I believe it would be very edifying to look at the first reference in the Bible to a “burnt offering.” It will teach us WHY men were to offer this type of sacrifice to God and we will see that its meaning is the same throughout the Bible, including the burnt offering Abraham was commanded to offer. In Genesis 8:20 we read, “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every CLEAN ANIMAL and of every CLEAN BIRD, and offered BURNT OFFERING on the altar.” This is the first time in Scripture that we read the word “altar.” Later, when the Law was given to the nation of Israel, the “altar” was where all the offerings were offered to God. The ALTAR represents WORSHIP. God had Noah bring CLEAN ANIMALS and CLEAN BIRDS onto the Ark for this very purpose, so they could be used in the WORSHIP of the Lord. Why did they have to be CLEAN? Ah, because God demands THE BEST, for He could only accept a sacrifice that was PERFECT IN HIS SIGHT since each sacrifice made would foreshadow the PERFECT SACRIFICE that His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, would make on THE CROSS (which is also pictured by the ALTAR). After Noah offered them, we read that “the LORD smelled a soothing aroma.” In other words, they were “PLEASING to Him” (like a sweet-smelling fragrance is to us). This should remind us of what we read in Ephesians 5:2, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering A SACRIFICE TO GOD FOR A SWEET-SMELLING AROMA.” Like Noah, we should desire to worship God the Father and when we do, we bring before Him our praise for giving His Son to die for us on the cross as the spotless Lamb of God, who was “without blemish and without spot” (1st Peter 1:19). This, and this alone, will be PLEASING TO HIM, as we see in Hebrews 13:15-16, “Therefore by Him (the Lord Jesus Christ) let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name…for with SUCH SACRIFICES GOD IS WELL PLEASED.” In other words, our “sacrifice of praise” is for the “sacrifice of Christ on the cross” and this will rise up to God in heaven as a “sweet smelling aroma.” All of this is pictured for us in Noah’s “altar” and “burnt offerings.”

Notice, we did not read of any particular SIN that Noah had committed in connection with the burnt offerings, yet as we have seen they surely PICTURED Christ “offering Himself for SIN on the cross.” I believe this was the case with Abraham as well, for when we read the account of Abraham offering up his only son Isaac (please read Genesis 22:1-14) the word SIN is not even mentioned. Yet we do read of a “burnt offering” (verse 2) and an “altar” (verse 9) and there is no doubt in my mind that we have the same thoughts PICTURED for us in these words. They speak of the “perfect sacrifice of Christ on Calvary’s cross,” a sacrifice which was made “to be a propitiation (i.e. satisfying sacrifice) for our sins” (1st John 4:10).  I believe this is one of the main reasons God commanded Abraham to offer up his son, for surely God never intended him to actually kill his son (and thus we see that an angel stopped him in the nick of time…see verses 11-12). God designed this test of Abraham’s faith to furnish us with the most beautiful picture of the gospel where “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Abraham pictures “God the Father” (see Romans 8:32); Isaac pictures “the only-begotten Son” (see 1st John 4:9-10); the altar of wood pictures “the cross” (see Matthew 27:32-35a); and Isaac’s willingness to be bound on the altar pictures Christ being “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (see Philippians 2:8). Praise be unto God for His “unspeakable gift” (2nd Corinthians 9:15)!  (461.1)  (DO)