Troublesome Topic: That “Sweet Smelling Aroma” Does Not Seem Sweet to Us

Lesson 7 of 21

What did the air around the tabernacle smell like? Did it smell like someone grilling steak or burgers in your neighborhood? Did it smell like frankincense and the other ingredients of incense?

Or would the smell have been dominated by the acrid odor of the burnt offerings that were totally consumed?

It was probably the latter.

There would have been occasional hints of the incense oils going up in smoke and for just a few minutes during the first sacrifice of the day it would have smelled like a Bar B Que grill cooking meat. But the burnt offering was totally consumed, so they did not stop when the meat was just right; they kept “grilling” it until it was charred, and then they kept burning it longer and longer until ashes were the only visible remains. No, that place did not smell good; it definitely did not smell “sweet!” In one word, it smelled acrid. It would have been so strong it would have burned your nose.

So why does the Bible often use the phrase “a sweet-smelling aroma to God?” There are many Old Testament uses of this phrase and a few in the New Testament, such as 2 Cor 2:15-16.

That phrase is usually used of the burnt offering, and of the grain offering, the cakes (think biscuits) of which were also totally consumed by the fire. There is another phrase that is commonly used right after the one about “sweet smelling aroma,” it is the phrase “an offering made to the Lord by fire.” Fire was a part of all the offerings, but in these two cases the fire was allowed to consume the entire sacrifice. The fact that it was allowed to continue burning until it had fully consumed the sacrifice is precisely why we would not have liked the smell. But for some reason God liked that smell.

What was it about something being totally charred, burned up and consumed that God liked? How was that considered “sweet”?

It was the smell of self-sacrifice, the smell of something that was totally given over to Him. It was the smell of true commitment. God liked it, not because it smelled like tasty food we like to eat to satisfy our own desires, but because it represented deep spiritual principles being lived out in real life.

So when we do small acts of self-sacrifice, God smells that same smell. When we give our time and efforts for others instead of doing something for ourselves, God breathes deeply and smiles. When we put God first at the expense of our career, our ego, or our finances, God smiles and says, “Ah, I love the smell of self-sacrifice.” When we live like Him and act like Him, He thinks it smells sweet!

The next lesson in the full series on covenants is The Purpose of the Grain Offering.

The next lesson in Why Is That in the Bible? is: The Sin Offering Was Not What I Expected