Chapter three of Leviticus covers the Fellowship or Peace offering. I’ll just be addressing verses 1-5 as after this the idea is repeated for other various animal types.
In reflecting on how the animal was offered the detailed instructions, to remove the various organs, is easier than it sounds. With the right cuts made, most of what is said to be removed comes out in one swoop. Even at a quick scan of the passage it is easy to see that there is an emphasis upon the fat being offered to God. Simply put, Fat = Flavor, and if you are an Israelite it’s the best part. Today we would disagree because we have meat everyday and in our abundance have warnings of too much fat. Many diets view fat as a negative health concern and are so called “low-fat diets.” Back then it was a luxury to have meat and as such it was not eaten very often, and so then the fat was the best part. Everything was or is still made with fat because of the flavor it adds. The value and high esteem for “fat” is even emphasized in the way they used the term. Speaking in Hebrew terms if you spoke of the “fat” of the land you spoke about the finest, best, most fertile, and best producing portions of land.
In this meal the Israelite (the one bringing the offer) takes part in the eating of the meat. This is the only sacrifice that allows for the offerer to eat with God. It is a shared meal between the offerer and the Lord. Verse 16 uses “food” language in conjunction with God. It’s not literal as if God is eating, but it is there to be understood in the context that a meal is being shared.
In function the meal is a sign of covenant relationship. This was the closest relationship you could have with someone who was not a member of your family. We call it a contract and sign on a dotted line, or shake hands. In Israel you did not have contracts and pens so you took an oath and ate together. Laban and Jacob make a heap, and ate there. Moses, after reading the Book of the Covenant, took the leaders of the tribes and went up the mountain to meet God and eat.
So what did this communicate to them and us today? First it reaffirms the covenant relationship with the Lord. It is not just reaffirming your commitment to God, but also His commitment to you. The meal involves both parties in their relationship of peace and fellowship. The offering commonly takes place when there is a celebration of the covenant, and when the word is proclaimed or restated. The people back then and we today are to be thankful that God has been so faithful, and blessing so much, that we celebrate the union we have to God. Modern Christians, to some extent have lost the celebration aspect of the communion meal, as like the Passover, thankful praise for the covenant was celebrated at the same time there was dread for those who are outside. In communion we emphasize the death of Christ, but we cannot stop there because the promise is confirmed by His new life. If identified with Him in His death, we can be assured of the union with His life.
Second it serves as a reminder that they (and we) are part of a larger community. You would eat as a family and likely invite a guest too (Deut 12:6 and following). The words are even closely associated Communion and community. 1 Cor. 11 talks about sharing yourself with others, in fellowship and peace, as they share themselves with you. Having communion at a different church, where a complete stranger breaking a piece of bread off and handing it to you with the words, “the body of Christ broken for you,” signifies they are sharing with you that there is a shared peace with each other and with the same shared God. This is why we are warned about abstaining from the meal if we harbor resentment or ill feelings about someone in the congregation that is about to eat with us.
Lastly the Israelites and modern day Christians would be reminded of the Lord’s greatness. This is a reminder of His greatness because the best part is given to the Lord as the guest of honor. Bride and groom of a wedding get the first piece of cake, because it is in their honor, same as with the birthday boy or girl at their party. We are very often throughout the old and new Testaments to hold God and others in honor above ourselves. So it is no surprise that there is a reminder of who gets the best and biggest piece of cake. At the heart of this is what it means to be a Christian. The focus is the life lived in union with God, not just some point of conversion in the past. You are not invited to rededicate yourself over and over, but in communion to remember who you are united to and that He is faithful. If you finish the statement, “I know I’m a Christian because,…” with the answers, go to church, read the Bible, do good things, I said a prayer; you’d be wrong. Many people do those things but it does not mean they are a Christian at all. You’re a Christian because, today you’re following Jesus. It’s a day by day moment by moment walk. Jesus taught us that if anyone comes and does not hate father, mother,… they were not worthy to follow Him. The emphasis is usually placed upon cushioning the illustrative shock of hating family, but instead the emphasis should be understood that His Honor is greater than all.