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In Defense of Carbohydrates: The Grain Offering

Series: Leviticus

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Oct 3, 2004

The Lord's Day Evening

October 3, 2004
Leviticus 2
“In Defense of Carbohydrates: The Grain Offering”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter two. Last week we began our study of this great book which sets forth the quest for holiness, and in the first seven chapters we commented that we encounter five great offerings, and those five great offerings are covered twice in the first seven chapters: first, from the perspective of the offerer of those offerings or sacrifices; secondly, from the perspective of the priests who are to administer the offering of those sacrifices. And so we appreciate different aspects of the significance of these sacrifices as we look at them from these two perspectives.

Now, we've already observed a number of things about the structure and content of the Book of Leviticus as a whole. We said, for instance, that the first sixteen chapters of Leviticus contain regulations relating to the sacrifices (we see this in chapters one to seven); but, also, the formal initiation of the priesthood that we find immediately after the institution of the sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7. There is the discussion of the distinction between clean and unclean, a vitally important distinction for Israel's practice of holiness. And finally, in Leviticus 16 we have the instructions for the rituals of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, that high Day of Atonement, propitiation and expiation. Then, the last eleven chapters of Leviticus give to us the ceremonial holiness code for the Old Testament people of God, Israel.

Now, as we commented about the sacrifices that we're studying this fall in Leviticus 1-7, we've already noted that, unlike the sacrifices of the festivals, these sacrifices were voluntary, and personal and spontaneous. These were not communal sacrifices that were to be offered at an appointed time by every family in Israel: these were sacrifices that were brought by individuals voluntarily, representing personal commitment, senses of need, desires for communion with God, and spontaneous in their outpouring. We also said that the very way that the first verse of Leviticus is phrased connects it with the instructions about the build ling of the tabernacle at the end of the Book of Exodus. And so Leviticus is the sequel to those particular regulations that Moses had been given by God, and which are recorded at the end of the Book of Exodus.

We made several comments about the ceremonial system described here in Leviticus. We said that the ceremonial rituals of the Old Covenant were designed to aid the people's experience of the presence of God. For one thing, they drew all of the people at one time or another to the tabernacle, and the tabernacle was the focal point of God's manifestation of His presence to His people in the Old Covenant.

Another reason for the ceremonial system was to provide a means for the people of God to render thanksgiving to God. How should the people of God express their gratitude for the mercies of God to them? Well, the Lord provides a way in the ceremonial system for them to give thanks to the Lord.

It was also a way that the people of God could express the desire for renewed fellowship with God. One of the things we're going to see from the time the children of Israel wander in the wilderness to the last days of the kingdom of Israel is Israel go through a cycle of faithfulness, unfaithfulness, judgment, repentance, and faithfulness. And that cycle will circle, and circle, and circle, and circle. And Israel–collectively and individually–is going to need a means whereby to express their desire for renewed fellowship with God when they have broken it on their end. And the ceremonial ritual provides that very means.

And of course, ultimately the ceremonial ritual was a beautiful means of expressing the need for forgiveness. By coming and offering these sacrifices, one was admitting the need for the covering of one's own sin, and forgiveness and acceptance from God.

But the ceremonial ritual also set forth God's divine way and program for dealing with our sin: that sin was dealt with through sacrifice. And we've already said that that sacrifice itself ultimately points to the great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, because the Book of Hebrews is the New Testament commentary on the Book of Leviticus, and Hebrews explains the ceremonial system as it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Now, before we read the passage before us tonight, let me give you a two-part outline of Leviticus, chapter two. We could break it down into many further divisions, but here's a simple one. Leviticus two can be broken into two main sections. Verses 1-10 give you the instructions for the two basic kinds of meal, or grain offerings. Verses 1-3 give the instructions about uncooked grain offerings, and verses 4-10 give the instructions for cooked grain or meal offerings.

So there's the first half of the Book of Leviticus, chapter two, verses 1-10, its instructions about the meal offering.

Now, the second half of this chapter two, you find in verses 11-16, where distinctive ingredients for the meal and the first fruits offerings, both of which involve the bringing of grain, but for which there were different rules. There were some things that could be included in the first fruit offering that couldn't be included in the regular grain offering. And so these two offerings, their ingredients are distinguished in verses 11-16.

So there's the two-part outline of Leviticus 2: 1-10, the instructions for the grain, or the meal offering, or, if you've read the Matthew Henry version, the “meat” offering. Now, by the way, that's because in Middle English, meat was a synonym for food. It didn't necessarily mean animal flesh; it meant all kinds of food. It's even reflected in Robert Burns’ Scots poem, Prayer. You've heard it before.

“Some hae meat and cannae eat

and some would eat that want it.

But we hae meat and we ken eat

Sae let the Lord be thankit.”

OK, well, meat there doesn't just mean animal flesh. It means all kinds of food. And he's saying there are some people that have food but can't eat it, and there are some people that don't have food, but they’d like to eat it; but, Lord, since we can both eat and since You have provided us food, the Lord be thanked. That's the significance of the prayer. Well, perhaps if you’re looking at your King James Version and you see this called a “meat offering,” don't think that there's a contradiction between a meat offering and a grain offering. “Meat” is just a Middle English way to talk about food in general.

And, very frankly, what to call this offering is an interesting thing, because the word–as we're going to see in a moment–that is used as the main description of the offering probably doesn't refer to grain or meal or any other kind of food. It refers to a gift. But we're getting ahead of ourselves! We’ll look at that in just a moment. Let's look to God in prayer, and pray for His blessing on the reading and hearing of His word.

Lord God, send your Spirit now to us. Touch our eyes and make us see, show us the truth which You have revealed within your Word, and show us Yourself, even in this ceremonial law. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of God

'Now when anyone presents a grain offering as an offering to the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour, and he shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it. 'He shall then bring it to Aaron's sons the priests; and shall take from it his handful of its fine flour and of its oil with all of its frankincense. And the priest shall offer it up in smoke as its memorial portion on the altar, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD. 'The remainder of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons: a thing most holy, of the offerings to the LORD by fire. 'Now when you bring an offering of a grain offering baked in an oven, it shall be unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers spread with oil. 'If your offering is a grain offering made on the griddle, it shall be of fine flour, unleavened, mixed with oil; you shall break it into bits and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering. 'Now if your offering is a grain offering made in a pan, it shall be made of fine flour with oil. 'When you bring in the grain offering which is made of these things to the LORD, it shall be presented to the priest and he shall bring it to the altar. 'The priest then shall take up from the grain offering its memorial portion, and shall offer it up in smoke on the altar as an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD. 'The remainder of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons: a thing most holy of the offerings to the LORD by fire. 'No grain offering, which you bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven, for you shall not offer up in smoke any leaven or any honey as an offering by fire to the LORD. 'As an offering of first fruits you shall bring them to the LORD, but they shall not ascend for a soothing aroma on the altar. 'Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. 'Also if you bring a grain offering of early ripened things to the LORD, you shall bring fresh heads of grain roasted in the fire, grits of new growth, for the grain offering of your early ripened things. 'You shall then put oil on it and lay incense on it; it is a grain offering. 'The priest shall offer up in smoke its memorial portion, part of its grits and its oil with all its incense as an offering by fire to the LORD.

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

Now let's remind ourselves of a few things that we learned last week as we studied chapter one and the burnt offering. There were a number of great spiritual lessons that stood out. One that struck us was that here again we saw that God cares how we worship Him. The very detail of the instructions of Leviticus, chapter one, lets us know that the Lord takes His worship seriously, and He is particular about how He is approached. Did you get that impression again tonight? As these detailed instructions are given as to whether you’re doing this on the pan or on the griddle, and whether you’re doing a grain offering or whether you’re doing a first fruits offering–it's incredibly detailed. The Lord cares about how He is worshiped. It comes through loud and clear again in Leviticus 2, doesn't it?

Well, there was a second thing that we saw in Leviticus 1, and that is that these offerings, being voluntary, and personal and spontaneous remind us that there is a voluntary and personal and spontaneous aspect to all true religion. That is not something that is just part of New Covenant religion as opposed to Old Covenant religion. That is not something that is just part of Puritan experientialism or Great Awakening experientialism; there is a voluntary, personal and spontaneous heart aspect to all true religion, even here in the ceremonial code.

The people of God decided when to bring these offerings, and that decision was related to the state of their hearts, the state of their heart's sense of need for God's forgiveness; the state of their heart's sense of desire to express thanksgiving; the state of their heart's desire to express devotion to the Lord; the state of their heart's desire to express the longing for communion with God. All of these are part of the ceremonial system, so don't view the ceremonial system as something that is merely external, rote, going through the motions. The symbolism and the ceremony were to be the expression of a heart on fire in devotion to the living God.

Thirdly, we learned last week that the Lord accepts and communes with those who come into His presence through the death of an atoning sacrifice. The burnt offering was called so because it all goes up in smoke. It's burned completely before the Lord. Nothing of it is left over for the priest. It's the only offering that is holy and only for the Lord, consumed on the altar. And that certainly emphasizes to us that no one can approach the Lord, no one can be acceptable to the Lord without this substitutionary sacrifice of atonement to provide for sin and defilement so that communion with God can be enjoyed. The blood shed in that burnt offering insures the death of the sacrifice and it symbolizes the life force of the victim; and the laying of the offerer's hands on the sacrifice identifies the sacrifice as the property of the offerer, and it identifies the offerer with the sacrifice. The sacrifice is a stand-in for the offerer. It is the symbolic substitute, and so the offerer is giving himself in the sacrifice.

In the ritual of the burnt offering we also learned that every sacrifice should cost the offerer something. In Leviticus 1 we saw that the Lord provided different kinds of burnt offerings so that the most well-to-do all the way down to the poorest in the land would be able to offer a burnt offering sacrifice to the Lord, but it cost everyone who brought it something.

Now, that principle reminds us of David's great exclamation in the day that the Lord relented in the destroyer as it came near Jerusalem, and he came to the threshing floor or Ornan the Jebusite and spared Israel. And David said to Ornan, “Let me buy your field and offer sacrifice.” And Ornan says, “No, no, my king! I’ll give you the field.” And David says, “I will not offer a sacrifice to the Lord that costs me nothing.” And it's a beautiful expression, and it reminds us of the costliness of the sacrifice. But you know, long before David ever uttered that, long before this law was given on Moriah, where that threshing floor was found on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, Abraham and Isaac had climbed, and Isaac had said to his father, “I see the wood and I see the knife, but I don't see the sacrifice.” And you remember Abram's response: “The Lord will provide, my son.” And Abraham, my friends, spoke more than he knew. And ultimately it will not be the costliness of the sacrifices that we render to the Lord, but the costliness of the sacrifice that the Lord provides for us that secures our entrance into the family and the presence of God.

And so we learned all these things last week. Well, tonight we follow up with the grain offering; the burnt offering first, now the grain offering.

Well, what is this grain offering, this gift offering to the Lord? Well, in the gift offering, or the grain offering, or the meal offering, or the meat offering–whichever way your translation renders it, the worshiper offers a cooked or uncooked meal offering. The ingredients symbolize God's lasting bounty, and no ingredients are allowed to be in either that cooked or uncooked offering that represent corruption. And so leaven and honey, both things which are sweet and desirable and reflective in the Old Testament of good parts of God's creation, especially leaven, are used as something to reflect a corrupting influence. Both of those things ferment, and hence do not accord with the lasting representation of God's bounty in the rest of the meal offering. So they are excluded. So in the grain offering, or the gift offering, worshipers offer a cooked or uncooked meal offering in order to express their dedication to the Lord.

You could picture it this way: these offerings were often given together, the burnt offering first and then the meal, or the grain, or the gift offering. The idea is this. Since the Lord has graciously welcomed us into His presence by this atoning sacrifice, now we dedicate ourselves to the Lord. How do we dedicate ourselves to the Lord? By giving to Him of the daily bread that He has given to us. He has given us the staple food of life, and in thanksgiving we express our dedication to Him by bringing this grain in whatever form, cooked or uncooked, in accordance with His word. Well, there are three great lessons I want you to see from this as we study this passage tonight.

I. The grain offering (literally the pledge offering) is an act of dedication to the Lord.

And the first one is simply this: the grain offering is an act of dedication to the Lord. It could be done alone, but it often followed the burnt offering. Let me say a word about the name. The name of this offering could literally be rendered “the gift offering” or “the pledge offering” or “the tribute offering.” You see, those who have been reconciled to God in that burnt offering, those who have gained access into His presence through that burnt offering, will want to acknowledge their devotion to God. They will want to acknowledge that they owe God everything. How will they do this? They will do it through this gift, or pledge, or tribute offering. They do so in this sacrifice by giving a gift, a tribute, a pledge that is a portion of their very substance, part of their daily bread. And such is our defense of carbohydrates. In this Atkins Diet world, bread still represents the staple food of life, the provision of God for our daily needs. And so of that grain, of that meal, cooked or uncooked, the people of God devote themselves and express their dedication in this offering.

You see, the spiritual Old Testament worshiper understood this gift to be a symbolic gift of his whole self. To give this gift as a tribute to God was to say, “Lord, I devote myself to You.” Christians respond to the glorious truth of both Christ's incarnation and redemptive work with the same attitude.

You remember the words of Christina Rosetti's incarnational hymn– Christmas carol–In the Bleak Mid-Winter. It will start playing in about a month on various radio stations.

In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan;

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

Snow had fallen, snow on snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter, long, long ago.

And in the third stanza, do you remember the words?

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb.

If I were a wise man, I would do my part;

But what I can, I give Him:

I give Him my heart.

The very essence of my being, from the core of my being, I give to Him. That's the response to the picture of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. But you know, Isaac Watts has us meditating on that at the foot of the cross in his hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Do you remember the final stanza?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small.

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

That is exactly what the Old Testament spiritual believer is symbolizing when he brings that bread before the Lord after the burnt offering: “Lord, You have provided in this sacrifice a way back into fellowship with You. In response, I devote myself to You. I give myself to you. This bread...it represents me. You've given me this bread. All that I have, I have from You. I give it back to You. It's me, Lord, that I'm giving to You. I'm devoting myself to You.”

Young people, do you realize that being redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ lays that very claim upon your heart? Does it show in the way that you’re living, in the choices that you make? Do you say with Joseph and with Daniel, and with the saints of God, “How can I do this thing and sin against the Lord my God?” Because you belong to God. You have been bought with a price, and you are God's. You belong to Him.

Christian, if you have been redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ, you belong to Him. And this offering is an expression of devotion to Him, and it sets forth that spiritual devotion which every believer is to render to Christ.

Turn with me to Romans, chapter twelve. Paul puts it this way. He says in Romans 12:1, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” You see, Paul is saying the same thing that's being represented in this offering of dedication, this gift offering: give yourself to God, that's your sacrifice of gratitude and thanksgiving to God. It's not a sacrifice that saves you; it's your response to the sacrifice that saves you.

Now, how do you do that? Well, he tells you in verse two: “Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Do you have one foot in the world and one foot in the church? Are you trying to love God and mammon at the same time? This sacrifice points to the whole soul's devotion, which is the only acceptable response to the grace of God to us in Christ. So there's the first thing we learn in the grain offering. It's an act of dedication to the Lord.

II. That which is given to the Lord must be without corruption. Those who are loyal to God's covenant want to bring the best they have.

But we also learn in this grain offering that that which is given to the Lord must be without corruption. If you look at verses four through seven, the reason that those ingredients are forbidden in the grain offering is because, as we've indicated, they ferment. They would corrupt the offering eventually, and the Lord is particular that the offering that is to be brought to Him is to be a perfect offering. And those who are loyal to God's offering want to bring the very best they have.

III. The meal offering is a memorial. God lays claim to the first fruits. Giving them back to Him acknowledges His Lordship over all and His kind provision.

But thirdly and finally (and you see this in verses 2,3, and 8-10, and also in 16), this meal offering is a memorial. Did you hear the reflection of that phrase three times, its memorial part? Now this doesn't just mean the part not given to the priest is the memorial part, and the rest of it is given to the priest–the memorial part is the part that's not given to the priest, it's offered up as a soothing offering. And it's not just that the memorial part stands in for the whole grain offering gift, where part of it is given to the priest; the memorial part stands for the whole. The point of the memorial is this: it is a remembrance on the part of the offerer of the sacrifice that God owns the offerer and the offering. In verses 11-16, God Himself lays claims to the first fruits, and so giving back to Him of these first fruits and giving Him of this grain and meal offering acknowledges His lordship over all, and His kind provision.

Have you noticed on the bulletin, on the Announcements page, the theme verse for the Stewardship Season for 2005? “The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains; the world and those who dwell in it.” This dedication offering was to memorialize to us and to God that reality. We belong to God. Everything that God has given us belongs to God. The world belongs to God. He is Lord and owner of all. And the memorial is the remembrance of that, a reminder that God owns the offerer and the offering.

But how do you express this dedication to the Lord? How do you express spiritually this devotion to the Lord which is symbolically set forth in the ceremonial ritual of the grain offering in Leviticus 2? Well, David tells you in Psalm 40:6-8. Listen to what David says:

“Sacrifice and meal offering You [speaking to God] have not desired; My ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.” ”

Now it is that passage that is quoted by Paul's student in Hebrews 10:5-9, where he says:

“Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and burnt offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me; In the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book of the law it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God.’ After saying above, ‘Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifice for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them (which were offered according to the Law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will.’ He takes away the first in order to establish the second.”

Do you see what the author of Hebrews is saying? It is Jesus who has performed the will of God perfectly on our behalf. He's speaking of Jesus’ active obedience. There are a lot of people that don't believe in Jesus’ active obedience any more. Well, you just take them to Hebrews 10:5ff sometime. He's speaking about Jesus’ active obedience on our behalf, that we might be made right with God.

And what is the result of that? That we express our devotion by loving God's word like Jesus did.

Let's pray.

Lord God, we bless You for Your word, and we give to You of the daily bread that You have so richly given to us as a token of giving ourselves to You. Receive this sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise for Christ's sake. 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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