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In Leviticus 1:11, the author of Leviticus states,

and [he] must slaughter it on the north side of the altar before the Lord, and the sons of Aaron, the priests, will splash its blood against the altar’s sides.

This requirement is not given for burnt offerings of birds and for herd animals. What is the significance of the north side of the Altar, and why is slaughter in this location only required for animals from the flock?

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Why must animals from the flock be slaughtered on the north side?

Because practically this is the most sensible side to sacrifice on due to the layout of the courtyard

North: Animal sacrifice

Leviticus 1:11 NASB

11 And he shall slaughter it on the side of the altar northward before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall sprinkle its blood around on the altar.

East: fatty ashes

Leviticus 1:16 NASB

16 He shall also remove its craw with its feathers and throw it beside the altar eastward, to the place of the fatty ashes

West : Water basin made of copper

Exodus 30:18 NASB

18 “You shall also make a basin of [a]bronze, with its base of bronze, for washing; and you shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar and you shall put water in it.

South: Ramp- approach.

Image of Altar from Google

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Heaven's in the North

Psalms 48:2

> beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.

Isaiah 14:13

> You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;

על ירך המזבח צפנה, “at the north side of the altar.” The Tent opened to the east, the wash basin was on the west, and the ascent to the altar was to the south. Thus the north was the logical place for this activity. Noth suggests that the north side of the altar may have been the place for the smaller animals; the larger ones would have been prepared in front of the altar. The identification of the specific place accords with 4:24, 29, 33, which say that the purification offering (חטאת) is to be slaughtered where the whole offering is slaughtered. The remainder of the ritual is essentially the same as for the offering of cattle. (WBC)

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Why Offer at the Door?

The chapter begins with the voluntary offerings brought from the "herd" and references the sacrifice of a bullock.

If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD. (Leviticus 1:3, KJV)

And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. (Leviticus 1:4, KJV)

And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. (Leviticus 1:5, KJV)

A bovine sacrifice, as this would be, is a large animal. The word "bullock" might better be stated as "bull" in modern English--it was a male, as it says in verse 3. A bull is not typically as docile as a sheep would be. It is quite possible that God had the safety of those inside the sanctuary in mind when giving instructions for the bulls to be sacrificed "at the door."

Where Was the Door?

The door of the tabernacle, incidentally, would have been on the east side. The ark of the covenant, in the Most Holy Place, would have been to the west side of the tabernacle. This is determined from the layout of the exterior walls of the tabernacle, detailed below.

And thou shalt make boards for the tabernacle of shittim wood standing up. (Exodus 26:15, KJV)

Ten cubits shall be the length of a board, and a cubit and a half shall be the breadth of one board. (Exodus 26:16, KJV)

Two tenons shall there be in one board, set in order one against another: thus shalt thou make for all the boards of the tabernacle. (Exodus 26:17, KJV)

And thou shalt make the boards for the tabernacle, twenty boards on the south side southward. (Exodus 26:18, KJV)

And thou shalt make forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards; two sockets under one board for his two tenons, and two sockets under another board for his two tenons. (Exodus 26:19, KJV)

And for the second side of the tabernacle on the north side there shall be twenty boards: (Exodus 26:20, KJV)

And their forty sockets of silver; two sockets under one board, and two sockets under another board. (Exodus 26:21, KJV)

And for the sides of the tabernacle westward thou shalt make six boards. (Exodus 26:22, KJV)

And two boards shalt thou make for the corners of the tabernacle in the two sides. (Exodus 26:23, KJV)

And they shall be coupled together beneath, and they shall be coupled together above the head of it unto one ring: thus shall it be for them both; they shall be for the two corners. (Exodus 26:24, KJV)

And they shall be eight boards, and their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets; two sockets under one board, and two sockets under another board. (Exodus 26:25, KJV)

With the north and south sides having 20 boards each, and the west side having 6 boards--8 including the corners, the structure is clearly located in an east-west direction. No boards are specified for the east side, which leaves it to be the opening that was covered by "a hanging" (a curtain), detailed later in the chapter.

By putting the ark on the west end of the sanctuary and of the entire tabernacle enclosure, it leaves the entrance to be on the east. This was important because the surrounding nations were involved in sun worship, and would worship the sun at its rising in the morning. Looking westward through the gate on the east, one would be faced in the opposite direction from the sun in the morning.

Why Put the Animal of the Flock on the North?

The placement of the animal from the flock on the north side of the altar at the time of sacrifice would also prevent people from seeing the sun behind it, whether it was a morning sacrifice (where the sun would be in the east) or an evening sacrifice (sun in the west). As another answer already suggests, God also associates the north with the direction of His city of "Mount Zion" (Psalm 48:2). The people were to look to Him, and not to the sun, for salvation.

In a later description of apostasy, it is clear that the elders would go exactly contrary to God's arrangement.

And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD's house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. (Ezekiel 8:16, KJV)

This is the evil that God intends to avoid by placing the sacrifices where the sun will not be in view at the moment of their offering.

Offerings from the flock would occur both in the morning and in the evening as part of the continual worship of God.

Behold, I build an house to the name of the LORD my God, to dedicate it to him, and to burn before him sweet incense, and for the continual shewbread, and for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts of the LORD our God. This is an ordinance for ever to Israel. (2 Chronicles 2:4, KJV)

Conclusion

To avoid any possible connection with sun worship, the offering was to be so located as to prevent the onlookers from seeing the sun behind their sacrifice, lest they be tempted to consider it the object of their worship.

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  • (+1) It's a compelling argument - textually, it felt tenuous until you got to Ezekiel, and I think that really nailed it as a possible answer.
    – Steve Taylor
    Oct 13 at 11:05

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