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Burnt Bread: The Grain Offering

Series: Leviticus

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 21, 2004

Leviticus 6:19-23

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The Lord's Day Evening

November 21, 2004
Leviticus 6:19-23
“Burnt Bread: The Grain Offering” (2)
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter six, again; this time beginning in verse 19. You’ll want to allow your eyes to look back four verses over the passage that we considered last week when we first began to look again at the grain offering. And perhaps you’ll want to remember something of what we said when we looked at the grain offering in Leviticus 2. We said there that in the grain offering, worshippers offered a cooked and an uncooked meal offering, the ingredients of which symbolized God's lasting bounty to us, and excluded those elements that would have represented corruption. And the design behind this grain offering was to demonstrate the dedication of the worshipper to the Lord.

And when we looked at Leviticus 2, we saw a number of things, but two things in particular stood out. The first is the grain offering serves as a kind of memorial, a remembrance, a reminder that God has provided everything that we are and have, and that God lays claims to the first fruits. And so giving back to Him this grain offering, this meal offering acknowledges His lordship over all, and His kind provision to us. It's a reminder that God owns the offered and the offering.

We also said that the grain offering was an act of dedication to the Lord. It often followed the burnt offering, though it could be done alone. And it expressed the idea that those who have been reconciled to God through the sin offering, the burnt offering, and those who have access into His presence will want to acknowledge that they owe God everything, and they are dedicating themselves to the Lord. And so they do this in this sacrifice by bringing a gift, a tribute, a pledge of meal or grain. It's a portion of their substance. It's part of their daily bread, and they present it to the Lord as if they were presenting their whole self. It's a symbolic gift of their whole selves. We actually sang about that in our second hymn tonight. You may want to go back tonight after the service and meditate on what you sang to the Lord in that hymn, because it so beautifully captures this idea of our being priests to the Lord in the new covenant, and offering ourselves to Him as a gift.

Well, this is behind the grain offering. And we saw that same thing when we were looking at Leviticus 6:14-18 last week. There we were focusing on the role of the priests in the grain offering, and on how they were to dispose of the remainder of the grain offering. You remember when people in Israel brought a grain offering, part of it would be burned and part of it would be given to the priests. And we said as we looked at Leviticus 6:14-18 that two things stood out to us. The first is that in giving the priests a portion of the grain offering, that was not so much a provision of priestly pay as it was to function as an assurance to the offerer of the sacrifice that the sacrifice was acceptable to the Lord, and in fact had been accepted by the Lord, because the portion of the memorial offering of grain that was not burnt was eaten only by the priests, only on holy ground, therefore indicating the acceptability of that offering to the one who had offered it in the first place. And we paused last week to meditate on the kindness of God: that God would establish a provision in the sacrificial system that was designed to assure the one who had brought the sacrifice that he had been accepted by God.

And then it also gave us the opportunity to meditate upon the fuller and freer sense of acceptance we enjoy under the new covenant, knowing that the One who was sacrificed on our behalf was the very Son of God.

But we also saw last week that in this provision of the priests’ eating this remaining portion of the grain offering, a circle of deep awe is drawn around the altar and its offerings. There is a solemn joy and holy bliss, and fearful delight in coming before the presence of the Lord, and therefore, this grain offering could only be eaten unleavened, only in the court of the tabernacle, only males of Aaron's line might eat it, and priests who were ritually clean only could eat it. And so God draws this circle of awe around His worship.

Now, the passage we're going to study tonight continues instructions about the grain offering of the priests, but it zeroes in on a specific and unique part of the grain offering which has not been mentioned before. The offering that we're going to study in verses 19-23 is not mentioned in Leviticus 2. That passage is dealing primarily with the lay people of Israel and the offerings that they bring to the Lord. And even in the passage that we studied last week, which speaks about the disposal of the priests of the lay people's offerings, there's no mention of the offering we're going to study now. This is a unique, daily, priestly offering of grain.

So with that as an introduction, let's look to the Lord in prayer and ask His blessing on the reading and hearing of His word.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word, and as we study another ancient sacrifice, perhaps obscure to us at first, we pray that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful truths from Your word, as You have already as we have studied through this great book of priestly instruction. We pray, Heavenly Father, that You would show us the sinfulness of sin, and the efficacy of our Savior, and the glory of consecration to Your service; and that You would exalt Yourself and Your grace in our eyes, even as we study it. These things we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear God's word.

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This is the offering which Aaron and his sons are to present to the Lord on the day when he is anointed; the tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a regular grain offering, half of it in the morning and half of it in the evening. It shall be prepared with oil on a griddle. When it is well stirred, you shall bring it. You shall present the grain offering in baked pieces as a soothing aroma to the Lord. And the anointed priest who will be in his place among his sons shall offer it. By a permanent ordinance it shall be entirely offered up in smoke to the Lord. So every grain offering of the priest shall be burned entirely. It shall not be eaten.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy word. May He add His blessing to it.

There are three things I want you to see in this passage: This sacrifice shows us first of all the consecration of the priests to their service of the Lord, and by extension it reminds us of our consecration to the Lord in His service.

Secondly, I want you to see that in this sacrifice again we have an example of how the Lord wants to picture to His people His acceptance of them. In other words, He wants to assure us that He has accepted us when we have approached Him on the terms that He has proposed and in the way that He alone makes possible. And so this passage not only speaks of consecration, it also speaks of acceptance and assurance. That's the second thing I want you to see.

The third thing is this: this passage teaches us about the reconciliation that is necessary for consecration and communion with God. This passage reminds us that there is forgiveness which must be bestowed for sin before we are fit to be consecrated into the service of the Lord and to enjoy fellowship and communion with Him. Let's look at these three things briefly together tonight.

I. Consecration

First of all, I want you to see that this priestly offering is about the consecration of the Old Testament priesthood to the Lord. It is an expression of their self-dedication to the service of the Lord. Moses says in verses 19-20, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This is the offering which Aaron and his sons are to present to the Lord on the day when he is anointed.’ This is, as I have already said, a unique sacrifice. It has not been mentioned in Leviticus 2; it's not the same offering which is spoken of in Exodus 29. It has some similarities to the grain offering that is to be offered by the people, but it is unique.

One way it is unique is that it is only to be offered by the priests. In fact, it is to be offered by the high priest on behalf of all the priests. The high priest in this sacrifice offers a daily cereal offering for himself and for the priesthood. Now, this small offering is a token of the priests’ unique consecration and dedication to the service of the Lord. One commentator calls it appropriately “an ordination offering.” Notice that it is to commence on the day of the ordination, or on the day of the anointing of the high priest, and then it is to continue; and so, one commentator calls it an ordination offering. And this offering, of course, draws attention to the function and the consecration of the priestly office. It reminds us that priests were to be dedicated to the Lord's service.

Now this is significant, because we will read, for instance, in I Samuel 2, later in the history of Israel, of priests who did not serve the Lord or His people, but abused them, Eli's sons. You remember, the people would bring their offerings to the Lord, and they would be waiting for the priests to burn the fat in accordance with God's command, and then to take a portion of the meat. And you remember what Eli's sons would say? They would say, “No, no, no. You bring it to us raw. We’ll take the meat we want and we’ll use the leftovers for the Lord.”

They were abusing their position and their status for their own purposes and for their own wellbeing. And we're told in I Samuel 2 that it was “a grievous thing in the eyes of the Lord.” And the Lord brought judgment against Eli and his sons and Israel for the kinds of abuses that were going on in the priestly office. And this sacrifice itself, being perpetually given as it was, twice daily–morning and evening–was to remind the priests that they had been consecrated, that they had been dedicated to serve the Lord and His people.

This offering of the priests’ portion wholly to the Lord reminds us that no one offering a sacrifice on his own behalf may share in that offering. When the priests were serving as mediators and receiving the offerings of the people, it was appropriate that they share a portion of that offering to assure the people of God. But when they are the offerers, offering on their own behalf, they are not to partake of any portion of that offering. It is only to be given to the Lord. The priests could benefit only from services undertaken on behalf of other Israelites. And so again, the very command, and the fundamental command of Leviticus 6:19-20-23 is that the priests are not to eat of this. That very command reminds the priests that they serve for the glory of God for the benefit of His people, and that they are to be consecrated to the Lord's service.

Now, this offering, interestingly, is mentioned hundreds and hundreds of years later after its appointment by Moses here in Leviticus 6, by Josephus in his book The Antiquities. But it's also mentioned in the Book of Hebrews. And before we're done tonight I want to take you to the passage where it's mentioned in the book of Hebrews.

At any rate, the high priest brings to the Lord a small amount of baked grain, four pints worth. It's not the largest sacrifice; it's not the smallest sacrifice. It's the same amount of manna, by the way, that was to be gathered daily in the wilderness. It's also the same amount of grain that was to be offered when the people brought a grain offering to the Lord, and one wonders whether even the amount is to remind the people of God that He supplies our daily bread, and that we are giving back to Him what He has so faithfully supplied to us.

But ultimately this offering of grain is designed to show the status and the separateness of the priesthood. This offering functions to locate them in their unique priestly status in their belonging to the Lord. The daily grain offering is a maintenance ritual that functions to mark out and recognize and maintain the office of the anointed priesthood, and to remind the priests of their obligation to be dedicated to the Lord. And you notice in this offering how the consecration of the priests to the Lord is marked out first by this offering of self-devotion. All the grain offerings, we've said, are offerings in which the offerer was saying, ‘Lord, this bread is a symbol of myself given to You, because You've given to me everything I am and have.’ Well, the priests were to do that, too, but notice how else they were to do it. They were to do it perpetually. It's a permanent ordinance. As long as there are priests, they are to do it.

Secondly, they were to do it continually–daily, morning and evening.

And thirdly, they were to give the entirety of this offering to the Lord, and so their self-dedication to the Lord, their consecration to the Lord is set forth in this offering by its perpetuity, by its continuity, and by its entirety. And so, we see something here of the consecration of the priests to the Lord's work.

But we remember in the new covenant that by virtue of our redemption in Jesus Christ, we have been made a kingdom of priests, and we are called to self-dedication and consecration to the service of the Lord; not just a special group within the community of the people of God, but the whole of the people of God, called to be priests to serve the Lord. This is one of the special and unique privileges of the children of God. And again, I'd encourage you to go back and look at the words of Hymn 542, based as they are on that glorious scene in the Book of Revelation. Meditate on that, and pray that back to the Lord and thank Him for that privilege.

Last century an Anglican minister lifted up these words as he contemplated his own commitment to the service of the Lord, and it's something that we should all pray as new covenant believers in our service of the Lord:

O Lord, Thy heavenly grace impart and fill my frail, inconstant heart.
Henceforth my chief desire shall be to dedicate myself to Thee:
to Thee, my God, to Thee.
How can I, Lord, withhold life's brightest hour from Thee?
Or gathered gold, or any power?
Why should I keep one precious thing from Thee,
when Thou hast given Thine own dear self for me?
To Thee, Thou bleeding Lamb, I owe all things, all that I have and am, and all I know.
All that I have is now no longer mine, and I am not my own, Lord: I am Thine.
Accept these hands to labor, these hearts to trust and love,
and deign with them to hasten Thy kingdom from above.”

You see, that's what the priest was saying when he brought that grain offering: I'm yours, God. My job is Your business. My job is to do Your bidding. My job is to bless Your people. My job is to help Your people. My job is to do the service that You have committed to me. I'm Yours, Lord. And that's what we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, as priests, royal priests of the new covenant are to do. Lord, we are not our own. We belong to God, and we live our lives for Him.

II. Acceptance and assurance.

This grain offering speaks, then, of consecration. But it also speaks of acceptance and assurance of our acceptance. Notice in verse 21 we read:

”It shall be prepared with oil on a griddle. When it is well stirred you shall bring it. You shall present the grain offering in baked pieces as a soothing aroma to the Lord.”

Now lock on to that little phrase, “soothing aroma to the Lord.” You've already met it several times in Leviticus. It will not be the last time that you meet that phrase! You will continue to meet that phrase in the book of Numbers. You will see it sprinkled through the rest of the Old Testament all the way, at least to Ezra, and the first time you saw it in the Bible was in Genesis 8. We’ll go to Genesis 8 in just a moment. Hang on to that phrase, and look at one other.

Verse 23: “So the grain offering...shall be burned entirely.” Now notice two things: one, this grain offering is to be burned entirely. It is to be entirely consumed by fire, like the holocaust offering. And as it is consumed, what is the offerer going to see? The smoke of the offering going up. The smoke of that offering is to serve as an assurance to the offerer of God's acceptance of the offering. But beyond that, we are told, as we have already read in verse 21, that it is going to be a soothing aroma to the Lord.

Now turn with me to Genesis 8:21. The first time that phrase occurs in the Bible is in the context of Noah building an altar to the Lord after the cessation of The Great Flood. And you’ll see it in Genesis 8:20:

“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar, and the Lord smelled the soothing aroma, and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.”

Now, that passage is an anthropomorphism. God is spoken of as “smelling” a soothing aroma of this sacrifice. And the purpose of that anthropomorphism is to express graphically that God was pleased to accept the sacrifice of Noah, and Noah's sacrifice had been deemed acceptable to God. And in His merciful response, God had determined to never again destroy the world by water. It is a glorious picture of the efficacy of a sacrifice accepted by God. And so that phrase, “a soothing aroma to the Lord”, will be repeated mostly in context in Leviticus and Numbers and elsewhere to indicate that God has accepted an offering.

Now why is that important? Well, the people of God, when they offered a grain offering, had the benefit of being assured by the priests eating that offering that the offering itself met the ritual requirements of perfection, and was thus accepted by the Lord.

The priests couldn't eat any of their offerings to the Lord, so how would they know that it was acceptable? Moses is assuring them here by saying as you lift this offering up, it will be as a soothing aroma to the Lord. Here is God, concerned that the priests themselves will experience assurance of His acceptance as they come bringing their offerings and dedicating themselves to the Lord. God is concerned about his people's assurance. God is concerned that we know that we have been accepted by Him, as we rest and trust in His promises; as our faith is grounded in the provision of His sacrifice of Jesus Christ; as we realize that the One who has been sacrificed for us is indeed the Messiah, the Anointed of Israel, the Son of the Living God, Jesus the Christ...God is concerned that we would be assured of His acceptance of us in Jesus Christ.

III. Reconciliation for communion

But that's not all. In this passage we read this. Look at verse 22.

“The anointed priest who will be in his place among his sons shall offer it. By a permanent ordinance it shall be entirely offered up in smoke to the Lord. So every grain offering of the priest shall be burned entirely. It shall not be eaten.”

This passage reminds us that the priest himself needs reconciliation before he can devote himself to the Lord; before he can consecrate himself to the Lord; before he can dedicate himself to the Lord's service, he himself needs reconciliation. He needs to lift up an offering to the Lord.

You see, priests are sinful, and priests need forgiveness, too. And this daily offering, even by the priests, indicates that priests need forgiveness and restored communion. But it also begs the question, and the question is this: If the priests mediate for the people, who mediates for the priests? Who mediates for the mediators?

And the Old Testament doesn't answer, but only foreshadows the answer to that question. But the answer is given in Hebrews, chapter seven. Turn with me there. Look at verse 26. Hebrews 7:26.

“For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.”

Of course, the author of Hebrews is pointing to that glorious passage in Psalm 110 where the Lord says, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: You are a priest forever.” ...speaking of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see the contrast that's being drawn here by the author of Hebrews. These Old Testament priests themselves were sinners! They needed forgiveness every bit as much as the people for whom they mediated! And, therefore, daily they had to go in to the Lord in the temple symbolically with these offerings of consecration; and, of course, they also had to go before the Lord with offerings for sacrifice on behalf of their sins.

And the author of Hebrews says, but the Lord Jesus Christ doesn't have to do that, because He had no sin; and therefore, as opposed to their perpetually offering these sacrifices that were ineffectual, He, by contrast, in His perfection once for all offered Himself, and thereby we see the superiority of our Great High Priest.

Yes, He can sympathize with us. Yes, He has drawn near to us. Yes, He has lived in our flesh, and He knows what it is in its fullness to be human. But He is perfect. He is impeccable. He is sinless, and He does not have to offer a sacrifice for Himself, and so, in contrast to these priests who daily and perpetually offered sacrifices not only on behalf of the people but on behalf of themselves, we have a Mediator who mediates for the mediators. We have the real Mediator, of whom they were only shadows, types, pre-pictures. And because of this we can be confident of the reconciliation that we have with God, and of the communion that is enjoyed by it.

May the Lord bless His word. Let's look to Him in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. We thank You that His blood is better than the blood of all the animals on Jewish altars slain. We thank You, O God, that His death is so efficacious that it need only be offered once for all. We thank You, O God, for His perfection; and His perfection, the glory of both His passive and His active obedience, is a great hope and assurance to us. Thank God for the perfection of Christ, for His active obedience. O Lord, there is no hope without it, but with it there is hope, and assurance of pardon, and fellowship and communion. We pray, Lord God, that we would trust in the only Mediator of God's elect, even the Lord Jesus Christ; and then, we as priests made by Him to serve in the temple of the Living God, in response would consecrate ourselves, would dedicate ourselves, for we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Would you stand for God's blessing?

Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break, and the shadows flee away. Amen.

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© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.