Leviticus Chapter 3 – The Peace Offering

Peace offering glass spectrum
This beautiful glass was made by Tom Nelson of Spectrum Stained Glass Studio in Minnesota, USA.  I spent quite a while looking at his lovely work, but this piece in particular says “Let’s Eat Together” to me, and that’s what Leviticus 3 is all about.

In your own Bible, Leviticus chapter 3 will have one of several different titles.  It might be called the Well-Being Offering.  It might be be called (as it is in mine) the Fellowship Offering.  Most likely, though, your Bible calls this chapter the Peace Offering.  “Peace offering” is by far the most common English translation for this chapter; the King James (KJV/NKJV), the English Standard (ESV), and the New Living (NLT) translations use it, along with several others.  Peace offering is not a bad or inaccurate translation at all, as we will discuss.  It is, however, an easy title for modern English speakers to misunderstand.  Dr. Mike Heiser explains it best in the Naked Bible Podcast series on Leviticus (episode #65):

“I’m not making peace with God. I have it.”

The Peace offering is not about making peace with God.  It’s about celebrating the peace we already have with him.  My personal Bible, which is a Christian Standard (CSB) translation, and the New International Version (NIV) both use the term, “Fellowship Offering” for chapter 3 of Leviticus, and that translation is my personal preference because I believe it is a more helpful description of what the offering is about.  We will continue to use the peace label for continuity in this post, but we will use fellowship to aid us in the memory portion.

Before we dig into chapter 3, let’s recap the offerings of Leviticus we already learned and add in the memory information for the peace offering:

The Burnt Offering (Cover)
Purpose: to cover the offerer’s unholiness and make him acceptable in God’s presence
Message: Lord, I want to spend some time with you, in your presence, and I pray that you will find me acceptable.

The Grain Offering (Remember)
Purpose: to remember the covenant made between God and his people Israel
Message: Lord, I remember your promises to us and our promises to you. I take our covenant relationship seriously.

The Peace Offering (Fellowship)
Purpose: to eat a covenant meal in fellowship with God
Message: Lord, I enjoy being in your presence, and I enjoy the peaceful fellowship between us.  Thank you for being our God and making us your people.

Open your Bible and read Leviticus, chapter 3

Again, we will start today’s post by reading the entire chapter.  Read it all the way through in one piece.  Save your notes and highlights for the verse-by-verse sections.

The Fellowship Offering

“If his offering is a fellowship sacrifice, and he is presenting an animal from the herd, whether male or female, he is to present one without blemish before the LordHe is to lay his hand on the head of his offering and slaughter it at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Then Aaron’s sons the priests will splatter the blood on all sides of the altar. He will present part of the fellowship sacrifice as a fire offering to the Lord: the fat surrounding the entrails, all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat on them at the loins; he will also remove the fatty lobe of the liver with the kidneys. Aaron’s sons will burn it on the altar along with the burnt offering that is on the burning wood, a fire offering of a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

“If his offering as a fellowship sacrifice to the Lord is from the flock, he is to present a male or female without blemish. If he is presenting a lamb for his offering, he is to present it before the LordHe must lay his hand on the head of his offering, then slaughter it before the tent of meeting. Aaron’s sons will splatter its blood on all sides of the altar. He will then present part of the fellowship sacrifice as a fire offering to the Lord consisting of its fat and the entire fat tail, which he is to remove close to the backbone. He will also remove the fat surrounding the entrails, all the fat on the entrails, 10 the two kidneys with the fat on them at the loins, and the fatty lobe of the liver above the kidneys. 11 Then the priest will burn the food on the altar, as a fire offering to the Lord.

12 “If his offering is a goat, he is to present it before the Lord13 He must lay his hand on its head and slaughter it before the tent of meeting. Aaron’s sons will splatter[a] its blood on all sides of the altar. 14 He will present part of his offering as a fire offering to the Lord: the fat surrounding the entrails, all the fat that is on the entrails, 15 and the two kidneys with the fat on them at the loins; he will also remove the fatty lobe of the liver with the kidneys. 16 Then the priest will burn the food on the altar, as a fire offering for a pleasing aroma.[b]

“All fat belongs to the Lord17 This is a permanent statute throughout your generations, wherever you live: you must not eat any fat or any blood.”

-Leviticus 3, CSB
versification copied from Bible Gateway.

 

lunch table
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

 

 

The Peace of a Gathering at the Table
When we talk about the peace offering, we should think of people gathered around a table.  When I think about that image, I immediately think of Thanksgiving (yes, because I’m a Yank), but I also think of potluck dinners where people come together in a shared space, each with an offering of food.  We do this in places of worship, at places of employment, or in groups that share a social identity of some kind (hobbies, clubs, charity work, etc.).  We share a meal together in fellowship, and it’s a tremendous bond to eat together with the people we belong to.

The peace offering is about sharing a meal in fellowship with the God we belong to, so let’s get into the chapter, verse-by-verse, and flesh that out as fully as we can.

Verse 1: It Can Be a Male or a Female in This One

“If his offering is a fellowship sacrifice, and he is presenting an animal from the herd, whether male or female, he is to present one without blemish before the Lord.”
Leviticus 3:1, CSB, emphasis added

The words translated as “fellowship” and “sacrifice” in this verse come from the Hebrew words transliterated as “shelamim” and “zebah.”  According to scholars, these two words are virtually synonymous.  You’ll note the similarity between shelamim and shalom, the Hebrew word we translate as “peace.”  Shelamim, according to my word studies, indicates a sacrifice for friendship or alliance.

The root word, “slm,” (or “shelem“) can mean, “to remain healthy, to keep peace, to finish, carry out, or deliver.”  Shelamim is about both peace and fellowship when it appears.  This is why we see the differing selections of peace and fellowship in our English translations.  The word connotes both, so we shouldn’t wring our hands over which one is the “better translation.” They’re both adequate and faithful to the original language.

The important thing is to understand what the peace offering actually means and what Ancient Israel thought about its imagery and message.

In the peace offering, the animal offered can be either male or female.  This is the first thing we see that separates this animal offering from the burnt offering, which could only be a male animal.  Most of my commentaries seem totally unconcerned with this difference, and the only takeaway they note is that it indicates the peace offering is a less important sacrifice than the burnt offering.

And that’s true.  The peace offering is an optional sacrifice whereas the burnt offering is crucial to the entire Tabernacle process.  I’m not certain about how that relates to the female animal option, but I have a couple of ideas:

1.) Female animals were not as expensive as male animals.  Females can only produce one pregnancy at a time whereas males can impregnate many females/produce many babies.  If you lose a cow, the herd will continue unabated.  If you lose a bull…that’s a much bigger problem because it means a loss of many cows’ future calves, not just one.  The higher cost/value of the male livestock could be in view here.

2.) As I tried to demonstrate in the burnt offering post, our Lord Jesus was the ultimate burnt offering, and he resembles the burnt offering in several respects.  The burnt offering is a prefigure of Christ.  The peace offering is not, so it doesn’t matter if the sacrificed animal is a male in this offering.

Verse 2: The Laying on of A Hand (singular)…Again

He is to lay his hand on the head of his offering and slaughter it at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Then Aaron’s sons the priests will splatter the blood on all sides of the altar.
-Leviticus 3:2, CSB

You’ll recognize this verse as a repetition of the burnt offering in chapter 1.  The offerer lays one hand on the animal before killing it, and like with the burnt offering, this indicates a desire that the animal be acceptable to God for the purpose of the sacrifice.  Unlike the burnt offering, the offerer is not seeking to cover himself.  The offerer is seeking to gain approval of the animal he has brought.

Maybe this hand laying is a universal gesture of permission-seeking.  That’s what it looks like to me.  I don’t know, though, and it’s entirely speculative.  Clearly, the single hand gesture to the animal means something particular, but we know more about what it doesn’t mean than we do about what it does.

We know it does not mean a transfer of sin.  Nothing in the peace offering is about atonement.  Nothing is being repaired here for the offerer.  No problem is being solved, and no improvement is being made to the offerer in this gesture or in this process.  Sin is not being forgiven.  Forgiveness is not being sought.  Atonement is not being made.  The animal is not interceding for the offerer in the peace offering.

Still, we have the gesture.  In the burnt offering, we assume this is a gesture that asks God to accept the animal as a sufficient sacrifice for cover in God’s presence.  Here in the peace offering, we assume the gesture asks God to accept the animal as a covenant fellowship meal.

Verses 3-4: How to Carve a Fellowship Cow

He will present part of the fellowship sacrifice as a fire offering to the Lord: the fat surrounding the entrails, all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat on them at the loins; he will also remove the fatty lobe of the liver with the kidneys.
-Leviticus 3:3-4, CSB

For the first time we are being introduced to something that will be a running theme in Leviticus:  some things are reserved for God alone.  Again, I will use an example of people at table.  In traditional Sunday dinners in the American South, the centerpiece of the meal is typically a roast or a chicken, and the “best piece” always goes to Daddy.  He gets the stump end of the roast, if that’s what he likes best.  He gets the breast meat or the leg, if that’s his favorite piece or the biggest piece of the chicken.  Mothers across the nation will smack a child’s hand if they reach for it, saying, “That’s for your daddy.  Get a different piece.”

Back before smartphones and Facebook, I saw a little “thing” going around via email.  It was a list of kids’ responses to the question, “What is love?”  On the list of answers, one of the children had written, “Love is when Mommy saves the best piece of chicken for Daddy.”  And that’s what we’re looking at here.

Everyone sits together in fellowship and love.  Everyone enjoys the food and the bounty of a big family dinner…but Daddy gets the best piece of the chicken.

That example might not be very theologically sophisticated, but I don’t think it needs to be.  I’m a layperson, remember, and this is the image I see in the peace offering.  Everyone gets a bountiful portion at this table, but out of gratitude and respect, God gets the best piece of chicken.  I think it’s that simple.

In this case, however, we’re talking about a cow, and verses 3 and 4 are concerned with fat and organ meat (the kidneys and liver).  Fat and edible organ meats (called “offal”) are the most calorie-dense and most richly-flavored parts of just about any animal humans consume.  They are “the best” parts.  These are meticulously removed during butchering and reserved for God’s portion.

Verse 5: A Pleasing Aroma

Aaron’s sons will burn it on the altar along with the burnt offering that is on the burning wood, a fire offering of a pleasing aroma to the Lord.
-Leviticus 3:5, CSB, emphasis added

We see this phrase repeated again.  The peace offering has a portion burned on the altar.  It is a “pleasing aroma” offering.

Verses 6-11: How to Carve a Fellowship Lamb

“If his offering as a fellowship sacrifice to the Lord is from the flock, he is to present a male or female without blemish. If he is presenting a lamb for his offering, he is to present it before the LordHe must lay his hand on the head of his offering, then slaughter it before the tent of meeting. Aaron’s sons will splatter its blood on all sides of the altar. He will then present part of the fellowship sacrifice as a fire offering to the Lord consisting of its fat and the entire fat tail, which he is to remove close to the backbone. He will also remove the fat surrounding the entrails, all the fat on the entrails, 10 the two kidneys with the fat on them at the loins, and the fatty lobe of the liver above the kidneys. 11 Then the priest will burn the food on the altar, as a fire offering to the Lord.
-Leviticus 3:6-11, CSB, emphasis added

Have you ever been to a 4-H or FFA livestock auction/show?  Depending on where you’re from and how much exposure you’ve had to farm animals, you might never have seen the amazing variety that exists between different breeds of sheep and goats.  I had the privilege of seeing a sheep like the ones referred to in Leviticus just last year.  I was at the San Diego County Fair here in Southern California, and the young people were competing and auctioning off the sheep, calves, and pigs they’d been raising all year.

In North America, most of our sheep breeds don’t have fatty tails like the ones mentioned in Leviticus, but at the fair, I saw a fat-tail Awassi sheep, and it was exactly like the sheep the peace offering describes.  I found this photo for you from an Australian website that promotes the Awassi breed in the southern highlands of that country.

awassi sheep
That wide flap of tail on this Awassi sheep is almost entirely made up of fat.

In the Ancient Near East, sheep like these were the norm, and the fat of their tails was everyone’s favorite part.  Fat tastes good; just ask any of the millions of my countrymen who seem obsessed with cheese, butter, and bacon.  Fat, like offal, is calorie-dense and flavorful, so the rich fat of the tail is reserved for God.

Also note that the sheep in Leviticus 3 is referred to as a lamb.  We’re looking at calves and lambs here, I think, rather than adult animals.  We don’t bring old, injured, or unhealthy animals to the Tabernacle.  We bring only “unblemished” animals.  Good examples, young and healthy, at the earliest age for slaughter–the same age that people would consider best for their own beef or mutton.

Verses 12-16a: How to Carve a Fellowship Goat

12 “If his offering is a goat, he is to present it before the Lord13 He must lay his hand on its head and slaughter it before the tent of meeting. Aaron’s sons will splatter its blood on all sides of the altar. 14 He will present part of his offering as a fire offering to the Lord: the fat surrounding the entrails, all the fat that is on the entrails, 15 and the two kidneys with the fat on them at the loins; he will also remove the fatty lobe of the liver with the kidneys. 16 Then the priest will burn the food on the altar, as a fire offering for a pleasing aroma.

These verses are a repetition of the first two processes.  Like cows and sheep, the goats are to be sacrificed for peace offering with the fat and offal reserved for God.

Verses 16b-17: No Fat & No Blood

“All fat belongs to the Lord17 This is a permanent statute throughout your generations, wherever you live: you must not eat any fat or any blood.”
Leviticus 3:16b-17, CSB, emphasis added

This is the first time in Leviticus that we are seeing the command to eat no blood.  We’re going to see it over and over again before the end of the book.  Fat, as the choicest portion, is reserved for God.  Blood, however, is a much bigger deal.

I wrote a preparatory article for Leviticus on the symbolism of blood, and you should read it when you get a chance.  In Leviticus, and throughout the Bible, blood symbolizes life.  Life belongs to God.  It is sacred above all else, and the consumption of blood is strictly and consistently forbidden.

Blood was used in all kinds of ways by pagan tribes of the region, and Israel was to remain entirely set apart from those practices.  More importantly, blood is life, and “the life of the body is in the blood.” (Lev. 17:11) Blood belongs to God, and to God alone.

men and women standing infront of dining table
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

 

When you read about the Peace Offering, remember that it’s about fellowship with the Lord.  It’s about giving thanks and consciously spending time in his presence.  The peace offering is about going to God, recognizing the bounty he has given us, thanking him for it, and enjoying his company.

When you sit down at the table, with family or friends–the people with whom you feel at peace–remember God.  Invite God to be with you in that meal, at that table…and give him the best piece of chicken.  That is the heart of the peace offering.

 

 


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