connecting the offerings of the poor to the god whom they offer towards, Leviticus implicitly exalts the poor as they attain closer proximity to Yahweh, textually and perhaps historically. By attaining such proximity, the poor and disfranchised are the holy ones in spite of the monetary value of their sacrifice. Those with the least possessions best accomplished the will of God. In the words of Jesus, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (NIV, Matthew 19:21).

Works Cited

Rooker, Mark F. Leviticus. Vol. 3A. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 2000. Print.

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