Out of all the sacrifices, the grain offering probably seems the more foreign to us. We don’t show up to church with baked goods unless there is a pot-luck meal after the service. Hopefully these two brief posts about this offering will give us more insight to the practice and encourage our Christian understanding of Christ in the process.
The ingredient list for the grain offering is fairly simple: fine wheat flour, olive oil, salt and frankincense. But these are not items an Israelite could go down to Costco and buy in bulk. These, like the other sacrifices have an element of costliness to them. Fine flour was the food of kings. It cost great time and effort to get flour to be recognized as “fine.” There is the planting, the harvest, threshing, winnowing, gathering, taking to a flour mill to be ground over and over until considered to be fine flour. So there is great cost of time and preparation involved in making the flour. The cost is about the same with the oil. Olive oil was costly to use in place of water. Think of the growing, picking and pressing processes involved to get the oil you needed. Frankincense was a fine smelling substance but not something you ate. It was more like incense, which contributes to the sweet savor or aroma unto God in its burning. This was not something common to Jerusalem or Judah, it had to be imported. Lastly is salt, which we think of as quite common. In ancient times it was a very costly and expensive substance. Even considering Roman rule, soldiers were commonly paid in salt.
In preparation one could bring it as uncooked; Mix flour and oil and give to the Priest with the salt and Frankincense on the side. Or bring it as cooked; Mix Flour, Oil and oven bake as cakes or griddle like waffles or pan fry like wafers with the Frankincense and salt on the side. The process is to take a handful of the bread (cooked or not) and burn it on the altar along with all the salt and all the Frankincense as a “memorial” portion to the Lord.
What this would communicate to an Israelite and hopefully to us is the costliness of labor and time for God as an act of worship. Out of all the other things you could be doing you were given a task that took of your time, efforts and resources as a spiritual act of worship to God. It begs us to ask if we give to God what is costly to us, our time, efforts as sacrifice. God is pleased by our efforts and good works as Christians. As an illustration, leaning on the bride for Christ example, we do not sacrifice our lives until death, but in love and service we sacrifice little bits of ourselves moment by moment when we give up what we want to be doing for what God or our spouse would have us do. Like turning off the TV so that I might help my wife fold laundry or just fix her breakfast, these are acts of worship and sacrifice. The idea that I would rather do X but I’ll give it up so that God is pleased by doing Y. When we give our 10% financially it hurts to see it go at times, but there was little to no preparation that made earning it feel any different than the 90% I got to keep for my own use. Sacrificing time to talk with others, set-up duties, clean-up duties, or nursery duties at the church are all equally the giving of our time sacrificially unto God. I recall a family in my current church where the father has a gluten allergy; his teenage daughter took time out of her day to bake a gluten free loaf of bread to be used in communion so that her father might be able to partake of it along with everyone else. To me that is a love and sacrifice that is pleasing unto God.
There is a practical side in providing food for the priests so that worship would continue and the work of the Temple could continue. Paul worked and made tents, but taught that the worker is worthy of his wages, and goes over how an Old Testament lesson about bulls was not just about bulls. Giving to the church keeps the church going. Nehemiah 13:10 discusses how Nehemiah returned and found that the temple worship had ceased. To be able to eat, the priest and singers had returned each to his field to work. Worship of God ceased. So although it does not seem fancy or spiritual to pay the church water bill with your tithe or gift, it serves the purpose that the worship and ministry of God does not cease.
By Salt Israelites would be reminded of the covenant relationship with God. A covenant that goes back much farther than any of them, yet like salt the covenant had constantly been preserved. Salt was common in most all near eastern treaties because of its permanence and preservation like qualities (see numbers 18).
There is the reminder of not just God’s faithfulness, but of the people’s obligation to God based upon His faithfulness. There is a mirror of this within Communion. God faithfully provides for His people when we recognize that we are not able to provide salvation and our daily bread on our own. We are encouraged that a mighty and holy God obligates Himself to us, when His word is really enough. This is what stimulates the danger of not obeying, as in 1st Corinthians warning, read so often prior to communion. We don’t celebrate love feasts or communal feast so it’s hard for us to relate to the big deal of people dying because some over ate and left their brothers and sisters in Christ hungry. Try to imagine if communion was not bread cubes or wafer bites but a huge delicious cake. Let’s also say that for this cake in communion everyone got to come to the front and cut their own piece. Would we face the same errors of being so enamored by our desires to be filled that we would not think of others in the performing a rite or act of worship right before God? Would we consider our portion more important than that of others still to come up? Would we be bitter over seeing someone leave the front with a huge piece? Would we be able to focus that the cake was to represent that God provides for us all, and yet as such it takes all of us working together to see that we are all taken care of, using what He provided.
Lastly, in the memorial portion burned to God an Israelite would understand the immediate need of dependence upon God. Returning to God what they depended upon and waited upon in farming. Without the harvest by which they received the ability to have a grain offering, the people suffer and go hungry. This was a form of thanking God and asking of Him to remember His favor and continue to look on the people with favor and grace. I think in this we lose sight of what it means to depend on God. Today we feel fairly confident that tomorrow will be just another day of work or weekend like so many past, but even the New Testament reminds us that we honestly do not know what tomorrow holds for us (James 4:13). We take God for granted in thinking tomorrow He will bless us just as He always has. That tomorrow will be just another day.