Further thoughts and teaching on the Peace or Fellowship Offering

No fat consumption

Fat was not just prohibited for consumption during the meal which followed the sacrifice of the peace offering, but throughout the land of Israel for all the animals that could be sacrificed to the Lord (Lev 7:22-25) and, in the context of the peace offering, the fat portions of the animal had to be offered to God on the altar of burnt offering.

The reason for this (apart from health considerations which Harrison points out - page 58) is that the ‘fat’ was figurative for the best. Therefore, we read of Pharaoh telling Joseph that he would (Gen 45:18)

‘...give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land’

and Moses saying of the nation (Deut 32:14) that they were provided with the

‘...fat of lambs and rams...’

where the usage appears to be figurative.

Therefore, the Israelites’ abstinence from fat and their offering of it to God would have been seen as respecting God’s right to receive the best exclusively. There were also other parts of the animals that were commanded to be offered (for example, the kidneys) but there doesn’t appear to be any easy identification of the meaning of this symbol (if, indeed, there was meant to be one).

Male or female

Apart from the goat offering (Lev 3:12), the sheep or herd animal could be a female (Lev 3:1,6). The male offspring was regarded as being of higher value in Israelite society as can be seen by the specific legislation of the sin offering where, as the offering begins to mention the less well-off society member, the specified animal changes to that of a female (Lev 4:3,14,23 Cp 4:28,32).

The point about this for the peace offering seems to have the intention of not placing an unnecessary restriction upon a worshipper when the actual offering in question neither effects atonement nor is compulsory. In this way, freedom of approach to God is made easier.

The Economy of the Sacrificial System It occurred to me to think about the quantity of sacrifices that were supposed to be offered when the Israelites finally gained access into the Promised land.

Around forty years after the Exodus from Egypt, the number of Israelites was counted as 601,730 (Num 26:51). That is, male Israelites who were (Num 26:2)

‘...able to go forth to war’

Even if we were to take just this number as being the total population that eventually settled, after the conquest, in the land, the numbers of sacrifices that would have been offered in the Tabernacle defy comprehension.

Suppose that each man needed just one sin offering throughout the entire year to be offered on his behalf with a consequent burnt offering to ‘remove and nullify the effects of sin’ - and that, just once a year, he decided that he wanted to offer a peace offering to the Lord. If just these three offerings ‘per person’ were offered ‘per year’, the total amount of offerings from the flock or herd (presuming that there were no poor amongst them) would have run to 1,805,190!!

And this is only if three pastoral offerings were offered - what if the Israelites were convicted of more sins than one per year? And how did the priests manage to cope with the 4945 daily offerings (based on our 365 day year) that needed to be dealt with according to the Levitical statutes?

Well, I don’t have any easy solutions, but it seems to me that the inherited land would not have been able to sustain such an agricultural production (when the production of food for the inhabitants also had to be achieved) and that, probably, the Israelite was intended to live a fairly righteous life before God, abstaining from sin with a great degree of commitment unlike that of today’s men and women!!

I look forward to receiving anybody else’s thoughts on this...

The laying on of hands

We’ve already seen under the burnt offering legislation (though we didn’t mention it in any great detail there) that the sacrifice had the offerer’s hands laid on it (Lev 1:4). We shall also go on to look at the sin offering (4:4,15,24,29,33) and see how the laying on of hands was also commanded here (though it was not a requirement of the guilt offering).

We need to determine just what this ‘laying on of hands’ represented so that we’ll be able to understand what the offering Israelite believed was taking place. If we were to take solely the burnt and sin offering legislation into consideration, we might arrive at the conclusion (as many commentators have done) that a transferral of the offerer’s sin took place with the laying on of hands and that, consequently, the offering was destroyed, firstly, by the act of the offerer and then, secondly, by its consumption in flames on the altar of burnt offering.

This is certainly not an unScriptural concept. In Lev 16:20-21 during the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement, the High Priest was to lay his hands (both of them) upon the head of the second goat and

‘...confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat...’

then exiling the goat away from the camp of Israel and the presence of God into a solitary land.

But there are dissimilarities between this sacrifice and those outlined in Leviticus concerning the burnt and sin offerings.

Firstly, and most importantly, the animal of the Day of Atonement was never slain according to the Scriptural commandment (even though, in later Rabbinic tradition, the goat was pushed over a steep-sided ravine where it would be killed in the fall), whereas both Levitical offerings were slain by the offerer and their blood applied to secure atonement.

Secondly (and probably not that significantly), the High Priest was to lay both hands upon the sacrifice rather than the ‘hand’ that is specified within the legislation of both burnt and sin offerings.

But, more than this, the legislation of the peace offering also had the offerer to lay his hand on the head of the animal (Lev 3:2,8,13) but the peace offering secured no atonement - that is to say, there was no wrong, uncleanness or sin that could possibly have been considered to have been imparted to the sacrificial victim.

Therefore, the thought of transference doesn’t appear to be the correct interpretation here - even though the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement do superficially seem to imply this understanding.

It seems better to understand all the various offering’s commands to the offerer to lay his hand upon the victim as meaning that the offerer was to identify himself with his sacrifice. By the action of laying his hands upon the victim, he was saying, simply ‘this is my sacrifice’ and the thought of any transferral of sin would be secondary and, therefore, unintended.

Finally, note that the Hebrew word for ‘lay’ seems to be a word that implies a ‘leaning on’ and not a ‘light touch’. There was a very deliberate action required by the offerer in order for the laying on of hands to be seen to be done.

Leaven and no leaven

We have already discussed North’s idea that the presence of leaven spoke of historical continuity (with regard to the covenant and the expanding Kingdom of God) and seen how this doesn’t appear to be an accurate interpretation. When we looked at this, I also mentioned that the traditional interpretation of seeing leaven as being a symbol of corruption didn’t appear to work either.

But to actually be able to provide the reader with an adequate explanation of why both leavened and unleavened cakes should be commanded to be offered (and that with just one of the three differing peace offerings – that of thanksgiving) is not possible to me at this point.

I cannot understand why this should be but, should North adequately be able to explain the commandment for cakes of unleavened bread to be offered, there would seem to be little reason, to me at least, of not adopting his observations.

The Purpose of the Peace Offering

This is the hardest offering of all to decide on ‘function’ and purpose. Although I’ve provided the reader with three alternative interpretations for the word for ‘peace offering’ under the section ‘The Sacrificial Offerings of Leviticus chapters 1-7’, none of these could be considered as being even remotely certain - unfortunately the origin of the Hebrew word is unknown.

Firstly, though, notice the three different forms that a peace offering could take:

1. Thanksgiving - Lev 7:12.
That is to say, the worshipper gave what could only be described as a ‘thank you’ gift to God for a specific answer to prayer or continued protection and blessing that was perceived - not some vague idea or concept of provision. The story of Hannah (I Samuel chapter 1 especially verse 24) may be a good example of this type of offering.

2. Vow - Lev 7:16.
Simply, the Israelite would say something like ‘If You do this God, then I’ll offer to You this’ - a bit like blackmail but very religious (actually, I don’t mean to demean the vow but there was always the danger - as there is today - of thinking that the work of God can be bought by the promise of a gift to Him conditional upon His favourable answer).

3. Freewill - Lev 7:16.
Surely the Thanksgiving offering was a freewill offering? In one sense it was - but here the emphasis may be on a gift to God when no specific event or action is perceived. That is to say, when God’s goodness toward the offerer is not a tangible answer to prayer but a more general provision over a period of time.

Secondly, as we have already seen, there was no atonement secured with this offering. More than this, though, the offerer had to be clean in the Lord’s eyes before he ate of the sacrifice (Lev 7:19-21) or else he’d be exiled away from the covenant nation of Israel - quite a severe punishment.

In this way, then, the peace offering was seen to be an offering that could only be offered if the worshipper knew himself to be in a right relationship with God.

It appears to me - and perhaps only me - that the traditional interpretation of seeing the peace offering as being almost a covenant meal is justified. Especially in the light of Ex 24:1-11 in which we read that burnt and peace offerings were sacrificed for Israel (v.5) and that a representative number of the leaders of the nation subsequently ascended to feast before the Lord as the conclusion of the sealing of the covenant (v.11).

Therefore, the two aspects of the peace offering should be seen to be a freewill ‘gift’ to God for one of three reasons, followed by a renewing and reminder of the covenant previously ratified at Sinai with the nation. But understanding that if atonement needed to be achieved then it had to be performed through other sacrifices before the peace offering could be sacrificed and eaten.

There may be a relevant similarity in the New Covenant with the Church’s celebration of ‘Communion’ (the bread and the wine) even though North points out that there are dissimilarities (pages 81-83) which prevent him from making an unqualified connection.

But the offering to God of the gift of thanksgiving freely and the renewing and reminder of the covenant are worthwhile duties of the believer under the New Covenant. In this manner, the similarities with the purpose of the cereal offering previously discussed are very striking and could be linked.

But what the former offering lacks is the reminder of the covenant and the participation in the Lord’s sacrifice that set this offering apart. Whereas, in the Old Testament (and specifically mentioned in connection with the peace offering) the consumption of blood is prohibited (Lev 7:26-27), in the New Testament it’s positively commanded (John 6:52-58) where the participation in the work of Christ on the cross is in mind - an event which is symbolised in the bread and the wine (the body and the blood) of Communion.

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