The Wood Offering
Dr. Fredk. A. Tatford of England (1901-1986) was a well-known lecturer and conference speaker, and the author of over 60 books on Biblical themes.
A significant feature of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was that the fire upon the altar was kept constantly burning: it was never allowed to die out. Every morning the officiating priest laid fresh wood upon the fire before he presented the morning burnt-offering to God (Leviticus 6:12). The wood was obviously essential if the fire was to be maintained, but the law made no further allusion to it. No information was afforded regarding the persons responsible for the supply, the character or quantity of the wood to be brought, or the frequency of replenishment of the supply.
In the reformation of Nehemiah’s day, however, the priests, Levites and people pledged themselves to decide by casting lots when each of their families should bring an offering of wood to burn upon the altar “as it is written in the law” (Nehemiah 10:34). Nehemiah himself evidently regarded this matter as of considerable importance, for in his statement of the reforms he introduced and the provisions he made during his regime, almost the last subject he mentioned was his arrangement for the provision of the wood-offering at the times appointed (Nehemiah 13:31).
The offerings to be presented to Jehovah are meticulously detailed in Leviticus and Numbers, but there is no reference to the wood-offering, without which there could have been no fire upon the altar to consume the sacrifices. The fire was kept constantly burning and the supply of wood on the altar was replenished every morning, but the covenant of Nehemiah’s day is the only indication of how it was provided. It was evidently the responsibility of every household and none was exempt: for a certain period of the year (determined by lots) a household had to provide an adequate supply of fuel for the altar.
The typological significance of the Levitical offerings is clear from the interpretation furnished by the New Testament and primarily, of course, by the Epistle to the Hebrews. Each portrayed some aspect of the perfections of Christ and His sacrificial work. It is scarcely possible to interpret the wood-offering otherwise than as a similar symbol. Was not the psalmist’s description of the “blessed man” as a tree planted by the rivulets of water, yielding its fruit in season and with never-fading leaf (Psalm 1:3), a picture ultimately of the Perfect Man? He was a tree dedicated completely to God.
Fire is subsequently used in the Bible as a figure of Divine judgment or wrath (e.g. Isaiah 10:7; Jeremiah 23:29; Matthew 3:12), but its significance was not restricted merely to the judicial or punitive.
The altar was regarded as God’s table (Malachi 1:7) and the offering presented thereon was described as His food (Leviticus 3:11). The fire that consumed the offering was not an instrument of wrath. On the contrary, it denoted God’s pleasure in acceptance of the offering (cf. Judges 6:21). This was, of course, exemplified completely in His delight and satisfaction in the work of Christ.
Every offering sacrificed upon the altar was a symbol to God of the perfection of the final sacrifice which had still to be offered.
But the fire that consumed the sacrifices was clearly dependent upon the wood-offering presented by each household in turn. Without the wood, there could be no fire. Trees (from which the wood is derived) were often used in the Scriptures as figurative of men and nations. Jot-ham’s parable of the trees at the time of Abimelech’s usurpation of the kingdom is an excellent illustration (Judges 9:7-21). Wood is equally frequently employed as a symbol of human nature (e.g. the extremes of cedar and hyssop in Numbers 19:6), and the acacia wood which formed the material for the brazen (or copper) covered altar (Exodus 27:1) and for the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:10), which so aptly symbolized our Lord’s perfect Humanity and (in the gold covering) His complete Deity.
From beginning to end, His life was dedicated to God. Every thought, word and act was in conformity with the mind of God. It was a life of sacrifice and, apart from it, there could have been no Calvary. The life and the death were inseparable.
We also are called upon to “follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). The whole of life should be a sacrifice to God: everything the Christian is and has must be laid upon the altar. Nothing less can be rendered in the light of the Perfect Example.