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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 3

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 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 3 The Peace (or ‘Wellbeing’) Sacrifice (zebach shelem - sacrifice of a ‘peace, health, prosperity and general well-being’ offering).

This might also be called ‘a well-being offering’ or ‘a fellowship offering’ for shelem indicates ‘peace and general well-being’. It is described as a zebach (sacrifice/slaughter) relating it back to such sacrifices (zebach) as are described in the introduction. Shelem indicates ‘peace, health and prosperity’, ‘well-being’. It was a joyous sacrifice, and mainly voluntary, an act of unrestrained free-will. It was regularly a thanksgiving offering (Leviticus 7:12) and often offered in connection with a vow (Leviticus 7:16). While atonement is not mentioned in this particular place, related to this particular offering, it would probably be a mistake to doubt that it contains an atoning element, for it is connected with atonement elsewhere (Exodus 29:33 with 28; see also Judges 20:26; 2 Samuel 24:25, both of which are very much connected with getting right with God. They are offered along with whole burnt offerings). One of its purposes is to seal man’s peace with God, and that always requires atonement, while fellowship would not be possible without atonement. And that is confirmed by the application of the blood, for the blood makes atonement for a person (Leviticus 17:11). The point being emphasised is that it is not a main purpose.

Of it, in its commonest form, only the fat, and the innards are fire-offerings, with the blood applied to the altar. Here were the specific atoning and worship elements. A portion of the meat was given to the priest and the remainder was partaken of by the offerer (or in some few special cases restricted to the priests - Leviticus 23:19). The general idea then is of the eating of that which has been accepted by God, of being at peace with Him and with each other, of enjoying His presence, and of rejoicing in, and expressing gratitude for, peace with God, health and prosperity, and fellowship with Him. It is an act of dedication, worship and love, and of cementing fellowship with God. Thus as with all sacrifices it had to contain within it an element of atonement.

But here the concentration is on it in its Godward aspect. It is important to recognise that God is never depicted as eating an offering in any way. He is the invisible God. This was unlike other religions where a pretence was regularly made, often by deceitful means, giving the impression that the god had eaten the offerings. See for an example the vivid description in the Jewish tale of Bel and the Dragon, where the priests left food in a room that was sealed, with ‘only the god inside’, and stole in at night through a secret door in order to eat the food and give the impression that the god had eaten it. This was clearly a parody on things that did in fact happen. People did believe that their gods required food from them. But they were gods of wood and stone, shaped in terms of created things. Israel’s God, however, was the God of Heaven.

In the Law it is always made clear that the offerings, if eaten, are eaten either by the priests or the people. (Consider also the shewbread and see Exodus 24:9-11). God participates by receiving the ‘pleasing odour’. Thus does He fellowship with His people through the peace offering, fellowshipping with them in their meal but not eating of it, an indication of friendly intentions and love and yet of separateness and non-earthiness. As we have seen this is made clear by the inclusion of the inedible frankincense in the grain offering. It was the pleasing odour not the actual food that came up to Yahweh. The food was consumed by the fire and turned into a pleasing odour. (In other words God accepted it spiritually).

These peace sacrifices were a regular part of the feasts for which the nation assembled, as they gathered round the tabernacle. Through them they ate in the presence of Yahweh, and enjoyed His company. Peace offerings and sacrifices were commonly connected with other offerings and sacrifices, bringing the people into direct participation and full involvement after the more serious business of the prime offerings had been completed. They were of larger animals, oxen sheep and goats, indicating a sharing, and females were seen as equally satisfactory in such sacrifices. This indicated both the lesser nature of the peace offering and its wider and more inclusive significance. It would be offered by, and consumed by, both men and women.


Verses 1-5

The Peace Sacrifice From The Herd (Leviticus 3:1-5).

Leviticus 3:1

‘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 Yahweh.’

A sacrifice of peace offerings could be either male or female, but it was to be without blemish. Later it will be accepted that a voluntary free-will offering could have a slight ‘natural’ deformity, but not any other kind of imperfection (Leviticus 22:23). This did not apply to an offering made in connection with a vow. However even such a slightly imperfect sacrifice must still be generally without blemish. Here the sacrifice is of oxen.

The relaxing of the restriction about males was clearly practical, otherwise the large feasts would have mopped up the males and left a huge surplus of females which could not be eaten. The females, however, were required in larger numbers for they provided milk, and replacements. The males provided life, the females nurtured it.

And we should note that while Israel were living ‘in the camp’ and therefore within easy reach of the tabernacle, no ox, sheep or goat, apart from those offered as offerings, could be killed either in or out of the camp without it being brought to the door of the tabernacle and dealt with as a peace sacrifice (Leviticus 17:1-7). It was therefore necessary that peace sacrifices could be of either sex. This principle of bringing all within the camp was in order to prevent the danger of surreptitious sacrifices in the wilderness to demons (Leviticus 17:7). It kept everything above board.

Leviticus 3:2

‘And he shall lay his hand on the head of his oblation, and kill it at the door of the tent of meeting, and Aaron's sons the priests shall sprinkle the blood on the altar round about.’

The same general procedures follow as for the whole burnt offering. The laying on of the hand, the killing at the door of the tent of meeting (in the court of the tabernacle), and the sprinkling of the blood on the altar round about, as with the whole burnt offering where it was for atonement. Here we have identification with the sacrifice, the shedding of the blood, and its application for atonement. In this lay the atoning aspect. For the fact of recognised atonement in the peace sacrifice see Exodus 29:33 with Exodus 29:28. (It will be noted throughout that it is apparent that certain things are assumed in each differing offering and sacrifice, the details being carried over from other offerings and not stated in all cases. To get the whole picture we have to combine the differing descriptions, while noting the explicit differences and positively stated exceptions. Note how the detail here concentrates on only one aspect of the peace sacrifice, its Godward element. The partaking of the sacrifice by the laity will be dealt with later under ‘the law of the sacrifice of the peace offering’ (Leviticus 7:11-21)

Leviticus 3:3-4

‘And he shall offer of the sacrifice of peace-offerings an offering made by fire to Yahweh, the fat that covers the innards, and all the fat that is on the innards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the loins, and the covering of fat (or covering membrane) on the liver, with the kidneys, shall he take away.’

Note the details of what is to be burned on the altar. Instead of all the sacrifice being cut up and placed on the altar it is the fat that covers the vital parts, together with those vital parts; the fat surrounding the innards, the fat that covers the innards, the two kidneys with the fat that surrounds them, and the covering of the liver. The kidneys and the liver represented, in their eyes, the seat of the emotions and the will. They represented how it lived, and moved and thought. They were thus not to partake of the beasts essential living being, nor of its protecting fat. The life in the blood, the fat and the vital sources of being were all therefore forbidden. There must be no thought of man drawing on the beast’s essential life and strength. The meat of the animal was not a part of the offering, for it was not seen as part of the animal’s essential life. It could therefore be eaten by participants.

Leviticus 3:5

‘And Aaron's sons shall burn it on the altar on the whole burnt-offering, which is on the wood that is on the fire. It is an offering made by fire, of a pleasing odour to Yahweh.’

What has been selected out is now to be burned on the altar ‘on the whole burnt offering’. The assumption is made in this example that the sacrifice is made after a whole burnt offering. In that case the whole burnt offering is offered first and the peace sacrifice placed on top. Possibly when an ox was being offered as a peace sacrifice it was recognised that it would be part of such a combination of offerings, or possibly this is like the north side of the altar in Leviticus 1:11, mentioned once but intended to be seen as having wider application.

Others see the reference as to the morning whole burnt offering which would already have been offered on the altar, so that the peace sacrifice is laid on top of it. It does not require new preparation. It is a subsidiary sacrifice.

Again the offering is a fire-offering and a pleasing odour to Yahweh, as with the whole burnt offering and the grain offering, (but not so much with the sin and guilt offering). They deal with sin generally but not specifically, for their central purpose is dedication, tribute, gratitude and the demonstration of love, and in the case of this sacrifice the making of peace with God and men. The only point being that even with these atonement is necessary for their acceptance. In this case the meat is man’s (shared with the priests and their families) but the vital life of the animal is God’s.

While this was the least of the offerings, to those who are in Christ it speaks of the most glorious of experiences, a side which no other offering speaks of. For Ephesians tells us that He is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). He has made His people one with each other by reconciling us to Himself in one body on the cross having slain both the enmity between God and man, and the enmity between all men when they come to Him, whether Jew or Gentile. All are made one in Christ.

And as men came to the tabernacle with joyous hearts to offer their peace offerings, together with their other offerings, (all of which point us to Christ), and to rejoice together in fellowship both with God and with one another, partaking of the meat of their peace sacrifices with joy, so can we find peace through Him and through His death on the cross for us, rejoicing together with all who come to partake of Him and feasting on Christ, looking to Him as the bread of life (John 6:35), feasting on Him by coming to Him daily in faith and eating and drinking of Him through His word, and receiving of His life and His fullness as we allow Him to live His life through us (John 4:10; John 4:13-14, see also Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17-20).


Verses 6-11

A Peace Offering of Sheep (Leviticus 3:6-11).

Leviticus 3:6

‘And if his oblation for a sacrifice of peace-offerings to Yahweh be of the flock, male or female, he shall offer it without blemish.

The same instructions are given concerning the offering of the sheep, and then of the goat. This distinction between sheep and goat (contrast chapter 1) may be because in the case of the sheep its fat tail had to be dealt with separately. Or it may be in order to preserve threeness (just as there were three differing offerings mentioned in chapter 1), to indicate the completeness of the sacrifice. The idea may be that however different people are, (farmers, shepherds, goatherds) the ultimate way to God is the same for them all, through sacrifice and making peace with God. For us, and ultimately for them, it is through the unblemished lamb (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:18-19). There is no other way (John 14:6).

Leviticus 3:7-11

‘If he offer a lamb for his oblation, then shall he offer it before Yahweh, and he shall lay his hand on the head of his oblation, and kill it before the tent of meeting, and Aaron's sons shall sprinkle its blood on the altar round about. And he shall offer of the sacrifice of peace-offerings an offering made by fire to Yahweh; its fat, the fat tail entire, he shall take away hard by the backbone; and the fat that covers the innards, and all the fat that is on the innards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the loins, and the covering of fat on the liver, with the kidneys, shall he take away. And the priest shall burn it on the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire to Yahweh.’

The same principles apply here as for the sacrifice of the ox, except that special attention is drawn to the fat tail of the Near Eastern sheep. This luxury along with all the fat was to be burned on the altar along with all that constituted the life force of the lamb. For the life and the fat was God’s. He gave it, and He has taken it away (compare Genesis 7:17).

“It is the food of the offering made by fire to Yahweh.” Note the change from ‘a pleasing odour to Yahweh’. The sacrifice offered in loving obedience is all that He needs to satisfy Him as He joins in fellowship with His own. Note that it is consumed in the flames. God is not seen as feeding on it directly. His ‘food’ is the pleasing odour, His spiritual satisfaction in the offering. He partakes of their obedience, love and gratitude.


Verses 12-16

A Peace Offering of Goats (Leviticus 3:12-16).

Leviticus 3:12-15

‘And if his oblation be a goat, then he shall offer it before Yahweh, and he shall lay his hand on its head, and kill it before the tent of meeting; and the sons of Aaron shall sprinkle its blood on the altar round about. And he shall offer from it his oblation, even an offering made by fire to Yahweh, the fat that covers the innards, and all the fat that is on the innards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the loins, and the covering of fat on the liver, with the kidneys, shall he take away.’

As with the ox and sheep, so with the goats. The threefold repetition, beloved of ancient writers, stresses the threefold importance of the lesson. Peace is made between God and men, and once that is done men and women can commune with God. This was the assurance that the peace offering constantly gave to those who were true to Him.

Leviticus 3:16

‘And the priest shall burn them on the altar. It is the food of the offering made by fire, for a pleasing odour; all the fat is Yahweh's.’

Again the result is described. Here it is confirmed that the food of the offering made by fire is the pleasing odour. Further, all the fat is Yahweh’s. The essential being of the animal, and its best part, belongs to Him.


Verse 17

A General Principle. Neither Fat Nor Blood To Be Eaten.

Leviticus 3:17

‘It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings, that you shall eat neither fat nor blood.’

This leads on to the final instruction which is to be observed ‘throughout your generations’. It is not just temporary, it is to last while sacrifices are being offered. His people must eat neither the fat nor the blood of offerings and sacrifices.

Unknown to the people, this was partly for hygienic reasons. For both could in fact cause many diseases to be passed on. (Whether Moses had observed this in the circumstances of his life or whether it was God Who bore this in mind for His people we can only surmise). But what was equally important was what they represented. The fat protected the vital parts where the life of the animal was considered to be (see the detailed descriptions above). As such it was part of what was forbidden. Some also alternatively consider that it was seen by the ancients as the best part of the animal, with the result that it had to be given to God as His prime share (both protecting them and leaving them the meat). And the blood was the source of continual life, and when shed brought death. It was ‘the life’ of the animal (Leviticus 17:14). No man must partake of the life force of an animal. They are of a different kind from us. So did God for ever distinguish man from brute beast, whereas other religions sought to make them partake of each other. We Christians are not animals. Our essential nature is spiritual. (We will leave the non-believers to become wholly monkeys :-))) ).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/leviticus-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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