We have reached the third book of the Old Testament, Leviticus. Instead of miraculous, suspense filled stories and narratives about prominent people, we read page after page of meticulous detail concerning regulations for offerings, the installation of priests, distinctions between what was ritually clean and unclean, principles for holy living and more. The tabernacle had been built and now Aaron and his sons, assisted by others from the tribe of Levi, needed to follow and understand proper worship protocol. Leviticus reveals God's directives concerning rituals, ceremonial cleanness and the behavior by which Israel could be made holy before their holy God and worship Him in a consecrated manner. It was essential that God's people understand and practice holiness...separation from sin and being set apart for the Lord's exclusive purpose and glory. There are three major themes in the Book of Leviticus, holiness, worship, and sin, sacrifice, and atonement.
Worship because God desires to be present with His people and enjoy fellowship with Him. Because no person is without sin God provided the Old Testament sacrificial system as a means of atonement. In this system, a life was to be given for a life. Holiness because God says, ”Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.”
So, let's look at what holiness means here. The Hebrew word for holy that Moses used here means that which is set apart and marked off, that which is different. The sabbath was holy because God set it apart and marked it different from the other six days. God set it apart for His people. The priests were holy because they were set apart to minister to the Lord. Their garments were holy and could not be replicated for common use. The tithe that people brought was holy. Anything God said was holy had to be treated differently from the common things of life in the Hebrew camp. Even the camp was holy because the Lord dwelt there with His people. Our English word holy comes from an old English word that means to be whole or healthy. What health is to the body, holiness is to the inner person. And the related word sanctify comes from the Latin word Sanctus which means consecrated, blameless, scared. We use the word sanctification to describe the process of becoming more like Christ, and holy to describe the results of that process.
Six basic offerings could be brought to the tabernacle altar. And God gave VERY specific instructions for each offering. When worshipers wanted to express commitment to God, they brought the burnt offering and possibly the grain or meal offering. These offerings speak of total dedication to the Lord. The fellowship or peace offerings had to do with communion with God and the sin and guilt offerings deal with cleansing from God. Each of these offerings met a specific need in the life of a worshiper. The sacrifices described in chapters 1-7 remind us of the basic spiritual needs we have as God's people: commitment to God, communion with God, and cleansing from God.
The burnt offering was the only offering made where the entire animal was consumed on the altar. In all the other animal sacrifices only the fat portions were burned. This offering was the only sacrifice regularly appointed for the sanctuary service. It was offered every day, in the morning and the evening. This was the only kind of offering in which a non-Israelite was permitted to participate.
Meal offerings came in one of five different forms: fine flour, oven baked cakes, cakes baked in a pan, cakes baked on a griddle, or the crushed roasted heads of new grain. The priests offered only a memorial portion for the Lord where it was consumed in the fire. The rest of the offering went to the priests for their own personal use. Only the males of the family could eat it and they had to do it in the holy place of the tabernacle. Grain represented the fruit of their labor and the frankincense offered represented prayer. We read in Psalm 141:2,” Let my prayer rise before you as incense and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” The meal offering was never presented alone. It was accompanied by a sacrifice that involved the shedding of blood...a reminder that our hard work will never purchase our salvation. Yeast and honey were prohibited from being included in the meal offering because the Israelites would associate it with evil because of the Passover rules. Honey was sweet but honey was used in Canaanite worship practices. And both yeast and honey ferment.
Salt was offered as part of the salt covenant. The covenant is a perpetual covenant because of the use of salt as a preservative. Salt played several roles in ancient times. It seasoned food. It acted as a preservative. It was a valuable commodity and for a time people were paid in salt. That is where our word salary comes from and saying some is worth their salt means they have earned their pay. Salt was also used to make covenants. Men carried leather pouches filled with salt. If they wanted to make a covenant with someone, they would both take a pinch of salt out of their pouch and place it in the other persons pouch of salt. Since all salt looked alike there was no digging in the pouches to remove someone's salt. That made the covenant binding. Adding salt with an offering worked the same way. It meant the purpose of the offering was binding.
This reading may seem tedious. Keep reading. This is how God commanded His people to worship Him. We have directives as well in the form of liturgy. We are all called to worship the Lord. It might look different today, but it is no less important.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W