Day 47 (Feb. 16): Levites dedicated, Second Passover, rules for burnt, grain and peace offerings

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Numbers 8

Leviticus 1-3

Questions & Observations

Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily reading.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Let us know if you have any comments to add.

Q. (Numbers 8:5-26): Can you remind us of which of Jacob’s sons the Levites came from and any significance that has on them becoming the ones to work with the priests?  So, there were thousands of Levites that had to be purified?  I think you told us earlier that the Levites had to disperse among the other tribes.  What were there duties?

A. Actually, the term Levites tells us which son they were from: Jacob’s third son Levi.  Levi was one of the sons who got Jacob into trouble with the whole “wait until our enemies are circumcised and then kill them” bit from Genesis 34 (fun times).  Part of Jacob’s “blessing” for Levi was that his descendants would be dispersed among the other tribes, and here we see that played out.

Regarding their duties, that is, actually, what some portions of Leviticus are about, so let’s hang on to that one and see if we come to a sufficient answer.

Q. The Passover is just celebrated today by the Jewish community, right?  The new law of the New Testament makes us no longer under Passover requirements.  Is it still a good idea to practice them?

A. We should distinguish being required to celebrate Passover, as religious Jews are, and recalling/celebrating the way that God has acted in the past as Christians do to this day.  As we’ve mentioned, the sacrament of Communion was “born” at the satyr or Passover meal, so Jesus certainly desired us to know and understand both what had happened in Exodus, but also the ways that He was doing something new to forever change our status with God.

Q. (Leviticus 1:9) Do you know of any reason why God required that the legs and internal organs be singled out to be from the rest of the body to be washed before sacrificing?

A. I can’t find a particular reference to why those particular portions were required to be washed, no.

Q. (Leviticus 2:10-11,13) Why is the grain the most holy of all of the offerings?  Why no yeast?  To remind them of their deliverance from Egypt?  And, why no honey?

A. I’m not completely sure about why this was considered to be the most holy of offerings (that were burned), but part of the instruction to the priests were that grain offerings were to be eaten AT the altar, rather than taken home to their families.

Regarding yeast and honey: the yeast (as we’ve examined) was to remain out partly because of the reminder of Passover, but also because it is a cultivated product (i.e. human effort), where as the bread without yeast is purely a reminder of God’s provision and effort in Exodus.  There are a few guesses why honey was excluded, which include its use in brewing beer, but also possibly because it was part of the ritual sacrifice of the Canaanite tribes in the Promised Land.  The lack of honey in the religious ritual would have therefore set the tribe apart from its surrounding neighbors, a recurring theme in Leviticus.

Q. (2:13):  Why would salt remind the Isrealites of God’s eternal covenant?

A. There’s few references to salt in this capacity (see Numbers 18:19 for one), but the reason for this inclusion is not specifically given.  The best guess I came across is that when establishing a covenant in the ancient Middle East, there was frequently a meal served as part of the ritual, and salting the meat of sacrificed animals was a part of it.

Q. (2:15,16): I can’t believe I missed asking the significance of olive oil?  How about frankincense?

A. Olive oil would have been just about the only oil available in those days, but there does not appear to be anything special about it as far as I can tell.  The use of incense —frankincense being one example — was certainly a part of the rituals of the priesthood: incense was burned day and night, mixed in the showbread, and used here.  It would have been crucial in helping to deal with the overpowering smell of the animal sacrifices.

Q. (3:1-17): This sounds anything but peaceful!  I know I have spoken my ill feelings about sacrifices.  I know the times were very different.  It’s just that from the way we were brought up, this activity would be viewed as cult-like.  Also, what I view as violent coming from God in the OT seems opposite of the gentle love he shows in the NT.  I understand that sacrificing was for the people to give their best to the Lord.  But, why all the cutting up and talk of different organs and fat?

A. The term “peace offering” comes from the Hebrew word Shalom, and would have represented peace between God and His people, without, unfortunately, much consideration for the animals that were used.  It certainly was a different time, and honestly the consideration of animal slaughter would not have been a big deal to these people: they had to use and kill animals constantly to survive.  Don’t forget: these rituals  — which certainly can be called cult-like — were all about keeping the people in right relationship with God, i.e. to keep peace between God and men.  Animal sacrifice is, at this point, THE ONLY WAY to satisfy God’s requirements for atonement of sin.  We see it quite differently in light of Christ, but that was their reality.

One thought that might help: the ritual of animal sacrifice can be seen as a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ, which is how most church Fathers viewed it in ancient times.  So if we harness our disgust at the brutal nature of the whole matter of sacrificing animals, we can then imagine the significance and magnitude of a human being, Jesus, WILLINGLY laying down His own life for His people to forever give peace between God and people.  Yes it was, and is, brutal, but such is the cost of sin.

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