Later this month many of us will face an unusual situation. When we consult our Bible Companions, we will find that there are no daily readings listed. What shall we read that day?
Opportunity for detailed look
Have you ever experienced an empty feeling after reading certain books of the scriptures? It is easy to read night after night but never seem to get deep enough into scripture to understand what is being said. A day without scheduled readings may be just the opportunity needed to break the habit of reading without understanding. Why not use this leap day to delve more deeply into a short prophecy that has always puzzled you? Look up all the marginal cross references and consult a commentary for some background information. Does the passage contain words that you don’t know the meaning of? Then look up the words in a concordance or dictionary or read the passage from another translation. This type of homework is sure to make God’s word come alive.
If you find it hard to choose a passage then use your allotted reading time to review the previous two days of our first reading. These early chapters of Leviticus will become more interesting and practical if they can be linked to our present-day worship. Chapters 1 to 4 detail the regulations concerning the burnt, meal, peace, and sin offerings, while chapter 5, tomorrow’s reading, concerns the trespass offering. Try to discover what these offerings have to do with the life of a believer in 2000 AD.
The first offering described in Leviticus is the burnt (olah) offering. Although previously mentioned in Genesis and Exodus, the burnt offering is not fully described there. A wide choice of suitable animals (five in all) makes it possible for rich or poor to make an acceptable voluntary offering to God. Putting one’s hand upon the head of the animal while it was being killed would imprint itself firmly in the mind of the offerer, identifying him with the animal. Then the animal was skinned, dismembered, thoroughly examined for any blemish, and the inner organs and legs were washed. The entire animal except the skin was burnt on the altar and rose as a sweet savor unto the Lord (Lev. l:9).
Of all the offerings, the burnt was the most important. It symbolized in a preliminary way the death of the offerer, but more importantly, it spoke of a life dedicated in service to God.
The olah, or burnt offering, has its counterpart in our act of baptism. Peter tells us that what saves us in baptism is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God (I Pet. 3:21). Putting on Christ is our formal dedication to the service of God and we must be fully consumed in His service. “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:5).
The second offering described in Leviticus is the meat offering (minchah), also known as the cereal (RSV) or grain (NIV) offering. It, too, was a voluntary offering consisting of fine flour, oil and frankincense. These ingredients were always present in the meal offering but the offerer could present them in one of a number of forms (flour, cakes, wafers, etc.). All the raw materials came from the Lord, but preparing the ingredients (grain into fine flour, olives into oil, and frankincense) required considerable human effort. Only a handful of the meal offering was offered on the altar to God. The rest was for Aaron, the high priest, and his sons (Lev. 2:10).
The meat offering represents our labors given to God. God is pleased when we take what He gives us, work on it, and give it back willingly to Him. We must not come before our God empty handed.
The minchah, or meat offering, has its counterpart in our willing service to our Creator, to our Lord Jesus and to our brothers and sisters. Yet God desires more than just giving back what we have been given. God wants our contribution, our oneness with Him in the things that we do. There would be no point in dedicating ourselves if we did no work in His vineyard. Let our answer not be that of the slothful servant: “And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine” (Mt. 25:25). With such an attitude, our baptism avails us nothing.
The peace (shelem) offering is the third of the voluntary offerings described in Leviticus. Again, the offerer is given a considerable choice of animals to be presented. Cattle, sheep and goats were all acceptable and either male or female beasts could be given to the Lord (Lev. 3:1,7,12). The variety of acceptable offerings, both male and female, remind us of our fellowship in Christ (Gal. 3:28). While we are different from one another, we all contribute in a special way to the body of Christ.
Three reasons for presenting a peace offering are: in thanksgiving, as a vow, or as a freewill offering (Lev. 7:12,16). The latter would seem to be out of a pure love for being alive, knowing one can have a part in God’s ultimate plan. Such a peace offering was a spontaneous reaction to the blessings and goodness of God.
While the burnt offering (except the skin) was entirely consumed, the peace offering was shared by God, the priests and the offerer. The best parts, the fat and inner organs, were burnt to produce a sweet smelling savor. The breast and the thigh were for the priests, and the remaining flesh was for the offerer. It needed to be entirely eaten within a certain period of time. The quantity left over was sufficient to share it with friends and family, promoting fellowship among believers.
Sharing our weekly memorials bears a similarity to the shelem, the peace offering, and the provisions God has made for us through His Son. Once our sins have been forgiven and we have dedicated our lives to God, we can bring our offering and enjoy sweet fellowship together.
Sin and trespass offerings
In today’s permissive society, sin is taken lightly and few acknowledge or feel remorse when they break one of God’s commandments. God provided for Israel the sin (chattaah) offering so that sins of ignorance, once they became known, could be forgiven.
Like the sin offering, the trespass (asham) offering was the recognition of guilt for a specific offense. However, a trespass differed in that it was the invasion of the rights of another, whether God or man. For his trespass, the offerer not only sought forgiveness, but had to repay (make amends) to the one he had wronged in circumstances whenever possible. The significance of the sin offering was for atonement, while the trespass offering included restoring and making restitution to the wronged party.
Jesus is our sin offering and trespass offering (Isa. 53:10), willingly dying for the sins of many, bringing us forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation to God. We need the sin offering, the offering made by Jesus, before any of our offerings are acceptable. We need to be forgiven before we can dedicate our lives to God, offer our works to Him, and enjoy sweet fellowship together.
As with Jesus, the lesson of offering is to be fulfilled in us. We are encouraged to present our bodies a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable unto God. This is our reasonable service (Rom. 12:1).