LEVITICUS 2: WHEN GOD SPEAKS, PEOPLE LISTEN
“‘If you bring a grain offering of firstfruits to the Lord, offer crushed heads of new grain roasted in the fire. Put oil and incense on it; it is a grain offering. The priest shall burn the memorial portion of the crushed grain and the oil, together with all the incense, as a food offering presented to the Lord. (Leviticus 2:14-16)
A little more introduction to Leviticus in general then later in the post, comments on chapter 2.
A commercial from the 1980s for E.F. Hutton financial services features a classroom of students who stop what they were doing and lean in, hand cupping their ear toward a person in the class who’s telling a friend, “My broker is E.F.Hutton, and he says . . .” The tag line was, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”
Those who listened to this financial advise could not have been so blessed as those who have listened to God through the ages, for the voice of God has been vital to the identity of our forebears, Israel, and the Christian faith.
The first and most prominent example of God speaking and “others” listening is the stars that were flung into this unfathomable universe by words of the Creator.
All creation listened and obeyed. But after a time, humans sinned and descended into rebellion, the opposite of listening. They were lost and wandering apart from God. What did God do in order for people to again enjoy his presence? The message of Leviticus is an early action that answers this question.
Such is the speaking and obeying pattern of Leviticus: God speaks and expects his people to listen and obey, even more intently than they listen to financial advice. The first section of text in Leviticus is book-ended with God speaking (1:1) and the Israelites obeying (8:4, 9, 13, 17, 21, 29, 36). This form is repeated more than two dozen times: “The Lord said to Moses, say to the Israelites (or Aaron) . . .”
The creation of Israel had come, like creation, from the words that proceeded from the mouth of God. Now it was Israel’s turn, like creation—the stars—to obey.
God’s first words to Moses in Leviticus set the stage for an entire system of sacrificial offerings of the Israelites. Sacrifices, however, were neither new to Israel nor the larger culture. But because of the distance of time and space—remember the journey back in time—we need more explanation of the purpose of sacrifices.
Why sacrifices? Sacrifices represented a vital understanding of atonement: forgiveness comes at the cost of life, the shedding of blood. The sacrifices were a means through which God forgives his people for sins, both intentional and non-intentional, a means of restoring fellowship. Unlike the cultic gods of the contemporary culture to Israel, sacrifices did not equate with “feeding” the God of Israel.
In contrast, these sacrifices were God-commanded not for appeasement but for laying the pathway for his divine presence with them. Sin, we have found in our humanity, is one thing we cannot control or self-forgive. It must be divinely forgiven.
So God’s first call to Moses in Leviticus 1 begins what to us may seem like a complicated system of sacrifices and offerings, but these were understood in their world as the means of restoration of relationship: “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When any of you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or flock . . .’” (1:2).
God demands the best of the herd, a male animal without defect for what is called “burnt offerings,” which were the most common kind of sacrifice and the first type recorded in Leviticus. The word holocaust is associated with the genocide of Jews in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s. The word, however, also means a sacrifice that is completely burned up. Some Bible translations translate references to burnt offering as the “holocaust offering.”
The purpose of the burnt offering was to please God, plain and simple, to be to him “a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, and aroma pleasing to the Lord” (1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9, 16; 3:5, 11, 16). Used for either atonement of sins or for thanksgiving worship to God, the most common burnt offerings were animals slaughtered, cut into pieces, and burned completely, except for the hides that belonged to the priests. Animals included cattle, sheep, goats, doves, and pigeons and grain offerings consisted of grains, oil, wine, and frankincense.
Frankincense, one of the spices given to Christ as a gift from the Magi, was strong incense and part of this pleasing aroma to the Lord.
Chapter 2 is about grain offerings. Grain offerings were meant to include the poor or those without herds or flocks (5:7, 11). These were often cakes or breads made with flour, salt, and oil and most often without yeast (2:2-5), but yeast and honey were allowed in the thanksgiving offerings at harvest time (2:11-12).
Israel was warned not to leave the salt out of their grain offerings. Salt was a valuable commodity, used in many ancient cultures to barter, considered as valuable as we value money (2:13). Salt also reminded Israel of the covenant between God and his people.
Part of the offering was considered a memorial portion for the Lord and another portion was given to Aaron and his sons for their food (2:3), presumably as a way to support the ministers of the worship in Israel.
God Who Loves All People, Your constant care of the poor is humbling to us. Those of us who think we sustain ourselves with jobs, money, homes, cars, status, degrees often do not watch out for the poor or reach out to them. But you have constantly made provisions for the poor, and we are beginning to see that even in these simple ways you are allowing poor people without animals for sacrifice to receive a sacred way of forgiveness by grain offerings to you.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.