All the offerings were made on the brazen altar but because the burnt offering was made there, the brazen altar is also called the burnt offering. It received its name from the sacrifice. This offering is recorded first of the 5 offerings because of its prominence and priority.
Two types of animals were used for the burnt offering.Animals of the herd are cattle and of the flock are sheep. Usually a bull, sheep, or goat would be used, but poor worshiper’s could offer pigeons or turtledoves (Luke 2:22-24, 2 Corinthians 8:9). Wild animals that were animals of prey were excluded. Carnivorous animals were forbidden in all sacrifices. Animals that live by slaying other animals could never be used.
A further restriction was that the animal must be a clean animal and it must be domesticated. It couldn’t be taken from the hunt. The animal was one that was obedient to man. Only that which was valuable and dear to the owner could be offered.
The burnt sacrifice is called olah in the Hebrew. It means ‘that which ascends.” The burnt offering went up in smoke. It was wholly consumed on the altar; nothing remained but the ashes. The phrase “sweet savor” (Leviticus 1) means “a fragrant aroma.” Since God is spirit, He doesn’t have a body, but physical terms are used in scripture to depict God’s actions and responses. In this case, God is pictured as smelling a fragrant aroma and being pleased with it.
For the burnt offering, a domestic male animal without blemish was required. The sacrifice is to be a male, and that speaks of strength.
They couldn’t offer the sacrifice anywhere else but “at the door of the tabernacle” (Leviticus 1:5). This would keep Israel from idolatry. They were prone to lapse into idolatry again and again and finally their idolatry was the reason for the Babylonian captivity. The offering must be at the door of the tabernacle. There is no other way to come to God but His way.
The offerer placed his hand on the animal’s head to symbolize surrender to God (Leviticus 1:4). This is called “an act of designation.” This is revealed in Leviticus 24:14 where the witnesses were to lay their hands on the blasphemer before he was stoned to death. Moses laid his hands on Joshua, designating him as his successor. The laying of the hand on the head of the animal symbolized a transfer, according to God’s merciful provision, of an obligation to suffer for sin, from the innocent victim. Henceforth, the victim stood in the offerer’s place, and was dealt with accordingly.
In other words, when the man went in and put his hand on the little animal that was to be slain, he was designating this little animal to take his place. The man was confessing that he deserved to die. This little animal was dying a substitutionary death in the place of the offerer. The Hebrew here means to lay the hand so as to learn heavily upon another. This part of the ceremony speaks of atonement and acceptance through the death of the victim
“it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Leviticus1:4).
Remember, atonement means to cover, not to remove.
“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Hebrews10:4).
This offering was done publically. He went down to the tabernacle, he walked to the side of the altar, and there he slew the animal. A proper offering having been chosen—that is, the right kind of animal—the sinner brings the victim to the entrance of the tabernacle where he is met by the priest. The sinner himself slays the victim (there was an exception in v.14,15). Here the innocent dies for the guilty. Every sacrifice had to be slain. Either the sinner, or the priest acting for the nation, slew the victim. There was no forgiveness apart from the shed blood of the innocent victim. After the slaying of the victim, the priest took over by sprinkling the blood about the altar. The blood represented life and the sprinkling presented it to God.
Everything had to be done decently and in order. God is not the author of confusion. The offering was to be cut into pieces so that it might be exposed and so it could be more easily consumed by fire. The law of the burnt offering is found in Leviticus 6:8-13. The morning and evening offerings were burnt sacrifices offered by Aaron and the priests for the nation and to atone for the people’s sin to God (Exodus 29:38-46).
This offering clearly typifies Christ’s voluntary presentation of Himself as God’s Lamb in total obedience to the Father. He paid the penalty of our sin. The offering also symbolizes the worship’s voluntary presentation to God. Only as we identify ourselves with Christ, our burnt offering, can we be purged from sin and become living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:12). When Jesus died on the cross, his sacrifice was a “sweet-smelling fragrance” to the Lord (Ephesians 5:2), and our offerings to God should follow that example (Philippians 4:18).