Continuing a series.
1 When anyone presents a grain offering to the LORD, the offering shall be of choice flour; the worshiper shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it, 2 and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. After taking from it a handful of the choice flour and oil, with all its frankincense, the priest shall turn this token portion into smoke on the altar, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the LORD.
The Grain offering, like the previous, is a free-will offering. There is a different sort of underlying reason one might make a grain offering, however. First, these offerings were far more accessible than the animal offerings of the previous chapter, and as such, were far more common. Almost anyone could get together some small amount of the ingredients that were required. All that was needed was effort. The flour needed to be “choice” flour. In other words, not coarse, but fine, and of a pure quality. This mirrors the “unblemished” nature of the animal offerings in chapter 1. There was also oil, which was highly symbolic, of God’s spirit and anointing. The frankincense, which I recently learned only gives a pleasing aroma when broken, bruised, or crushed, was to be burned completely and the smell acts as a “memorial.” Unfortunately, the NRSV translates “azkaratah” as “turning into smoke.” While I understand this, as that is the way the offerings were actually carried out, there is a deeply important reading that is left out when translated this way. Another translation of “azkaratah” is “memorial.” I prefer this because it testifies to the ways that the grain offering is used in the scriptures. To help the people of God remember their covenant with God… AND to help get God to remember us as well. In this first section, these are the rules for an uncooked offering.
3 And what is left of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons, a most holy part of the offerings by fire to the LORD.
Interesting that in receiving the offerings meant to bring people closer to God, the “most holy part” isn’t the small part given to God, but the part which is used to feed others. Aaron and his sons spent their lives in service, and thus had no means of feeding themselves. The owned no land and no animals. At the mercy of the kindness and godliness of others. This is what God considers the most holy part of the offering. Almost like Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said love God and love others… they’re like the same thing…
4 When you present a grain offering baked in the oven, it shall be of choice flour: unleavened cakes mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers spread with oil. 5 If your offering is grain prepared on a griddle, it shall be of choice flour mixed with oil, unleavened; 6 break it in pieces, and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering. 7 If your offering is grain prepared in a pan, it shall be made of choice flour in oil. 8 You shall bring to the LORD the grain offering that is prepared in any of these ways; and when it is presented to the priest, he shall take it to the altar.9 The priest shall remove from the grain offering its token portion and turn this into smoke on the altar, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the LORD. 10 And what is left of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the offerings by fire to the LORD.
The second type of grain offering is a cooked offering. Whether in oven, griddle, or pan, the bread offering contains the same properties. Perhaps because the priests needed variety in their diet, perhaps to allow creativity in presentation, perhaps because various people had access to various utensils. Either way, the repetitiveness, I have read, allowed these verses to be be easier memorized by those serving the tent/temple.
11 No grain offering that you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you must not turn any leaven or honey into smoke as an offering by fire to the LORD. 12 You may bring them to the LORD as an offering of choice products, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing odor.
Leaven of course, becomes symbolic of decay/change/corruption/sin in the scriptures. Not always, as even below, there are times when those things are appropriate. But for this offering, no leaven or honey. Like leaven and honey, sin and corruption, once added into a system, will continue to corrupt it, long after the originators have gone. Our relationship with God must be that of vigilance, lest we find even our attempts at Godliness to be so tainted with ugliness, fear, anger, and hate, that we no longer recognize ourselves. One need look no further than the state of Western religio-politics to see that this has happened much too often.
13 You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.
In those times, the making of a covenant was often concluded by a meal in which both parties would partake in salt, concluding the pact. This is on display in Numbers 18:19 as well.
“All the holy offerings that the Israelites present to the Lord I have given to you, together with your sons and daughters, as a perpetual due; it is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and your descendants as well.”
The idea is that with all offerings, the added salt is to bring to mind the covenant within which this offering is being made. It reminded the people of God that not only were they drawing near to God, but they are doing so within a particular relationship and agreement.
14 If you bring a grain offering of first fruits to the LORD, you shall bring as the grain offering of your first fruits coarse new grain from fresh ears, parched with fire. 15 You shall add oil to it and lay frankincense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 And the priest shall turn a token portion of it into smoke–some of the coarse grain and oil with all its frankincense; it is an offering by fire to the LORD.
The third type of offering (beyond the uncooked and the cooked) was the firstfruits. This held the idea of giving a landowner what was his due. God has given the land to you, so give God the first parts of the harvest. Of course, the practical reason, was again, to feed the priestly families, not just a hollow ritual. Still, the offering if firstfruits becomes very important in later Christological discussions…