Your Present to God
A sermon by Coty Pinckney on Leviticus 2, Community Bible Church,Williamstown, MA, 5/10/98
Please look at the person sitting on your right. Notice his or her size, build, and length of arms. Now, imagine what that person looked like moments after birth:
But well able to cry as he takes his first gulps of air, well able to demand that his needs be met. That's how the person sitting next to you started life. That is how you started life.
So who took care of this helpless infant, this bundle of fat?
Most of you, moments after birth, were wrapped and given to your mother to hold. And she looked into your eyes, and loved you deeply from her heart; she knew you belonged to her, and she committed herself to giving herself to you.
Now, she didn't live up to that commitment perfectly. But through the years,
She watched you grow, perhaps to reach her height, and then she found herself looking up to the tiny infant she nursed at her breast.
She helped prepare you to leave home, and then could hardly stand to see you go.
In all this, she showed you her love. You were hers as an infant, and in some sense you still are hers, you still belong to her: flesh of her flesh, bone of her bones.
I ask you: How do you respond to that love? How should you respond to a love that gives of itself, a deep love from the heart? How should you respond to the person who held you and nourished you and watched out for you when you were completely helpless -- when, without such love and care, you could not have survived?
I ask you that this morning not to make you feel guilty on Mother's Day -- although I'd be pleased if some of you turn to your mothers right now and thank them, or leave here after the service and call them.
But I raise these issues this morning because God has loved us with a similar love. Recall our discussions last week about the burnt offering -- How the burnt offering pictures our belonging to God, our acceptance by Him. God tells us, "You are MINE, You belong to me! I have chosen you to be for my own possession. You are wholly mine!"
God knows of our need to belong, of our need to be loved. And our mothers are one provision God made to satisfy that need. Yet their love alone can never satisfy the need completely. We will never be completely satisfied until we turn to God to fulfill that need -- for he will never fail us, he will never let us go, his love is strong and deep, from everlasting to everlasting; his love will overcome all our failures, all our faults, all our frights; in the end His love will perfect us together with all the church, so that we might be a glorious creation, alive in his presence forevermore.
So the burnt offering pictures our belonging to God, and God's acceptance of us -- completely and continually, as the fire never goes out.
And just as we must consider how we should respond to our mother's love, so we must consider how we should respond to God's love. Our proper response is pictured beautifully in the second offering described in Leviticus, the grain offering.
In this offering, God shows us that we should respond to his love by offering our entire lives back to him. And he shows that a life holy and acceptable to God is not the result of our naturally sweet disposition; there should be no self-glorification, no pride in our status before God. Instead, a life offered to God needs to be characterized by prayer, infused with the Holy Spirit, and based on the promises of God.
This is the picture of the grain offering, which we will examine today.
So please turn in your Bibles with me to Leviticus chapter 2. Recall that these five offerings at the beginning of the book are God's provision for dealing with man's weaknesses, for filling man's needs. We'll read the first three verses:
1 ¶ '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. 2 '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. 3 'And the remainder of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons: a thing most holy, of the offerings to the LORD by fire. (NASB)
Recall that last week we outlined the basic characteristics of all offerings. For each offering, God details how to select the item to be offered, then instructs the offerer to identify with the offering, and kill the offering if it is an animal. The killing is followed by an act of consecration, and finally by an act of celebration.
As the only offering that does not involve the killing of an animal, the grain offering is unique. So this morning, we will focus on the first topic, the selection of the offering. And we'll find several interesting criteria laid out by God that open up the meaning of this offering.
God gives us the first clue to the meaning of the offering in the very first verse. If you check your different translations, you will find this offering is called the "meat" offering (since in the early 1600's "meat" simply meant any type of sustaining food), the grain offering, the meal offering, or the cereal offering. But in Hebrew, none of those different words is included in the name of the offering!
The first phrase of 2:1 in the New American Standard Bible reads: "Now when anyone presents a grain offering as an offering to the LORD . . ."
But consider Young's literal translation, which captures the Hebrew well: "When a person bringeth near an offering, a present to Jehovah . . ."
You see the difference? God's title for this offering is, in effect, the Present Offering. This offering is our gift, our present to God. We are told later that it consists of grain, and so most translators have avoided the seemingly redundant name, "Present Offering." But in so doing they have hidden from readers this first, important clue to God's purpose for this offering.
The other distinctives in the selection of the offering clarify its meaning.
First, as noted above, the offering is of grain, which in Palestine at this time would be wheat or barley. Several differing forms of the grain are allowed, as you will find if you read the entire chapter. The grain could be:
In effect, God is saying he doesn't care about the exact form of the grain, but this Present Offering needs to consist of the staple food of the Israelites.
We Americans have a hard time understanding the importance of wheat and barley to the Israelite community. The Israelites -- like the majority of people living in the world today -- consumed more than half of their calories and probably more than 40% of their protein from their staple food. And if the rains didn't come, or if war interrupted the wheat and barley harvests, there was starvation.
I well remember my first week in western Kenya 21 years ago, when a student questioned me about life in the United States. He asked me, "What is your staple food?" I was puzzled; the idea of a staple food had never occurred to me. I told him our staple was wheat, but that was wrong. The correct answer is that we don't have a staple food; we eat everything, and no one food provides a large percentage of our total calories. But my friends in western Kenya are much like the ancient Israelites: their diet has little variety, as they eat a dough made from cornmeal boiled in water -- ugali -- every meal, every day, 365 days a year. Indeed, the Luhya people in western Kenya have a saying: "If I haven't eaten ugali, I haven't eaten."
This puts a whole new meaning to the phrase, "You are what you eat." Many Kenyans are walking ugali -- really! Their hair, their skin, their muscles -- most of their substance at one point in the past was a piece of corn.
Now, the Israelites were similar. For the common Israelite, meat would have been a delicacy, eaten on special occasions but not every day. (For this reason, while they were traveling in the wilderness, unable to plant crops, God provided them with his own special grain-substitute, manna). Wheat and barley, however, they would eat every day, so that to offer grain was to offer themselves, their daily life; it was to offer what they consist of.
So the grain offering pictures my giving my daily life, my usual self to God.
Note that the grain offering is not a picture of our thanking God for providing for our needs. God did command the Israelites to make such an offering, called an offering of first fruits. Whenever they harvested crops, indeed whenever they made a profit in a business, they were to set aside the first portion for God. This offering of first fruits is an acknowledgment that whatever they have belongs to God, that God is the provider of all good gifts. And grain was offered at harvest time as a first fruit offering. But this Present Offering was different, serving a differing purpose in God's plan. The Present Offering pictures me offering all of my daily life to God.
Even though this is a picture of our daily life, the Israelites could not bring any wheat and barley to God. In the rest of chapter 2 God lays out six requirements for the Present Offering: four items that must be included, and two items that must be excluded from the offering. Let us examine each of those in turn:
First, the Present Offering must be made of fine flour. The normal flour would result from grinding the whole grain, together with anything else that may have been in the bag. It thus would include the bran of the grain as well as some impurities, like ground up weevils. Fine flour would differ from normal flour in two ways: it would be ground longer, and thus be consistently fine, and it would be sifted to remove any remaining larger hunks of wheat as well as the bran and impurities.
Now, if the Present Offering pictures the offering of our daily life to God, the requirement of fine flour is a picture of our need to be holy, our need to be whole. Like the flour, God asks for a life that is consistent and balanced, rather than inconsistent and lumpy. He doesn't accept an offering full of stones and weevil parts; he wants a life set apart to him, he wants a life lived up to its potential, as day after day we glorify him.
Who can live a life like that? None of us can on our own; God's command, "Be holy, for I am holy" is a demand we cannot meet on our own. But remember, these offerings are God's provision for our weakness. All these offerings point to Jesus as the example for us to follow, the power within us enabling us to live a holy life, and the perfect person with whom we are identified. Jesus did indeed live this perfectly balanced and consistent life; Jesus offered up to God a life with no impurities. And when we receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, we become identified with him, so that we can stand holy (whole) and blameless before God.
Second, the flour is to be mixed with frankincense. The priest is to burn this incense completely with a portion of the flour or bread, producing a sweet, pleasing aroma before God.
What does the incense picture? As always, we use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Let us turn briefly to Revelation chapters 4 and 5. Do you remember this vision? The Spirit enables John to see into the very throne room of heaven. God sits on the throne, served by four living creatures who are covered with eyes and wings. These creatures cry out, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come!" And twenty-four elders fall down before Him, saying, "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being!" God holds a scroll, sealed with seven seals, and an angel calls out, "Who is worthy to open the scroll?" And John weeps greatly, because neither he nor anyone else in all creation is worthy to open the scroll. But then Jesus, the Lion of Judah, the Lamb who was slain, appears -- He is worthy to open the book. Then we come to 5:8:
And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Note the incense. God explains for us here that the incense represents our prayers. Now that's a wonderful image, isn't it? Just as the smoke of burning incense rises up, filling a room with its pleasant aroma, so our prayers rise up to God, pleasing him.
Consider also Psalm 141:2:
May my prayer be counted as incense before you; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.
So the incense in the Present Offering pictures prayer in our daily lives. As we offer ourselves to God, we are to have hearts that praise him in all circumstances, lives lived out in constant, conscious dependence upon him. Our contact with the Father is to be continuous -- and this pleases God. When we praise and magnify the Lord, when we turn to Him in the midst of our difficulties, we please Him greatly.
All grain offerings were to include oil. The most elaborate description of this is found in verses 5 and 6:
And if your offering is a grain offering made on the griddle, it shall be of fine flour, unleavened, mixed with oil; 6 you shall break it into bits, and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering.
Do you recall other times in the Old Testament when oil is used? Remember that Samuel anoints Saul and David as king by pouring oil on their heads. And, as we will find out later in Leviticus, oil is poured on the priests at the time of their consecration.
What does this represent?
The oil pictures the Holy Spirit. Samuel was acting out the Holy Spirit coming upon Saul and David for the important task of kingship. Similarly, the priests need the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill their responsibilities before the Lord. Just so, if our lives are to be pleasing to God, they must be characterized by dependence on the Holy Spirit.
But look more closely at verses 5 and 6. Do you see how the oil is used in two ways? First, the oil is mixed with the flour, interspersed with the flour, so that the flour and oil cannot be distinguished. Our daily lives are to be infused with the Spirit, so that we are constantly walking in the Spirit, depending on the Spirit. Then, secondly, verse 6 tells us that, in addition, they were to pour oil on top of the offering. This is a beautiful picture of our need for special anointing by the Holy Spirit for particular tasks. So our lives are always to be lived in dependence on the Holy Spirit, but we can also pray that He would fill us mightily when, say, we are witnessing, or when we are faced with serious opposition. We can pray that the Lord would so fill us with his Spirit that we would have the exact words to say, that we would have all wisdom and courage to face the opponent. We need the Spirit always mixed in the daily grind of our lives, and we need the Spirit especially when we are faced with our most challenging tasks.
The fourth required element in the Present Offering is salt. Consider verse 13:
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.
We use salt today primarily to flavor our food, but the primary purpose of salt at this time -- and even early in this century -- was as a preservative. Before the age of refrigeration, salting was necessary if one wanted to keep meat more than a couple of days. So salt is a symbol of permanence.
God does not leave much to our imagination here, as he labels this as "salt of the covenant." Evidently, salt was used at the time of making covenants, again as a symbol of permanence. The covenant was a promise that would last, and salt signified that.
So as we offer ourselves to God, we are to be seasoned with salt. This pictures our dependence on God's eternal covenant, his unfailing promises to us, just as it pictures our permanent response to Him. This is not a relationship that we flit in and out of; God has called us to him from the beginning, and his promises never fail; just so, we need to acknowledge that we are His forever, and that our commitment to him is everlasting.
So our Present Offering is to include:
In addition to these four required items, God forbids the presence of leaven and honey in the offering. Consider verses 11 and 12:
11 ¶ '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. 12 '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. (NASB)
The first restricted ingredient is leaven. This is sometimes translated, correctly, as "yeast," but don't think of the tiny brown balls that come out of a Fleishman's envelope. Yeast at this time was sourdough, usually left over from the previous baking. The baker takes the sourdough starter and mixes it with the rest of the dough. As the natural yeast feeds on the starch, it gives off carbon dioxide, causing the bread to puff up and rise.
Do you know how to make sourdough starter? Mix milk, sugar, and flour, then put them in a warm place for a couple of days. The yeast which is naturally present in the air breeds in this attractive mixture, causing it to go sour -- and voila, there is your sourdough starter.
In the New Testament, Jesus uses the image of yeast both positively and negatively. He compares the spread of the kingdom of God to the spread of the yeast through the dough. A small bit of sourdough starter causes the whole loaf to rise, and flavors the whole loaf with its taste. Just so, we Christians may seem few, but God's kingdom will change the entire world.
On the negative side, Jesus says to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees. This is explained in different passages as both their teaching and their hypocrisy. In both cases, the idea is similar to the spreading of the kingdom: a little bit of legalism, a little bit of hypocrisy, can flavor your entire life, making it unfit for a sacrifice to God.
So leaven pictures the tainting of our lives with what seems to be small, but spoils it entirely. Consider also the action of yeast. Yeast causes the loaf to rise, yeast puffs up the loaf. We need to avoid being puffed up, having pride in ourselves. Even a little bit of pride, of thinking that we deserve what we have, spoils our offering to God. We must come to him completely humble, completely dependent upon God's goodness for our standing before God.
God warns the Israelites of this explicitly in Deuteronomy 8:11-14:
Beware lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (NASB)
We are particularly vulnerable to pride when our lives are going well, when all seems to be on an even keel. Let each of us avoid this yeast of pride, let us avoid being puffed up, and glorify God by lives lived humbly before Him.
Finally, verse 11 tells us that no grain offering -- indeed, no offering of any type burned in the fire -- is to contain honey. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with honey -- God reminds the Israelites that honey is to be offered as first fruits, thanking God for his provision. And the dietary restrictions contained in chapter 11 do not forbid the eating of honey. But it is not to be offered up as part of the Present Offering. Why?
Some have suggested that honey is representative of our natural sweetness (if we have any!), of our natural abilities and dispositions. When we present ourselves before God, we do so not on the basis of our natural sweetness, our natural selves, our natural talents. Jesus tells us, "Apart from me you can do nothing." If we come before God depending upon who we are, depending upon our disposition, our talents, then we are saying that there is something worthy of his attention in us. Instead, we are to come before God only in response to His undeserved love.
So the Present Offering is a picture of our responding to God's love by offering our daily lives to Him.
Think back again to your mother: Her love for you, her devotion to you, her sacrifice of herself for you. You belong to her, in a sense; you are hers.
That love demands a response. To fail to respond is to fail to understand the depth and nature of her love, to fail to appreciate who she is and what she has done for you. So, today, respond to that love.
God's love for you is yet deeper and more profound than the best mother's love. We need God's perfect love, we need to belong to him.
How will you respond?
Romans 12:1 tells us how to respond. The New American Standard translates this verse:
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.
But that last phrase, "which is your spiritual service of worship" could just as well be translated, "which is the logical thing to do." Given the great mercies of God, given His great love for us, given that he has chosen us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight, the only logical thing to do is to respond! The only logical thing to do is to offer ourselves back to him, to offer him even the daily grind of our lives, to make holy every single thing we do every day, as we glorify him in our lives.
You have a need for God's acceptance and love; you have a need to respond. Present your life to him, all of your self, the very stuff you are made of!
This is the grain offering, the Present Offering, the presenting of yourself fully to God. We are to say, "Here I am; I have come to do your will! Take me! Use me for your glory. You have made me to be yours!" Praise God!
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 5/10/98. I decided to preach a series of sermons on Leviticus after reading Ray Stedman's series, which is available at thePBC web site. I am heavily indebted to him both for his insights into Leviticus, and for all I learned about expository preaching from him.
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