Vayikra: A Soothing Aroma
A motif which runs throughout God’s instructions about the burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering, and even the sin offering is that the smoke will arise as a “soothing aroma” to the Lord. I’m sure most of us would agree that the scent of meat on a fire is a pleasant smell, but is there more to this phrase than simply that God enjoys the smell of burning meat?
For an individual explanation of the different types of offerings, you can view the teachings on our site about the peace offering, grain offering, guilt offering, burnt offering, and sin offering. In short, each type of offering had a different purpose, and the majority were not for the purpose of atoning for sin. Some of them were voluntary and some of them were not, but each of the offerings and sacrifices were for the purpose of drawing near to God, which atonement is naturally a part of, but atonement is not the entirety of worship.
Part of the offerings included the burning of the offered animal on the altar, and the fire and smoke would rise, as if to heaven. Why would God take pleasure in this? Because it was a sign that the children of Israel were doing what He commanded them to do in offering up these sacrifices. Making an offering required one to give up something which had value to them in order to bring glory to God. The offerings were a sign that the people were willing to give of themselves in fulfilling their commitments to God, and in this He takes delight when it is done with a pure heart.
We also see times in Scripture, however, that God does not find the sacrifices to be a pleasing aroma: “As for My sacrificial gifts, they sacrifice the flesh and eat it, but the LORD has taken no delight in them. Now He will remember their iniquity, and punish them for their sins; they will return to Egypt” (Hosea 8:13). What happened? Did God change His mind about the offerings? The verse here says that the people were fulfilling their duty according to the sacrificial system. Does this mean that God didn’t want the people to continue giving offerings? The next verse explains the answer: “For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; and Judah has multiplied fortified cities, but I will send a fire on its cities that it may consume its palatial dwellings” (Hosea 8:13-14). God was not pleased with the sacrifices and gifts because the people’s hearts were not right. Instead of finding their delight in serving God, they were putting their trust in what their own hands could build and focusing on living luxuriously. Instead of devoting their wealth to God, they were acquiring funds and using them to grow on the world stage. Therefore the palaces and other works of their hands that they held dear would rise up to God in smoke, almost becoming like an offering.
Just as the sacrifices could have a displeasing aroma to God, so too the people at times found the sacrifices to have a foul smell: “‘You also say, “My, how tiresome it is!” And you disdainfully sniff at it,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?’ says the LORD” (Malachi 1:13). God presents the priests as “disdainfully sniffing at” their priestly duties. The people were treating the offerings as something which didn’t benefit them, and they were correct in this belief: not because of a flaw in the sacrificial system, but because their hard hearts prevented them from enjoying the worship that the offerings were designed to create. Their offerings were not acceptable because the people were flagrantly sinning despite their attempts at appearing righteous or “tricking God” through bringing sacrifices (Jeremiah 6:19-20).
What does this teach us who are here today with no temple or tabernacle in place? Our sacrifices can also have a pleasing aroma: “But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). Giving financially is one way in which we can show our devotion to God. The sacrificial system made sure that people of all economic backgrounds could make an offering to God from however much or little they had. In the same way, Yeshua (Jesus) tells us that the sacrifice of a poor person is greater than that of a rich person (Mark 12:41-43). Our sacrifices must not be done as a soulless duty, but rather “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
The sacrifices that we can give are not only financial: “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). When we totally submit ourselves in obedience to what God tells us to do, both through Scripture and through the personal revelation of the Holy Spirit, we are effectively laying down our lives as a sacrifice (Romans 12:1). All of this can only be done from pure motives. Just as the sacrifices and offerings were useless unless accompanied by a heart of worship and love for God, so too anything we do in service to God is of no value unless done as a gift given to Him in humility and love: not because God needs anything we could ever give or do for Him, but because He desires a heart which is willing to forsake all in order to gain Him.
We have seen that the fragrance or the pleasing aroma is not so much the actual scent of the smoke itself, but the obedience which it represents. Whether or not the sacrifices were pleasing or not depended wholly upon the heart of the offerer. Let us therefore make sure our offerings are accompanied with a pleasing aroma: “For we are a fragrance of Messiah to God” (2 Corinthians 2:15).