A Pleasing Aroma

“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’”
Genesis 8:20f

When we read these verses we typically think of the rainbow that God set as a sign of His new covenant with Noah. We even have the song, “There’s a Rainbow in the Cloud.” But I want to look at one little phrase that is often overlooked. When Moses offered the burnt offerings, the Bible tells us that the Lord “smelled the pleasing aroma.” I worked with a church in Indiana for two summers and lived with the Beckhams – a wonderful family. Debbie made wonderful bread. I would sometimes come home from the office and I could smell the homemade goodness as I stepped out of the car. Who doesn’t like the smell of cookies or muffins baking in the oven? I always like it when we don’t eat all the bananas at home because Tiffany makes wonderful banana bread. My mouth is watering as I type this.

It doesn’t appear that God needs nourishment or that He eats. Jesus did while He was on earth. But since God exists of Himself, He doesn’t need sustenance. Yet, the Bible sometimes refers to Him smelling and enjoying the aroma of a sacrifice. The various sacrifices discussed in the book of Leviticus are said to be a “pleasing aroma to the Lord.” In Numbers 15, vow offerings and freewill offerings “make a pleasing aroma to the Lord” as well as the drink offering. Pagans believed they had to feed their gods. But the Bible never treats sacrifice that way. The “pleasing aroma” of scripture is simply the human language of God accepting our sacrifices.

In the New Testament, especially the book of Hebrews, Jesus fulfills the various sacrifices which deal with sin. But we are the fulfillment of the vow and freewill offerings. Our lives  given to Christ are “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.” As we are transformed by His word, our lives ascend to God as a pleasing aroma. The Hebrew writer says our worship to God is a pleasing sacrifice: “Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (13:15). In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul uses similar language of the fragrance we produce by the life we live.

But we also know the bitter smell of something burning in the oven. When Jacob’s sons killed all the men of Schechem, he told Simeon and Levi that their actions made him “stink to the inhabitants of the land.” When Moses first approached Pharaoh and he made the burden on the Israelites greater, they claimed Moses made them “stink in the sight of Pharaoh.” In Leviticus 26:31, God warned Israel of the consequences of disobedience and says, “I will not smell your pleasing aromas.”

While some things are pleasing aromas, others are not. Fresh-baked cookies will cause you to salivate; burnt toast will cause you to turn up your nose. Likewise, a life lived in accordance with the word of God is a pleasing aroma to God. But if our hearts are not set on what is right and serving Him then He doesn’t even sniff what we may offer. If that is true, what about the repulsive stench of sin, selfishness, and pride?

What are you producing with your life? A pleasing aroma? Or does your lifestyle cause God to turn up His nose in disgust?