Leviticus 3: Salvation
© 03.21.09 By D. Eric Williams
'When his offering is a sacrifice of a peace offering, if he offers it of the herd, whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the LORD. And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it at the door of the tabernacle of meeting; and Aaron's sons, the priests, shall sprinkle the blood all around on the altar. Then he shall offer from the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire to the LORD. The fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat that is on them by the flanks, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver above the kidneys, he shall remove; and Aaron's sons shall burn it on the altar upon the burnt sacrifice, which is on the wood that is on the fire, as an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD. 'If his offering as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD is of the flock, whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish. If he offers a lamb as his offering, then he shall offer it before the LORD. And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it before the tabernacle of meeting; and Aaron's sons shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar. 'Then he shall offer from the sacrifice of the peace offering, as an offering made by fire to the LORD, its fat and the whole fat tail which he shall remove close to the backbone. And the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat that is on them by the flanks, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver above the kidneys, he shall remove; and the priest shall burn them on the altar as food, an offering made by fire to the LORD. 'And if his offering is a goat, then he shall offer it before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on its head and kill it before the tabernacle of meeting; and the sons of Aaron shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar. Then he shall offer from it his offering, as an offering made by fire to the LORD. The fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat that is on them by the flanks, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver above the kidneys, he shall remove; and the priest shall burn them on the altar as food, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma; all the fat is the LORD's. 'This shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall eat neither fat nor blood.' " (Leviticus 3:1-17)
The peace offering was an optional sacrifice among the several blood sacrifices enumerated in the book of Leviticus. Like a burnt offering it was presented by the worshiper who would bring his victim to the temple courtyard, slay the animal himself (or so it seems), and have a hand in the butchering of the animal. The priest would, of course, splash the blood on the sides of the altar and in fact arrange the offering on the altar as well. Before slaughtering the animal the worshiper would place his hands upon the head of the victim and verbalize his reason for approaching the house of God. Unlike a burnt offering he would not be laying his sins upon his sacrifice but would instead give thanks, pronounce a vow or offer free will worship. This is one of the special characteristics of the peace offering or as it is sometimes called the fellowship offering. As we will see it would be better termed the salvation offering.
The animal that was sacrificed could be from the herd or the flock but there was no provision for a sacrifice of a bird. This is because a bird would not be large enough to provide the main course for a feast which was part of the sacrificial ritual in this offering. The sacrifice could be a male or female but it had to be an animal without defect or blemish. Once the blood had been splashed against the sides of the altar the portion to be burned would be placed upon the smoldering remains of the burnt offering. This burnt offering may have been brought by the worshiper or if the worshiper had not preceded his peace offering with a burnt offering then it would be simply the normal morning sacrifice brought by the priest each day.
In a sacrifice of peace offering that which was burned included all the fat covering the inner parts, the kidneys and the fat around the liver. Some commentators believe that this also include a portion of the lever. In any case, what was to be burned here included only the fat. Now, in the case of a sacrifice from the flock the worshiper was instructed to also offer the fat tail from the sheet. The species of sheep in mind here had a large tail which was composed primarily of a fatty substance. It has been described as a substance something like a mixture of fat and morrow. As we have mentioned before these fat tailed sheep would sometimes be fitted with a cart that would roll along behind them and support the tail. These tails can weigh anywhere from 10 pounds on up to 50 pounds. Apparently that breed of sheep still exists in the near East today.
Of the remainder the priest receive the right thigh and the breast of the sacrifice (Leviticus 7:30–38)., and everything else was eaten by the worshiper, his family and friends (7:15–18). This feast could last up to two days but anything less over after that was to be burned.
Now the purpose of the sacrifice was to give the worshiper the opportunity to give thanks for to confess his fealty to God, to make a vow concerning his relationship to God or to offer a free will act of worship. It is called the peace offering and yet that may not allow us enough information to understand what this offering is all about.
The name of this offering comes from a word that is familiar to all of us: shalom. Here is a different form of the word – shelem - and is translated in the Septuagint with a word derived from the Greek term for salvation. The Hebrew conveys the idea of peace, wholeness, safety, soundness of mind and body and indeed a completeness or fullness. The Greek term chosen by the translators and compilers of the Septuagint has to do with deliverance, safety, preservation and the sum of all blessings. Thus in scripture true peace has to do with health, prosperity and right relationship with God.
So, this sacrifice is truly a salvation offering. A peace offering which allows the worshiper to acknowledge and solidify this relationship of peace with Almighty God. In context with what we see in Leviticus Chapter 7 what would be the possible meaning of the thanks, of the vow or the worship that the worshiper would bring? Well that should be obvious to some extent. He's confessing his allegiance to this king in thanking him for his obvious blessings. Perhaps he's making a vow; in light of what God has done for him the worshiper vows perform some duty for God. Or perhaps it's just a matter of bringing worship freely and lovingly to God. In any case this sacrifice is all about recognizing God's salvation.
Salvation is a coveted concept which is not limited to the new covenant era. For example in Exodus 19:4–6 we read
'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel." (Exodus 19:4-6)
This salvation of God impacted all of life for the Israelites. The salvation of course is exemplified in his taking them out of Egypt and making them his own people. It was not just the freedom from slavery in regards to forced labor but it was a freedom in all of life. Indeed this was an establishment of a new reality which required a new state of mind and a new frame of reference.
Before that event everything that the Israelites were about in thought, word or deed was performed in context of their slavery to Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the suzerain or the king of the people. This would affect all aspects of their life. They wake up every morning and look around the four walls of the house which had been allowed them at the pleasure of the Pharaoh. They would eat food that was given to them in light of Pharaoh's grace. The children they bore and raised existed by Pharaoh's permission. The work they performed was for Pharaoh and no one else. Do you see the extent of their slavery? Everything about them was defined by this condition of servitude to the Pharaoh. Their entire life was defined by this relationship to this Egyptian king.
Thus this peace offering recognize the comprehensive nature of the Israelites salvation.
The word that is used here is utilized elsewhere in the Old Testament to convey a broad range of meaning. It is used to cover all sorts of situations. It is truly a word with a comprehensive definition. Consider for instance in Exodus 21:36 is used to describe a payment to make something right. In Deuteronomy 20:12 refers to peace as in a cessation of hostility. In Jeremiah 16:18 in refers to payment in regards to sin. Job 34:10–11 utilizes the word to describe the rendering of payment based on a man's particular relationship with God. We can look at dozens of scripture references and discover that it has to do with something being finished or ended; it refers to reward or the performance of the duty; it describes a fullness of a restitution and prosperity that one receives from God.
Thus the sacrifice is not simply about peace as in the end of hostility but brings to mind a situation where everything is made right and complete and appropriate. It's as if the proper balance to life has been restored and so the worshiper brings a sacrifice to acknowledge that state of affairs.
When salvation is discussed in the Old Testament it is presented as a comprehensive concept as well. In Exodus 14:13 and 15:1–2 salvation has to do with deliverance of the Israelites from the attack Egyptians at the Red Sea. In 1 Samuel 2:1 Hannah prays to God and rejoices in his deliverance or salvation. She has been placed at the head and given a position of prominence because of the blessing of children. The term has to do with the help of God and his gift of health and prosperity (Psalm 67:2, Job 30:15).
Thereby this salvation offering or the peace offering recognize the all encompassing nature of the covenant relationship the Israelites had with Yahweh. Because of God's comprehensive peace they could wake in the morning and recognize that everything about them was given by the hand of God. The very breath they took, the food they ate the home they lived in – everything was representative of God's salvation. The children that they bore and raised it did so for God. The work they perform they did as an act of worship to Yahweh. All goodness all health everything that they had everything they experienced everything that was part of their life was from the hand of God.
Now, when we look at Exodus 19:4–6 we see that although God's choice precedes man's obedience we must acknowledge that man's obedience is a prerequisite for enjoying the full benefits of God salvation. Therefore the salvation or the peace of God is not earned by works but it was maintained and cultivated by their righteous actions. In other words this peace or salvation from God was confirmed and solidified through their obedient life.
You see, peace with God enables one to perform the duties of the relationship. If we were to think about the condition of warfare when we recognize that in a state of war one is not able to conduct the kind of activities that he might in a state of peace. More prevents one from enjoying the blessings of hearth and home. Instead of the blessings of peace a condition of war means that there is loss, hardship, famine, emptiness, hopelessness and a wasteland instead of the fullness of blessings in God.
Peace with God enables the member of the covenant community to flourish in all aspects of life. Therefore in recognition of this comprehensive salvation in God and worship or brings his sacrifice and in doing so reveals his desire to celebrate his relationship with God.
This all encompassing peace with the Almighty Creator of the universe deserves celebration. This sacrifice that we are examining in Leviticus Chapter 3 is one that involved the family and friends of the worshiper. They would be gathered together to feast with him upon completion of the sacrificial ritual.
It was common to feast "with God" in the ancient pagan religions. We might ask which came first: the pagan practice of feasting and celebrating with their pagan deity or the requirement from the Creator himself? Obviously the idea of sharing a feast with God was the original principle which was perverted by pagan man.
If we were to look at Genesis 1:29, 2:16–17 we see that mankind was expected to eat of the tree of life. He was not prohibited from partaking of that tree of communion. However because of his sin he was kept from this celebration of relationship with God.
In Genesis 3:8 we see that God is coming in the glory cloud to fellowship with man. I believe that he was coming to the garden to feast with man. Had Adam and Eve passed the test that had been placed before them they would have been allowed to abide in the sanctuary of God. Indeed the garden was the house of God and this feast of the tree of life would have been the consummation or the ratification of the covenant relationship. It would have been a celebration of the comprehensive salvation of God.
Now, this was not a works based relationship. Adam was chosen by grace, given law to obey and told that there would be consequences for his misbehavior. He was tossed of the garden – out of the house of God - when he disobeyed but this does not mean that he no longer had relationship with the greater. It means that God's choice (creation in this case), preceded Adam's obedience, but Adam's obedience was a prerequisite for enjoying the full benefits of that choice.
Adam's experience was not unlike the experience of Israel or indeed not unlike the experience the covenant people of God may encounter in this age of the Son of Man. You see the low like Adam Israel was expected to obey God's law and would be tossed out of the garden – the land – for this obedience (Leviticus 18:24–28). Frankly the members of the church in its new covenant age have those same expectations placed upon them. God says that if we love Christ we will keep his commandments and a failure to do so places us in a position where we will be vomited out of the land just as Israel and Adam had been (Revelations 3:16).
The point is simply this: Adam was not relating to God in the basis of a works covenant. He is relationship to God was very similar to that of Israel and therefore not entirely unlike the relationship we enjoy with our Father in heaven. As an aside, this brings us back to a discussion of the visible and invisible Church. It reminds us that God's warnings against disobedience serve to turn th e elect away from the peril while those whose hearts are only warmed by common grace disregard the admonishment and fall away.
In any case this sacrifice reflects the desire of the worshiper to celebrate and to feast with God. This is something that is ingrained or intrinsic to human nature. It is part of the human character and is counterfeited or perverted by a man in the pagan ritual which was common to ancient times and remains part of life today. Thus, the idea of feasting with God originating creation. It was not something that mankind dreamed up which was later copied by the children of Israel.
This sacrifice and feast that recognized the comprehensive peace and salvation the worshiper enjoyed was to be celebrated with family and friends. Leviticus 7:15 reads:
The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning.
And again in Deuteronomy 12:4–7, 12 we are told that:
"...[Y]ou shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. ...And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you. (Deuteronomy 12:5-7, 12)
Deuteronomy 14:24–26 sheds additional light on the character of this celebration.
But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. (Deuteronomy 14:24-26)
The citation from Deuteronomy chapter 14 concerns the feast of the tie but the principle of feasting before Yahweh is what we are concerned with here. The idea is that the comprehensive blessing of God requires a full, rich celebration! In other words the celebration was supposed to reflect the nature of the relationship of God: full, lavish, rich – fun! This is proper worship with family and friends in company with the one who brings his sacrifice. Keep in mind that the feast would have the theme of thanks or confession before God concerning his blessings, of a vow the worshiper has taken or fulfilled or simply the freewill worship which bubbles up spontaneously because of the intimacy of the relationship between God and his people.
We must keep in mind that every member of the household was involved in this celebration. No one is excluded due to age or level of understanding. The only requirement was that they had to be ritually clean (Leviticus 7:19 – 20). As we will see later in the book of Leviticus this designation as "clean, equal is the normal state and therefore we understand that the normal condition of the covenant community is celebratory fellowship with Yahweh. Anyone who is part of the covenant household was able to join the party.
But who is the host of this celebration? Well, it didn't place in God's house.
In God's house
No matter where the worshiper might live he was required to bring his sacrifice to that place where God had put his name. Before the temple was built that was the tabernacle and throughout the wilderness wanderings that had a multitude of locations. Once the temple was erected, God's name had a permanent abode in Jerusalem.
Do we need to understand then that this feast took place in the courtyard of the tabernacle or the temple? Probably not. It is more likely that these feasts were held within the precinct of the tabernacle and later when the temple was built there would have been room for these celebrations in a large area that was known as the temple courts. Even then it appears that once the sacrifice and the ritual surrounding the presentation of the fat portions had been completed the feast itself would take place outside the court but still near the tabernacle or later outside the temple court but in the city of Jerusalem itself (Deuteronomy 27:3). Indeed, by the time of Jesus Christ all of Jerusalem was considered holy and part of the temple precinct. The point is that this feast took place within the house of God – or as close as was convenient.
This was to underscore the fact that all good things came from the hand of Yahweh (James 1;17), and he was the host of the celebration. Indeed the meat and the other aspects of the feast were understood as having been provided by God himself because it was obedience to the Lord which brought the increase (Deuteronomy 28:3–5).
Once again we must touch on the fact that this was similar to pagan custom. Consider: 1 Corinthians 8:10, Numbers 25:2, Judges 9:27 and Amos 2:8. In each scripture passage we are reminded that the ungodly would feast with their "god" in his house as well. But again, this is merely evidence of the image of God and man. It is evidence of the common heritage of all mankind. It is this kind of thing that reminds us of how foolish it is to reject the truth of Scripture.
But in our passage from Leviticus 3 this ritual and feast are designed to impress upon the celebrants that God is the provider and their celebration depends upon a condition of peace with God. This celebration which took place in the house of God reminded them in a concrete way that God's peace is comprehensive.
Application and conclusion
What does this mean to us today? To begin with we recognize that the peace offering is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and is best displayed in a celebration of the Lord's supper. In Christ we have peace with God and the Lord's supper is a feast which celebrates the comprehensive nature of what was accomplished in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
We have acknowledged that the burnt offering was a type of the crucifixion but we can not ignore the fact that all of the various sacrifices of the old covenant administration are gathered up and fulfilled in the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross. Moreover, it is common to consider the communion meal of the new covenant age to be the anti-type of a Passover meal. Yet, it is likely that the Last Supper celebrated by Jesus Christ and his disciples was not actually a Passover meal. In fact, there is every reason to believe that it was a peace offering celebration. In any case, the Lord's supper – like the crucifixion – gathers up all the celebration offerings and feasts of the old covenant and gives them meaning in this age of the Son of Man.
But how comprehensive it is our salvation? Well, Colossians 1:19–20 says:
For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
In a later portion of the letter to the church in Colosse Paul will repeat this idea of God's fullness dwelling in Jesus Christ. But in this earlier portion call explains this fullness as the reconciling of all things to himself. In other words the comprehensive character of God and he is comprehensive salvation are expressed in Jesus Christ. It is through the eternal son that all things – all things - are reconciled to Almighty God. Moreover peace is established between God and man through the blood of Jesus Christ which he set up on the cross. This peace, as we have seen, is much more than the simple conclusion of hostilities. It involves every aspect of life. There is nothing in this realm that is not brought under the influence of this ease.
The apostle Paul says something similar to the church in Corinth when he writes:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
If anyone is in Jesus Christ is a new creation and all things – all things – are made new. Once again we see from the pen of the apostle Paul that God reconciles the worlds themselves in Jesus Christ. The Greek term here as cosmos - a word with an all embracing meaning. In other words Paul says that Jesus Christ brings peace and therefore everything in this realm is brought back into right relationship with Almighty God. Therefore this salvation which we experienced in Jesus Christ is complete.
Nevertheless in order to enjoy this far-reaching salvation we must work it out. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do we must do all to the glory of God. In word and in deed we are to work as unto the Lord. Since Christ's salvation is all encompassing our expression of his salvation must likewise be comprehensive.
You see, apart from Jesus Christ sin and Satan put their stamp upon everything in our life. Our home life, our work, our children, even the food we eat was under the degenerating influence of sin and Satan. Every human expression would be colored by this lordship of Satan and the influence of sin. In short our worldview and our physical expression of that philosophy of life would surely reflect our citizenship in the kingdom of darkness.
Now in Jesus Christ all things are made new. In Jesus Christ every aspect of our life and work reflects our citizenship in the kingdom of light.
One of the problems we have is that we often think that Christ's salvation will not be realized in this age. We think that the comprehensive nature of salvation is reserved for a future state. But that simply is not true.
In other problem we have is that we believe that this salvation is realized in this realm without our effort. Once again that is not true. True the fullness of salvation will be realized in the future when all things are completed. There will come a day when Satan is once and for all overthrown and he is cast into hell. But here in now we are called to work out our salvation and to manifest her to demonstrate the rule of God in our life. It is not a future condition of which I speak nor is it something that takes place without our participating effort. Instead the rule of Jesus Christ which is salvation and all the benefits of our peace with God are realize in the reign of Jesus Christ in our life. That comprehensive peace impacts everything in this realm and is realized in our sphere of influence as we walk in obedience.
Therefore we should celebrate. We celebrate this peace offering in the obvious parallel of the Lord's supper but we cannot stop there. Certainly Jesus Christ gathered up all of the sacrifices of the old covenant age and brought them to fulfillment in his death on the cross. Therefore, in this celebration in which we proclaim the death of Jesus Christ we celebrate all the sacrifices which prefigured the work of Christ. And yet we celebrate perhaps most especially the peace offering.
And what a celebration it should be! What the old covenant saints so longed for we are privileged to experience. We have access to the comprehensive blessings of a relationship with Almighty God in Christ. That relationship is fully realized in heaven but there is a bountiful measure of that available to us in this realm. This is especially true because in this new governor and age we never really leave the house of the lord.
True, we do gather in buildings which recall house of God; they are only houses of God because the people of God gather there. Yes this is God's house and we celebrate his salvation of God here when we take the communion meal together. But every time we gather no matter where it may be we acknowledge the salvific blessings of God. Thus corporately we are the house of God whether we meet in a building especially dedicated to the worship of the Lord or in a storefront in downtown Lewiston.
Moreover, if we as individuals are God's house – a movable, living, breathing house – and the celebration of God's all-encompassing peace moves with us. Can you see how it is that we are supposed to be a peculiar people? Certainly if we understand the nature of God's salvation we will be continually offering up the sacrifice of praise to him. Paul tells us that we are to be a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God which is our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). He tells us in his letter to the Hebrews that we should offer a sacrifice of praise on a continual basis because that is the natural fruit of lips which confessed the name of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:15).
Praise God! We are at peace with God! The blessings of spiritual health, prosperity, confidence, victory, purpose, hope, relationship – all of these are all ours in Jesus Christ. The salvation of his realm is assured in Jesus Christ. The Lamb who overcame the world is our sacrifice and we feast with him. He feeds us. He rules us. He saves us. Praise the name of Jesus!