Are You a ‘Soothing Aroma’ to God?

Posted on January 17, 2023


By David Ettinger

The Key Phrase
If you’re a skeptic as I am, you most likely read this headline and asked, “Does God need to be ‘soothed’?”

The answer is yes if we translate this word – or better yet, phrase – correctly.

We see this word-phrase in Leviticus 1:9 and elsewhere in context of ancient Israel’s sacrificial system. We read in the NASB: “Its entrails, however, and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer all of it up in smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering by fire as a soothing aroma to the Lord.”

This is the procedure for the burnt offering – the first of 3 freewill, or voluntary, offerings the Israelites were to present to God. The other 2 were the grain and peace offerings. Those which followed were required atonement offerings for sin.

Before examining the phrase “soothing aroma,” let’s look at how other Bible versions translate it. The NIV says “an aroma pleasing”; the ESV says “a pleasing aroma”; the NET says “a soothing aroma”; the KJV says “a sweet savour”; and the Amplified says “a sweet and soothing aroma.”

All are correct, though none convey the intended implication.

Acceptable to God
The KJV’s “sweet savour” is a good translation of the Hebrew words nihoah, which means “sweet,” and reah, which means “savour.” The Hebrew word nihoah indicates something which is soothing, quieting, restful, and even tranquilizing. The Hebrew word reah means smell, scent, or aroma.

With this in mind, the question can again be asked: Does God really need to be soothed, quieted, and even tranquilized? The answer is no if these words are taken literally. However, when we consider the implication of these words, the answer is yes.

And the implication in this “soothing” verse is “acceptable.” To say that the “smoke on the altar” was “a burnt offering, an offering by fire as a soothing aroma to the Lord” is to say that the individual’s offering was acceptable to God.

The offering was not of itself acceptable to God, but the humble and grateful heart behind it was. It was the heart attitude which motivated the offering that God found acceptable, not the object being offered.

Believers’ Offerings
As believers in the Lord Jesus, we no longer offer up sin offerings because Jesus was the once-and-for-all offering for sin. However, we do offer freewill offerings. Hebrews 13:15 says: “Through Him [Jesus] then, let’s continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips praising His name.”

Anytime we come to the Lord in prayer, attend church, or read our Bibles, we are “offering” our time to God. It is our way of saying: “Yes, Lord, though You gave us this time to do with as we please, we choose to give it back to You, for you are worthy.”

The question is, what is the state of our hearts when we offer our time to God? Do we pray to Him selfishly, seeking only what benefits us, or do we praise God with our lips and hearts during prayer? Do we attend church with gratefulness and delight, or because it’s expected of us? Do we read our Bibles to hear God’s Word and learn from it, or do it as a chore to scratch off our to-do lists?

When we offer our time to God, do we do so as a nihoah reah – a “sweet savour”? Do we do so in a way in which God would be satisfied by our humble and grateful hearts?[1]

It’s the least we can do in light of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus, who “gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

May we strive daily to be a soothing aroma to our Heavenly Father!

[1] Actually, the Hebrew – which reverses noun and adjective – reads reah nihoah, literally “savour sweet.”