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The Continual Fire Blazing Upon the Altar Signified the Lord’s Great Desire to Receive the Sinner

In this week’s Torah portion, the discussion of offerings continues. One learns that there was always fire upon the altar.

Continual fire shall be made to burn upon the altar, do not extinguish.” Leviticus 6:6

When one reads the opening verses of chapter six, he finds that on three separate occasions the text states that the fire must remain burning upon the altar (See verses 2, 5, and 6). Rashi states that it was from the fire upon the altar that they would light the Menorah (See Exodus 27:20). In both Leviticus 6:6 and Exodus 27:20 the same word תמיד appears referring to a “continual” fire. Because the offerings were unto the Lord, some scholars have asserted that the fire not being extinguished related to the eternal nature of God.

Although I do not disagree with this, I do think that there is another possible reason. In the verse from our parashah, one reads the phrase “shall be made to burn”. It is actually one word in the Hebrew, תוקד. This word means not just to burn, but to be set ablaze. The word appears three times in Isaiah 10:16 and relates this type of fire to the glory of the Lord. The intensity of this burning is also spoken of in Isaiah 33:14 as a fire that causes terror and fear among those who see it. The most frequent place that this word appears is Daniel Chapter 3, for there it occurs eight times (verses 6, 11, 15, 17, 20, 21, 23, and 26). Each of these eight occurrences relate to the burning fiery furnace. The phrase “burning fiery” is one word in Daniel and actually is derived from the same word in Leviticus, although this section in Daniel is actually written in the Aramaic language. The fire was so strong that it actually burned up the men who casted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the furnace. Once again it can be clearly seen that the fire was blazing with great intensity.

Based on these facts, it can be stated that the continual fire that was upon the altar was quite some fire. It blazed continually to demonstrate that the Lord was always available to receive offerings. The intensity always showed the willingness of God to forgive the sinner and accept him. Judaism taught that the way in which the Lord received the offering, should be likened to how He also received the one who made the offering.

It is important to remember that the forgiveness of sin is available to the sinner.  This forgiveness came through Jesus’ death on the Cross which occurred on Passover (the Festival of Redemption). In the same way that the continual fire blazing upon the altar signified the Lord’s great desire to receive the sinner, so too does the Cross demonstrate Jesus’ continual love for the sinner and His desire to receive all who believe on Him.

 

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