The Lord's Day Evening
November 14, 2004
“Priestly Pay: the Priest's Portion of the Grain Offering”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter six. Tonight we will be looking again at what has been called the grain offering or the meal offering. We spent some time looking at this offering from the perspective of the basics required in this sacrifice to the Lord, especially from the perspective of the worshippers offering this sacrifice. We learned in Leviticus 2 that the grain offering, or the meal offering, consisted of worshippers offering cooked or uncooked meal to the Lord. The ingredients of this meal symbolized God's lasting bounty to them, and excluded elements that represented corruption–such as leaven or honey, or other elements. And this was to demonstrate a dedication to the Lord, to holiness, to consecration on the part of the people who are offering these grain or meal offerings.
And we saw several things in looking at the grain offering as we studied it in Leviticus 2, but two things I want to remind you of. In Leviticus 2, and we saw this repeatedly emphasized we saw it, in fact, at least three times, that the grain offering, or pledge offering, literally, is an act of dedication to the Lord, and it was often something that often followed the burnt offering, though it could be done alone.
And the idea behind this pledge or grain offering of dedication was that those who have been reconciled to God and have access into His presence will want to acknowledge that they owe God everything; and, they do so in this sacrifice by bringing a gift, a tribute, a pledge, a portion of their substance, a portion of what God has given them. They bring to the Lord a portion of their daily bread. And the spiritual Old Testament worshipper understood this gift to be symbolic not only of the fact that God had provided everything that we have and need, but also that that portion of our substance, or our property given back to the Lord, was a picture, a symbol, of giving ourselves to the Lord.
So, this meal offering was a dedication, a pledge offering. It was a sacrifice that showed our commitment to the Lord.
But we also saw that this meal offering was a memorial. In chapter two, verses two and three, and eight and ten, and sixteen, we see the meal offering as a memorial. God lays claim to it as He lays claim to the first fruits. So, in giving back the meal offering to the Lord, we are giving back to Him in order to acknowledge His lordship over all, and His kind provision. In other words, in the very act of giving the meal–this flour, these cakes, these baked goods–there is a reminder that God owns the offering that we're giving back to Him just as He owns everything else that He has given to us; indeed, it's an acknowledgement that God owns the offerer as well as the offering. So, thus far, Leviticus, chapter two.
Now we're into the same material in Leviticus 6:14-18, but now the focus will be on the role of the priests. Briefly, the dedicatory aspect of the grain offering is repeated, and you’ll see that especially in verses 14 and 15. But the real focus of this passage, which is in verses 16,17,18, is on the role of the priests and what they are to do with the remainder of the grain offering after the memorial portion of the grain offering has been burned. And what they do with the remainder of that offering has tremendous spiritual significance for Old Testament worshippers and for us as we understand its meaning in light of God's glorious revelation in Jesus Christ. So that's what we're going to look at tonight. Before we read God's word, let's look to Him in prayer.
Lord God, we thank You for Your word. It is true Your word is better than food, and we ask that you would feed us with Your word this night. We ask that we would come with hearts ready to hear, and that You would search us out, speaking to us by Your word; applying the truth by Your Holy Spirit to our hearts, that we might respond in love, in devotion, in faith. We ask, O Lord, that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things from Your law. For this we lift up in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, Your Son. Amen.
Hear God's word.
“‘Now this is the law of the grain offering: the sons of Aaron shall present it before the Lord in front of the altar. Then one of them shall lift up from it a handful of the fine flour of the grain offering, with its oil and all the incense that is on the grain offering, and he shall offer it up in smoke on the altar, a soothing aroma, as its memorial offering to the Lord. And what is left of it Aaron and his sons are to eat. It shall be eaten as unleavened cakes in a holy place; they are to eat it in the court of the tent of t meeting. It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their share from My offering by fire; it is most holy, like the sin offering and the guilt offering. Every male among the sons of Aaron may eat it; it is a permanent ordinance throughout your generations, from the offerings by fire to the Lord. Whoever touches them shall become consecrated.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy word. May He add His blessing to it.
There are three or four things I want you to see in this passage tonight.
The first thing I want you to see is that in the grain offering the worshipper is giving himself to God. We’ll see this in verses 14 and 15. And that awe is to produce in the worshipper a solemn joy. It is a joy to come into the L
The second thing I want you to see, you’ll see especially in verses 16-18, and that is that God draws a circle of awe around all the activities of His tabernacle. The purpose of entering the Lord's tabernacle was to fellowship with him, but everything that is involved in His worship must be holy. And so there is a holy joy, a solemn bliss that is experienced by the worshipper as he comes into the tabernacle.
The third thing, I want you to see in verse 17. And that is, we’ll see that not even the smallest detail of this service is insignificant to the Lord.
The fourth thing is that in this passage the priests eating of the remainder of this grain offering is not so much for their pay as it is for our assurance. I want to look at those four things with you tonight.
I. The meal/pledge offering is a symbolic giving of ourselves to God.
First, let's look at verses 14-15, where the grain offering, the meal offering, the pledge offering is set forth as a symbolic giving of ourselves to God:
“Now this is the law of the grain offering: the sons of Aaron shall present it before the Lord in front of the altar. Then one of them shall lift up from it a handful of fine flour of the grain offering, with its oil and all the incense that is on the grain offering, and he shall offer it up in smoke on the altar, a soothing aroma, as its memorial offering to the Lord.”
Here we see in the giving of the grain offering a symbolic act in which the worshipper dedicates all that he has and all that he is, property and body, to the Lord. That's what's being declared in the grain offering.
The meal, or the grain, represents the worshipper's loyal devotion and dedication to the Lord. As God is Lord and has provided everything that we have, it was a public expression of giving back to the Lord what was due Him. The first fruits: a public expression of commitment on the part of the worshipper to the Lord. And so this offering is an offering in which the worshipper expresses his dedication of his whole self to the Lord.
II. The purpose of worship is to fellowship and draw near to God.
Now, of course, there are two glorious New Testament applications of this. One we considered the last time we looked at this grain offering. It comes from Romans 12:1,2, where Paul calls us to give the whole of ourselves to God as living sacrifices. But of course, the ultimate fulfillment of this grain offering is found in the Lord Jesus Himself. Isn't it interesting that on the night in which He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus used the giving and breaking of bread as the symbol of His giving of Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf: the giving of His body, His whole person, as a sacrifice to the Lord. And so the Lord Jesus Christ, in the breaking of that bread and in its distribution to His people, reminds us of His total self-giving as a sacrifice to the Lord. And we are reminded of that, and we memorialize that, and we rejoice in that, and we partake in the benefits of that every time we're under the means of grace, and especially coming to the Lord's Table. And so, I simply want to remind you first that the grain offering, as it was for the Old Testament believer an opportunity to symbolize our giving ourselves to God, so also it reminds us that we are to give ourselves to God, and to rejoice in Jesus’ giving of Himself to God on our behalf.
But there's a second thing I want you to see, as well. And that you’ll find in verses 16-18. This is this shroud of holiness and awe which surrounds everything that goes on in the tabernacle. In verses 16-18, Moses speaks of what is to be done with the remainder of the grain offering, that which was not given as the memorial gift and burned to make a sweet aroma to the Lord. And he says this:
“‘…what is left of it, Aaron and his sons are to eat. It shall be eaten as unleavened cakes in a holy place; they are to eat it in the court of the tent of meeting. It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their share from My offerings by fire; it is most holy, like the sin offering and the guilt offering. Every male among the sons of Aaron may eat it; it is a permanent ordinance throughout your generations, from the offerings by fire to the Lord. Whoever touches them shall become consecrated.’”
Notice four things that we learn in just this passage:
First of all, when this bread is eaten by Aaron and his sons, it is to be eaten as unleavened. There is to be no leaven in the cake. Again, we saw as we studied Leviticus 2 that this was a sign of purity and consecration. There was to be nothing in the grain offering, nothing in the flour, cooked or uncooked, which would lend to its deterioration. It was to be eaten unleavened.
Secondly, notice that it was only to be eaten in the court of the tabernacle. “It shall be eaten…in a holy place; they are to eat it in the court of the tent of meeting.”
Thirdly, notice that only the males of the descendents of Aaron are to eat it. Now, you know that there were other offerings that were given to the priests which their whole families could partake of. It was one of the ways that the priestly caste was taken care of in Israel. They didn't have land to farm, they hadn't been given land. Their job was to minister to the rest of the tribes, and so one of the ways they were taken care of was through the portions of some of the offerings that were brought to the worship of the Lord. But this is only to be eaten by the priests themselves, the male descendents of Aaron, because they were consecrated and holy to the Lord in the ministry of His tabernacle.
And finally, notice the requirement that everyone who comes into contact with this must be consecrated. It's said in an interesting way in verse 18: “Whoever touches them will become consecrated.” It sounds like that if you accidentally touched this remnant of the grain offering, you would become consecrated–from a first reading– but what is clearly intended is that no one should eat of this who is not consecrated.
In other words, in four distinct ways God is drawing a circle of awe around the altar and this offering. He's emphasizing the holiness of fellowship with Him–the necessity of holiness in fellowship with Him.
The priest was a mediator. He stood between the people and the Lord, representing the Lord's holiness to His people, and representing His people's sacrifices back to the Lord. And as the priest eats of this grain offering and is a picture of the fellowship of all God's people with the Lord, he must eat it unleavened so that the material of the sacrifice is holy. He must eat it in the courts of the tabernacle, so that the place where he's eating it is holy. Only the male priests must eat it, so that those who are eating it are holy; and only those male priests consecrated to the service of the tabernacle are to eat it, so that the holiness of this offering can be protected.
You see, God is showing His people the solemn thing that it is to come into fellowship with Him. We speak of desiring the joy, and the pleasure, and the delight and the bliss of fellowship with God; and indeed, it is a joy and a pleasure and a delight, and it is our greatest bliss to come into His presence. But when we come into His presence, that joy is solemn, and that bliss is holy, and that delight is fearful. It is not the world's trivial joy and delight; it is not the world's light happiness and light-heartedness: we are coming into fellowship with a holy God. And this sacrifice reminds us that when we come into His presence, we come into the presence of the Most Holy. And so He draws a circle of awe around the altar and its offerings.
And if He did that in the old covenant, how much more ought we to come into His presence, coming to Mount Zion, with a solemn joy; with a holy bliss; and with a fearful delight, not trivializing the privilege of His presence; not diminishing its joy in any way, but recognizing how profound it is to be in the presence of God.
When Moses was in God's presence, he took off his shoes and he acknowledged that he was on holy ground. To be in God's presence so often in the Scriptures provokes not some wild, ecstatic happiness, but dread and awe. Why? Because God, our God, is a consuming fire; and so the joy of the worshipper is a solemn joy, and this very offering reminds us of that.
III. Even the smallest thing we do in worship is very important.
There's something else we see. Look at verse 17. Notice this instruction: “‘It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their share from My offerings by fire; it is most holy….’” You see here that the details of bringing cakes and baked goods to the Lord are not ignored by the Lord. Not the smallest detail is overlooked, and not the smallest offering or act of dedication is considered to be insignificant to the Lord.
Think of it: these cakes, this bread brought to the Lord as an offering is declared to be holy. The Lord says these unleavened cakes, this unleavened grain offering, it's holy to Me. You may think that you have brought an insignificant sacrifice to the Lord, that you've done something small, not worthy of God's seeing it. But here the Lord says even the cakes brought by the poor of His people into His presence, are holy before the Lord. They are significant in His eyes.
Now this actually hints at the most important point that I want to bring to your attention tonight, and you see it throughout from verses 15 all the way to verse 18, and that is this: that the function of this sacrifice and the function of the priests partaking of this sacrifice, is not so much a physical provision for the priests. There were other ways that God made for that physical provision. It was not so much for priestly pay as it was for the believer's assurance. The main emphasis here, throughout, is on the priest whose actions signify that this offering was proper, and that it has been received by the Lord. They are holy mediators, and everything they do in this offering, everything they’re commanded to do from verses 15-18, is designed to confirm to the worshipper that his offering has been accepted by God.
Look at verse 15, for instance. When this offering is lifted up, the priest is to lift from it a handful of fine flour and offer it up in smoke on the altar, so that…what happens?…so that the believer worshipping the Lord in the tabernacle can see the smoke of his sacrifice going up to the Lord. It's a picture of the efficacy of his sacrifice going up to the Lord. He can see it physically. But it doesn't stop there. The priest then is to eat the sacrifice.
Now, the priest is consecrated to the work of the Lord, and he is not to touch that which is unholy in the service of the temple. So, if the priest eats this grain offering that you've brought, what do you know? You know that that grain offering meets the requirements of God as a sacrifice of worship to Him, because the priest has taken it and ingested it!
And he's to eat it right there in the temple court not only because that precinct was holy, but so that the people of God could know that their sacrifice was acceptable. It was proper, because the priests themselves had partaken of it. You see, the priests were mediators, and they received their portion of the offering to confirm its acceptability to the Lord to those who were worshipping Him, to confirm to the believers that they were accepted, to help the believers’ assurance.
You see, the priests had an obligation to help assure God's worshippers of God's acceptance of them and of their sincere dedication. Isn't it interesting that God would set forth ceremonial acts that were designed to help assure His people? It always strikes me that the Scriptures have so much to say about assurance. That to me is one of the great testimonies that the Scriptures are divinely inspired. How could humans have anticipated that believers for hundreds and hundreds of years would struggle with the full assurance of God's acceptance and pardon, and yet, throughout the word there are numerous provisions on God's part designed to help assure His people. And we see just another example of it here.
Of course, the priests’ role ultimately points to Christ's role in assuring the people of God. The believer is assured by the sacrifice of Christ, knowing that it is not merely unleavened bread which has been offered to the Lord, but the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ itself. While it may be hard for an Old Testament worshipper to believe that grain can be holy to the Lord, it is not hard at all for a New Testament worshipper to realize that the person of God's own Son is exceedingly precious to Him, and causes there to be a benefit, and an efficacy, and an assurance which grain, the blood of bulls and goats, could never cause.
Christ's own sacrifice of Himself serves to assure the people of God, and the New Testament minister, in working also with the desire to be of service to the people of God in assuring them of God's purposes toward them as they embrace Him by faith, serves that role by getting out of the way.
In some churches the priest stands between the people of God and the altar, indicating that he still mediates for them coming into God's presence. But reformed ministers stand behind the Table, indicating to you that we are not your mediators.
Jesus is your mediator. You come to Him: not through me, not through the ministers, not through the elders; but you come to Him by God's grace and Spirit through His shed blood, and you come directly to Him, and you commune with Him. And my job in assuring you is to get out of the way, and to take you to the Savior, to show you the Savior, because there and only there will we find full assurance that we have been accepted by God.
And you know, the beautiful thing about the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ is that it is not a sacrifice that we brought to God. It was a sacrifice that the Father and the Son rendered up on our behalf, and we had absolutely nothing to do with its offering. And yet, its consequences and results are offered to everyone who will trust in His name.
Our Lord and our God, the only way we can ever experience the assurance of not being condemned is to rest and trust in Christ alone for salvation. As glorious as these grain offerings were, as encouraging as it would have been for the Old Testament worshipper to see that smoke wafting up towards heaven; to see those priests eating that grain, showing that it was acceptable to God; none of those things could cleanse the consciences of Old Testament believers fully. Only the blood of Christ can do that, and so we pray, O God, if we have not applied ourselves to Him that we would throw down everything and run to the only hope of salvation. But not only to the only hope of salvation, but to the only One who can assure our hearts of the grace and mercy and purposes and mercy of God. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for the Lord's benediction?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away. Amen.