18 May 2012

A Survey of the Old Testament Law--The Grain Offering Part 1 (2:1-16; 6:14-23)




Our focus turns now to Leviticus chapter 2. In this chapter we find the instructions for the Grain Offering. And before we go any further, let me clear up one small matter. If you are reading from the KJV, you will see this referred to as a “meat offering.” We see this word “meat” used in a similar context in the gospels when Jesus says “My bread is to do the will of Him who sent me” (John 4:34. Compare the KJV, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me”). At the time the KJV was translated that terminology was acceptable—the word was simply applied to pretty much any kind of food. However, in this day and age, we need to distinguish that this offering was not “meat” as we think of meat—i.e., beef, poultry, pork, fowl, etc. This was a Grain Offering. This was another voluntary offering. Just as God gave animals for men to eat, he also gave the green herbs. Genesis 9:3—“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.” And in the same way that the people were to show thanks for flesh to eat, they were to give thanks for the grain of the field which also gave life and sustenance.

There were four different ways of preparing the Grain Offerings that were acceptable (there are also separate instructions for offering a Grain Offering from the firstfruits of the harvest, but we will deal with them separately). The first type of Grain Offering was flour made from the grain. Leviticus 2:1-3“‘1 When anyone offers a grain offering to the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour. And he shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it. 2 He shall bring it to Aaron's sons, the priests, one of whom shall take from it his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. And the priest shall burn it as a memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD. 3 The rest of the grain offering shall be Aaron's and his sons'. It is most holy of the offerings to the LORD made by fire.’” Now, just a little word about the Hebrew. The word translated “Grain Offering” is one Hebrew word, מִנְחָה (minchah). Its meaning is not (necessarily) limited to grain, or flour, or baked goods. It simply means a gift from an inferior to a superior. Genesis 4:4-54 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering (מִנְחָה (minchah)), 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering (מִנְחָה (minchah)). Cain offered an offering from the field, but Abel offered from his flocks. So a is not limited to grain, but is “equivalent to a gift of homage, which recognizes the superiority of Him to whom it is offered, and ceremonially promises loyal obedience to him” (Pulpit Commentary, commentary on Lev. 2:1). It is the same word used of the gift Jacob sent to Esau, Genesis 32:13So he lodged there that same night, and took what came to his hand as a present (מִנְחָה (minchah)) for Esau his brother.

So, what ways could one bring their grain as a מִנְחָה (minchah) to YHVH? Well, first, they could bring fine flour. Today, we would call this “whole grain flour.” But you didn’t just take a pile of just any flour you found lying loose around your tent and say, “Eh, good enough.” Rather, you were to take some fresh grain and grind it into fine flour. You would then give it to the priest, he would take a portion and burn it, pour a portion of the oil on the fire, then toss all the frankincense to it—but they did not toss the whole handful of grain into the fire. Keep in mind, this was going to be food for the Levites. Now, look at that little part of verse 2. “And the priest shall burn it as a memorial.” This was a memorial—a “testimony” if you will—to the fact that this came from YHVH. That all of your things come from God. That every part of Heaven and earth belongs to God, and He can do with it—or command us to do with it—as he sees fit. He owns the cattle of a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). And this was just one way He would use to remind the people of this fact. And when they bring this fine flour that He had given to them, what does He tell the priests to do with it? “Burn it.” To us that seems such a waste. That flour could have gone to “good” use. Notice the “quotes” around “good”. As if giving it to the LORD is not a good use of something. Think about Mary and her anointing of Christ. John 12:3-73 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot…said, 5 "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?"…7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.” Mary had just seen her brother Lazarus raised from the dead. She had probably heard the murmurings among the people, that the leaders were seeking Jesus to kill Him. And she may have heard the Scriptures—perhaps from Jesus Himself—that he would be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and killed and buried. And she had kept this flask of oil as a reminder—a “memorial”—of this fact. And Judas, being a thief, said, “What a waste! We could have sold it and given the money to the poor!” Of course, what he was really thinking was, “Man, I could have made a boatload of money by selling that!” But it wasn’t a waste. It was kept as a memorial to the One who had just, the previous day, referred to Himself as “The Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). And oh by the way, was not the command to offer the Grain Offering with frankincense? Was not Jesus the Bread of Life (John 6:35)? Anointing the Grain Offering with frankincense—Mary anointing the Bread of Life with fragrance. I sense some kind of a connection there.

We also have the example of Cornelius in Acts 10:1-41 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!" 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, "What is it, lord?" So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.” We could speculate that this was the centurion whose servant was healed by Christ (Matthew 8:5-13), or he was the one who declared as Jesus died, “Surely, this was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). And it would be real fun to do so—but we’ll leave that for another day. At any rate, this man—this Gentile—was one who worshipped the true God. He gave to the poor. He remembered always that YHVH was God. And the LORD repays him in kind by giving as much weight to his worship and his alms as He did to the offerings from the hand of His priests under the old covenant. Albert Barnes— 
“They were an evidence of piety toward God, and were accepted as such. Though he had not offered sacrifice according to the Jewish laws; though he had not been circumcised; yet, having acted according to the light which he had, his prayers were heard, and his alms were accepted. This was done in accordance with the general principle of the divine administration, that God prefers the offering of the heart to external forms; the expressions of love to sacrifice without it.”
So to bring this back to the old covenant Grain Offering, God desired that the people remember Him with their heart, and that they show piety toward Him. The Grain Offering was not a way to “buy Him off.” Whether a person took a bowl full of flour or an entire ephah (about a bushel), it was not the amount that mattered—but that it was given with a pure heart in true thanks for His gracious provision.

Now, flour was not the only medium by which one could offer a Grain Offering to YHVH. There were three different types of baked goods you could bring as your Grain Offering. First, Leviticus 2:4“‘And if you bring as an offering a grain offering baked in the oven, it shall be unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil.’” Don’t let the word ‘oven’ lead you stray. This was not an oven as we think of it. We see the word ‘oven’ and we think of that thing that takes up space in our kitchen, that we do all of our cooking in and on top of. There are several ideas about what kind of oven this referred to. One, it could have been like a ‘Dutch oven’—a large cast-iron pan much like what you would see in a Western with John Wayne, where they would be camped out and they’d all be sitting around a fire with a large pan of beans cooking over the fire. Or, there were ‘ovens’ that had a compartment in the bottom which held the fire, and baked the cakes within the pan. To bring this type of Grain Offering, you would mix the flour with the oil, form the mixture into thin wafers or thin cakes, and then bake them. Then, second verse same as the first, take them to the priest, he burns some on the altar as a memorial of God’s goodness. The rest he and his brothers eat in the courtyard.

Second, Leviticus 2:5-6“‘5 But if your offering is a grain offering baked in a pan, it shall be of fine flour, unleavened, mixed with oil. 6 You shall break it in pieces and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering.’” This would be a skillet. Again, mix flour and oil, and cook it on the skillet. Basically, these would like pancakes. But these would not be the spongy, soak-up-the-maple-syrup type pancakes like we would get at IHOP. These would be more like matzos. It was simply flour and oil. They would be brittle when you cook them up. When you bring these to the priest, they would break them into pieces, pour more oil on top of them, and then as before, they would burn some and then eat the rest within the courtyard.

Third, Leviticus 2:7“‘If your offering is a grain offering baked in a covered pan, it shall be made of fine flour with oil.’” These would be boiled. Flour, mixed with oil, boiled in a covered pan—dumplings. So, you could burn flour and oil and incense, or you could burn matzos cooked in a Dutch oven or on a skillet, or you could burn dumplings. But the same rules applied to each type of offering. What is the one word you see used in each type of offering? Something about what could NOT be included in the recipe? Verse 4, verse 5. “Unleavened.” In fact, we will see in a little while, that God applies this rule to all forms of Grain Offering, and includes the prohibition against using honey in the Grain Offering. What is it about leaven that God would forbid its use in burnt offerings to Him? Well, we know that yeast causes dough to rise. This would cause an offering to look bigger than it really was. Second (and I think most important), the reason yeast causes dough to rise. Yeast uses simple carbohydrates for food, and after it digests the carbohydrates it excretes carbon dioxide. It is that carbon dioxide—that waste product of yeast—that causes the dough to rise. So, by adding yeast to the Grain Offering, the person is burning for God something that contains, for all intents and purposes, waste.

Now, after the books of the Law, we only find leaven spoken of in two places in the Old Testament. One of those places is Amos 4:5“Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven…for this you love, you children of Israel!" Says the Lord GOD. The people had infused their lives with all kinds of sin. They had turned away from the true worship of YHVH, and had introduced their own ideas into that worship (Sound like anything that goes on today?). They were bringing offerings to God that He had not commanded, and that were abomination to Him. They were being “puffed up” so to speak. They used their own ideas about how they wanted to worship God, rather than use the guidelines that God Himself had established. Much like what happened during the age of the Judges, in Judges 17:6There was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. 

So even in the Old Testament we see leaven being equated with sin. And as we get to the New Testament, and the time when Jesus walked the earth, we see Jesus using the term “leaven” to describe the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew 16:5-125 Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. 6 Then Jesus said to them, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees." 7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "It is because we have taken no bread." 8 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, "O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?…How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Why does Jesus define the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees as “leaven”? For one simple reason: they had allowed the true teachings of Scripture to be infused with the false teachings of man. This infusion of truth with error had corrupted the truth, and caused the people to be puffed up with their errors.

Not only that, but if you’ve ever made bread at home, you will understand this better. When yeast is added to dough, and allowed to rise, this is called “proofing” the dough. The best way (although, not the only way) to proof the dough is, while you are kneading it, turn on your oven to a very low temperature. Then, before you finish kneading, turn the oven off.  When the kneading is finished, cover the dough and put it in the oven. (It’s also best to use an oven which does not have a window in the door. This will prevent light from getting in). So what two things do you need to make leaven rise in the best way possible? Darkness, and lukewarm atmosphere. And what two things do you need to make spiritual leaven spread most quickly? You guessed it! Keeping people in darkness, and making sure they stay lukewarm.  And what is the well-known warning to the church at Laodicea? Revelation 3:14-16“14 And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”’” When people are lukewarm to the things of God; when they sit in spiritual darkness and are not given the light of the truth, spiritual leaven will creep through the people, puffing them up with false knowledge and false hope, and they will perish. Jesus does not want us to be lukewarm and to sit in darkness. Which is why we read that “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).

So, no leaven was burned on the altar. It represented sin, and darkness, and apathy. And when it is brought to the priest, he does the same thing with the matzos and pancakes and dumplings that he did with the flour, Leviticus 2:8-10“‘8 You shall bring the grain offering that is made of these things to the LORD. And when it is presented to the priest, he shall bring it to the altar. 9 Then the priest shall take from the grain offering a memorial portion, and burn it on the altar. It is an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD. 10 And what is left of the grain offering shall be Aaron's and his sons'. It is most holy of the offerings to the LORD made by fire.” What was left over after the priest burned up the memorial portion belonged to the priest. It was what sustained them throughout the day while they interceded and mediated for a sinful people. Keep in mind, the Levites did not have an inheritance in the land. They were not numbered among the tribes in Numbers 1-2; they did not own any land. They did not own flocks or herds or any animals. Deuteronomy 18:1-5“1 The priests, the Levites—all the tribe of Levi—shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and His portion. 2 Therefore they shall have no inheritance among their brethren; the LORD is their inheritance, as He said to them. 3 And this shall be the priest's due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice, whether it is bull or sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. 4 The firstfruits of your grain and your new wine and your oil, and the first of the fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. 5 For the LORD your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand to minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons forever.” So when the people brought offerings to the LORD, they were not only showing their devotion to YHVH, they were supporting those who ministered to Him on their behalf. These matzos and pancakes and dumplings and handfuls of flour helped to sustain them in their service to God.

We will finish the Grain Offering next time.

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