A Soothing Aroma
A soothing aroma. That phrase occurs often in the Old Testament (OT) with reference to the burnt offerings and “offerings by fire” mentioned by Moses and the prophet Ezekiel. But what does it mean?
Please bear with me for a moment. The original Hebrew for this phrase is rey’ach niycho’ach, meaning “an odor of satisfaction” or “a tranquilizing or soothing odor.” The first Hebrew word, rey’ach, comes from the word ru’ach, meaning “to breathe or blow,” especially with the nostrils. Hence, comes the meaning, “odor or smell.” The second Hebrew word, niycho’ach, comes from the word nu’ach, meaning “to rest.” Hence, comes the meaning “tranquilizing, soothing, satisfying.”
The phrase occurs 43 times in relation to the offerings by fire (e.g. Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18, 25, 41; Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17; etc.). In the Greek translation of the OT (the Septuagint) the phrase is osmay euodia, meaning “smell of appeasement” or simply “pleasing odor.”
Why did Moses and the prophet Ezekiel refer to the burnt offerings as a “soothing aroma” to God? Well, it certainly wasn’t because God is like us and enjoys the smell of flame-broiled meat. No.
Here is its true meaning. First, understand that, in His dealings with sinful humanity, a storm brews within God’s being. On the one hand, God is righteous and just. His standards for our conduct are perfection. Remember, Jesus told us, “You must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). And remember what Jesus told the rich young ruler when he asked Him, “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus told him, “Why do you ask me about what is good. God alone is good” (Matthew 19:17). In other words, God in His perfect righteousness is the standard.
But humanity, in its corrupt condition and continuous sinning, is a constant offense to God’s perfect righteousness and purity. And because God is just, He must administer justice and punish sin. To neglect this duty of administering justice, would make God an unjust Judge. God cannot wink at sin. He must punish it.
Yet on the other hand God loves humanity and was driven by His love to give His only Son for the salvation of the world (John 3:16-17). And this Son would serve as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). And He would also serve as the propitiation or the satisfaction for our sins (Romans 3:25-26; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). In other words, the divine Lamb of God would fulfill all of the Law’s righteous demands, completely put away sin, totally absorb the fire of God’s wrath, and fully satisfy God’s justice. Only then could God lavish His love upon us and make all who believe in Jesus His own dear children (Romans 5:5; 1 John 3:1).
But until Jesus would accomplish our redemption, God ordered Moses to establish an array of burnt offerings. Lambs, bulls, and goats would be placed as sacrifices upon the altar. And its flames – which originally fell from God (Leviticus 9:24) and were to be kept burning continually (Leviticus 6:12-13) – consumed every single sacrifice.
Now none of these sacrifices could really take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). Their vast number was actually a reminder to man of his ever-present sin (Hebrews 10:3). But to God, those sacrifices were a continual reminder that that the ultimate Sacrifice was coming. And this ultimate Lamb of God would fully satisfy God’s holy justice and forever put away sin.
This is why those many burnt offerings were a “soothing aroma,” a “satisfying aroma” to God. They all pointed to Jesus Christ. They justified God’s “passing over” of all the sins committed before the Final Sacrifice, Jesus Christ (Romans 3:25-26). Every time an “offering by fire” was made to the LORD, though it was powerless in itself to deal with sin, it pointed the way to Jesus the almighty Lamb of God.
Remember that storm that brews in the heart of God? Well, for everyone who trusts in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, there is no storm! There is only the warm sunshine of God’s love. But for those who refuse to believe in and receive Jesus, the storm is brewing more intensely with each passing day. The Scripture says, “he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
If you have never made your peace with God by trusting in and receiving Jesus – the only sacrifice for sin, then I beg you to do so. “He came to His own and His own received Him not. But to as many as received Him, He gave the right to become children of God who were … born of God (John 1:12-13). Embrace Jesus as your Savior and Lord.
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, into Your loving embrace I flee to find forgiveness, acceptance, healing, and salvation. Save me, O Lord, I pray. Forgive and wash away my sins. Cause me to be born anew by Your Holy Spirit and make me Your heavenly child, I pray. Amen.
(Information from: Brown, F.; Driver, S.; Briggs, C.; The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, pp. 628-29. Gesenius, William, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1952, p. 548; Lust, Johan; Eynikel, Erik; and Hauspie, Katrin. Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, 2003, pp. 256, 448)