The word usually translated burnt offering in the OT is ‘ōlāh (H5930). Interestingly, it is derived from a root (‘ālāh, H5927) that while sometimes rendered “to burn,” as in the burning of a lamp (Exo_27:20), actually means “to go up, to ascend,” or “to move from a lower place to an upper.” Its first occurrence (Gen_2:6) is most interesting, where were we read that in the Garden of Eden “there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.” Other images include the flight of an eagle (Isa_40:31, “mount up”) and plants coming up (Isa_34:13, “come up”).
The burnt offering is the first offering mentioned in the Levitical system (Lev_1:3-17; cf. Lev_6:8-13), no doubt because this type of offering is the first mentioned (excluding Cain and Abel’s) in the biblical record (cf. Gen_8:20; Gen_22:2). The meaning in the Levitical system, of course, went deeper. Its purpose was “to make atonement” for the sin of the offerer (Lev_1:4) and to demonstrate—as illustrated by the term “whole burnt offering” (Psa_51:19)—his complete consecration, his total dedication to God.
All this demonstrates the true nature of the OT burnt offering, which we could even call the “ascending offering.” As the flames consumed the animal, the offerer could watch the smoke and sparks ascend heavenward and know that God had accepted him as he identified himself with the sacrificed animal.
The first application we see in all this is in the Lord Jesus. His complete dedication is evident as He prayed in Gethsemane, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mat_26:39). Knowing what lay ahead, namely, the ultimate burnt offering that He would become, our Lord was willing to be that sacrifice (Mat_26:39-44; cf. Php_2:5-11).
The second application is that this again illustrates for the NT believer that we each are a “living sacrifice” (Rom_12:1), that all we do ascends heavenward to God. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb_13:15).
Scriptures for Study: Read Heb_10:5-10, noting Christ’s willingness to become the burnt offering for sin.