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The Grain Offering: Thanksgiving to the LORD

Leviticus 9:17; 2:1-16 (texts); 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
September 1, 2013 (Pasig) • September 29, 2013 (Imus) • Download this sermon (PDF)

Beloved congregation of Christ: Thus far, we have studied the first two sacrificial rites in Leviticus 9: the sin offering and the burnt offering. The sin offering is offered by the worshiper for the atonement of sin. The burnt offering involved the burning of the whole sacrificial animal, signifying the whole consecration of the worshiper’s life to God.

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Today, we go to the study of the grain offering. How is the grain offering different from the other three we have studied? We read that the offering is grain, not an animal. So there is no shedding of blood, which means that this offering is not an atonement for sin. Instead, it is an offering of thanksgiving and praise to God, giving of the best of one’s labor and provisions. The offerer gives back to God all the honor and glory and credit for all that God has given him.

In most nations of the world, there is a usually a day of thanksgiving, whether it is to the God of the Bible, or other pagan gods. In America, an annual Thanksgiving Day is a commemoration of that day when the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for their first plentiful harvest after they had settled in the New World and in 1621.

Pahiyas Festival Idol ProcessionEvery May 15 in the town of Lucban, Quezon Province, the people celebrate a festival after they have harvested rice, fruits, vegetables and other farm produce. But to whom do they give praise and thanksgiving for their harvest? It is to the patron saint of farmers, San Isidro. The people make colored crepe-like decorations made of different products such as rice, bananas, pineapple, coconuts and they hang them on their houses. These are called “pahiyas” or decoration, so the festival is usually called Pahiyas Festival. The highlight of the festival is a procession with the image of San Isidro on the night of the festival.

Scripture prohibits this idolatry, and we are commanded to worship and thank only the God of heaven and earth and creation, not any creature or patron saint. The grain offering is not only offered to thank God for his provisions, but also for his setting us apart as his own people, for hearing our prayers, and for preserving us until the end of our days.

The grain offering, sometimes called meat offering or meal offering, consists of four necessary things that the worshiper brings to the priest—flour, oil, frankincense, and salt. But there are two things that are prohibited: leaven and honey. In Scriptures, these elements often represent ideas concerning our relationship with God. Grain, flour or bread signify God’s provisions of food and drink. Oil represents our status before God as people set apart for him. Frankincense often represents prayers. And salt is a preservative—God preserves his people.

The Ritual
The grain offering is often offered right after the burnt offering, as we read in our text: “And [Aaron] presented the burnt offering and offered it according to the rule. And he presented the grain offering, took a handful of it, and burned it on the altar, besides the burnt offering of the morning” (Lev 9:16-17).

Let us first look at the ritual itself. The outline of Leviticus 2 is straightforward. There are two main divisions: verses 1-10 are instructions for the two basic kinds of grain offerings, while 11-16 gives the ingredients for grain and the first fruits offerings. The first part is also divided into two subparts: verses 1-3 are for uncooked grain offerings, and verses 4-10 are for cooked grain offerings.

But whether cooked or uncooked, verses 2, 9, and 12 says that this is “a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.” The flour has to be best flour, “fine flour.” The priest takes only a handful of the offering, pours some of the oil on it, puts all of the frankincense on it, and burns it at the altar. He keeps the rest of the offering for himself and his family’s needs.

The offerer can also bring cakes that he baked himself at home. It shall be made of fine flour and salted. The priest also breaks a small piece of it, pours some of the oil, and all the frankincense on it. The piece of bread is then burned on the altar. If the offerer brings a firstfruits offering of ears of grain, it shall be roasted and crushed.

As in the other offerings, God provides consideration for the poor to offer roasted grain instead of flour or bread.

For Provisions
Remember that these commandments about offerings and sacrifices were given to the Israelites when they were still in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. The Promised Land was described as a land of milk and honey, a land of plenty where the fields are so fertile with huge fruits. But the wilderness? It was barren, dry and not fertile, and the people are always moving, so they can’t plant. How then can they offer grains? It was easy to offer animals, but not grains or bread. To offer grains would take a lot of work and dedication.

And this is the idea of the grain offering: to thank God for all his provisions and to dedicate oneself and the fruits of his labors to God. No matter how difficult it is to give back to God because there just isn’t enough for the whole family. This is why these are called “sacrifices.”

Why thank God? Because everything we have is from God, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father …” (Jas 1:17). This is why the grain offering is a “memorial” (verses 2, 9, 16). It is not just the token that the priest burns on the altar that is a “memorial portion,” but the whole offering is a “memorial.” The grain offering is a reminder to the worshiper that God owns him and his offering and all that he has in his life. We are to trust God for providing us our “daily bread.”

In verses 12 and 14, God lays claims to the first fruits of the offerer’s labors, and so giving back to him of these first fruits acknowledges his lordship over all his creation, his people, and his kind provision. Remember that the sacrificial animals have to be the best, without spot or blemish? The grain offering has to be the best and finest as well, and they have to be the firstfruits. Paul says that Christians are the firstfruits from Christ, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13). We are elected for salvation, so that we might bring forth fruits of faith, truth, and good works through the Spirit.

Like Job and Paul, we are to thank God even in our sufferings. Paul exhorts us to “rejoice in our sufferings,” knowing that suffering produces endurance, character and hope (Rom 5:3-5). Because we are united to Christ in his sufferings, it is part of how we as Christians mature in Christ.

For Holiness
The oil poured on the grain offering symbolizes anointing or setting apart. Prophets, priests and kings in the Old Testament were anointed with oil to signify that they were set apart by God for his purpose. Israel was set apart at Mount Sinai. The priests are holy to God. The whole tabernacle and all its furnishings and utensils are holy to God. All of the offerings are most holy to God. They are ordinary grain, animals, men, furnishings and utensils, but when God set them apart for his use, they became holy.

The bread and wine that we use in the Lord’s Supper are ordinary bread and wine. There’s nothing special about them when we buy them from the stores. But once they are used in the Holy Communion, they are holy to the Lord, because we remember the body and blood of our Lord in them, and our souls are really nourished by them.

Like Israel, Christians are set apart by God, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession … Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people …” (1Pet 2:9-10). Since we are a set-apart people, we are called “holy” to God.

Since you have been set apart to be holy, you also are set apart “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pet 2:9).Do you tell others of your thanksgiving and praise of God for all his “excellencies”: for your redemption, for his provisions and preservation of your soul?

As God’s anointed people, you were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless (Eph 1:4), and “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). You are “being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5).

For Hearing Prayers
What does the frankincense represent? The psalmist says, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” (Psa 141:2). The prayer that he offers is like incense going up as a pleasing aroma to God, and sung by the congregation during their worship service. It is also likened to worship offerings. In Luke 1:10, when Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, was serving as priest in the Temple, “the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.” At that time, an angel of the Lord appeared to him by the altar of incense to announce the birth of his son. Finally, in Revelation, incense in heaven is described as “the prayers of the saints” (Rev 5:8; 8:3-4).

As God’s chosen people, we are to send our prayers and supplications to heaven through the Spirit who helps us pray, and through Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. In this way, our prayers today are a fragrant incense, a pleasing sacrifice to God. Just as a husband would give his wife her favorite perfume to please her. The LORD God would then be pleased to hear our prayers, and be merciful and attentive to our prayers.

Psalm 66:16-19, the psalmist invites the congregation to praise God for “what he has done for [his] soul.” In spite of being a sinful believer, he says, “God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.” He reminds us that we are to pray for God’s help in giving him praise in prayer, and in his service to him.

For Preservation
Finally, the worshiper who comes to God with a grain offering puts some salt on his offering, whether it is grain, flour or baked bread. Why is salt required? Is it for adding flavor? Is it for preserving the grain offering?

Leviticus 2:13 gives us a hint: “You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” The salt is related to the “ salt of the covenant with your God,” a praise found only twice in the Bible (Num 18:19; 2Chr 13:5). In Ezekiel 43:24, God commands that salt be thrown on the burnt offerings. In the ancient Near East, salt was often used in ratifying covenants. The salt then reminds the worshiper that God’s covenant relationship with his people is permanent, even eternal. His covenant with Israel and his prophet Moses was an enduring covenant, with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.

So these are the requirements for the grain offering: grain, flour or baked bread, with oil, incense and salt added in. But there were also ingredients that were strictly prohibited: leaven and honey. No specific reason was given for these prohibitions, but other texts will help us find out.

The unleavened bread reminded them of the Passover, when God delivered Israel from Egypt. In haste, the people could not wait for their bread to rise, so they were baked without leaven (Exo 12:15, 19). Then in Exodus 23:18, the LORD commands Israel, “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread.” The sacrifices cannot be offered together with leaven, because leaven “corrupts,” that is, it invades the whole lump of bread.

This corruption caused by leaven was Jesus’ warning about the Jews when he said, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Mat 16:6). Their pride and hypocrisy were their leaven, which corrupted their sacrifices. In 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul warns the people that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” when he says that the person in the church who openly commits sin is to be cleansed out. He describes him as “the leaven of malice and evil,” not “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” As a church, this is what we call today as church discipline.

What about honey? Since honey is sweet and delicious, it was considered a blessing, as when the Promised Land was described as “a land of milk and honey.” But honey’s sweetness is perhaps why it is prohibited, because it is then a symbol of the world’s pleasures.

We read in Ezekiel 16:18-19 that centuries later, the Israelites offered the grain offering to idols, provoking God’s wrath against them, “And you took your embroidered garments to cover [idols], and set my oil and my incense before them. Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for a pleasing aroma.” Notice that all the ingredients and the prohibited leaven and honey are mentioned in this condemnation.

Dear friends, so far, we have studied three of four offerings in Israel’s worship service: the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the grain offering. You will notice that our Lord’s Day worship also consists of these offerings, not as types and shadows, but as fulfilled by Christ.

Just as the Lord called Moses, Aaron and the congregation to worship him on the eighth day, he calls you today on the first day of the week to worship him. Your sin offering to God is not a sacrificial animal, but it is Christ who offered his own body and body to atone for your sins. Your “whole burnt offerings” are your lives consecrated to the service of God as living sacrifices after you have heard God’s Word read and preached to you. And your “grain offerings” are your prayers, songs and readings of thanksgiving to God all throughout the worship service.

Jesus was ordained by his Father to offer up his body as the bread of life for you. Not only does he bring your incense of prayers to the Father’s throne of grace, but he himself intercedes for all your requests. By interceding for you, he also preserves your souls in your pilgrimage in this world, as salt preserves the grain offering. He preserves you and his church from false teachers that abound everywhere today. He protects you from their leaven of heresies of prosperity gospel, new revelations, false prophecies, and doctrinal errors.

And he teaches you not to take pleasure in the sweetness of worldly affairs, but to share in his sufferings in this world for the true gospel, until you reach the Promised Land of rest and pleasure.


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