Leviticus 6:12–13 (HCSB)
12 The fire on the altar is to be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest will burn wood on the fire. He is to arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat portions from the fellowship offerings on it. 13 Fire must be kept burning on the altar continually; it must not go out.
Leviticus now takes a bit of a shift and begins a focus on the priestly side of the offerings. Previously the focus was on the laity, the public responsibility and interaction. But as we read this passage that revisits the burnt offering, we see it is strictly concerned with the duties of the priest.
There are two main things that struck me in this passage:
- The priest is to wear the special linen garments while working within the tabernacle, and a different set of clothes when bringing the ashes outside the camp. Rather than this just being an arbitrary ritual, it makes more sense to see this as a reminder of the holiness and purity of God, dwelling within the most holy place of the tabernacle, versus the broken and sinful world apart from Him.
- The fire in the altar is never to go out. And it would seem this is a very important command since it is repeated in consecutive verses: Leviticus 6:12, 13. At first this would seem odd, after all, why keep the fire burning if there are no sacrifices, after everything has been burned up? Perhaps this command has the very practical base of it having been difficult to start a fire. It reminds me of the Olympics, and how the perpetual flame is a symbol and reminder of the divine nature that the ancient Greeks attributed to fire. But, in this case, the flame is a reminder of God, His power and deliverance, and consummation of sin. God led Israel out of Egypt as a pillar of fire during the night, and smoke during the day, so fire already had a connotation for the Israelites. The burnt offering is fully consumed by fire, but the flame is the representative of God, not the sacrifice, so the flame should remain lit. Finally, fire purifies, it makes water clean, it cooks food, it cleans. God purifies as well, and He does so continually, never going out. So it would seem to me that the continual fire, even though it might also provide a practical advantage, was a symbol of God’s enduring purification.
Lord, thank You for purifying us, for cleansing us of our sin. I pray that we would see Your continual flame, just like the always burning flame in the altar, and be reminding of Your ever-presence and love, and always turn to You. Amen.