January 12, 2005
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter 7. We began working through the Book of Leviticus last summer, and our study has moved around to different places: in the autumn it was on Sunday nights, and we were studying on Lord’s Day evenings through the first few chapters of Leviticus; during December we took a break and looked at some of the great songs of Christmas that focus upon the coming of our Lord into this world for our redemption, and we looked at the biblical passages upon which they were based, and focused on the doctrine of the incarnation and its manifold applications to the Christian life, and attempted to come to a more rooted understanding of just what these great songs of the faith are lifting up in terms of praise and petition to God. So last Lord’s Day evening, as Derek Thomas began his series on the Gospel of Mark, our Lord’s Day evening series on Leviticus officially made its shift to Wednesday nights, and so for the rest of the winter and for the spring on Wednesday evenings we’ll be working through the Book of Leviticus together, Lord willing.
Now we’ve already said several times that the Book of Leviticus, most of it, is God’s direct words to Moses. He commanded Moses on the mountain as to how His people were to approach Him in worship, and that’s why Easton of the famous Bible Dictionary can say that “no book contains more of the very words of God than Leviticus.” All of the Bible is God’s word, and all of the Bible is God’s words; but not all of the Bible is an actual record of God’s spoken word to one of His servants. Oftentimes He works through prophecy to bring us his word and words. Sometimes He works through inspiration, whereby He causes holy men, directed by the Holy Spirit, to write down His very words for us. But this book is a book which in large measure comes from God’s direct words to Moses, then shared with the people of God in the old covenant and with us today.
It is a book about worship. In fact, the first sixteen chapters of Leviticus contain regulations about the various sacrifices, what was to be done, how it was to be done, and some important hints as to why it was to be done, and how it was to be done.
It contains a formal initiation of the priesthood. The tabernacle had been described in Exodus, and some of the functions of the priesthood had been described at the end of Exodus, but the priesthood had not been formally inaugurated or initiated, and that’s described in the book of Leviticus.
There’s a discussion in the Book of Leviticus about the distinction between what is clean and unclean, and this has a tremendous ethical significance for the people of God, as well as a tremendous worship significance for the people of God.
The Book of Leviticus of course records the glorious rituals of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, which has so much to say about the Old Testament’s pre-understanding of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.
The last eleven chapters of book of Leviticus give us the ceremonial holiness code, and so the book of Leviticus is about worship and consecration, by and large. Now we’ve also said several times that the first seven chapters of the book of Leviticus describe five great sacrifices that were brought to the Lord by the people of God, and these sacrifices are not the great communal sacrifices which were commanded to every Israelite to bring at certain great seasons of the year; these sacrifices were the sacrifices that the people of God though communally, individually chose of their own discretion out of the welling over of their hearts in gratitude to God for His forgiveness, for His blessing, for His provision. These five sacrifices were sacrifices that were brought voluntarily, willingly, freely by the people of God at important seasons in their life.
We have said that the book of Leviticus, chapters 1 through 7, describes those five great sacrifices from two perspectives. It first describes them from the perspective of what the offered was to do. What were the commands for the one who was making one of these five great free-will sacrifices? What was he to do? And then from the perspective of the priest: what was the priest’s responsibility and prerogative in the offering of these sacrifices?
The last few times that we’ve been together, we’ve been in Leviticus 6 and 7, and we’re already into that section that is focusing on these sacrifices from the standpoint of the priest—what the priest’s obligations and privileges were. Now as we say, these sacrifices, unlike the great sacrifices of the appointed and required festivals, these sacrifices were voluntarily brought. They were personal and they were spontaneous.
Now, how did these kinds of ritual sacrifices and offerings work in Old Testament religion? Well, first of all, we have said that these sacrifices are a means to aid the people of God’s experience of His presence. The tabernacle was the focal point of the old covenant community’s experience of God’s presence with them as a people, and these rituals were designed to aid the experience of the people of God, of the presence of God.
Secondly, they were a means for the people of God to render thanksgiving. How were you to show thanksgiving to the Lord, as He has provided to His people? Well, through this system. This way the people of God were to make public thanksgiving to Him.
It was also a means to express the desire for renewed fellowship with God. There were sin or guilt offerings that were prescribed amongst these great offerings, and if one had strayed from one’s own fidelity to the Lord, if one had fallen into sin, if one sensed the disapprobation of God and distance from Him, one way to express a desire for renewed fellowship with the living God was to bring that sin offering and that guilt offering and to come to the priests and confess yourself and make that offering to the Lord as a token of your desire to experience a refreshing presence of the Lord.
They were also a means to deepen the believer’s petitions to God. If one were attempting to add weight to the petition that one was lifting up to the Lord, one might come to the priest and to the tabernacle with an offering along with that petition, as we see in the life of Hannah as she prayed for the Lord to give her a son.
Now, these sacrifices functioned in various ways, and so far we’ve covered all five of them. We’ve covered the burnt offering, the so-called holocaust offering, where the whole of the offering was consumed before the Lord. We covered the grain offering, which was a pledge or a dedication of the person, of the worshipper, of the offerer to God. We’ve covered the fellowship offering, or the sacrifice of peace in chapter three, and that’s the offering that we’re going to start off with tonight in Leviticus 7. We’ve covered the unintentional sin offering, the offering that was prescribed when one realized that one had sinned against the Lord. It wasn’t a deliberate, high-handed sin, but one has come to a realization that one has sinned against the Lord and against His people, and so one comes to the Lord with a sacrifice of repentance and of guilt, and for sin.
And we have studied the guilt, or reparation, offering. In fact, Derek Thomas led us through a study of that as we looked at the passages in Leviticus 5 and 6 which speak of that glorious sacrifice.
Tonight we come to chapter 7, verse 11. And I want to point out before we even begin that there are three parts to the passage that we’re going to read tonight. Let me show you where they are.
The first part of the passage is in verses 11 to 21. This passage covers the peace, or fellowship offering. The second part of the passage comes in verses 22 to 27. This covers what we might call the ‘law of the blood’, or to be even more specific, the ‘law of the fat and the blood.’ And then thirdly, verses 28 to 38 cover the wave offering and the portion of the sacrifices that were due the priests.
Now, we could spend a great deal of time working through all of this material, but I want us to focus on three big-picture things that are brought to our attention by God in His word through these three parts of this great passage at the end of Leviticus 7. We come, by the way, at the end of this chapter to the end of the study of these five great sacrifices, and we move into a new portion of the book next Wednesday night, Lord willing, as we begin to look at Leviticus 8.
But let’s read God’s word from Leviticus 7, and what I’m going to do is read verses 11 through 21 first, pause so that they’re still fresh in your mind as we work through them; then I’ll read the next section, pause and expound that, and then I’ll read the next section and expound it. It’s a long passage with a lot of detail, and by breaking it up perhaps it’ll be fresher in our minds as we work through each of the respective and discrete sections in Leviticus 7. Before we read God’s word, let’s pray and ask His blessing as we prepare to study it.
Lord, this is Your word, Your very words. We tremble, and the hair stands on the back of our neck when we realize that some 3400 years ago You spoke these words to a human being, and he heard You. And then he turned around and he passed these words along to the people of God, and ever since the people of God have recognized that this was Your voice speaking to them. We pray that we would heed these words as Your voice for us, and that by Your Spirit You would edify us by them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear God’s word.
“‘Now this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which shall be presented to the Lord. If he offers it by way of thanksgiving, then along with the sacrifice of thanksgiving he shall offer unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of well stirred fine flour mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving, he shall present his offering with cakes of leavened bread. And of this he shall present one of every offering as a contribution to the Lord; it shall belong to the priest who sprinkles the blood of the peace offerings. Now as for the flesh of the sacrifice of his thanksgiving peace offerings, it shall be eaten on the day of his offering; he shall not leave any of it over until morning. But if the sacrifice of his offering is a votive or a freewill offering, it shall be eaten on the day that he offers his sacrifice; and on the next day what is left of it may be eaten; but what is left over from the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day shall be burned with fire. So if any of the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings should ever be eaten on the third day, he who offers it shall not be accepted, and it shall not be reckoned to his benefit. It shall be an offensive thing, and the person who eats of it shall bear his own iniquity. Also the flesh that touches anything unclean shall not be eaten; it shall be burned with fire. As for other flesh, anyone who is clean may eat such flesh. But the person who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings which belong to the Lord, in his uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from his people. And when anyone touches anything unclean, whether human uncleanness, or an unclean animal, or any unclean detestable thing, and eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings which belong to the Lord, that person shall be cut off from his people.’
Amen. And thus far the reading of God’s holy, inspired and inerrant word.
Now, as I said, there are three distinct, there are three discrete sections in the larger passage that we are going to read tonight from Leviticus 7:11 all the way down to verse 38 at the end of the chapter.
I. The peace offering
And the first part is this description of the celebration of the peace offering, or the fellowship offering; the celebration of the worshiper’s, the offerer’s experience of peace with God. The greatest joy that any believer in the Old Testament or the New, the greatest joy that any believer can experience is the joy of the experience of peace and fellowship with God. And this peace offering is the worshiper’s public expression of his delight in God and his thanksgiving to God for his enjoyment of peace with God. God ought to, if He counted his sins against him, condemn him, and yet in His mercy He has forgiven him. And so this worshiper wants to spontaneously and personally and freely and willingly express to God thanksgiving for his enjoyment of God’s favor and blessing and peace and fellowship, and so he brings this peace offering. And in the peace offering those worshipers who are thankful for God’s peace towards them, God’s fellowship with them, bring an offering and they participate in a meal. And that’s what’s described for you in verses 11 through 21, and I just want you to see a few things.
First of all, this offering serves to aid the Old Testament worshiper who wanted to celebrate his joy of peace with God, but as the Old Testament worshiper wants to celebrate that joy of peace with God, that Old Testament worshiper has to do so carefully in accordance with God’s instruction. So the way that worshiper expresses his joy in peace is carefully ordered according to the instruction of God’s word.
Now, though the ritual aspect of that principle is gone in the new covenant...we have no complex, detailed levitical rituals recorded for us in the New Testament...the principle remains the same: if you are going to enjoy the presence of God and exult in His peace and favor and fellowship, you must do that in accordance with God’s word. In the new covenant of course that means we must come according to Jesus Christ. We must come by Jesus Christ into His presence, dependent upon Jesus Christ and the grace held out to us through Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament, this worshiper brought an offering that was cooked, and while it was cooking he turned and he declared to the whole congregation that was gathered there in the tabernacle his praise of God and his thanksgiving. He might stand before the people of God and testify of how the Lord had been good to him. Many of the psalms might well come from an experience where David was doing just that—he was coming before the Lord with a peace offering, and he turns around to the congregation to testify to them of why he’s bringing this peace offering to the Lord: ‘The Lord has been good to me. The Lord has delivered me from all my enemies. I own the Lord as my shield and my defender, my mighty tower, and I declare before the congregation that I have not been delivered by my own might, my own power, but by the Lord.’ And so the worshiper declares to the whole gathered congregation what the Lord has done for him.
And then, in this peace offering, the whole congregation there shares in the meal. The worshiper in this peace offering has to bring more than for himself. You see, it is assumed that if he is truly thankful for God’s mercies to him, and if he is truly enjoying fellowship with God, he will have a spirit of generosity and concern for the people of God, and he will bring more than enough for the people of God to participate in this great communal meal.
And you know, I think that the principles of Leviticus 7 are probably in Paul’s mind in First Corinthians 11 when he’s talking to the Corinthians who are thinking about no one but themselves. In the display of all their extraordinary spiritual gifts, they’re not thinking about the body of Christ...that is, the church. They’re not thinking about their brothers and sisters. They’re looking out for Number One. And the Apostle Paul says, ‘You come to the Lord’s table like that, and let me tell you what’s going to happen. You’re going to die.’ Does that sound familiar? “He who touches the unclean thing shall be cut off.” And here’s Paul in First Corinthians 11 saying, ‘Friends, if you come to the table of communion with the Lord Jesus Christ and His people, and you don’t love His people, you don’t love the communion of the saints, you don’t love the fellowship of God’s people, the Lord will bring curse and condemnation to that, because the celebration of communion is not only celebration of our union and communion with our exalted Head, it’s a celebration of union and communion with all those who are united in communing with the Lord Jesus Christ: all His people, all His children, all who trust in Him.’ And so the Apostle Paul draws from the principles of Leviticus 7, even as he expounds to us how we’re to come to the Lord’s table in First Corinthians 11.
Notice also the last three verses—19, 20, and 21 of this section—so stressing ritual purity as absolutely essential for participating in this offering and meal. And that ritual purity of course is reflective of the ethical demands of fellowship with God. You can’t come to the Lord and say, ‘Lord, I’m enjoying Your peace and Your presence,’ when you are living a life in rebellion against Him. He’s exposing that hypocrisy, and he’s saying the Lord will judge that kind of hypocrisy. You can outwardly claim to be enjoying peace with God and be living in fact against the rule of His word. God will expose that hypocrisy and judgment.
You see, the point of this passage is that those who have truly experienced peace with God by His grace, and who want to celebrate it and thank Him, will willingly do so at personal expense with generosity in their hearts towards their brethren, and the corresponding uprightness of their moral life. There is much to be learned in this passage, but we hasten on, for time is flying.
II. The law of fat and blood.
Look at verses 22 to 27. Let’s hear God’s word.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall not eat any fat from an ox, a sheep, or a goat. Also the fat of any animal which dies, and the fat of an animal torn by bests, may be put to any other use, but you must certainly not eat it. For whoever eats the fat of the animal from which an offering by fire is offered to the Lord, even the person who eats shall be cut off from his people. And you are not to eat any blood, either of bird of animal, in any of your dwellings. Any person who eats any blood, even that person shall be cut off from his people.’”
We see from this passage—and this is the second part of the passage: the law of the fat and the blood—that the fat belongs to the Lord and the blood belongs to the Lord. Well, what does that mean? Why? Well, in the Old Testament sacrificial worship, the fat and the blood belong to the Lord because the fat symbolizes the best...now I know that’s not logical to you! When you go to Char or to Shapley’s you’re not going there to eat the fat of those juicy steaks. Now, some of you may like a little bit of it with your meat, but that’s not the part that you want the most. But in the mind of the Hebrew the fat—which included more than what we call the fat, it also included other parts of the animal—in the mind of the Hebrew that was the choicest part of the animal, it was the best of the animal. And by reserving that for Himself in these animals which are offered for sacrifice, even when other parts of that animal were going to be shared with the people of God or for the priests...by reserving the fat God was indicating that the best belonged to Him. And by forbidding the taking of blood He was indicating that blood, as a symbol of life and as a symbol of the means by which God gives life, that life belongs to God.
So in Old Testament sacrificial worship the fat and the blood belonged to God because the best belongs to God, and life itself belongs to God. Now, this is a statement that has been made before in Leviticus, chapters 1 to 7. It’s a reiteration of God’s prohibition against eating the fat or the blood of sacrificed animals, and the point is simply this: those who love the Lord will gladly give Him their best, and they will acknowledge that all life is from Him. You see, real faith freely gives its best to God, and owns God as the Lord of life.
Can you imagine a young Hebrew lad going with his father on the way to give the peace offering, and he’s saying, ‘But Father, why do we have to give the fat to the Lord? Do you realize how much we could make in market off of that?’ And his father says, ‘Son, let me tell you a story about a man named Abraham. And the Lord came to him and said, ‘Abraham, take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the mountain which I will show you and sacrifice him to Me there.’ My son, the Lord had required of Abraham the thing that he loved best. Should we not give of the best we have to the Lord?’
This reservation of the fat and the blood was a reservation of the best and of life itself for the Lord, and the Old Testament worshiper acknowledged that in bringing it to Him, and it’s reiterated here in verses 22 to 27.
But finally, look at verses 28 to 38. Hear God’s word.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘He who offers the sacrifice of his peace offerings to the Lord shall bring his offering to the Lord from the sacrifice of his peace offerings. His own hands are to bring offerings by fire to the Lord. He shall bring the fat with the breast, that the breast may be presented as a wave offering before the Lord. And the priest shall offer up the fat in smoke on the altar; but the breast shall belong to Aaron and his sons. And you shall give the right thigh to the priest as a contribution from the sacrifices of your peace offerings. The one among the sons of Aaron who offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat, the right thigh shall be his as his portion. For I have taken the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the contribution from the sons of Israel from the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons as their due forever from the sons of Israel.
“‘This is that which is consecrated to Aaron and that which is consecrated to his sons from the offerings by fire to the Lord, in that day when he presented them to serve as priests to the Lord. These the Lord had commanded to be given them from the sons of Israel in the day that He anointed them. It is their due forever throughout their generations.’ This is the law of the burnt offering, the grain offering, and the sin offering and the guilt offering and the ordination offering and the sacrifice of peace offerings, which the Lord commanded Moses at Mount Sinai in the day that He commanded the sons of Israel to present their offerings to the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai.”
And you see there in that particular requirement that part of the offering, the fat, that belonged to the Lord, and so it was to be completely consumed on the altar. But the thigh and the breast, that part of the peace offering was to be given to the priest. And in signification of this the priest would lift it up and perhaps show it to the people, thus, maybe, the name ‘wave offering.’ It was held up to show that this was being given to the Lord in the offering, but that the priest had the right to partake of it in accordance with God’s command.
And the principle there is that even as the people give directly to the Lord themselves, they are providing generously for the ministry of the word. God’s people are to give publicly and directly to the Lord, but a very good portion, that wave portion of their peace offering, is to be provided to the priests for their care and upkeep, for the support of ministry. So even as the people of God bring this free will, this votive offering to the Lord, even in giving to the Lord they were giving to the support of ministry. The principle is one that Paul draws on in First Corinthians, that servants of the Lord and His word are to live by the service of the word, and God’s people are to be willing and generous in their support of them.
I have no exhortations to give you in that end: I’m cared for you better than I deserve to be cared for, but maybe I can go to some other church sometime and preach this for some ministers that aren’t being so well taken care of! God’s principle is that these ministers are to be well cared for, and they’re given a very choice part of this sacrifice.
There is so much more to study in God’s word. It is rich with truth. As we think about peace offerings, and as we think about the law of the blood, and as we think about the wave offerings, let us think of the principles, the enduring principles of worship, and let us think of the Lord Jesus Christ, who fulfills all of these things.
Let us pray.
Our Lord God, we thank You for Your word, Your truth. We love the blessing of communion with You in Your ordinances, Your means of grace, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day as we gather under Your word and sacrament, and with Your people to lift up our voices in prayer and praise, and to hear from You and to meet with You and to enjoy the fellowship of Your presence. We pray that this would be the delight of our hearts and lives, and that it would transform them accordingly, by Your Spirit. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing?
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.