Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pancakes? Leviticus 2

The book of Leviticus really does get better, but these opening chapters are tough. Leviticus 2 (link) continues in what we would typically call the “ceremonial” laws of the Old Testament. These addressed the proper ways of worship for Old Testament Israel. For a Christian, there is instruction in the nature of God and His holiness and righteousness here, but we do not find these laws to be binding. Neither should we over-stretch our efforts to see Jesus in all of Scripture to make the Grain Offerings all about Him.

We understand, through the ideas of New Testament Theology, that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus fulfilled the purposes of the offerings and sacrifices of the Old Testament. One might even stretch Jesus’ statement that He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) and connect it to the grain offerings. I think that’s a bit of a stretch, but if your favorite preacher likes it, then stick with it.

What do we gather from here? Other than the idea that grain offered in a pan was to be a fine flour mixed with oil, which is fundamentally a pancake? Seriously, if you look hard at Leviticus 2:7, it’s hard not to come up with pancakes here.

Some of which were to be burned in the fire and the rest were given to the priests. That which was burned was not to include leaven or honey, but was to include salt. Honey and leaven could be brought but not included in that which was burned and given over to God. Oh, and note the beginning: you were to mix frankincense with your flour. It was almost Christmas pancakes, really. Except some 1500 years before Christmas.

What do we do with this? Seriously, because it’s hard not to give up on Leviticus in this chapter.

First, see this: that which was given to the Lord (YHWH) was to be destroyed. This is a consistent Old Testament theme, but it finds its first light here. Devoting an item to God meant it could not remain usable to anyone else. The practical side of this meant it was burned completely in fire. This removed any reclamation: while there are portions for priests, the Lord’s amount is not consumed by the priests. His is His. Further, burning caused the item to rise above in smoke, going into the heavens. This symbolized the greatness of God.

Second, see this: no offering was made without effort. However your grain was offered, you had to put some work into it. You did not just cut a portion from the field, which took work, and drop it off. You broke it into bits and cooked it on a griddle. You ground it into flour and cooked it in a pan. You did something with it. Worship is not a single action that we get done with as quickly as possible. Worship takes our effort. Our effort guided by the Spirit through the Word, but effort just the same.

Third, see this: God is pleased with right sacrifices. The grain offerings were apparently not about atoning for sin. These were offered as expressions of thanksgiving or signs of devotion. These reflected a heart fixed on the God. If you are sacrificing, are you doing so from a heart like that? Or do seek something else? God is most pleased with sacrifices offered from a devoted heart, not with those intended to buy His favor. Which is not for sale, by the way.

As a minor aside, we see that the priests were given a portion of the offerings. It is important to note that the amounts and methods for determining the priests’ share are dictated by God. There was to be no artificial inflation of the priestly income—they were provided for sustenance and adequacy, not luxury and exorbitance.

Today’s Nerd Note: Why no honey? The first thought is practical: it’s sticky.

That’s probably not it. Honey is a semi-wild product. Sure, one might contain the bees and even ensure that the beehive is fully ceremonially clean. What of it? The honey is made from the flowers and other food sources of the bees. How can you guarantee its ceremonial purity?

Also, honey and leaven are mentioned together. You know what happens when you mix honey, yeast, flour, and oil, right? Let the dough arise in that case. This bread product would not have as long of a shelf-life, but more than that, it would appear bigger for some than for others.

Think about that: bread rises differently based on altitude, temperature, humidity. Offerings were offered in the midst of the community. What is the impact on relationships if one family appears to be offering a grain offering that is twice the size of anyone else’s? Especially if that apparent difference is only because of the rising of bread?

There are reasons for these details. I am of the opinion that many of the reasons are about how people react to each other and the details are given to help protect community—there seems little affront to God’s holiness in these details. Some of it is about obedience. After all, it’s a whole lot easier to obey God when everything makes sense, right? Much of it, though, would have the side-effect of protecting unity among the body of God’s people.

Which is a good idea in all cases: God’s people, united by His truth, are a wonderfully connected group.

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