3. The Grain Offering (Leviticus 2:1-16; 6:14-18; 7:9-10; 10:12-13)
I can well remember the quizzical feeling I sensed as I walked into that remote village in India, late one afternoon three years ago. There was something strange about that village, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was that caused me to think that this was unusual. After several moments I realized that I was puzzled by two things. The first was the fact that the village was virtually empty and almost entirely silent. The answer to this mystery was easy. During the day, every able-bodied man and child goes out to the surrounding countryside with their cattle, so that they might graze. (The elderly, the women and the young children stayed at home, but they remained inside their huts, out of sight until they knew who these strangers were.) The empty streets suddenly came to life in a few minutes, when the cattle were driven home, to their stalls alongside the huts (which could scarcely be distinguished from the huts themselves).
The second puzzle was the one sound that I did hear being emitted from the huts. It was a low, rumbling sound, almost like the sound of a motor, or a poorly lubricated piece of machinery, but I knew this could not be true, for the power lines which ran overhead did not supply any electrical power to the villagers, save to power the street lights, paid for by the government. An Indian friend solved this mystery. The sound was that of the hand-powered grindstones, operated by the women of the village, grinding the grain in preparation for the evening meal—which would consist primarily of a very thin “taco shell-like” bread, which would be cooked over an open fire.
These uneducated village people, whose world was perhaps no bigger than a few square miles, would find it easier to identify with the grain offerings of the Israelites, as regulated in Leviticus chapter 2, than we would. For us, a good “square” meal would consist of meat, potatoes, perhaps another veggie or so, salad, and maybe, dessert. For the Israelites, their meal would be much simpler, much more similar to that of the Indian villager. An offering of grain to God would mean more to these people than to us.
There is one thing which we should not lose sight of, however. While grain was not unfamiliar to the Israelite, it was not a common commodity, either. Remember, the Israelites are not living in Egypt, where grain was common, nor are they yet living in Canaan, where they would grow grain. The Israelites were currently camped at the base of Mt. Sinai. They were in the desert, where grain could not be grown, and where it could not be purchased, either. Thus, the sacrifice of grain was either impossible to do until reaching Canaan, or it was something not easy to do. Offering manna, on the other hand, would have been easy, but this is not what God commanded.
The grain offering is perhaps one of the most difficult offerings of the Book of Leviticus to interpret and apply. Other than by means of resorting to typology, I have seen no works which give a satisfactory explanation of the meaning of the grain offerings, either for the ancient Israelites, or for 20th century Christians. We have before us a task that is not going to be easy, but will be worthwhile, I believe.
Before we begin to analyze the text in greater detail, let me make a comment about the rendering of this chapter in the King James Version of the Bible. You will note that the grain offerings are referred to as “meat offerings.” The word “meat,” as it was used by the translators of the KJV, did not mean “meat” as we now use the term, say in the expression “meat and potatoes.” This was a term which simply referred to food, and thus, in a general way, could refer to grain (either in its raw form, or cooked in some fashion).
Two more comments about the structure and arrangement of our text will help us as we commence our study of the grain offering in chapter 2. First, we should note the structure of the first 10 chapters of the Book of Leviticus. In Leviticus we must consider each offering by consulting two major texts, not just one. There are two sections for each offering, the first regulations are spelled out in chapters 1-5, followed by further regulations in chapters 6 & 7. The second set of regulations generally begin with an expression something like, “this is the law of …,” which then goes on to specify which sacrifice the regulations which will follow pertain to. Thus, we find the regulations for the various sacrifices in two major texts:
(More “laity” directed)
(More Priestly in orientation)
Burnt Offering, ch. 1
Law of Burnt Offering, 6:8-13
Grain Offering, ch. 2
Law of Grain Offering, 6:14-18
Peace Offering, ch. 3
Law of Peace Offering, 7:11-34
Sin Offering, ch. 4
Law of Sin Offering, 6:24-30
Guilt Offering, ch. 5, 6:1-7
Law of Guilt Offering, 7:1-10
Ordination Offering, 6:19-23
Ordination Offerings, 8:1–9:24
Second, we should take note of the basic structure of Leviticus chapter 2. The chapter falls into four basic divisions. Verses 1-3 introduce the grain offering and focus on the offering of the grain in an uncooked form. Verses 4-10 provide the regulations pertaining to the grain offering in several cooked forms. Verses 11-13 deal with that which can and that which cannot be added to the offering. Verses 14-16 prescribe the offering of the first fruits of the grain crop. In summary form, the chapter can thus be outlined:
The Grain Offering in Leviticus 2
Vv. 1-3—The uncooked grain offering.
Vv. 4-10—The various cooked grain offerings.
Vv. 11-13—Ingredients: refused (leaven) and required (salt).
Vv. 14-16—Early grain offerings.
Finally, before we move into our study of the text itself, it is important to keep in mind the three principal terms used for “offering” in the first two chapters of the Book of Leviticus. There are three principle terms used for the offerings of the Israelites in chapters 1 & 2. First, there is the general term QORBAN, which is found in chapters 1 through 7 (also chapters 9, 17, 22, 23 & 27) of Leviticus, normally rendered “offering” (cf. Lev. 1:2, marginal note, NASB), and referring to all the sacrifices which the Israelite could offer and that the early chapters of Leviticus describe. Second, there is the more specialized term `OLA, which refers to the whole burnt offering regulated in Leviticus chapter one. Third, there is the term MINHA, which is employed in a technical sense in Leviticus chapter 2 for the Grain Offering.37
Observations Concerning the Grain Offering
The grain offering can perhaps be understood in comparison and in contrast with the whole burnt offering which we have already considered in Leviticus chapter 1. We will begin by noting the similarities of the two sacrifices. Next, we shall seek to note the distinctives of the grain offering, as opposed to the burnt offering. Finally, we shall make some other observations which will help us to determine its meaning and application.
Similarities Between the Grain and Burnt Offerings:
(1) Both offerings required the highest quality offering to be sacrificed. In the case of the whole burnt offering, the animal, whether bull, goat, sheep, or bird (turtledove or pigeon), had to be young, male (except for birds), and without blemish. The grain to be offered had to be “fine.” The term “fine” could mean “fine quality,” which it does by inference, but the “fine” here refers to the finely ground flour which is to be offered.38 To obtain fine flour entailed a great deal of extra effort on the part of the person who ground it, for it was not something which one purchased from the store. Neither was it simply run through an electrically powered mechanical grinder a second time. The flour would have had to have been ground on a primitive grinding stone, a process which, at best, usually produces only a coarse flour. (I suspect that even our commercially purchased whole wheat flour would be difficult to produce on such a primitive grindstone.) Such “fine” flour was that which was fit for a king (cf. 1 Ki. 4:22).
(2) The Grain Offering was, like the Burnt Offering, an offering by fire. Frequently in both chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of Leviticus we find the expression, “an offering by fire …” (cf. 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9, 10, 16). Both the Burnt Offering and the Grain Offering were offered to God by fire, on the altar of burnt offerings.
(3) The Grain Offering and the Burnt Offering produced a “soothing aroma to the Lord.” Only the Burnt, Grain, and Peace Offerings (cf. 3:5, 16) were said to produce a “soothing aroma to the Lord.”
(4) There is a close correspondence between the Burnt Offering and the Grain Offering because the two offerings are often carried out together. The Grain Offering was often an adjunct of another offering (cf. Exod. 29:38-46; Lev. 23:9ff.; Num. 6:13ff.; 7:13, 19, etc.; 8:8; 15:1-9). The 28th and 29th chapters of the Book of Numbers most dramatically demonstrate the association between the Grain and the other offerings. The Grain Offering was instructed by God to follow the Burnt Offering (Num. 28, cf. also Josh. 22:23, 29; Judg. 13:19, 23). Thus, while the Grain Offering itself does not atone, there is atonement very near at hand whenever the Grain Offering takes place.
Distinctives of the Grain Offering
Having considered some of the ways in which the Grain Offering is similar to the Burnt Offering, let us now proceed to identify some of the distinctives of the Grain Offering, those characteristics of this offering which set it apart from the first (Burnt) offering. It is in these distinctives, I believe, that we shall find the unique contribution of the Grain Offering.
(1) The Grain Offering is distinguished from the Burnt Offering by that which is being offered up to God. The Burnt Offering was an animal offering; the Grain Offering was a vegetable offering. The Burnt Offering could either be a bull (Lev. 1:3-9), a male sheep or goat (Lev. 1:10-13), or a pigeon or turtledove of either sex (Lev. 1:14-17). The Grain Offering was just that, an offering of grain, which was most likely either wheat or barley.
(2) The Grain Offering differed from the Burnt Offering in that the latter was a blood sacrifice, while the former was not. Since the Grain Offering was not an animal offering, there was no blood shed in this offering. We know that apart from the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins (cf. Heb. 9:22), and thus the Grain Offering did not make atonement for sin. Consequently, the offerer was not instructed to identify himself with the grain he was about to offer, as was the case with the Burnt Offering, with which the offerer identified himself by laying his hand on the head of the animal (Lev. 1:4). The purpose, then, of the Grain Offering was other than that of making atonement for sin.
(3) The Burnt Offerings and the Grain Offerings differed in that the animals for the Burnt Offerings were more accessible than the grain. Grain was common in the ancient Near East, but it was not a common commodity in the camp of the Israelites. Why, after all, was it necessary for God to provide manna for the Israelites to eat, if not because of the absence of grain? The Israelites could not raise wheat in the desert. It would not grow such a crop without rain, and the Israelites were just passing through this place anyway. The grain which the Israelites were to offer was, in my opinion, much more rare, much more precious a commodity than the cattle, which these shepherds had in abundance.
Assuming that the Israelites had grain with them in the camp, grain which they would not eat, but which could be offered to God, what would this grain have been for? I have come to the conclusion that this grain was taken with the Israelites for seed (cf. 2 Cor. 9:10). To sacrifice their seed to God was indeed an act of faith.
The “oil” which was used in this offering (vv. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, etc.) I would take to be olive oil. This would not have been readily available in the desert, either. The same could be said for frankincense, which was probably quite rare and expensive. Thus, the sacrificial materials, the grain, the oil, and the frankincense, were all difficult to obtain in the days of Moses. Once the people entered the land of Canaan, obtaining these goods would have depended upon the bounty of the harvest, for which the Israelites must look to God (cf. Deut. 11:10-12).
(4) The Grain Offering was not a “whole burnt offering,” but only a portion of it was burned on the altar, while the rest was eaten by the priests. The Burnt Offering was totally consumed upon the altar, with the priests benefiting only from the hide (Lev. 1:5-9; 7:8). With the Grain Offering only a handful of the offering was burned on the altar, while the rest was given to the priests:
‘He shall then bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests; and shall take from it his handful of its fine flour and of its oil with all its memorial portion on the altar, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD. And the remainder of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons: a thing most holy, of the offerings to the LORD by fire’ (Lev. 2:2-3).
The greater portion of the Grain Offering served as the livelihood of the priests, just as the tithe was God’s appointed means for supporting the Levites (Num. 18:21-24). A handful of the Grain Offering was burned on the altar, while the rest was given to Aaron and his sons. The portion that was offered was called the “memorial portion”39 (Lev. 2:2, 9, 16), while the other portion was called “a thing most holy” (Lev. 2:3, 10; cf. 5:17).40
(5) The Grain Offering was distinct from the Burnt Offering in that the Grain Offering allowed and even encouraged man’s contribution to the offering. The Burnt Offering allowed men to participate in the ceremony of the sacrifice, but not to add anything to the sacrifice. This can easily be understood in the light of the purpose of atonement and attaining divine favor. For sinful man to attempt to contribute to an atoning sacrifice would only defile that sacrifice. The Israelite could add nothing to that sacrifice which atoned for his sins, just as we can contribute nothing to the work of Christ, which atones for our sins.
The purpose of the Grain Offering is not atonement, but worship, acknowledgment of God’s divine provision of the needs of the Israelite for life itself. The Grain Offering praised God for His abundant supply of the “daily bread” of the Israelite. But while men do not contribute to their redemption, they do participate in the growing of the crops by which God sustains their life. Thus, the human element is present in the Grain Offering in a way that it is not in the Burnt Offering.
For example, the kind of grain that can be offered to God seems to be a matter of choice (although perhaps this was simply decided on the basis of what was available). The grain could be offered to God cooked or uncooked, and if cooked in a variety of ways. Verses 1-3 of Leviticus 2 prescribe the offering of uncooked grain, while verses 4-10 regulate the offering of that grain which is cooked in an oven (v. 4),41 on a griddle (v. 5),42 or in a pan (v. 7).43 All of these options suggest freedom as to what form the offering can take, within the parameters God has set. Put in today’s terms, the offering could be that of flour, mixed with oil, of bread, of pancakes, of sweet rolls, or of donuts.
(6) The Grain Offering was distinct in what additional ingredients were either prohibited or prescribed. Forbidden ingredients for the Grain Offering were leaven and honey.44 No specific reason for this prohibition is given, although at the institution of the Passover, leaven was prohibited at this meal (cf. Exod. 12:15, 19). Leaven is not mentioned in the Bible before this. A key to the significance of leaven may be found in Exodus chapter 23: “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; nor is the fat of My feast to remain overnight until morning” (Exod. 23:18; also 34:25). The blood sacrifice cannot be associated with leaven or with “spoiling.” That is, the blood sacrifice cannot be associated with corruption, which leaven and leaving overnight both are known to produce.
The absence of leaven in the sacrifice was also a reminder of God’s deliverance in the past: “You shall not eat leavened bread with it [the Passover lamb]; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), in order that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt” (Deut. 16:4).
Not only are leaven and honey to be absent, but salt and frankincense45 is to be present in the Grain Offering. Frankincense was a sweet-smelling fragrance available in the ancient Near East. I believe that it was a sensory symbol of the pleasure which the offering was intended to bring God. The expense of the frankincense was a reminder that costly sacrifice is worth the price, for pleasing God is the highest good. The salt which had to be offered with the Grain Offering was understood, I believe, in contrast to the leaven and honey. While leaven corrupts, salt preserves and purifies. Salt was thus related to purification and preservation.
Beyond this, the salt that was to be added was identified as “the salt of the covenant of your God” (Lev. 2:13). A “covenant of salt” is found only elsewhere in the Bible in Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chronicles 13:5. In Ezekiel 43:24 God commands salt to be thrown on the Burnt Offerings. We are told that salt was used symbolically in covenants of that day in the ancient Near East. It would seem, then, that salt spoke not only of purity, but even more importantly, of longevity. The salt which was added to the Grain Offering reminded Israel of the covenant God had made with Israel, which was an enduring covenant.
But what covenant is this, and what did it have to do with the Grain Offering? The covenant was the Mosaic Covenant, which promised the Israelites the presence of God and the possession of Canaan, if they kept God’s commandments. In Canaan, God would prosper His people: “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey” (Deut. 8:7-8).
The promise included the assurance that God would produce the rain required for the harvests in this land where rain did not predictably fall, and which was not irrigated, like Egypt:
“For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden. But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year” (Deut. 11:10-12).
This move to the land of Canaan is going to require a radical change in the way of life of the Israelites. They will cease to be a semi-nomadic people, leading their flocks wherever grass is to be found. They will settle down, still raising cattle, but now growing grain, wheat and barley. The Grain Offering anticipates this radical change, and serves as a reminder that the very grain which they are required to offer will be provided by God. They must trust in Him to provide, as well as to labor diligently in their fields.
In order to determine the meaning of this passage, we must first agree upon the method which we are going to employ to interpret and to apply this Old Testament text. Thus, we will conclude by briefly discussing the hermeneutic which we will employ to interpret this passage. Then we shall seek to identify those principles which were intended to be learned and applied by the reader. We will then seek to find the application of those principles to our lives.
Hermeneutics: A Method of Interpreting This Text
As we move from the distinctives of the Grain Offering to the interpretation of this text, we must pause to consider the crucial area of hermeneutics, the methods with which we endeavor to interpret the biblical text, and then find its application to our lives.
The principle thing we must agree upon is that there is but one primary interpretation of the text. The passage was not written to mean different things to different people, but to convey a message, a lesson, a principle. While there is but one interpretation of the text, that interpretation may have many different applications. Thus, we often are told, and rightly so, “Interpretation is one; applications are many.” There is a message in the second chapter of Leviticus, and it is our task to determine what that message is. Our hermeneutic will define how (the process) we are going to go about trying to discern what the lesson of the text is.
The typological meaning given to a text is seldom, if ever, the principle interpretation of the text. I feel that I must address the “hermeneutic” of typology because of its popularity in the interpretation of the books of the law, such as Leviticus. The biggest problem with typology is that it is so loosely tied to the text, to exegesis, and to the meaning of that text to its original audience. Also troubling and problematic is the fact that so few seem to agree about the meaning of the types which they “see.” My biggest problem is that the typological meaning of any Old Testament text would not have been known to the ancient reader, because a type is best recognized and understood in the light of the coming of its antitype. Joseph did not perceive of himself as a type of Christ, nor did his brothers, nor did any Israelite, until after the coming of Christ. Now, in the light of its typological fulfillment, we understand the meaning and significance of the type. Typology may be of value to us, but it was of little or no value to the ancient Israelite. Typology often serves as a substitute for a careful search for the primary interpretation of an Old Testament text. To be honest, I did not find any commentary who went very far beyond a typological interpretation and application of the Grain Offering.
In a very few instances, for example in Psalm 22, the typological interpretation of the text may be its predominant message, at least for the contemporary saint. But the typological meaning of a passage is one that did not speak to the reader who lived in the days when that text was first written. Typology applies most to those who live after the cross, and not before it. Thus, we should be very cautious about making the typology of a text its principle meaning.
The hermeneutic which we will employ will seek to interpret and to apply this text in the following sequence:
(1) To determine the meaning of the Old Testament text for the Israelite of that day. This is the starting point for our interpretation of all biblical revelation. We must begin by determining what this chapter in Leviticus was intended to teach the Israelites who were with Moses at the base of Mt. Sinai, who had not yet entered Canaan. This is the most crucial step in exegesis (interpretation), and it is also one of the most difficult. It is most difficult because we are most removed from the text in time and in culture. In order to complete this step we must consider:
- What has already happened to the Israelites, which has prepared them to understand what they are now being taught.
- What the text being studied and its context teaches about the meaning of the text.
- What the Old Testament prophets taught (if they did) about the meaning of the Old Testament text. The prophets of the Old Testament often refer to the earlier teachings of the Law, and point out their intended interpretation and application. Thus, the prophets often explain the early passages of Scripture.
- What New Testament might add to our understanding of the interpretation of the Old Testament text. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had a great deal to say about the correct understanding and application of the Old Testament Scriptures. Also, the New Testament writers often used Old Testament texts to buttress or illustrate their teachings. Apostolic interpretation and application of Old Testament passages provides us with a model hermeneutic.
(2) To determine the meaning of the Old Testament text as it was fulfilled in the coming of Christ. In many instances, an Old Testament text is fulfilled by the coming of Christ, or by some facet of His ministry. For example, the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), indicate that the Old Testament sacrificial lamb was, in some way, fulfilled in Christ. When Paul tells us that the rock which followed Israel was Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), we have a commentary of the Old Testament passage describing that rock (e.g. Exodus 17). Here is where typology applies, although this method of interpretation must be used with great caution.
(3) To determine its meaning as it is to be applied by the New Testament saint. This is almost entirely based upon a determination of the primary interpretation of the Old Testament text, and then the application of the permanent principles which are evident in that interpretation.
The Grain Offering, Israel, and the Contemporary Christian:
Principles Taught by the Grain Offering
Before we begin to pursue the principles involved in the Grain Offering, let me remind you of some of the practical implications of the exodus and the entrance into Canaan for the Israelite, which bears on the whole matter of the Grain Offerings.
First, the exodus required a radical change in lifestyle for the Hebrew people, from that of semi-nomadic sheep herders, to settled farmers. In the Book of Genesis we see that the patriarchs were shepherds (Gen. 43:32; 46:34), and thus they wandered from place to place. Thus, when the Israelites offered their first fruits of grain, they were instructed:
“You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘I declare this day to the LORD my God that I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. And you shall answer and say before the LORD your God, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, …’” (Deut. 26:3-5a; cf. Gen. 37:12-17).
Israel’s wandering was especially the case when there was a shortage of grass or a famine (cp. Gen. 12:10; Gen. 45:5-11). When the Israelites left the land of Egypt, they were to possess the land of Canaan, where each tribe would be assigned a portion of the land. Thus, these shepherds would become settled farmers, with houses instead of tents, with farms which they owned, rather than to wander about like Gypsies. Rather than seeking to buy grain, as they once did, they would raise it themselves.
Second, the exodus from Egypt to Canaan meant that farming would be very different in Canaan than in Egypt. As we have seen previously from the passage in Deuteronomy 11:10-12, the manner in which farming was conducted in Canaan was radically different from that in Egypt. In “Texas terms” it was the difference between “dry” (unirrigated) farming and “deep well” (irrigated) farming. In Egypt, the farmer merely had to dig a trench with his foot and the irrigation waters from the Nile provided the water for this parched land. But in Canaan the people must rely upon God to provide them with the rain which was required for their crops. Thus, Canaan would force the Israelites to farm by faith. The grain which they would raise would be that which God caused to grow and to prosper.
In light of these changes, and of the commands which God gave the Israelites pertaining to the Grain Offering, there are several principles which they were to learn, which are equally applicable to Christians today. Let us consider these principles.
(1) The Principle of Dependence Upon God for the Physical Necessities of Life. The Grain Offering was one means for the Israelite to be reminded (and for him to affirm in worship), that it is God who is not only Israel’s Creator, but also her Sustainer. The great danger for the Israelite, once in the land of Canaan, enjoying the blessings from God’s hand, was to forget where they had come from, and why. Thus we read,
“Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers … to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you shall eat and be satisfied, then watch yourself, lest you forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut. 6:10-12).
“Beware lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut. 8:11-14).
What God warned would happen did. The very blessings which God gave to the Israelites were then used in the worship of false gods: “‘Also my bread which I gave you, fine flour, oil, and honey with which I fed you, you would offer before them for a soothing aroma; so it happened,’ declares the Lord God” (Ezek. 16:19).
Some might think that while the Israelites of old were to offer the Grain Offering to develop and to express their dependence upon God, such has no application or bearing on the New Testament saint. Our Lord taught differently. The prayer which He gave as a model for prayer includes the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).
The independent, self-sufficient attitude about which God warned the Israelites is that same spirit which James condemns in New Testament saints:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil (Jas. 4:13-16).
The problem for 20th century Christians in the Western World is that we have too many margins of safety, too many contingency plans, too much to rely on other than God. The farmer of Moses’ day had to look to God, day by day, for rain, for protection from predators like the grasshopper, and so on. We have crop insurance, bank accounts, and the like. In all honesty, we don’t trust in God because we don’t feel that we need to.
(2) The Principle of Dependence Upon God for the Spiritual Necessities of Life. The dependence which God wants to develop in His people is not just a dependence upon Him for physical food, but it is a dependence upon God for guidance and direction, a dependence upon His word. Thus, even in the Old Testament, God stressed the importance of obedience to the Word of God: “And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3).
The daily provision of Israel’s physical needs, and the promise of prosperity in the land of Canaan, was based upon Israel’s obedience to God’s law, as expressed in His covenant:
“Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deut. 28:1-6).
We live under the New Covenant, not under the old. Does this mean that obedience is no longer vital to us? Far from it! You will remember that in our Lord’s testing in the wilderness, Satan sought to get Him to make a stone into bread. Our Lord’s response was to rebuke Satan, based upon the statement in Deuteronomy 8 that man shall not live by bread alone. Thus, in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel we find the disciples urging our Lord to eat, and perplexed when He responded to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” The disciples therefore were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:32-34).
When our Lord spoke of Himself as the “living water” in John chapter 4, He spoke of Himself as the Savior of men. Thus, those who drank of His “living water” never thirsted again. But our Lord not only referred to Himself as the “living water,” He also spoke of Himself as the “bread of life” (John 6). He, as the “true” bread, was like the manna which God gave the Israelites in the wilderness, which daily sustained their lives. There is a sense, then, that we must not only, once for all, look to our Lord as our Savior, but we must look to Him daily as our sustainer. In John chapter 15 this daily dependence is described as abiding in Him, as a branch abides in the vine. Just as the Israelites were constantly reminded of their dependence on God by the Grain Offering, so we must also be daily reminded of our dependence upon Christ. Much of our abiding in Him is that of abiding in His word, the bread of life (cf. John 15:7; John 16:13-15; 17:17).
(3) The Principle of Sacrifice. How, then, do we develop the kind of trust in God that we should have? There is one very simply way: to give sacrificially. While Christians today do not offer up Grain Offerings to God, we can offer up sacrifices by giving to others. These “sacrifices” are described by the New Testament writers in Old Testament sacrificial terms. In reference to the gift of money which he had received, Paul said, “But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18).
While it may be true that most Christians give, it is doubtful that most of us give sacrificially, in such a way that we must daily depend on God to meet our needs. What kind of giving, then, is sacrificial? I would suggest that it is the kind of giving which makes us dependent upon God for our next day’s bread. It is the kind of giving which depletes our reserves, and which causes us to look to God for our needs for the next day. This is the kind of giving we see in the Old Testament when the Israelite offered up the first fruits of his fields, trusting God to provide an additional harvest. It is the type of giving we find exemplified by the Gentile widow, who provided for the prophet Elijah, even though her grain container was emptied (1 Ki. 17:8-16). It is the kind of giving we find in the New Testament, when the poor widow gave her last two coins (Mk. 12:42). It is also the kind of giving we see in the Macedonian church, which gave out of their poverty (2 Cor. 8:1-2).
It is in the context of the sacrificial giving of the Macedonians that we find these words, reflecting the terminology of the Old Testament grain offering: “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10).
The generous sacrificial giving of the Macedonian saints is likened by Paul to the offering of grain by the Israelites. When men give sacrificially, Paul says, God replenishes their supply of grain, so that they may give even more. Here is where our faith enters in. When we give, knowing that this depletes our supplies, we must do so trusting in God to replenish our supply. Sacrificial giving requires faith in God as the One who faithfully supplies our needs, and who gives to us our daily bread. In my estimation, one of the greatest hindrances to sacrificial giving today is our lack of faith in God as our sustainer.
(4) The Principle of Support. The Old Testament saints supported the priests by their sacrifices, and the Levites by their tithes. The sacrificial offering of grain (among others) was God’s means of providing for the needs of the priests. We might think that this matter of support is surely something put to rest in the New Testament, but Paul applies the principle of support, based upon the levitical offerings, to the support of those whose time is consumed by their ministry: “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:13-14).
(5) The Principle of Sequence. There is a very important matter of sequence which is suggested by the relationship of the Grain Offering to the Burnt. The Burnt Offering allowed for no human contribution to the sacrifice, while the Grain Offering allowed for much. The reason why the Burnt Offering allowed for no human contribution was because the offering was a blood offering, and was to make atonement for man’s sin. Sinful men can only corrupt an offering, they cannot contribute to it. But since the Grain Offering followed the Burnt Offering, then human participation and contribution are allowed, because man’s sinfulness has been atoned for.
The principle of sequence can be seen in the New Testament Book of 1 Corinthians. There was a man living in sin who was allowed to remain in fellowship with the church (1 Cor. 5:1-5). Paul had determined that this man should be put out of the church. He then cites biblical precedent from the Old Testament:
Your boasting is not good. Do you now know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:6-8).
Paul’s application was based on the celebration of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which started after the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began by searching the house for any leaven and putting it out. Paul was thus pointing to the sequence of these two events. The sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, followed by the celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which commenced with the putting away of all leaven). When the first is done, the second should begin.
So, too, Paul reasoned, since Christ is the Passover, and since He has been sacrificed, the putting away of leaven should be under way. The Corinthians should put away this man, whose presence was serving as leaven in the body, corrupting the whole.
So, too, I believe, with the Burnt and the Grain Offerings. Man can add nothing to his redemption, to his atonement, and so man could not add to the Burnt Offering. But since the Grain Offering followed the Burnt Offering, man’s contribution is acceptable to God, based on the atonement of the Burnt Offering.
People cannot give anything to God until they have first received the atonement which the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, has offered. He is the Burnt Offering, who made atonement for our sinfulness. His offering makes it possible for us to make other sacrifices and offerings to God because our sins are atoned for. How sad it is when people violate the principle of sequence and try to offer things to God before they receive His salvation in Christ. How sad it is when people try to clean up their lives in order to be acceptable to God. But once His sacrifice has been accepted, once we have trusted in Christ’s work on our behalf, then our offerings and sacrifices are pleasing in His sight, so long as they conform to the requirements He has given us.
I pray that you have received the atonement Christ has made by the shedding of His blood on the cross of Calvary, and that having done so, you will now offer to God the other sacrifices which will be pleasing in His sight.
35 The principle texts which pertain to the study of the grain offering are: Exod. 29:41; 40:29; Lev. 2:1-16; 6:14-18; 9:4; 23:18; 5:11-13; 7:9-10; 10:12-13; Num. 15:6; the key interpretive texts are: Gen. 18:1ff.; Exod. 29:38-46; 1 Sam. 1:24; 1 Sam. 28:20-25 (esp. v. 24); Judg. 6:19-24 (esp. v. 19); Ezek. 16 (cf. esp., vv. 13, 15, 19).
36 It is puzzling why the editors of the NASB chose to reverse the titles of these two sections. You will note that the headings for the first five chapters begin, “The Law of …” while the headings for chapters 6 and 7 begin, “The Priest’s part in …” They are correct in the observation that the second section does emphasize the part of the priest, but it is in chapters 6 and 7 that the biblical text reads, “The law of …” (cf. 6:9, 14, 25; 7:1, 11, 37). I believe that titles should reflect the text itself, and thus I would choose to differ with the choice of titles in the NASB at this point.
37 “The Hebrew word for cereal offering is minhah. In Leviticus this is a technical term for cereal offerings as defined in this chapter, but elsewhere its meaning is much broader. It may refer to animal sacrifices as well as cereal offerings; for example, both Cain’s and Abel’s offerings are called minhah, though Abel’s consisted of animals and Cain’s of cereals. Other references to minhah in nontechnical passages may well refer to animal sacrifices as well as cereal offerings (1 Sam. 2:17, 29; 26:19).” Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 69.
38 Lange informs us that the Hebrew term for “fine” is “… a work of uncertain derivation, but clearly meaning fine flour, whether as separated from the bran, or as sifted from the coarser particles.” John Peter Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960 [reprint]), trans. by Tayler Lewis and A. Gosman, 12 vols, first vol., “Leviticus,” p. 32.
39 “Memorial portion … is a technical term used in Lev. 2:2, 9, 16; 5:12; 6:8(15); 24:7; Num. 5:26. It is a difficult term to find an exact English equivalent for. It is derived from the verb zakar, ‘to remember.’” Ibid., p. 68, fn. 3.
40 “The term ‘most holy’ is applied to all the sacrificial gifts that were consecrated to Jehovah, in this sense, that such portions as were not burned upon the altar were to be eaten by the priests alone in a holy place; the laity, and even such of the Levites as were not priests, being prohibited from partaking of them … in fact all the holy sacrificial gifts, in which there was any fear lest a portion should be perverted to other objects,—were called most holy; whereas the burnt-offerings, the priestly meal-offerings (chap. vi. 12-16) and other sacrifices, which were quite as holy, were not called most holy, because the command to burn them entirely precluded the possibility of their being devoted to any of the ordinary purposes of life.” C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. by James Martin (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968 [reprint]), II, p. 293.
41 Lange writes that the word ‘oven’ “… must here mean a portable oven, or rather a large earthen pot or jar, such as is still in use in the East for baking cakes, such as is mentioned in xi. 35 as capable of being broken; this was heated by a fire inside.” Lange, “Leviticus,” p. 31.
42 “Authorities differ as to whether this is to be understood … of a frying-pan, or as … of a flat plate. … The distinction of this variety of oblation from the former will be more marked if we may understand it of fried cakes, according to the translation of the A. V. in 1 Chron. xxiii. 29.” Ibid.
43 “This is another variety made up with oil and boiled, perhaps also boiled in oil. Lange notes that with each successive advance in the form of the oblation ‘the addition of the oil seems to rise, …” Ibid.
44 Leaven and honey were prohibited ingredients in Grain Offerings which were to be burnt on the altar, but were not forbidden for every sacrifice (cf. Lev. 7:13-14; 23:17; 2 Chron. 31:5).
45 As I understand the text, the frankincense was only added to the portion offered to the Lord. Thus, the text specifies that the priests take the handful of grain and all of its frankincense (Lev. 2:2; cf. also 2:16) and offer it upon the altar of burnt offering.