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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 2

 

 

Introduction

Chapters 1-3 The Regular Pleasing Odour Offerings.

The offerings which are mainly intended to rise as a pleasing odour to Yahweh are first described ; the whole burnt offerings, the grain offerings and the peace sacrifices. While containing within them an important element of atonement, they also express dedication, worship, thanksgiving, tribute, a desire for fellowship with God, and the promise of obedience. These fall in line with the ancient offerings and sacrifices before Sinai, although being more extensive and more complicated.

We must not be too dogmatic about the differing significance of these sacrifices, as if we could limit them to one idea, for in all the animal sacrifices there was the presentation in one way or another of the blood to God, and the offering to Him of the fat along with the vital organs. The former sought atonement, the latter offered a pleasing odour to God. But we cannot doubt that each offering had its own special significance, and therefore its unique place within the system. And each presented an aspect of the greater offering, when our Lord Jesus Christ was offered up and sacrificed for us.

Chapter 2 The Grain Offering (Minchah).

A variety of grain offerings could be offered to Yahweh, symbolising for the offerer and his family a complete giving of themselves and of their daily lives to Him, together with their worship and praise, and a reminder to God of their dependence on Him for the rain that encouraged the growth of the grain. All described here were to be made of unleavened milled grain, with oil poured on it, and then with frankincense placed on it. The mixing of grain and olive oil was usual in a grain offering, but the frankincense was special, indicating a worship offering, a sweet odour. The word used for ‘grain-offering’, (minchah), means elsewhere a gift or tribute. It can also refer to an offering or sacrifice (Genesis 4:4; 1 Samuel 2:29; 1 Samuel 26:19). Thus its use is not always certain in translation, although quite clear in Leviticus.

The mixture was brought by the offerer and a handful of the grain and oil, and all the frankincense was then taken and offered by the priests on the altar as ‘a memorial’ before Yahweh, with the idea that God would be made aware of the offering and of the love and worship that lay behind it. The memorial was a fire-offering and was a pleasing odour to Yahweh. His heart was satisfied with His people. The remainder belonged to the priests for their consumption in the tabernacle. But it was most holy and could not be taken out of the tabernacle. Such offerings could not be treated lightly. They belonged to Yahweh, and He chose to feed from them His anointed priests, who also belonged to Him. In a sense the priests were an extension of Himself reaching out to men.

This offering would be a way by which women especially could make an offering to Yahweh in accordance with their favourite way of cooking, in order by it to show their love and worship for Yahweh. It is a fire-offering, ‘an offering made by fire, of a pleasing odour to Yahweh.’ Accepted by Him, but not eaten by Him, and which brought Him joy and pleasure as symbolised by a pleasing odour. (The adding of the frankincense clearly indicates that it is necessary in order to make the offering a pleasing odour, the thought is not of God eating the offering but of savouring its smell).

The primary significance is one of gratitude and love to Yahweh for His provision of grain and oil, a constant reminder of their dependence on Him for the rain, and of a dedication of all their abilities to Him. As far as the offerer was concerned it was a whole offering to God, even though most became available to the priest for his consumption in the tabernacle (Leviticus 6:16). It must be stressed again that there is never any suggestion that Yahweh partook of such offerings. They were quite openly said to be for the priest. Yahweh is simply revealed as pleased with the offering. The frankincense adds to the offering a further token of special gratitude and worship and love, and that is wholly offered to Yahweh (it was inedible). The grain offering was regularly offered with whole burnt offerings (it was part of the daily offerings morning and evening), and sometimes with peace offerings. In those cases no frankincense was required, because the pleasing odour came from the other offerings, demonstrating that the frankincense replaced the offered animal or bird. But it could equally be offered on its own, as could frankincense.


Verses 1-3

The Primary Offering (Leviticus 2:1-3).

Leviticus 2:1-2

‘And when a person (nephesh) offers an oblation of a grain-offering to Yahweh, his oblation shall be of milled grain; and he shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it, and he shall bring it to Aaron's sons the priests, and he shall take out of it his handful of its milled grain, and of its oil, with all its frankincense, and the priest shall burn it as its memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, of a pleasing odour to Yahweh.’

The bringing of a grain-offering was to be of milled grain, not just the bare grain but the grain as worked on by man. It thus had ‘added value’. It was mixed with olive oil to make it more edible and pleasant, but the oil in itself was an important product in its own right. Frankincense was not something to add to its edibility but was offered in worship, a valuable and sweet-smelling direct offering. Thus God was being offered a portion of men’s produce in the grain, together with their work in preparing it, as made edible through another product, olive oil (compare ‘one cake of oiled bread’ - Exodus 29:23), which was also man’s produce. A proportion would then be extracted by the priest, together with all the frankincense, a costly and sweet smelling addition. That was Yahweh’s portion and was offered by fire to Him as a ‘memorial’, something that reminded God of the worshippers and of their offering. It was a fire-offering and a pleasing odour to Yahweh.

Frankincense was a whitish yellow resin which was obtained by incising the bark of the Boswellia tree in the semi-desert mountains around Dhotar in Southern Arabia (compare Jeremiah 6:20) and had a strong sweet odour. It was a constituent in the holy anointing oil (Exodus 30:34), and was placed in purified form on the Shewbread (Leviticus 24:7). It was costly and regularly used in worship (Jeremiah 17:26; Jeremiah 41:5), a precious offering to God. It was widely traded by Arab traders. It was not edible, which was why the whole was offered to Yahweh and none available to the priests. This clearly demonstrates that there was no idea in all this that Yahweh actually partook of the offerings. He would not eat frankincense! He smelled it.

Part of the thought behind the frankincense, apart from the fact that it was precious, was probably that it had been obtained at great effort. It had been brought from a long way away in order to give pleasure to Yahweh. It was very much a product from outside. We may see this as indicating that Israel must also offer to Him tribute from the world as well as from their own products, or as pointing to Christ Who came from ‘outside’ as One who was of great value, so that He might be offered to God on our behalf as a pleasing odour.

So the idea behind the offering was of gratitude for prosperity and an acknowledgement of God’s provision, revealed in tribute given, and worship and love offered. Milled grain was basic to their diet and an important commodity. It was as their lifeblood. Olive oil was also important in the life of Israel. It was later a prominent export (Ezekiel 27:17; 2 Chronicles 2:10) and was used in paying tribute and making treaties (Hosea 12:1; Isaiah 57:9). Along with milled grain and honey it was a symbol of prosperity (Ezekiel 16:13; Jeremiah 41:8). It was often sometimes offered by itself in worship (Genesis 28:18; Genesis 35:14; Micah 6:7; Ezekiel 45:25; Ezekiel 46:15). In contrast the grain offering offered by the poor as a replacement sin offering specifically had no oil or frankincense on it precisely because it was a sin offering (Leviticus 5:11). Thus the oil and frankincense were more positively related to love and worship. Isaiah 61:3 can speak of the ‘oil of joy’, and men and women anointed themselves with oil when they were joyful (compare Micah 6:15; Psalms 45:7; Psalms 104:15).

Leviticus 2:3

‘And what is left of the grain-offering shall be Aaron's and his sons'. It is a thing most holy of the offerings of Yahweh made by fire.’

The remainder of the grain-offering was for Aaron and his sons. But the value that God placed on it is indicated by the fact that it was ‘most holy’. It must therefore be eaten, in a holy place, in the tabernacle. It was looked on as an important offering of great sanctity.

Some have seen in the offering of milled grain and oil a reminder of Jesus as the bread of life (John 6:35) and as the anointed One (‘Christos’), and the frankincense as the symbol of His Godhood, come from outside in order to perfect our offering to God. Thus are we to ‘offer up’ Jesus to God as our offering, that we might be acceptable to God, and offer our praise and thanksgiving through Him. And we are to see Him as provided by God that He might be partaken of by all Who are set apart as His. For having ‘offered Him up’ we can then partake of Him. It is also an indication that all that is most important to us, including our labour, should be given to Him.

Note On ‘Most Holy’.

Holiness was a religious concept. Its main idea was of that of setting things and people apart to a holy purpose. They then became ‘holy’ and were not to be trifled with because they belonged to deity. In its wider use it did not signify morality, for the sacred prostitutes of other religions were called ‘holy ones’, and physical items in the temples could be described as ‘holy’ because religiously set apart for divine use. But the God of Israel was partly distinguished by His moral requirements. And thus one ‘set apart to Him’ was inevitably required to be morally holy as well as religiously holy. Yahweh was the living, moral, powerful God of Israel. In that He was distinguished from all others. And thus with Him holiness necessarily included God-like morality.

Everything then that was deeply involved with God became holy with various degrees of holiness. They were set apart to Him, were His property, and because they in some way represented Him were to be treated as He was to be treated. We know today how easily people can begin to see religious things as ‘holy’ (holy water, holy icons and so on, and even the Holy Bible) and assume they have special powers, it would therefore not be surprising if that were also true in those days, but that is not the essence of holiness. The essence of holiness is that when dealing with such things one is dealing with God, and thus that to trifle with them is to trifle with God. How that is then considered by the individual will very much depend on individual conceptions.

So every offering and sacrifice was holy, and all that pertained to the tabernacle was holy, and they therefore had to be treated for what they were, items through which God dealt with man. But when something was said to be ‘most holy’ it was restricted to the tabernacle. It must not be taken out into the camp. It was exclusively for tabernacle use. Thus this grain offering, in as far as it was not actually offered on the fire on the altar, had to be retained in the tabernacle and could only be eaten by those who were most holy, the priests. They could absorb its holiness for they were equally ‘holy’. Israel were a holy nation (Exodus 19:6) because they were set apart to God as His own, but the priests had been especially set apart out of the holy nation to a state of special holiness which required special behaviour of them. They were to be totally devoted to Yahweh and His service. They were most holy.

But holiness depends very much on motive and purpose. The Peace sacrifices could be partaken of by the offerer because of the motive and purpose of them, while the whole burnt offerings and the purification for sin offerings could not.

End of note.


Verses 4-10

Variations In The Offering (Leviticus 2:4-10).

Leviticus 2:4-7

‘And when you (singular) offer an oblation of a grain-offering baked in the oven, it shall be of unleavened cakes of milled grain mingled with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil. And if your oblation be a grain-offering of the baking-pan, it shall be of milled grain unleavened, mingled with oil. You shall part it in pieces, and pour oil on it, it is a grain-offering. And if your oblation be a grain-offering of the frying-pan, it shall be made of milled grain with oil.’

The various ways in which the offering can be enhanced are here outlined, with the women especially seeking to show their dedication to and love for Yahweh by presenting to Him the best of their handiwork. Here it is stressed that the grain should be unleavened. Leavening was a fermenting process, while what was offered to God must be pure and uncorrupted by earthly transformation. So they offered of themselves in purity and love, free from any corrupting influence.

The oven would be a deep earthenware vessel with a fire in the bottom. The flat cakes would adhere to the side so that the fire could cook them. The wafers would be extra thin, probably round, cakes, with oil spread on them. An alternative was to use a heated flat-plate, or a deep pan with a cover. The former would produce a large flat pancake which would be separated into pieces, with the oil poured on the pieces. The latter would have oil in it, with pieces of milled grain dough dropped in the oil in order to cook them.

These varied grain offerings, representing the skills of the offerers, are a reminder that we too can bring of our skills to God as an offering so that they may be used in His service, and offered up to Him as a pleasing odour.

Leviticus 2:8-10

‘And you (singular) shall bring the grain-offering that is made of these things to Yahweh, and it shall be presented to the priest, and he shall bring it to the altar. And the priest shall take up from the grain-offering its memorial, and shall burn it on the altar, an offering made by fire, of a pleasing odour to Yahweh. And what is left of the grain-offering shall be Aaron's and his sons'. It is a thing most holy of the offerings of Yahweh made by fire.’

This repeats the procedures for the grain offering to stress its importance. Each grain offering of whatever kind was brought and presented to the priests, who brought it to the altar and took out the memorial portion and burnt it on the altar. Notice the emphasis made here on the smooth progression of the whole procedure from start to finish, from the first bringing of the grain offering to its finally going up in the flames. Then the priests partook of the remainder within the tabernacle as Yahweh’s anointed. The fact that the offering was ‘most holy’ meant that it could only be eaten by the priests in the tabernacle. They received it as themselves being ‘most holy’ and an essential part of Yahweh’s dwellingplace, which itself was most holy apart from the court. But that was still, of course, holy. Only the holy nation could enter it.

“An offering made by fire, of a pleasing odour to Yahweh.” It was a fire offering and pleasing to Yahweh, in the same ways as the whole burnt offering. The fire consumed it, Yahweh enjoyed what it signified. With some it was all that they could afford to offer.


Verses 11-13

The Grain Offering Must Not Contain Anything That Corrupts But What Preserves (Leviticus 2:11-13).

It is now pointed out that the Grain Offering must not contain anything that ferments, neither leaven nor honey. Rather it must positively be seasoned with salt as a preservative. The emphasis is on its unalloyed purity and its continual permanence in that state.

Leviticus 2:11-12

‘No grain-offering, which you (plural) shall offer to Yahweh, shall be made with leaven, for you (pl) shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, as an offering made by fire to Yahweh. As an oblation of first -fruits you (pl) shall offer them to Yahweh, but they shall not come up for a pleasing odour on the altar.’

The change to the plural verb emphasises the overall coverage of this provision. It applies to all. Yahweh is so pure and holy that nothing that ferments and thus corrupts inwardly must be offered to Him by fire. It is not acceptable to Him offered in such a way. This reminds us that the fire is not seen as destroying but as ‘preserving’ and lifting up to the spiritual realm. It goes up in the smoke as a pleasing odour.

The idea would appear to be that the offering must be pristine as God gave it, without earthly influence having altered it (their own labour was not looked on in this way, for they were made in the image of God). It must be pure and unaffected by the world. By this provision He brought home a warning of the danger of a person becoming corrupted within by what was corrupting in the world, and of retaining within thoughts and aims that would produce corruption (see Mark 7:20-23). It reminded them that He required holiness, (likeness to Himself as those separated to Him), and that any corruption would make them unacceptable to Him. They, like the offering, must ensure that in dedicating themselves to Him they removed from themselves all that was corrupt (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). In mind may have been Adam, created pure but ‘fermenting’ within and becoming sinful. Or the fermented wine that made men behave so unworthily (compare Genesis 9:20-23), and the ‘strong drink’ which did so even more. The leaven used for leavening was a piece of old dough retained and allowed to ferment so that it could be used to ferment new dough, thus lightening the pastry.

However we should note that both leaven and honey can be offered as first-fruits, which suggests that we are here dealing with domesticated honey. They are not forbidden for food, and gratitude should be shown for them, as for all that God has given us. But their unacceptability as a fire-offering and as a pleasing odour is a pointed symbol that nothing that corrupts brings pleasure to God because of what it symbolises about the state of the world, about the state of men and women, and about the sin that has marred and caused corruption in creation. It cannot therefore be offered in pure worship as something wholly pleasing to God. A sacrifice of thanksgiving, however, could be offered with leavened bread along with unleavened cakes (Leviticus 7:13; compare Amos 4:5) because like the first-fruits it was an expression of gratitude for God’s gifts, not something totally for God’s enjoyment and benefit. Man partook of the peace sacrifice, and of the cereal offerings offered with them. They were not exclusive. They were not as ‘holy’. This emphasises that the holiness of something very much depends on the motive and purpose. It is not intrinsic in the thing. And he must therefore give thanks for leaven. And the wave loaves at the Feast of Weeks were of leavened bread because they were first-fruits, again an expression of gratitude, but no leaven could seemingly be offered with offerings made by fire. The leavened bread in Leviticus 7:13 was presumably for the consumption of the participants/priests as part of the thankoffering.

Leviticus 2:13

‘And every oblation of your grain-offering shall you (sing.) salt with salt; neither shall you allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain-offering. With all your (sing.) oblations you shall offer salt.’

In contrast the grain offering should be seasoned with salt in all circumstances. A supply of salt would be kept by for that purpose. Salt preserves and prevents corruption. It was therefore an important symbol of faithfulness to the covenant. Its introduction indicated a heart that intended to be true to the covenant. Each person (singular verbs) must therefore always offer salt with their grain offering, as a sign of their dedication to the permanent maintenance of God’s covenant requirements by obedience to His will, and as a symbol of God’s own faithfulness to His promises in the covenant. Salt seals the promises on both sides and ensures their preservation. It is ‘the salt of the covenant of your God’. See also Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chronicles 13:5 where the same idea is expressed, in both cases with the emphasis being on permanence. It stresses the permanent nature of the covenant relationship on both sides.


Verse 14-15

First Fruit Offerings On The Altar.

Leviticus 2:14-15

‘And if you (sing.) offer a grain-offering of first-fruits to Yahweh, you shall offer for the grain-offering of your first-fruits grain in the ear parched with fire, bruised grain of the fresh ear (or ‘of the fruitful field’). And you shall put oil on it, and lay frankincense on it. It is a grain-offering.’

Having forbidden the offering of leaven and honey on the altar, even though they can be offered as first-fruits, he now indicates what first-fruit can be offered on the altar. The early ears of grain, which being green and moist were parched with fire to make them more edible, and bruised by threshing/grinding to remove the chaff and prepare them for eating, were offerable, with oil put on them and frankincense laid on top. The emphasis is on the fact that these are the very earliest ears and they are roasted with fire and de-chaffed, and then offered with oil in an unfinalised but edible state together with the frankincense as an offerable first fruit.

Leviticus 2:16

‘And the priest shall burn the memorial of it, part of its bruised grain, and part of its oil, with all its frankincense. It is an offering made by fire to Yahweh.’

This too, so offered, is a fire-offering acceptable to Yahweh. The first-fruit here is offered along with man’s labour indicating full gratitude for God’s provision in response to man’s efforts. It is very similar to Cain’s offering, and as with him, the attitude of heart is all-important. To it is added the frankincense as an expression of appreciation and worship.

Again some see the milled grain as indicating Him Who, as the bread of life (John 6:35) was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4), and Who went through the fires of testing and trial on our behalf. Who as the grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die that life might result (John 12:24). It might also be seen as an offering of ourselves as firstfruits, as willing to be His and to serve Him with our whole beings, enduring, if necessary, fiery trial, and committing ourselves to de-chaffing from sin. This in contrast to the unbelievers who are often described as chaff (Psalms 1:4), empty and fruitless.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/leviticus-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, July 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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