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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Leviticus 3

 

 

Introduction

This chapter details the instructions for the peace-offering, or thank-offering. The exact meaning of [~shelamiym], the Hebrew word from which the name of this offering is translated, is "uncertain."[1] Coleman rendered it, "The sacrifice of unity, or completeness";[2] Keil thought it more correctly rendered, "saving-offering."[3] Despite such opinions, we agree with Meyrick that, "No name is more suitable than peace-offering."[4] However, the peace in view here should not be thought of as being procured by the offering, but as the state of tranquility ALREADY possessed by the offerer. Other suggestions as to the name of this offering include "shared offering" and "fellowship offering," but as Wenham said, these are simply guesses, "based on the nature of the party after the sacrifice, when the worshipper and his friends ate the meat together."[5] Dummelow came near to the meaning, calling it "The feast of communion."[6]

This was by far the most common sacrifice offered by the Jews, usually consisting of cattle, sheep, or goats. And it was the only sacrifice in which were portions for God, the priests, and the worshipper and his friends. It was this characteristic that forces the recognition of fellowship or communion inherent in the peace-offering.

Much of the uncertainty as to the meaning of [~shelamiym] derives from the fact that the word itself is ancient, dating from about the year 1400 B.C.[7] Thus, we have another element in the Pentateuch that ties it to the times of Moses, supporting his authorship of these books. As Unger said: "Internal evidence warrants the conclusion that Leviticus, as well as other Pentateuchal books, was committed to writing by Moses, or under his command and supervision."[8]

It is not correct to think of these instructions in Leviticus as initiating the institution of sacrifice, which was already known and observed (although improperly) throughout the ancient world. Biblical examples of the very type of sacrifices discussed here were observed by Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31:54), and by all the Israelites in their pagan worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32:6). Also, the pagan sacrifices common among the idolaters of Corinth were mentioned by Paul (1 Corinthians 10). When did sacrifices begin? They were known in the days of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4), and the Biblical emphasis upon the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" has no meaning whatever, unless it means that sacrifices were authorized and commanded by God Himself as soon as sin appeared in the Fall of Mankind.


Verses 1-5

"And if his oblation be a sacrifice of peace-offerings; if he offer of the herd, whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before Jehovah. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of his oblation, and kill it at the door of the tent of meeting: and Aaron's sons the priests shall sprinkle blood upon the altar round about. And he shall offer of the sacrifice of peace-offerings an offering made by fire unto Jehovah; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the loins, and the caul upon the liver, with the kidneys, shall he take away. And Aaron's sons shall burn it on the altar upon the burnt offering, which is upon the wood that is on the fire: for it is an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Jehovah."

These verses tie the peace-offering absolutely to the burnt-offering, indicating that it was not to be separated from it. The theological impact of this was noted by Kellogg thus: "The purpose of this offering was to express the conception of friendship, peace, and fellowship with God as secured by the shedding of blood."[9] Clements did not see this and commented that, "Nothing is said directly in this chapter about the atoning value of the peace-offering,"[10] and, while true enough, the commandment that the peace-offering should be laid upon the burning burnt-offering (Leviticus 3:5) effectively tied the two together. As Dummelow said, "There would always be some portion of the daily burnt sacrifice smoldering upon the altar. The peace-offering is to be laid upon it. The fire never went out."[11]

"Fat ... all the fat ..." (Leviticus 3:3). It is impossible to eat meat without consuming some of the fat which in a healthy animal is actually scattered throughout all of its flesh. Thus, Keil was right in his interpretation of "all the fat" to mean "all the separable fat."[12] The fat was considered to be especially desirable and was therefore always required to be offered to God in the form of a burnt-offering. The blood was also never to be eaten. See Leviticus 3:17.


Verses 6-11

"And if his oblation for a sacrifice of peace-offerings unto Jehovah be of the flock; male or female, he shall offer it without blemish. If he offer a lamb for his oblation, then shall he offer it before Jehovah; and he shall lay his hand upon the head of his oblation, and kill it before the tent of meeting: and Aaron's sons shall sprinkle the blood thereof upon the altar round about. And he shall offer of the sacrifice of peace-offerings an offering made by fire unto Jehovah; the fat thereof, the fat tail entire, he shall take away hard by the backbone; and the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the loins, and the caul upon the liver, with the kidneys, shall he take away. And the priest shall burn it upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire unto Jehovah."

"And he shall lay his hand upon the head ... and kill it ..." This action was to stress the substitutionary nature of the sacrifice, which was killed in place of the worshipper, who, by this indication, confessed his own unworthiness deserving the penalty of death, and that the sacrifice was actually slain in place of the worshipper.

"The fat tail entire ..." If this regulation were applied to an American sheep, it would be very surprising, but the mystery disappears when we learn that in the species of sheep common in the Biblical times and places, the tail was very large, reaching a weight equivalent to 15-20% of the weight of the whole sheep, and that it was held to be particularly delicious and desirable as food.[13] Herodotus (5th century B.C.) tells of the little carts used by shepherds to support the tails of their sheep!

"Sprinkle the blood upon the altar ... an offering by fire ..." Inherent in this meeting of the sinner and his God in an attitude of peace is the awesome prophecy of how that peace must ultimately be accomplished "by blood and by fire!" The death of our blessed Saviour and the propitiatory value of his precious blood are most surely prefigured by all of these sacrifices. Yes, peace between God and man is possible, but the price is blood (in the death of Christ) and fire (the ultimate judgment of God upon all sin and wickedness).

"Food of the offering ..." The Hebrew word here rendered "food" is also translated "bread," and again, in this chapter, there surfaces internal evidence of the great antiquity of Leviticus, "A sign of the great antiquity of the ritual is the word here used for food; it later came to mean only bread."[14] The fact of this offering being called "the food of God" does not mean that God is represented as being also a Partaker of the communion or fellowship inherent in the feast that always followed, but it shows that God was the host or provider. In this distinction, there was a vast departure from the pagan conception. Kellogg gives us this inscription by Esarhaddon who described his palace at Nineveh, saying:

"I filled with beauties the great palace of my empire, and I called it, `The Palace which Rivals the World!' Ashur, Ishtar of Nineveh, and the gods of Assyria, all of them, I feasted within it. Victims, precious and beautiful, I sacrificed before them, and I caused them to receive my gifts."[15]

Thus, in paganism, men fed the gods, but in the true religion, God feeds people. We must therefore see that God is undeniably the host in the feast that followed the peace-offerings. Herein is one of the fundamental divergences of error from the truth. In all the ethnic, pagan, and so-called "natural" religions, it is man who pays the penalty. It is Prometheus, a man, who is bound to the rock forever; it is always the fairest maiden that is bound over to the dragon, and the bravest warrior that gives his life to save his people. But in Christianity, Jehovah-Jireh (God will provide); it is God in the person of His Son who pays the penalty of all human sin upon the Cross.

This conception of God as the host is not denied by the truth that the worshipper indeed himself brought the offering to the door of the tent of meeting, for prior to that God had given it to the worshipper. And besides, in the first act in laying his hand on the victim's head, and in killing it, the worshipper had offered it (all of it) to God, and afterward no part of it was his. Therefore, when the priest issued to him his portion for the feast, it was a gift, absolutely, from God Himself.

This conception of "food for God" was subject to gross anthropomorphic misrepresentation, and Psalms 50 has this protest against such views:

If I were hungry, I would not tell thee;

For the world is mine, and the fullness thereof.

Will I eat the flesh of bulls,

Or drink the blood of goats?

Offer unto God the sacrifice of thanksgiving;

And pay thy vows unto the Most High:

And call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

- Psalms 50:12-15


Verses 12-17

"And if his oblation be a goat, then he shall offer it before Jehovah: and he shall lay his hand upon the head of it, and kill it before the tent of meeting; and the sons of Aaron shall sprinkle the blood thereof upon the altar round about. And he shall offer his oblation, even an offering made by fire unto Jehovah; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the loins, and the caul upon the liver, with the kidneys, shall he take away. And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire, for a sweet savor; all the fat is Jehovah's. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings, that ye shall eat neither fat nor blood."

The peace-offerings, unlike the burnt-offering, could be either male or female. The prohibition against eating blood was especially stressed in the O.T. And even in Christianity, the apostles and elders of Jerusalem extended the prohibition against it, making it a Christian ordinance as well. We are aware that some commentators have gone out of their way to explain how this prohibition does not really apply to Christians today. Clements, for example, asserting that, "With the fulfillment of sacrifice in Jesus Christ there ended the obligation to avoid eating meat containing blood."[16] However, it is my conviction that it is STILL prohibited. The apostolic prohibition against it came long after the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ was known, and the emotional and sentimental reasons for the proper observance of this rule still exist. All life is the gift of God, and, normally, the shedding of blood means the loss of life, the blood, therefore, qualifying uniquely as the physical manifestations of God's gift of life. The eating of blood, therefore, must be viewed as the appropriation of that which is sacred for selfish and insensible human purposes. We are also aware that my opinion on this cannot be established as certain, because, in the original apostolic rule on the matter, it appears to be primarily the paganism (invariably associated with eating blood) which was particularly the thing forbidden.

It is noticeable that no provision for a poor man's being able to substitute a bird for the larger offerings as a peace-offering appears in the regulations in this chapter. This should not be viewed as any loss to the poor worshipper, because a bird would not have provided sufficient food for him and his friends, which fellowship meal was a prime feature of the offering. Also, "The poor man who could not afford a sheep or a goat might have been, and should have been, invited to partake of the peace-offerings presented by his well-to-do friends and neighbors."[17]

The peace offering as typical of Christ appears in this: the flesh of the very victim, the blood of which had been sprinkled upon the altar, then became the very food that sustained the life of the worshipper. Similarly, the flesh and blood of Him who died for us on Calvary nourishes the spiritual life of the believer (John 6:52-58).

Furthermore, the regulations here concerning the fat and the blood were not at all due to the hand of some "legislative reformer,"[18] as vainly imagined by some. These regulations were precisely for the purpose of preserving and continuing the witness of these institutions to the Lord Jesus Christ. They stand in the sacred text, not by the will of man, but by the will of God. The regulation concerning the blood particularly is specifically attributed to God Himself:

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, `Ye shall eat no manner of fat, of ox, or of sheep, or of goat, ... and ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl, or of beast, in any of your dwellings. Whosoever, it be that eateth any blood, that soul shall be cut off from his people'." - Leviticus 7:22-27

We reject as unproved and unprovable that anyone except Moses was the human instrument through whom God spake these regulations. Those who dispute this position make the whole book to be a fraud. "The phrase, `and the Lord said to Moses,' occurs thirty-nine times in Leviticus!"[19] We believe this to be true.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Leviticus 3:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/leviticus-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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