As previously promised, I will periodically be posting articles about various components of the tabernacle. See the article describing that process here. Below you see a top parallel projection of the tabernacle. You can click on the image for a higher resolution. This article is on the Altar of Burnt Offerings. All of the following pictures were made by me using a program called Sketchup.
The Tabernacle was a portable temple revealed to Moses by the LORD as Israel wandered through the desert. The laws and ordinances associated with this sanctuary were governed by the Law of Moses. It is important to remember the Law of Moses was meant to teach and direct all people to Jesus Christ.
"...This is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal." Alma 34: 14
The whole design, layout, and function of the temple is a symbol of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a symbol of the path that leads back to the presence of the LORD. It is a symbol of at-one-ment. It is a symbol of children of God seeking the way back into the Garden of Eden after expulsion. "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." (Gen. 3: 24). The entrance to the tabernacle was also placed facing east. For man to regain the presence of the LORD, he first had to become pure by adhering to the pattern the LORD had set forth to return.
Upon entering the outer courtyard of the tabernacle (symbolic of the Telestial Kingdom) the first thing a person would see is the Altar of Burnt Offerings.
The Altar of Burnt Offerings is described in Ex. 27: 1-8 and the ordinances associated with it are detailed principally in Lev. 1-10, and sporadically in other books. The altar itself was five cubits square and three cubits high. This converts to 7'6" square and 4'6" tall. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid with bronze.It was hollow on the inside which allowed air to flow through to feed the fire and made the altar lighter to carry. The network of brass is essentially comparable to a grill upon which the sacrifices were to be burned. The fire that was lit upon the altar was originally lit by the LORD Himself (Lev. 9: 23-24) and was not allowed to be extinguished. The Priests were responsible to make sure there was always enough fuel to keep the fire burning.
This altar was used for various sacrifices as prescribed by the Law of Moses. The Law of Sacrifice under the Law of Moses, which required the shedding of blood of sacrificial animals has been superceded by the LORD's new requirement:
"And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and burnt offerings. And ye shall offer unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken hear and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost..." 3 Ne. 9: 19-20
Contrite is defined in the 1913 Webster's dictionary to mean: broken down with grief and penitence; deeply sorrowful for sin because it is displeasing to God. So that is the new requirement. This is the point I want to stress, the new required sacrifice appears much easier than the sacrifices required under the Law of Moses. I believe this is why it is important to learn about the animals sacrifices made. As you learn and comprehend the effort that went into them, it might make you stop and think of what a broken heart and a contrite spirit truly means. In other words, does my broken heart and contrite spirit equal and surpass the effort that went into animal sacrifice under the Law of Moses?
So lets learn about the various sacrifices required. I will only touch on a few of them.
The following is my summary of the sacrifices and offerings of the Mosaic Law as detailed in full here. I will summarize the Burnt Offering, and the Trespass Offering. To keep this article shorter, I will touch on the Sin Offering during another article.
The Burnt Offering
This was offered publicly two times a day and four times a day on the Sabbath. The burnt offering is another name for the ordinance of sacrifice practiced by the patriarchs from Adam down to Israel. It had to be a male bull, ram, goat, turtledoves, or pigeons (based on economic conditions of the person offering the sacrifice).
It is interesting to note that the Lord required the applicable sacrifices to come from herds and domesticated flocks (Lev. 1: 2). "In the clean animals, which he had obtained by his own training and care, and which constituted his ordinary live-stock, and in the produce obtained through the labour of his hands in the field and vineyard, from which he derived his ordinary support, the Israelite offered . . . the food which he procured in the exercise of his God-appointed calling, as a symbol of the spiritual food which endureth unto everlasting life [see John 6:27; 4:34], and which nourishes both soul and body for imperishable life in fellowship with God. . . . In this way the sacrificial gifts acquire a representative character, and denote the self-surrender of a man, with all his labour and productions, to God.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:275–76.)
Training a bull, a beast of burden, was a labor intensive venture. It was also an animal that had many functions such as plowing, towing, hauling, and food. To offer such an animal represented a significant sacrifice. Again, how can you fulfill the LORDs required sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit that would be equal to the burnt offering?
The Trespass Offering
This offering was, in part, for violations of the law against other people. It is a principle of repentance, and in my opinion, a more equitable system of justice than we have today. In Leviticus 6, it details that if a man lies to his neighbor, or steals, or swears falsely, he is required to make a trespass offering and restore unto the person that which he had deprived them.
For example, if Jones steals an ox from Smith, and Jones later confesses, he was required to restore the ox (or if the ox had been killed) or the cost of the ox plus an additional 20%. In other words, if Jones steals $100 from Smith, he would be required to restore $120 to Smith. Jones would then offer a Ram without blemish upon the Altar(Lev. 5:15, 18; 6:6, 19:21). Thus justice is met for the Smith.
This is the principle of restitution, which is a component of repentance. This principle does not exist in or current judicial system. Consider the following perversion of justice. Jones steals $1,000 from Smith. The authorities arrest Jones and throw him in prison. Jones' violation is considered a crime against the state and not against Smith. Through taxes that Smith pays, he is now forced to pay for the court costs, food, and shelter in the form of imprisonment for Jones. Where is the justice for Smith?
Repentance is not only necessary for our eternal progression, it also makes things much more pleasant for life here on Earth. Repentance and forgiveness in marriage, and in other family relationships fosters harmony, understanding, and genuine love. Unlike the Law of Moses, the Gospel requires more self initiative. Instead of being prescribed the exact things to do in order to make restitution, the LORD now only requires a broken heart and contrite spirit. It is up to each individual to learn how their own personal sacrifice can be a true sacrifice. Remember the whole purpose of repentance is to change our nature into something better and greater.