The Sweet Savor of the Sacrifice

Genesis 8:20; Genesis 9:18  •  21 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Fifteen hundred years and more elapsed between the death of Abel and the next sacrifice mentioned in scripture, for the Book of Genesis is not a diary of all that took place before the flood. It records just that, and all that which it pleased God should be preserved by His servant Moses. The waters had abated from off the earth, the face of the ground was dry, and the earth was dried before the living freight was discharged from the ark. In the second month, on 'the seven and twentieth day of the month, the earth was ready for man, and at the Lord's word Noah and his family came forth from their hiding place provided by God.
Before the flood Noah had been occupied with building an ark for himself and his household. After the flood he is found intent on building an altar for God. Preservation from the coming judgment, in obedience to God, necessarily was uppermost in his thoughts then,-thanksgivings for the wonderful and perfect deliverance just experienced surely filled his mind now. So of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl he offered burnt-offerings unto the Lord. He did not withhold one of the small stock of acceptable animals which issued forth with him from the ark. Taken in with him to preserve seed alive on the earth, it was right he felt to offer of them on the altar to God; so by his offering we see expressed the thankfulness of his heart, but by it we discern something more, the ground on which all things could now rest-that of a sacrifice accepted by the Lord. Noah, clearly in his sacrifice, thought of the past, but did he understand anything of the future? The amount of his intelligence has not been revealed, for it would not concern us; but what God saw in the sacrifice, and how He could act in consequence, is set forth, for in that we are deeply interested. To it let us turn our attention.
" The Lord smelled a sweet savor, and the Lord said in his heart," &c. Thus we are permitted to learn what were His thoughts, called forth by the sacrifice, before He addressed a word to Noah and His sons; before the flood we read of the settled purpose of is heart, before the patriarch was made acquainted with His mind. (Gen. 6:3,133And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3)
13And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. (Genesis 6:13)
.) Then, beholding the great wickedness of man, He was grieved at His heart. Now, witnessing the column of smoke ascending from that solitary altar (for on all the earth there was not another) He " smelled a sweet savor."
On the sixth day of creation God beheld all His works that He had made, and " behold they were very good." Perfect they all were, for nothing short of perfection could come from His hands. Beautiful must His works have been when Adam first surveyed them; and beautiful must that new world have been, as Noah cast his eyes over a scene full of freshness and life. But neither the works of creation, nor the world as it appeared after the flood, caused a sweet savor to arise up before God. For great, wonderful, and beautiful as are His works in creation, no mention is made of a sweet savor rising up before Him till Noah's altar was reared, and the burnt-offerings, foreshadowing the Lord's death on the cross, were consumed before Him. Then the sweet savor was smelt, and the fact is noted. And wherein, it may be asked, consisted the sweetness? Noah did nothing to sweeten it. No fragrant herbs, no incense imparted a sweetness to it in God's eyes. The sacrifice itself was, and is, a sweet savor. Man could add nothing to its fragrance. The obedience to death of God's own Son has glorified Him, and enabled Him righteously to act in blessing to sinners.
When Adam sinned God cursed the ground-when all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth He sent the flood. But, neither the manner of His dealing with Adam, nor the fearful exhibition of His just wrath against sin could change man's heart. After the flood he was the same as before it. Punishment effected no change in his nature;-the knowledge gained as an eye-witness, that God must act in judgment against the impenitent, left man, as regards radical alteration, just where it found him. This God saw, however much those just out of the ark might be ignorant of it, and seeing it, spoke of it to Himself, "I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every living thing, as I have done," a statement the more remarkable, because none of the human race were alive that day on the earth but Noah, and those who in obedience to the word of the Lord had entered the ark with him. Of them, the sole representatives of the human race on earth, before they had opportunity to manifest what they would be, God thus expressed His estimate, which differs very little from what He said before the flood.
Estimating man aright, He intimates He would deal with him now in a different manner; but what that would be is not here set forth-what is intimated, however, is this, that by virtue of the sacrifice, man having given Him no reason to change, God would alter His method of dealing with him. For us to understand fully what that manner of dealing is, we must turn from the 8th of Genesis to the 3d of Romans, and there we learn it (21-26), as set forth after the sacrifice had been offered up on the cross.
But this is not all the change which the sacrifice would introduce. With the new method of procedure towards men, an element of stability would be introduced unknown before. " While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." To man in innocence no such announcement was made. The permanence of paradisiacal blessing depended on his obedience. By the flood, the natural order of the seasons was interrupted; seed-time and harvest for a • year ceased: by virtue of the sacrifice, the order of the seasons will never be interrupted as long as the earth remains. Man can count on this; and man has proved it. God has repeatedly withheld the increase of the earth in its fullness; but the seasons have regularly run their round. The sun has stood still on Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon for a whole day; the shadow on Aliaz's dial has returned ten degrees; and supernatural darkness has covered the land of Canaan for three hours, commencing at midday; these things have happened, yet day and night have never failed to succeed each other; and cold and heat, and summer and winter, have annually been experienced, wherever man has found a dwelling-place for himself on this globe. An unvarying order was then announced, to continue as long as earth shall last. We can speak of a permanent, because eternal, character of blessing which exists now, on the ground of the accepted sacrifice. Eternal life, eternal redemption, eternal inheritance, eternal glory-an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens-are truths with which believers are familiar-statements, describing blessings secured forever to those who owe everything to, and are willing to receive everything on, the ground of that sacrifice offered up once for all, and never to be repeated, because of abiding efficacy before God.
From speaking " in his heart," God turns to speak to man. God spoke not in answer to any request, but of His own will. The burnt-offerings needed no prayer to make them acceptable, or to render God propitious. Before He discovered to man His thoughts, we read what they were: and unasked by man, He declared to Noah and to his sons how He would deal with them and with the earth, involved as it was in the consequences of man's sin. He addresses Noah, but He addresses Noah's sons likewise.
Here again we meet with something new, for it was new ground on which man and the earth were to stand. God had held intercourse with Noah, because he was righteous before Him. Often had He addressed the patriarch, but never before his sons. What the Lord could not do before the flood, or even before Noah and his family left the ark, that He could, and did do, as soon as the sacrifices were offered upon the altar. In 8:15, God spoke to Noah alone; in 9: 1, He spake to his sons with him. To the righteous one God could speak apart from a sacrifice, to others only on the ground of it. Noah had a place before Him on earth because of what he was, his sons only because of the sacrifice. This, the shadow of what was to come, is clear to us, who live after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord. What place had we before the Lord's death in the presence of God? Atonement accomplished, the sacrifice accepted, one with Christ through the Holy Ghost, we stand in Him before the Father, and know a place is ours now, which never was, or could have been, had He not died. And do we not discern the propriety of God's method of acting, in speaking to none but Noah, till the ground was publicly prepared on which others could stand before Him?
The standing and the ground of it made plain, we see also that God can act towards them in a manner to which their fathers had been strangers. " God blessed Noah and his sons." A strange yet welcome sound must this have been, for since the days of paradise God had blessed no man. He blessed His works on the sixth day; He blessed Adam and Eve on that day, and He blessed the seventh day, and there His blessing ended. Sin came in, and never again (as far as is recorded) was a blessing bestowed on man, till Noah and his sons received it after they came out of the ark. This too we understand. A creature in innocence God could bless, but a fallen creature He could not till the sacrifice was offered up. And now that the Lord has died, and is risen, God has blessed His people fully on the only ground on which such a favor could be based, as Noah and his family that day learned.
Was there not something peculiarly suitable in the time when God did this? He could not do it before the flood and Noah's sacrifice, but He would not do it after the confusion of tongues had taken place. He did it before man had done anything in the new world worthy of reward, that all should see the blessing rested solely on the sacrifice; and He did it before men were scattered abroad after the flood, so that all men might be assured, without the possibility of misconception, of what Noah and his family had heard. Had the blessing been given after the confusion of tongues, all might not have understood what God had said. He bestowed it before that event in language common to all, that all men might learn on what principle it is that fallen man can be blessed by his God.
How full was the blessing! It was an earthly blessing it is true; but a full one, and in one respect fuller than man had even known in the garden of Eden. There Adam might eat of every tree but one, and of every green herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth. He fell, and the trees, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed, were taken from him, the herb of the field being his allotted portion outside the garden (3:18). Now Noah and those with him, have flesh, fish, and fowl, besides all vegetable productions allowed them.
in Eden man was placed under restriction, outside it he suffered deprivation, but now, in connection with the altar, Noah received a grant larger than had before been enjoyed, "even as the green herb have I given you all things." Not one single article of food is withheld, everything fit for food is placed unreservedly at their disposal. All this too we understand, and the subject receives further illustration when we next meet with restrictions in food. At Sinai, when Israel undertook to stand on their own responsibility before God, restrictions in food appear, as the ordinances about the clean and unclean animals are promulgated. But, as soon as the great sacrifice had been offered up, we learn the removal of all such restrictions, as we read the words; " Whatsoever is sold in the shambles eat:" " I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself:" "Every creature of God is good and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving-for it is sanctified by the word of God, and prayer." (1 Cor. 10:2525Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: (1 Corinthians 10:25); Rom. 14:1414I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (Romans 14:14); 1 Tim. 4:44For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: (1 Timothy 4:4)); for, when God deals with man on the ground of sacrifice, there is not anything that is good for him that is withheld.
To Noah and his sons He said, " as the green herb have I given you all things," to us the Word declares, "Blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Though God gave them more than He gave Adam, they had to learn it. was not restoration to his original position, but a new one altogether that they entered upon. The difference between the place in creation of a fallen and an unfallen creature was not confounded. "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth," God had said to Adam: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth," He also said to Noah and his sons. But to Adam He added, what to Noah He did not, " and subdue it." Was this omission accidental l To subdue the earth was God's original design for man on earth. By the fall he lost that place, and never can regain it. Another Man will effect this-the Head of the new creation. No fallen creature could ever fill this place. Their position, then, as regards the earth, told of the fall, whilst their grant of the articles of food told of the sweet savor of the sacrifice.
One more point must be noticed. By virtue of the sacrifice, God established His covenant with Noah, his sons, their seed after them, and with every living thing that was with them, of fowl, cattle, beasts of the earth, and all that went forth of the ark. The earth and all connected with it thus shared in the benefits of the sacrifice; as far as the consequences of man's sin had reached on earth, there would be felt the blessed results of the burnt-offering. "And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth." Earth besides man was interested in the covenant, as the creature will one day rejoice in the liberty of the glory of the sons of God.
Slight is the sketch here presented, yet sufficiently clear it is hoped, to enable the reader to seize the salient points of the history, and as he reads of what God said and did, to give thanks in his heart for what that sacrifice prefigured, and what God's dealings with man on that occasion shadowed forth of the blessings believers do and will enjoy.
"The Woman Of The City, Who Was A Sinner." Luke 7:36-5036And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. 37And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. 40And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 41There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. 44And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. 45Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. 46My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. 47Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. 48And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. 49And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? 50And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. (Luke 7:36‑50).
Peter, like Isaiah and others in earlier days, was convicted under the brightness of the glory of the Lord. Isaiah (chapter 6.) had been brought into a vision of the throne, " high and lifted up," and there, measuring himself as by the " glory of God," he had found that he "came short;" and being convicted, cried out, " Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips." Peter falls under the same power. The light enters his conscience in like manner, and he cries out, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5) The draft of fishes on the sea of Galilee was just like the throne in the heavens. Both were to the conscience, "the glory of God," " short" of which all of us alike "come;" and this ends in our common conviction as sinners. (See Rom. 3:2323For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23).)
The history does not end there, but it only begins there. Isaiah is comforted by the purging of his lips by a coal from the altar; and the amazed Peter is told by the glory itself not to "fear;" and the prophet and the apostle alike receive commission and service from Him whose throne was in the heavens, and who commands the fullness of the earth and the sea at His pleasure. (See Isa. 6; Luke 5)
There is, however, another stage in the power of the Lord Jesus over the hearts and consciences of sinners beyond this. We see it in the history of the woman of Samaria.
The same glory which had convicted Isaiah and Peter addresses itself to her, but in another form. The Lord sits on the well Sychar, by the side of this woman, and asks her for the smallest gift, "a cup of cold water." The King of the throne in the heavens, and the Lord of the fullness of the sea, is there as a wearied traveler who needed the refreshment of a cup of water. But it was the glory still; veiled as well as unveiled it is still the same glory. It may prepare the heart for the entrance of its beams, or it may surprise and amaze the conscience by an unexpected flood of them; but whatever be its method, it is the same glory. In this case, at the well of Sychar, it prepares the heart for the invitation of itself, which it had not done with Isaiah and Peter.
Here it veils its brightness. Jesus sits at the well, and is debtor to this poor sinner for a cup of water. He takes the place of "the less" for a moment, for "the less is blessed of the better;" and then having trained the soul for the disclosure of the glory, in due time he lets it shine out, when he says, " I that speak unto thee am he."
She was prepared. Wondering, but not overwhelmed-delighted rather than confounded-" no more spirit is left in her," but (like the queen of the south) this comes from the fullness and the joy of her heart, and not from the conviction and dismay of her conscience. The Holy Ghost had guided the light of the glory, not with overwhelming power to her conscience, as with Isaiah, but with attractive and refreshing grace to her heart. And then all is left for the sake of it, its matters not whether we have a kingdom or a waterpot, all is left to the moment when we can say, under an apprehension of Jesus, " the half was not told me." She is at peace in the presence of the Lord. She finds her home, and only desires that others may learn and enjoy it as she had done. Very gracious and excellent as all this is, it is still to be surpassed in the operations of the same glory on the conscience and heart of a poor sinner. It not only convicts and releases, reaching the conscience and then the heart, overwhelming the one and gladdening the other; it also dwells at home with us day after day, sustaining the soul in a spirit of liberty, and of thankful, happy worship.
This is its precious power. In this way it glorifies itself beyond. all. It approves its work, not in the strength and impressions of the first moment merely, but in the fervency mid joy that wait on it continually.
Such do we find it to be in the person of "the woman of the city that was a sinner" in Luke 7.
The case is peculiar, in the midst of all the illustrations we get in the gospel narrations of poor sinners and their communion with Jesus.
We know not who she was. Her name is not recorded.
No memorial of her whatever remains either in the world or in the church, beyond this one notice of her in the Pharisee's house. The story serves the uses of the Spirit of God with our souls, and that is all.
She crosses the path of her blessed Savior only this once, and that but for a moment, and then retires to be heard of and seen no more. But this once is enough. More, I am bold to say, would have rather lowered the impression which the Spirit, as I judge, purposed to make.
She comes forth with the treasures of her heart and her house to worship the Lord. She comes behind Him, as He sat at meat with Simon the Pharisee, and worships at His feet. Whether He would heed her or no she inquires not-whether the Pharisee might upbraid her or no, she cares not. She was a true worshipper in the only sanctuary of God. She came as a heart-attracted sinner into the presence of her Redeemer, with all that she either had or was, to lay them at His feet.
But what did she learn from Him? That she could be there at home-a sinner in the enjoyment of assured and settled forgiveness. The music of her heart every passing hour could then be-the Son of God " who loved me, and gave himself for me." She had been forgiven much and loved much. She did not come to Jesus to be convicted like Peter, though she needed to be relieved like the Samaritan. Her soul now knew all this. But she came to Jesus with the expression of what her heart felt about Him; the life of her spirit shone out in her gift; and she was at home in his blessed presence whoever or whatever might be there. Her tears and her kisses and her ointment belonged to Jesus; and she brought Him on this occasion, just what her "love" the fruit of her "faith" had already dedicated to Him; expressing in His presence the liberty and joy she was experiencing, and He sets her conscience at rest by the forgiveness of her sins.
Unspeakably precious! Blessed to see Peter under conviction, so that though the ship was in danger, he forgot all but the overwhelming amazement of his spirit under the convicting beams of the glory. (Luke 5) Blessed to see the Samaritan in joy, so that she forgot her waterpot and her business at the well of Sychar under the gladdening beams of the glory. (John 4) But more blessed still, to see this heart in the calm, chastened, satisfying, abiding, worshipping power which now fills the house and the heart of this sinner of the city, which led her to surrender to her Deliverer all that she was, and all that she had.
She returns to her unknown dwelling-place thus; and it leads us to ask ourselves, Is it so with us? Are we at home in the satisfying joy and certainty of the forgiveness of sins? Does the "faith" of that rich grace in God "work by love" in our hearts, love to Him who has loved us? And does this love, as with this poor sinner, lead on to the serving of Him, with all that we are and have? Is this the secret of our house as it was of this poor woman's heart?
She comes forth just on this one occasion, to tell the secrets of her heart. She reminds one of Melchisedec- though that may sound strange and harsh. But she does. Her action reminds me of his. He came forth just on one great occasion to greet the conquering servant of God in the name of God; and to receive from Abram titles of all. She comes forth just on one occasion to worship the Lord God of Abraham, and of all pardoned sinners, with the fruits of faith and love; and to receive from Him some fresh token of His most precious peace and favor. Melchisedec presents God to the believing sinner, and this poor woman presents the believing sinner to God; but each of them just (on two several occasions) came forth to tell the secrets of their different sanctuaries-He, the secrets of the house and priesthood which God had appointed; she, the secrets of a trusting heart which the Holy Ghost had filled with treasure for Jesus!