I mentioned last week that the book of Leviticus answers the question:
Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
How can sinful men and women and children ever hope to come into the presence of the holy God? How can sinful people ever hope to come to him to worship him and to seek his help? Well, from the book of Leviticus we see that the Lord was able to provide a way for his chosen, but sinful people to come into his presence and to dwell with him. You see, the Lord provided his people with priests and with sacrifices; and through the work of the priests and the offering up of sacrifices, God’s people were able to come before him. And, of course, the priests and the sacrifices which we read about here in Leviticus foreshadow the work of our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would offer himself as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins and to bring us to God. So what we read here in Leviticus points forward to the person and work of Christ.
But here’s another way of thinking about it. When you go to someone’s home for dinner or when you stay with them for a while, you have to abide by their rules, don’t you? It’s only right and proper that we pay attention and follow any house rules they might have. For instance, it might be a rule in someone’s house that no one is allowed to wear shoes indoors. And so, if that’s the rule, then you need to remember to take off your shoes before entering their house. If you don’t take off your shoes, you’ll only anger them. But if you take off your shoes, they’ll be happy for you to come inside.
The tabernacle was God’s house. Just as the Israelites at that time lived in tents, so the Lord also lived at that time in this special tent. And if you wanted to come into his home, then you had to abide by his rules. In order to come into his home, you had to follow his instructions carefully. And in the book of Leviticus we see the Lord’s house rules, the instructions the people needed to follow in order to come into the tabernacle, which was God’s home at that time.
And, as we’ve seen, according to the Lord, when you came into his home, you needed to come with a gift. That is, you had to come with a sacrifice. And the first sacrifice we read about was the burnt offering, when animal from the herd or an animal from the flock or a bird was brought before the Lord and slaughtered and burned upon the altar to make atonement for the worshipper. By bringing the burnt offering to the Lord, the worshipper was offering to the Lord a ransom to pay for his sins so that he might be pardoned and not condemned. And the Lord, who is merciful, was willing to accept the animal in place of the worshipper so that the worshipper escaped the death penalty and could draw near to God for worship.
The second sacrifice which we read about in Leviticus is the grain offering.
There were two kinds of grain offering: one was uncooked and the other cooked. The instructions about the uncooked version are in verses 1 to 3; and the instructions about the cooked version are in verses 4 to 10.
Let’s take the uncooked version first. The worshipper was to bring to the Lord an offering of fine flour. Fine flour — which is flour that has been ground finely — is superior to roughly-ground flour. So, the worshipper was to bring the best flour to the Lord. He then had to add a little oil to it; he was also to bring some incense as well. Incense was expensive; so this was a costly gift. The worshipper was then to give the offering to the priest who was to burn a portion of the flour and oil on the altar along with all of the incense. The result would be an aroma pleasing to the Lord. The rest of the offering was given to Aaron and his sons to be used by them for cooking. The Lord was therefore ensuring that the priests had food to eat each day.
That’s the uncooked version of the offering. The cooked version is described for us in verses 4 to 10. And the offering could be cooked in one of three ways: someone might bring some cakes of bread that had been cooked in an oven; or you could bring bread that was cooked on a griddle; or bread that was cooked in a pan. In each case, you needed to use fine flour, without yeast, but including oil again. The worshipper was to present the offering to the priest who would then take it to the altar. Again, a portion of offering was burnt on the altar in order to produce an aroma pleasing to the Lord. The rest of the offering was given to the priests to be used for food.
The offering could be uncooked or cooked. In verses 11 to 13 the Lord laid down some further instructions: he reiterated that there must be no yeast added to the flour; furthermore, there was to be no honey either. Neither yeast nor honey was to be burned on the altar. Why this restriction? What’s wrong with yeast and honey? It’s not altogether clear. Some commentators think that, since yeast and honey were used in the fermentation process, it therefore signifies corruption. Or, since yeast is a living organism, it might have been forbidden because only dead things could be burned on the altar. However, it’s not clear.
What is clear is that they were to add salt to the offering. We see that in verse 13 where it says they were to season all of their grain offerings with salt.
And finally, verses 14 to 16 contain instructions for a grain offering of firstfruits. In other words, this was a special kind of grain offering which was brought to the Lord at harvest time. On these occasions, the worshipper was to offer the Lord some crushed heads of grain roasted in the fire. Again a portion was burned on the altar. Presumably the remainder was given to the priests.
That’s the offering. What does it mean? Let’s try to work it out.
Firstly, there’s the name. Now, while the NIV and many other English translations refer to it as the grain offering — and they do so because the main ingredient is grain — the Hebrew word in verse 1 which is translated as ‘grain’ in the NIV should really be translated as ‘tribute’ or ‘gift’. That’s how the Hebrew word is translated elsewhere. For instance, the same word is used to describe the gift which Jacob gave to his brother Esau in Genesis 32. And it was also used to describe the tribute one king might have paid to a greater and more powerful king. So, if two kings entered into a covenant or special arrangement with one another, the weaker king would bring a tribute to the more powerful king.
So, while the main ingredient of this offering was grain, it should probably be called the ‘tribute offering’, because by means of this offering, the worshipper was paying tribute to the Lord. The worshipper brought this offering as a gift to the Lord.
Next we need to think about when this offering was brought to the Lord. You see, every day the priest would offer to the Lord a burnt offering to make atonement for the sins of the people. He did this every morning and every evening. And having offered the burnt offering, the priest would bring a grain offering to the Lord. So, the burnt offering and the grain offering belonged together. We learn this from Numbers 28 where there are instructions about the daily offerings to the Lord.
Thirdly, we should notice what the passage says about salt. Whatever kind of grain offering it was — be it cooked or uncooked — it had to be seasoned with salt. ‘Don’t leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of the offering.’ That’s what the people were told. Salt, you see, symbolised the covenant which the Lord had made with his people. And since salt was a preservative which was used to prolong the life of food, it seems likely that when the worshippers were instructed to add salt to the grain offering, it was to symbolise how the covenant with the Lord was an everlasting covenant, which would not perish. And it would not perish because the Lord had committed himself to his people, to be their God and the God of their descendants. And, in turn, the people had to commit themselves to serve the Lord their God.
And fourthly, we should note that, unlike the burnt offering, no blood was shed whenever the grain offering was brought to the Lord. Now, the shedding of blood is associated with the forgiveness of sins. And so, this grain offering is not so much an offering to secure God’s forgiveness. Nevertheless, the result was still an aroma pleasing to the Lord.
This offering was a tribute given to the Lord; it was offered after the burnt offering each day; it symbolised that the Lord’s covenant with his people was a permanent covenant; and it was an offering which pleased the Lord. So, after the worshipper had secured God’s forgiveness by bringing him a burnt offering, the worshipper offered to God another sacrifice, to pay tribute to him and to give thanks to him for his grace and mercy in pardoning their sins and in promising to be their God for ever. In other words, this grain offering was offered to God to show the worshipper’s gratitude for God’s grace and mercy and covenant faithfulness. And the Lord was pleased with it.
As we saw last week, the burnt offering foreshadows the work of Christ, because the Lord Jesus gave up his life on the cross as the ransom to pay for the guilt of our sins. Now, if the burnt offering points forward to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, then the grain offering points forward to the grateful response we’re to make to God for pardoning our sins.
So, what are we to offer the Lord today? Well, listen to what the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 13:
Through him [Jesus Christ our Great High Priest] let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
How do we respond to God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus? The Israelites brought the fruit of their labour to God; and they shared it as well with the priests. But we’re to respond to God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus by giving praise to the Lord, which is the fruit of our lips; and we’re to share what we have with one another.
That’s how we’re to express our gratitude to the Lord: by praising him continually when we pray; and by being generous with what God has given to us. So, instead of keeping what we have to ourselves, and holding on tightly to what we own, we’re to open our hands and we’re to give generously to others. And by doing so, we’ll please the Lord who loved us and who gave up his life for us.