Leviticus Chapter 2 – The Grain Offering

Grain Offering Glass - Grapes Bread Cup
Today’s artwork comes from The Institute for Stained Glass in Canada.  This window was made in the 1925 by R. McCausland of Toronto and installed at St. George’s in the Pines Anglican Church in Alberta.  This photo is a detail of glass depicting Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. Visit the Institute’s webpage. It is a remarkable catalogue of the treasures in Canadian stained glass art history.

 

Learning the Levitical Offerings

One of the best things you can take away from a first study of Leviticus is an understanding of what each of the levitical offerings meant to the Ancient Israelites.  Why did they make these offerings? What did they think about when they made them?  What were they saying to God with them?  These questions matter because we see the offerings referred to all over the Bible, not just in Leviticus. In both the Old and New Testaments, you’ll see mentions of a sin offering or a peace offering or a burnt offering, etc.  These references are peppered throughout, so we ought to try and learn what they mean. Don’t you agree?

For each new offering post, I’ll do a recap like this one and encourage you to commit the offerings & their purposes to memory.  Today’s chapter of Leviticus is all about committing important things to memory, so it’s a perfect place to start practicing.

In Chapter 1, we looked at the Burnt Offering, and we learned that it was the introduction to any visit with God at the Tabernacle.  The purpose of the burnt offering was to cover the offerer so he could be accepted into God’s holy presence.  The idea was to say:

“Lord, I’d like to spend some time with you, and I ask that you accept me into your presence.”

Here in Chapter 2, we’ll be looking at the Grain Offering.  In some translations, this is called the Cereal Offering.  In older translations, it was sometimes called the Meat Offering.  “Meat” is a word we no longer use in reference to grain, but it used to be.  The semolina–the richest part of a grain–was once called the “meat.” In the American South, we still refer to the edible flesh of a nut (like pecans or walnuts) the “meat” of the nut.  I remember at Christmastime, sitting with my grandmother separating the hulls and pith from the meat on pecans, walnuts, & hazelnuts for holiday baking. Once upon a time, similar language was used for the different parts of whole grains, as well.

If your Bible calls this the “Meat Offering,” don’t be confused. It means the same thing as “grain offering” or “cereal offering.”  It just uses an old-fashioned term, and the Bible is very old, so it fits.

Anyway, the grain offering is very much what it sounds like.  It was an offering made from grain in the form of flour or bread.  The purpose of the grain offering was to remember the covenant made at Sinai between God and Israel.  The idea was to say:

“Lord, I remember your promises to us, and I will honor our promises to you.  I take our covenant relationship seriously.”

I’m going to share my memory method with you in the hope it helps you, too.  If it doesn’t, try to come up with your own method for keeping the various offerings and their uses straight in your mind.  Commit them to memory so that when you see these offerings mentioned in other passages, you’ll understand the reference.

I use the color orange to highlight any references to Leviticus, the sacrifices, or the priesthood in other books of the Bible.  My New Testament pages have a lot of orange highlights, and it’s my own study quirk, so it seemed right for me to use that color here.

Burnt Offering – Cover
Grain Offering – Remember

 

The Grain Offering

Grain Offering Glass - Wheat Sheaf, 1954
This photo also comes from The Institute for Stained Glass in Canada.  Like the one above, it was made by R. McCausland of Toronto and installed at Knox Metropolitan Church (now closed), Alberta in 1954.  The photo was provided to the Institute by Rick Bramm.

 

Open your Bible and Read Leviticus, Chapter 2

Read the whole chapter; no stopping to highlight or underline.  Just get the entire chapter as one piece, and we’ll take notes in the verse-by-verse section.

The Grain Offering

“When anyone presents a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, it is to consist of fine flour. He is to pour olive oil on it, put frankincense on it, and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. The priest will take a handful of fine flour and oil from it, along with all its frankincense, and will burn this memorial portion of it on the altar, a fire offering of a pleasing aroma to the LordBut the rest of the grain offering will belong to Aaron and his sons; it is the holiest part of the fire offerings to the Lord.

“When you present a grain offering baked in an oven, it is to be made of fine flour, either unleavened cakes mixed with oil or unleavened wafers coated with oil. If your offering is a grain offering prepared on a griddle, it is to be unleavened bread made of fine flour mixed with oil. Break it into pieces and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering. If your offering is a grain offering prepared in a pan, it is to be made of fine flour with oil. When you bring to the Lord the grain offering made in any of these ways, it is to be presented to the priest, and he will take it to the altar. The priest will remove the memorial portion from the grain offering and burn it on the altar, a fire offering of a pleasing aroma to the Lord10 But the rest of the grain offering will belong to Aaron and his sons; it is the holiest part of the fire offerings to the Lord.

11 “No grain offering that you present to the Lord is to be made with yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey as a fire offering to the Lord12 You may present them to the Lord as an offering of firstfruits, but they are not to be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma. 13 You are to season each of your grain offerings with salt; you must not omit from your grain offering the salt of the covenant with your God. You are to present salt with each of your offerings.

14 “If you present a grain offering of firstfruits to the Lord, you are to present fresh heads of grain, crushed kernels, roasted on the fire, for your grain offering of firstfruits. 15 You are to put oil and frankincense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 The priest will then burn some of its crushed kernels and oil with all its frankincense as a fire offering to the Lord.

–Leviticus 2, CSB
versification copied from BibleGateway.com

Like the burnt offering, the grain offering is a fire offering/altar offering, which means that it is a pleasing aroma to the Lord.  Keep making note of that phrase every time you see it in Leviticus.  Unlike the burnt offering, this is not a whole offering to the Lord, but a “most holy” sacrificial meal, shared with the priests and with God.  The Lord is given a memorial portion, and the priests are given the rest.

Verses 1-3: The Priests Will Handle This One

“When anyone presents a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, it is to consist of fine flour. He is to pour olive oil on it, put frankincense on it, and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. The priest will take a handful of fine flour and oil from it, along with all its frankincense, and will burn this memorial portion of it on the altar, a fire offering of a pleasing aroma to the LordBut the rest of the grain offering will belong to Aaron and his sons; it is the holiest part of the fire offerings to the Lord.”
-Leviticus 2:1-3, CSB

In these opening verses, we get the basic elements of the grain offering.  It is to be made with flour, olive oil, and frankincense.  Unlike the burnt offering, this one is prepared at home, before you go to the Tabernacle.  When you bring it to the Tabernacle, you hand over the entire offering to the priests.

In the burnt offering, it is the offerer who does the majority of the work, with the priests’ involvement limited to supervising, putting the blood around the altar, and placing the pieces of the offering on the fire.  With the grain offering, all the offerer’s work is done before he arrives, and the priests take ownership of the entire process.

In verse 2, we see the priests take a handful of the offering, along with all of the frankincense (which is expensive and aromatic), and burn it as “a memorial portion.”  What is it that we are memorializing?  What are the offerer and priests remembering with this portion?  We’ll get the answers for this a bit farther down.

In verse 3, note that everything else is kept by the priests.  It is the “holiest” or “most holy” part of the sacrifice.

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The “Most Holy” or “Holiest” Part
What makes part of an offering the “most holy” part? Why is it the part given to the priests and not the part we offer to God?  Shouldn’t God get the “most holy” part?  What does that mean?

These are the questions I asked in my first trip through these chapters.  I turned to commentary for the answers.  The three books pictured above are the ones I’ve had open while writing this section.  They all agree on this topic, and I’ve never seen an explanation for “most holy” that departs radically from what these commentaries explain.

Any time we see a portion of an offering referred to as “most holy,” it is a portion reserved for the priests to eat within the Tabernacle/within sacred space.  If the portion is reserved only for the priests and only for sacred space, it is designated as “most holy.”

Keil & Delitzsch say this designation is given to prevent the use of sacrificial gifts in a profane (ordinary, common) way.  The most holy designation is not an elevation of that portion or the material in that portion.  It isn’t an elevation of the priests who consume that portion, either.  It is not a better portion than God’s memorial portion, and the priests are certainly not considered more holy than God.  The language “most holy” is added as a warning to emphasize that a grain offering must never be treated like common bread.

“Most holy portion” simply means:  the part reserved for only the priests and only for sacred space.

Verses 4-10: Cook It However You Want
I’ve taken a bigger chunk than usual here, but that’s because we’ve got some repetition going on in these next 7 verses.  We see a lot of repetition in the offering chapters of Leviticus.  The repetition is here to facilitate memorization, to emphasize important points, and to maintain a formal literary style.  It’s important to look at these repetitive sections for the new information being added in each new repetition.

It’s a memory device.  You start with something simple like, “Jackson has a ball.”  You continue with, “Jackson has a red, bouncy ball.”  You move forward with, “Jackson’s red, bouncy ball has a white star painted on it.”  It’s progressive memory device typically found in call-response learning.  Oral traditions like the one kept in Ancient Israel use many call-response devices like this.  Each time you see something repetitive, resist the impulse to skip it.  Instead, comb it for new additions.

Pro-Tip:  In the Old Testament, if something gets repetitive, try reading the entire passage or chapter aloud.  I have found this helps me identify differences and new additions much more readily.

“When you present a grain offering baked in an oven, it is to be made of fine flour, either unleavened cakes mixed with oil or unleavened wafers coated with oil. If your offering is a grain offering prepared on a griddle, it is to be unleavened bread made of fine flour mixed with oil. Break it into pieces and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering. If your offering is a grain offering prepared in a pan, it is to be made of fine flour with oil. When you bring to the Lord the grain offering made in any of these ways, it is to be presented to the priest, and he will take it to the altar. The priest will remove the memorial portion from the grain offering and burn it on the altar, a fire offering of a pleasing aroma to the Lord10 But the rest of the grain offering will belong to Aaron and his sons; it is the holiest part of the fire offerings to the Lord.
-Leviticus 2:4-10, CSB

In verses 4-7, we’re being shown that the form of the bread is not important to the offering.  People can use whatever cooking method they have on hand to make the offering bread.  They can use the flour and oil to make bread in an oven, on a griddle, or in a pan.  In other words, the bread itself doesn’t matter.  It is the ingredients that are significant.

Make sure to note the new piece of information in verse 4:  the bread must be unleavened.  You can fry it in a pan; you can bake it in an oven; you can grill it over a fire, but no matter how you make the bread, it must be unleavened.

Verses 8-10 are a repetition of vv. 2-3

This section reiterates that the grain offering is a pleasing aroma on the altar. The preparation is to be done before the offerer brings it to the Tabernacle.  The priests alone will make the offering rites.  There will be a memorial portion burned for God, and the rest will be a most holy portion eaten by the priests in the Tabernacle.

The new information we were given states that the bread can be made by any means, but no leaven can be present in the grain offering.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
This photo also comes from The Institute for Stained Glass in Canada.  It was made in 1967 by Guido Nincheri of Montreal for St John the Baptist Church in Saskatchewan.  It depicts Melchizedek in the ephod of the High Priest offering bread and wine at the altar. You see the veil behind the altar, and a menorah, which was set on the table with the bread of the presence and the flames were never allowed to go out.

 

Understanding the Memorial Portion

Verses 11-13: Never Yeast; Always Salt
In this section, we get the answer to our questions about the memorial portion.  It’s easy for 21st-century Western readers to miss this part because we no longer use the same symbols and rituals that ancient people used.  Commentary is very useful in this regard.  Let’s look at the verses.

11 “No grain offering that you present to the Lord is to be made with yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey as a fire offering to the Lord12 You may present them to the Lord as an offering of firstfruits, but they are not to be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma. 13 You are to season each of your grain offerings with salt; you must not omit from your grain offering the salt of the covenant with your God. You are to present salt with each of your offerings.
-Leviticus 2:11-13, CSB (added emphasis is mine)

The Yeast
I wrote a preparatory blog post about the symbolism of Yeast and Honey in Leviticus.  If you haven’t looked at that, I recommend reading it now. It’s not terribly long, and it outlines the major use of yeast/leaven in the context of the Leviticus offerings.  Yeast is present as a symbol in many parts of the Bible, but in Leviticus, the primary use of yeast is a demonstration of sin and its tendency to spread into the entire community.

Beyond the association with contagious spread of sin, in Leviticus, yeast symbolizes death.  As the most crucial agent in the fermentation process–which is a process of decay–yeast is being associated with death here.  God is associated with life.  God is holy, and God is the giver of life.  He cannot be associated with death because death is a product of sin.  We don’t send leavened bread to God on the altar as a pleasing aroma because the aroma of death could never be pleasing to God.

The Honey
Honey is a more complicated symbol to cipher out in Leviticus, so I’ll refer you again to the article I wrote about it earlier.  In that article, I go back to the book of Judges and the story of Samson to show you the association between honey and death/decay.

Some commentators have made connections between honey and blood because of the similarity in texture (sticky, viscous fluid).  Others have said that because bees’ honey is an excretion, it’s like unclean body fluids because excretions=spilled life=death.  In my article on Yeast & Honey, I talk about honey’s role in fermentation as the association with death and decay.  No matter how we work out the honey’s precise symbolism, what it boils down to is that honey is associated with death.  It is, therefore, incompatible with pleasing aroma sacrifices burned on the altar.

uyuni salt flat
Photo by Leonardo Rossatti on Pexels.com – This is a salt flat, and the ground is white because the earth is full of salt.  Nothing can grow here. The soil is dead, and it always will be.

The Salt
In verse 13, we see salt mentioned.  Every grain offering must have salt.  You are never to leave out salt from a grain offering.  Why?  Okay, so buckle up because this next bit is the part where we get into the very important and very foundational Old Testament view of salt.  I should have done an entire separate article on the salt like the ones I did for blood and honey and yeast.  Mea culpa.  Hopefully, you’ll bear with me during this section because it’s a crucial lesson for our understanding.

Remember in all those prep articles for Leviticus where I said Leviticus is a light behind the glass of the Gospel, and it can make all of the New Testament shine for you–help you understand it better?  Well, this is one of those moments.

Most Christians have heard all kinds of sermons on New Testament salt.  I certainly have, and I’ve only been routinely listening to sermons for 3.5 years.  It’s a running theme, but I never understood it.  Like yeast, the Bible seems obsessed with salt.  Salt in the offerings.  Salt and Lot’s wife.  Salt as a preservative.  Salt as a valuable commodity.  Salt as flavor.  Salt as a recognizable good quality in Christians.  “We are the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13).”  I’m sorry, but what?  I can’t speak for you, but I never really connected with New Testament salt, and it bugged me that I didn’t “get it.”  Leviticus taught me how to understand Old Testament salt.  Right here in Chapter 2, verse 13.  After this, all the New Testament salt talk made sense for me, too.

What does Leviticus mean when it tells us to use salt, three times, in a chiasm, in one verse?

A: You are to season each of your grain offerings with salt.
X: You must not omit from your grain offering the salt of the covenant with your God.
A: You are to present salt with each of your offerings.

(Leviticus 2:13, CSB–emphasis and formatting are mine)

Okay, so what are we looking at?  The salt must always be there, and the salt has something to do with “the covenant with your God.”  This phrase, “covenant of salt” or “salt of covenant” appears three times in Scripture.  We see it here in Leviticus 2:13, again in Numbers 18:19, and finally in 2 Chronicles 13:5.  All three, as you see, are in the Old Testament.  The first two are about sacrifices on the altar, and the Chronicles reference is part of God’s eternal covenant with David’s descendants.  If you really want to spend some time on this, I recommend this article on “Covenant of Salt” by Chris Suitt.  He gives a treatment about twice the length of this entire blog post to the phrase and the meaning in both testaments.

God is following through on the Abrahamic covenant in Leviticus.  He is proclaiming himself the God of Israel, and when Israel makes offerings on the altar, they are proclaiming themselves the people of God.  The salt has something to do with that dual proclamation.  The salt represents something about the agreement between God and Israel.

1.) Salt represents eternity. It lasts forever without being corrupted.  It’s a mineral, so no matter how long it sits on a shelf, exposed to the elements, it never spoils. It never changes.

2.) Salt keeps perishable things from perishing.  It extends the “life” of whatever we preserve in it.  Adding salt keeps it fresh longer.

3.) Salt may preserve life, but it also prevents life.  Salt plowed into the earth and salt naturally deposited in the earth render the soil dead.  Forever dead. Once salt is introduced, the soil will never produce life again.

These are the qualities of salt that are in view here in Leviticus 2:13 and the other two Old Testament references to “covenant of salt” or “salt of covenant.”

Now, let’s go on a little ancient context trip:  Ancient covenants, both biblical and outside of the Bible, came with blessings and curses.  If you keep the covenant, these are the promises/blessings you will receive.  If you break the covenant, these are the penalties/curses you will incur.  We see this beautifully demonstrated for us in Deuteronomy, and the same concept is present in secular covenants of the Ancient Near East (ANE).

In the ANE, salting of the earth is a common curse for breaking a treaty (covenant agreement).  Rendering the land barren is the threatened punishment if you fail to hold up your end.  This isn’t the only way that salt appears in ancient covenants, though.  It was also eaten by both parties in a covenant meal to seal the agreement.

Salt was heavily involved in covenants.  It’s in the blessing.  It’s in the curse.  It’s in the meal that seals the deal.  What all three have in common is the enduring, eternal, unbreakable nature of the agreement being made.  The promise is eternal. The blessing is eternal. The punishment for breaking it will be eternal, too.

Ancient Israelites would have associated salt with all of this in the covenant they made with God.  Salt represents the enduring, eternal nature of God’s promises.

The Memorial Portion of the Grain Offering is the portion of the bread sent up to God in smoke, as a pleasing aroma.  It’s the portion that says, “Lord God, I remember your covenant. I take it seriously. I am grateful for it. I resolve to keep my promise to you because you have kept your promises to me.”  That…is the memorial portion.

So How Does This Clarify New Testament Salt Language?
We, like Israel before us, have not held up our end.  We’ve broken the covenant over and over again.  God made his covenant with us eternal, but still…God is just and the covenant had to be fulfilled.  Jesus finished that work of fulfillment for ever and always at the Cross.

We know that Jesus “became the curse” (Gal 3:13) for us so that we would never suffer the just wrath of God and eternal separation from his presence.  Jesus paid our price and incurred our penalties so that we could still claim the covenant promises.  See, we tell that story with different words in Christianity–we use New Testament words.  We say, “Jesus paid for our sin and redeemed us.”  If we use Old Testament language, we say, “Jesus became the curse for us so that we could still claim the covenant promise.”  It’s the same thing.  It’s the Gospel in Old Testament, covenant language.

We broke the covenant. Jesus fulfilled it for us. He took the curse. We get the blessings.

Salt is both life and death.  Ancient people knew that just as well as we do.  Salting the earth was the worst imaginable punishment.  It would literally kill an entire city.  No one could live there anymore if salt was spread over the ground.  Without salt, however, we would die.  Salt makes everything taste better.  Salt significantly slows down decay.  Salt has, from the dawn of time, been a significant and valuable, symbolic commodity.

Salt has been used as a blessing and a threat, but though it can bring death, salt does not symbolize death in our Bible.  Salt symbolizes eternity, and it symbolizes unbreakable promises.  This is what the “salt of covenant” means.

To be salt of the earth means that we are eternally loved, protected, and redeemed by a covenantal relationship with God.  Salt is not separated from covenant.  Every time you see salt in the New Testament, you should think, “eternal covenant.”  It means that our God is loyal and we are evidence of his love and loyalty.  We inherit the promises he made all those thousands of years ago to Abraham…and to the people of Israel in Leviticus.  The salt of the grain offering is the same salt in Matthew.

There must always be salt on the altar.

The Tabernacle is gone, now.  Jesus made us the Tabernacle.  So now, we are the salt on the altar.  We are the memorial portion. We are the memory of the covenant promise.

Do you see it?

So now, when Matthew calls you the salt of the earth, does it make more sense?  Goodness, I hope so because it’s beautiful…and because I have spent 4252 words to get us here.  My gracious, I’m sorry I’m so long-winded, and I hope I haven’t totally worn you out.

We’re almost done.  Only one little section left to go.

Verses 14-16: Firstfruits in the Grain Offering

14 “If you present a grain offering of firstfruits to the Lord, you are to present fresh heads of grain, crushed kernels, roasted on the fire, for your grain offering of firstfruits. 15 You are to put oil and frankincense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 The priest will then burn some of its crushed kernels and oil with all its frankincense as a fire offering to the Lord.
-Leviticus 14-16, CSB

These last three verses discuss “first fruit” grain offerings.  This clearly differs from the earlier repetitions of a grain offering because here we’re dealing with a pile of crushed grain rather than a cake of unleavened bread.

These verses are telling us what to do when our grain cannot be made into a fine flour, and this would happen in times when we’re offering freshly-harvested grain–the first fruits of our crop.  Fresh grain will still have too much moisture to be made into fine flour.  In such cases, the grain can still be made suitable for offering by crushing the grain’s kernels, roasting them, and then presenting the mash to the priests in the same manner that bread would be presented.

With the grain offering, if you can make it into flour, you do that. You make it into flour and then fry, grill, or bake it into bread.  If you cannot make it into flour, you roast the raw grain, crush it, and present it to the priests.

And all of it is done in memory of the covenant.  “Do this in memory of me.”

pita bread in close up view
Photo by Alev on Pexels.com

Okay, y’all.  Thank you for sticking with it.  I know this was long, but I hope I helped.  I hope this added meaning to Chapter 2 for you.  I agonized over how long I let this get, but I decided to just give you all of it.  I hope that was the right call.

See you next time!

 


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