The Law of the Grain & Purification (Sin) Offerings – Leviticus 6:14-30

We’re pressing on in Chapter 6 through the “Law of the Offerings,” which is the part of Leviticus I have referred to as “the addenda.”   Your Bible may call it, “Further Instructions.”  Either one gets the point across, and today we’re going to look at two of the offerings.  We’re taking them both together because they have a pretty important overlap, and after lengthy consideration, I decided it would be both easier to understand and easier to write about if we go through them at the same time.

Chapters 1-5 of Leviticus outline the rules of each offering for the people, but chapters 6 & 7 zoom in and outline the rules of each offering for the priests.  Like the previous section that covered the priests’ duties in the Burnt Offering, today’s portion of the text will emphasize the priests’ duties in the Grain and Purification (Sin) Offerings.  There is a great deal of repetition from previous chapters going on in here, but there are new bits of information, as well.  The new ideas are the ones we’re going to focus in on.

Remember how we do this.  We read it all in one big block, first; no highlighting or notes during the first read-through.  We are not reading to respond in our first reading.  We are not bringing questions. We are not demanding personal application from these verses. We are only reading to listen and make sure we’ve seen the passage as a whole.  If you don’t have your own Bible handy, Bible Gateway is available for this passage, as well, and you can use the drop-menu to read it from your favorite translation.  Once you’ve read the entire passage, we go back to the beginning and start looking at it in digestible pieces.

Open your Bible and Read Leviticus 6:14-30.

 

Verses 14-17: Here we get a review of what we learned in Chapter 2.  These verses recall for us the Memorial Portion and the Most Holy designation, which we discussed here, and then remind us that this sacrifice is a pleasing aroma to the Lord.  In verse 18, however, we hit something we haven’t seen before.

Verse 18: There are two main ideas being given to us here, and one is obviously weirder and loaded with more imagery than the other.  Let’s start with the less weird one and just tuck away the other bit for later in the reading.

18 Any male among Aaron’s descendants may eat it. It is a permanent portion throughout your generations from the food offerings to the Lord. Anything that touches the offerings will become holy.”Leviticus 6:18, CSB, emphasis added

What we are seeing here is a description of who is allowed to eat all of this bread and flour that comes in with the grain offerings.  All priests in the Temple system are from the tribe of Levi, and Levi is the only tribe of Israel that receives no portion in the Land of Promise.  The Levites are reserved for service to the priesthood and the Temple.  They have no land of their own, which means they own no fields for crops and no pasture for flocks or herds.  For that reason, their portion must come from the other tribes. Multiple times in the Old Testament, God reminds Israel to care for the Levites who have no portion, and provision for the Levites is often listed alongside provision for orphans, widows, and foreigners living among the Israelites.  The priesthood is an image of dedicated service, disciplined holiness, and humble dependence upon the community it serves.

You can see how this part of levitical priesthood has been applied to conventions for Christian priesthood, as well.  I find it most starkly illustrated in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions where poverty is a solemn vow and the church provides all shelter, clothing, food, and material wealth.  This is also seen in Protestant clergy, but it may seem less visible because it is less ritualistic.  Pastors are paid through their churches from offerings of the congregation in just as direct a way.

Part of the Levite’s portion is the food priests are given to eat from the sacrifices.  In the case of the grain offering, “any male among Aaron’s descendants” may eat from these grain offerings.  That means that any man in the tribe of Levi who is also eligible for the priesthood as a descendant of Aaron can eat this bread or use this flour without incurring God’s wrath.  The only caveat is that these are “most holy” portions, so they must be consumed within sacred space.

When we see something in Leviticus set aside as “a permanent portion,” it means that this portion is granted through the covenant promise; it’s a big deal.  It is in verses like this one that we see clarity being given about what the priests are allowed to take, how much they should take, and any restrictions on how they are to use what they take.

This can seem dry and tedious, I know, but consider this:  the priestly portions are meals they are invited to consume at God’s table.  They alone are invited to sit and eat with God in fellowship every, single day.  This is a very big privilege and blessing granted alongside all of the extra work and accountability priests must carry.

Verse 19 begins with some language that, if you’ve been with me in this series before, you should recognize:

The LORD Spoke To Moses

Remember that when you see this phrase in Leviticus, it always means we’re changing topics or changing tone.  Something new is about to be discussed.  It’s like a line break or the start of a new paragraph.  In verse 19, we are leaving behind how the priests handle the people’s grain offerings, and we’re moving on to a discussion of a completely different sort of grain offering, a sort we’ve never seen before.  This new passage runs from verse 19 to verse 23, so let’s have a look at the entire section:

19 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 20 “This is the offering that Aaron and his sons shall offer to the Lord on the day when he is anointed: a tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a regular grain offering, half of it in the morning and half in the evening. 21 It shall be made with oil on a griddle. You shall bring it well mixed, in baked pieces like a grain offering, and offer it for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 22 The priest from among Aaron’s sons, who is anointed to succeed him, shall offer it to the Lord as decreed forever. The whole of it shall be burned. 23 Every grain offering of a priest shall be wholly burned. It shall not be eaten.”
Leviticus 6:19-23, CSB, emphasis added is mine

Okay, so we’ve veered away from rules for the offerings of the people here, and we’re looking at a special offering that is only ever offered by a priest.  The priest is to bring this special grain offering to the altar on the day of his ordination.  There are several ideas tied up in this one, so we’re gonna talk about it a little bit, and as we go through this offering, I want you to keep in mind that the next big section of Leviticus will be about the ordination of priests.  All of chapters 8 & 9 are concerned with the ordination of Aaron and his line of priests, so this offering we’re being shown here in chapter 6 is a small part of that much larger picture.  I use the color purple in my own notes and highlights for references to the priesthood, so I’ve used that color here, as well.  In your own methods of study, use whatever color or marking system is most helpful for you.

Verses 20-21 – The Ordination Offering
You might remember that back in Chapter 2, we talked about how the form of the grain offering didn’t matter; it was the ingredients that were important.  Chapter 2 emphasized that there were many ways to offer grain to the Lord, but the salt, the frankincense, the oil, and the flour were our focus because of what they represented.  Here in the ordination offering, we’re seeing a bit of a change.  The priests are given a particular form to bring their grain offering.  Their flour and their baked pieces are “like a regular grain offering,” but it is to be offered in two parts, morning and evening, and it is to be cooked on a griddle. In my post about the fire at the altar of burnt offering, we touched on that whole creation rhythm of mornings and evenings.

Verse 22-23
In our discussion of the law of the burnt offering, we talked about how important it was for the priests of Israel to be visibly distinct from the priests of nations around Israel.  Here in today’s passages–not just these two particular verses–we’re talking about some things that brush up against this notion again.  Here at the ordination offering, the priests have more rules than the people do.  This will become important again in the next section.

When the priest sends up a grain offering from the people, he is given a portion for himself. He can eat it all himself or he can share it with other men in the line of Aaron. However, when a priest is giving his own grain offering at ordination, this is different.  This offering will not be shared.  He must send it up on the altar himself (no one can do it for him), half in the morning, half in the evening.  In addition, when the offering is on his own behalf, he is not to eat any portion of it himself or give any portion of it to the sons of Aaron.  The entire offering is for God.

Stained Glass by Isabel Piczek, 1982. Hand of God, “Creation,” installed at St. Norbert Catholic Church in Orange, CA. USA.  Photograph by Pamla J. Eisenberg, DominusVobiscum Images, 2010. Shared through Common License.

Anything that touches the offerings will become holy.

Verses 24-26
Make note again, “The LORD spoke to Moses.” These three verses move away from the special rules for a Grain/Ordination Offering and focus on the Purification Offering (called a Sin Offering in many of your Bibles).  We start with a review of what we’ve already been told in Chapter 4.  We are reminded that the priest portion is most holy and must be eaten only in the sacred space.  Then we get to verse 27, and that weird reference from up in verse 18 comes back for a 2nd time.

Verse 27
Let’s put these verses together and look at ’em for a moment.

18 Any male among Aaron’s descendants may eat it. It is a permanent portion throughout your generations from the food offerings to the Lord. Anything that touches the offerings will become holy.”

26 The priest who offers it as a sin offering will eat it. It is to be eaten in a holy place, in the courtyard of the tent of meeting. 27 Anything that touches its flesh will become holy, and if any of its blood spatters on a garment, then you must wash that garment in a holy place. 
Leviticus 6:18,26-27, CSB, emphasis added is mine

Okay, so let’s talk about this because it has a very uncomplicated meaning, but it does require some explanation.  Like most weird things in Scripture, there are multiple ways this passage gets interpreted. Commentaries do not agree on what this “anything that touches it will become holy” language means, but there are areas of overlap, and that’s where we’ll focus.

So, the elephant that this phrase just casually invites into the room is: So, are you saying if I rub the bread and meat of this offering on stuff, that stuff will become holy?  If that’s the case, then why don’t we just take some of this special holy-making bread and just rub down the whole Tent of Meeting with it every day and dispense with the bloodshed altogether?  What gives?  It’s kind of like in The Lord of the Rings where the ending comes, and you say, “Why didn’t they just have the eagles fly Frodo to Mount Doom in the first place?”

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that.  It can’t.

First of all, there is no magic bread in Leviticus.  The bread is not magical; the cows are not magical; the lambs and goats and birds…are not magical.  We don’t take them up to the Tent of Meeting, pray a prayer, and then transform the bread and meat into medicine.  Remember all that we’ve studied up to this point and let’s work to keep ourselves in that frame of reference.  God is using these offerings to teach the people some things through consistent and repetitive imagery.

He’s teaching them about sin & how it corrupts everything. He’s teaching them about the danger of unholiness and death in the presence of holiness and life.  He’s teaching to reject death, reject sin, reject corruption, and embrace life in edenic (like Eden) fellowship with God’s holy presence.

So, if “anything that touches it will become holy” doesn’t mean that magic bread and meat fixes everything, what does it mean?  It’s repeated twice, so let’s look at anything both references share.  Let’s look for symmetry around both mentions and see what we see.

In both places, the phrase is directly preceded by a most holy portion the priests are to eat.

In between both repetitions, you find the ordination offering, which is the only offering given ONLY by priests.

I’ve read every commentary I have for Leviticus on this.  That’s eight, by the way, and all eight agree on two–and only two–things:  1.) The phrase doesn’t mean magical bread that fixes everything, and 2.) This phrase is a warning against anyone other than the priests trying to touch these offerings.

These offerings must not be touched by anyone except a priest because anything that touches these offerings will be made holy.

What commentary has led me to believe about the meaning here is that touching these offerings will burden the toucher with all the burdens of the priesthood without the rights and privileges of the priesthood.  They will belong to the Temple if they touch the offerings.  They will be burdened by the rules of temple life and priestly discipline if they touch the offerings.  They cannot just traipse around the community living a daily life of normal interaction with corrupted, non-sacred space if they touch the offerings.  So…unless you’re a priest, don’t touch the offerings.  That’s the message.

The people who touch these offerings must be holy.  Well, the priests are holy.  They have a whole set of extra rules and precautions we will learn about in the next section of Leviticus that illustrate what a burden it really was.  The handling and consumption of the offerings are reserved only for the priests.

Verse 27, Continued – “if any of its blood spatters on a garment”
Here at the end of verse 27, we are reminded that the blood of these offerings is holy, and it must never be profaned.  When blood of the offerings drips onto a priest’s garment, that blood cannot leave sacred space.  That blood cannot be left on the garment to be worn outside of sacred space or worn during the performance of mundane, profane duties.  That blood was offered to God, and it belongs to Him.  The priest cannot just let it stay on his clothing.  This is the reason it must be washed in sacred space.

Verses 28 & 29 – Clay Pots and Bronze Vessels

 28 A clay pot in which the sin offering is boiled is to be broken; if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, it is to be scoured and rinsed with water. 29 Any male among the priests may eat it; it is especially holy.

Like the blood spilled on a priest’s clothing, this verse deals with the cooking vessels that priests would use to eat their portions of the offerings. The water used to boil the meat contained the flesh and blood of offerings made to God, so the vessel must be dealt with accordingly.  A clay pot, being absorbent, will be used again, and might contain remnants of the offering.  If someone used that same clay pot to make soup later–a regular, ordinary meal–it would profane those remnants of the offering left behind, and this is unacceptable.  The pot must be broken.  If a metal pot was used, since the material is not absorbent, it simply needs to be thoroughly cleaned within sacred space so that what was given to God never gets taken away from God’s presence or profaned by ordinary use.

Verse 30 – Some Purification Offerings Cannot Be Eaten
Okay, so back in Chapter 4, when we discussed the Purification Offering, I told you that, unlike the Burnt, Grain, and Peace Offerings, Chapter 4 was not organized around what kind of offering was being brought, but rather on who the offerer was.  The reason we care who’s bringing the Purification offering is we need to use the blood of that offering on every part of the Tent of Meeting the offerer may have come into contact with.

30 But no sin offering may be eaten if its blood has been brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the holy place; it must be burned.
Leviticus 6:30, CSB, emphasis added

Most of the purification offerings were brought in by individuals or representatives of families/tribes.  The blood of those sacrifices was all used in the courtyard, right at the altar of burnt offering.  The priests can eat their portion from these.  Other purification offerings were made for the entire community or for a priest, and the blood of these had to be used in the sanctuary and in front of the veil before the holy of holies.  Any offering made to expiate corruption from those inner parts of sacred space were to be burned as a whole burnt offering to the Lord.

All of today’s reading & study is focused on clarifying for the priests what they are entitled to eat, how and when they are to eat it, and who they can or cannot share it with.  This whole section of the text is written to further explain the rights and limits for the priests during the daily operation of the Tabernacle system.

You made it through another one!  How are we doing?  Is this still making sense?  Is it starting to run together?  Is it answering your questions or just driving you deeper into that “I don’t understand this” place?  Let me know how you’re doing with all of this.

See you next time.

 


One thought on “The Law of the Grain & Purification (Sin) Offerings – Leviticus 6:14-30

  1. Your posts on the book of Leviticus have been so incredibly helpful! This book is so deep, and full of so many little details – which all reveal even more of Gods holiness and desire to dwell with His people. I so appreciate you sharing what you have learned, and look forward to reading more as you continue through Leviticus 🙂

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