“If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the heard, 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.”
The ordinance of the private burnt offering was a voluntary sacrifice made by a common covenant member at the tabernacle (Lev. 1:2-3). This ordinance had existed from the time Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 4:4, Moses 5:5) and is central to the Law of Sacrifice. After entry into the promised land, this ordinance was typically offered at three annual feasts, or during certain significant family events such as a birth, marriage, reunion, or other personal need. There are four general phases to this ordinance, (1) the presentation of the animal, (2) the slaughtering of the animal, (3) the blood administration, and (4) the burning of the sacrifice.
1. Presentation of the Animal
Depending upon the economic status of the family, one of three different types of animals could be offered: (1) a male bull free of blemish (Lev. 1:3), (2) a male sheep or goat free of blemish (Lev. 1:10), or (3) a dove or pidgeon (Lev. 1:14). The animal was presented to a priest for inspection in order to verify a proper sacrifice was being offered. The individual offering the sacrifice would then place his hand upon the head of the bull, sheep, or goat, symbolically transferring the penalty of death for sin, to the animal (Lev. 1:4).
2. Slaughtering of the Animal
The offering person would then kill the animal by cutting its throat, before the LORD on the north side of the Altar of Burnt Offerings (Lev. 1:5, 11). In the case of a fowl offering, the neck of the creature was snapped by the hand of the priest (Lev. 1:15).
3. Blood Administration
The priests were then required to collect the blood drained from slaughtered animal, and sprinkle it around the Altar of Burnt Offerings (Lev. 1:5, 11, 15). All blood had to be drained from the animal (Gen. 9:4, Lev. 3:17).
4. Burning of the Sacrifice
The priests would then cut the animal into several pieces. The head and the fat of the animal were placed directly upon the altar to be burned (Lev. 1:8, 12). In the case of a fowl offering, the feathers were removed and cast into the ashes at the base of the altar, while the remainder of the bird was burnt upon the Altar of Burnt Offerings (Lev. 1:16-17). The inward parts and legs of the animal were washed with water, and then burnt (Lev. 1:9, 13). Ultimately the entire animal was burnt, but the legs and inward portions were first washed with water.
The Reason Behind the Ordinance
In order to understand the reason behind this ordinance, we must go back to the time Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden.
“And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:15-17).
According to the justice and the word of God, when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit, they were expelled from the garden of Eden, or from the presence of God. Expulsion from the garden is spiritual death, which is referred to in the scriptures as the first death.
“Wherefore, it came to pass that the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded to temptation. Wherefore, I, the Lord God, cause that he should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of his transgression, wherein he became spiritually dead, which is the first death, even that same death which is the last death, which is spiritual, which shall be pronounced upon the wicked when I shall say: Depart, ye cursed” (D&C 29:40-41, emphasis added).
Thus was the word of God fulfilled when he said unto Adam and Eve, that if they partook of the forbidden fruit ‘thou shalt surely die’. Spiritual death (being cut off from the presence of God) was not the only death. While in the garden, Adam and Eve could have theoretically lived forever, for there was no physical death as long as they did not violate the commandment of God (see 2 Nephi 2:22). Once they partook, the penalty was enforced, Adam and Eve became mortal beings, and they were cutoff from the presence of God.
“But behold, it was appointed unto man to die – therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth – and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man. And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will” (Alma 42:6-7).
Man cannot return to the presence of God through any action of his own; he must have Divine assistance. Enter the Lamb of God. The sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father has been offered to redeem all mankind from (1) spiritual death, and (2) physical death. Remember that spiritual death is the state of being cutoff from the presence of God. Physical death is having your spirit cutoff from the property of God in the form of your sacred physical body. Of which of the two deaths, is it most urgent for a man to be redeemed? The scriptural record says redemption from spiritual death.
“Now behold, it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness. Therefore as the [spirit] could never die, and the fall had brought upon mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death” (Alma 42:8-9).
In fact, the Lord did not want man to be redeemed from physical death until after he had been redeemed from spiritual death. Before this can be explained properly, we must look at what the Lord did to prevent immediate redemption from physical death. Around 82 B.C., a man named Antionah, asked the prophet Alma why God had placed a cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way of the tree of life (see Gen 3:24).
“What does the scripture mean, which saith that God placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east of the garden of Eden, lest our first parents should enter and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, and live forever? And thus we see there was no possible chance that they should live forever” (Alma 12:21).
Antionah interpreted this scripture to mean that God does not want man to live forever (physically). The prophet Alma then explains the reason the Lord did this. The Lord set up cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way of the tree of life so that man could prepare, and be redeemed from spiritual death BEFORE they were redeemed from physical death. The tree of life is a symbol of immortality and eternal life.
“…If it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time [i.e. immediately after his expulsion or spiritual death], there would have been no [physical] death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said: If thou eat thou shalt surely die. And thus we see that death comes upon mankind…nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead [i.e. redemption from physical death] (Alma 12:23-24).
The Lord prevented Adam and Eve from having access to the tree of life until after their redemption from spiritual death. Adam and Eve had not had a chance to repent and make restitution to the Lord for their transgression. In his mercy, the Lord granted them this opportunity by temporarily cutting them off from access to the tree of life, until after they had become one with the Lord. Now we come to the reason behind the ordinance of the burnt offering. The Lord gave Adam and Eve commandments to follow so as to know the means whereby redemption would come.
“And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord” (Moses 5:5, see also Gen. 4:4).
This is the introductory commandment of God, to Adam and his posterity, to offer the firstlings of their flocks as a burnt offering. Adam was obedient to the commandment not fully understanding the reason it was given.
“And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commandment me. And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore” (Moses 5:5-6).
God the Father sacrificed the Lamb of God to remove the penalty of death for Adam’s initial transgression. Physical death was the judgment for sin, for the Lord God said: “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”. With the penalty of death removed, thanks to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is now possible to live a righteous life, and prepare to meet God. The act of laying one’s hand upon the head of the sacrificial animal (Lev. 1:4), is a symbolic transfer of the penalty of death for our sins, upon the innocent Lamb of God. He took our penalty, He overcame death, He had made our mortal probation possible, He has showed us the path to follow, and He will, through his resurrection, bring forth the resurrection of every individual who has ever lived upon this earth. The body and blood of the sacrificed animal and what was done with them is symbolic of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, and is further expounded in the administration of the sacrament.
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and brake it, and blessed it, and gave to his disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is in remembrance of my body which I give for a ransom for you. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is the blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:26-28).
Thus the physical death of Jesus Christ upon the cross does not remove sin, it removes the temporal penalty for sin, which is physical death. The blood of Jesus Christ shed in the Garden of Gethsemane and upon the Cross, washes away the sins of those who are His true disciples. The burnt offering required by God, was instructive of the future sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his redeeming power over spiritual death and physical death. Animal sacrifice has not been required since the death of Jesus Christ; now we are required to offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit.