After the burnt offering, and the grain offering, we move on to the third offering in Leviticus 3 -- the peace offering.
(A) Fellowship at a cost : the picture of the peace offering (Lev 3:1-17)
Before we go on to study the rite of the peace offering, it is important to understand the meaning of peace and therefore, the the institution of the peace offering.Beyond just the absence of conflict and ‘no fighting’, the Bible understands peace to communicate wholeness or completeness too. In this context, the peace of the peace offering carries with it the idea of restoration, acceptance and harmony (c.f. Lev. 19:5 where it says, “So that you might be accepted”) which the Israelite experienced with God by virtue of the sacrifices. It speaks of a wholeness that arises from an acceptance by God and a restored relationship.
Looking at the description of the peace offering, we realise that there are some similarities with the burnt offering mentioned in Leviticus 1.
- Like the burnt offering, an animal without blemish was to be offered (Lev 1:3, 3:1). This perfect, healthy animal with no deformity, signifying the best of the lot was to be offered to God because He was worthy of the best. Making peace with God was not to be considered cheap and unimportant.
- In both cases, the worshipper was to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering (Lev 1:4, 3:2) to identify with the sacrificial victim, a symbolic act of substitution. It meant that the guilty worshipper transferred his or her guilt to the sacrificial that would die for his or her sin instead, an act of atonement.
- And at the end of it, we are told that it was a pleasing aroma to God (Lev 1:9, 3:5). What does this say about God? That through the provision of offerings, He is pleased and satisfied. Through the peace offering, God desires to fellowship with us.
But why do we need it? Why the need for all sorts of offerings? Leviticus continues to remind us that the God of the Bible is a holy and just God, and in contrast, man is sinful. Sinful man cannot stand before this just God and for reconciliation to take place, a sacrifice needs to be made. What does this mean for us modern, 21st century people? This should keep us from taking an attitude that peace with God is cheap, and that God should just accept us and our sins since "no one is perfect". Leviticus confronts our ideas of a cheap grace, and insists that a life in persistent sin cannot enjoy fellowship with God. We cannot serve both God and our sinful idols. At the same time, it reminds us that this holy God is also a God of grace who provides a means of reconciliation. The laws, and the sacrificial animals are a reminder of God's provision.Lastly, the rites of the burnt and peace offering (for they were offered together) remind us that worship must be accompanied by wholehearted devotion and through atonement for sin. There is no peace with God apart from a substitute’s death. There is no peace apart from a heart that is wholly consecrated and offered to God. There is no fellowship apart from the lamb in my place.
However, there are also some differences between the making of a peace offering and a burnt offering. Let us contrast these two offerings:
|Burnt offering||Peace offering||Significance|
|Sacrifice||Male only (from the herd or flock), and birds also accepted.||Male or female animal from the herds or flock (but not bird) |
(One suggestion as to why birds were not accepted was because the peace offering was meant to lead towards a feasting around which people could come for a heart meal. Poultry would not offer quite as much meat for the eating as an offering from the flock or herd.)
|The Burnt Offering is a compulsory offering that focuses on the satisfaction of God’s righteousness because of the sacrificial death of the animal offered. Here, as it were, the emphasis falls on God, and the satisfaction of His anger, due to the general fallen condition of man. |
The Peace Offering is freewill offering. This means it is occasional and focuses on the Israelite’s “peace with God,” the joys and the peace of mind which comes from knowing that God is at peace with us, and the end goal is our acceptance by Him. The relationship and communion with God comes to mind.
Here, we see that worship of God is meant to be both structured (compulsory) and spontaneous (freewill). How sad it is that most of us also think about our burnt offering (wholehearted devotion and giving our lives to God) but fail to enjoy our peace offering – that we can spend time with God and know Him and love Him and enjoy His sweet presence in our lives.
|The Rite||The whole animal was totally burnt at the altar, with the entrails and legs washed before sacrificing. As a substitute for the worshipper, the entire animal was consumed by fire as an offering unto the Lord, reminding us that worship is wholehearted and complete.||Fat covering the entrails, kidney and long lobe of liver, which were con sidered to be the prime portions were offered. This meant that there were parts left that were not offered but enjoyed as a delicious feast – shared by the priest and the worshipper From elsewhere in the Scripture we learn that the kidneys are symbols of the emotions (unlike the heart for us today) and together with the offering of the fat, the richest part, the peace offering is about giving God our deepest emotions and richest offering.||The two offerings had a different purpose and function. |
Leviticus 19:5-6 sheds some light on the occasion and function of the peace offering. We are told that the offering is shared by God, the priests and the offeror. At the end of the offering, the unburnt parts may be eaten by the person making the sacrifice (Lev 7:15; 19:5-6). This is totally unlike the burnt offering, where the entire animal is burnt up.
What is the significance of a meal? It was a physical reminder of the blessing of God. The meal was also a symbol of peace. This was a common picture in the Bible. Abraham offered meat and a meal to his unknown visitors (Gen. 18) and so did Lot (Gen. 19). The newly born church manifested its life and fellowship by sharing meals from “house to house” (Acts 2:46). One of the greatest barriers between the Jewish believers and the Gentile saints was that of eating (cf. Acts 10 & 11). Meals were an important picture of the peace and fellowship between those involved, and in Leviticus, it was a picture of the enjoyment of fellowship with God and with others, as a result of peace being made. The picture here is that because we have peace with God, we can enjoy a fellowship meal with Him.
|Occasion||It accompanied all the other offerings and was constantly offered. It signified devotion and wholehearted worship, and was the basic, common expression of what it meant to be an Israelite.||There are three main occasions: |
1. For thanksgiving (Lev. 7:12; 22:29-30)
2. Completing a vow (Lev. 7:16; 22:21)
3. Freewill offering (Lev. 7:16; 22:18, 21, 23)
As a freewill offering, peace offerings are a spontaneous expression and worship. We celebrate our peace with God.
|Whereas the burnt offering was the most common and basic picture of the Israelite’s wholehearted devotion to God, the peace offering served a special occasion and pointed to one of the specific blessings of being God’s people – fellowship with Him symbolized by the food made available.|
In summary, we realise that while the burnt offering was to be offered constantly, whereas the peace offering was offered less frequently. The peace offering required the fat, kidneys and blood, and brought the worshipper, priest and God around the sacrifice, which ultimately led to fellowship around a meal.
The passage also ends with a command (v.17). They were told not to eat the fat nor blood. The fat was the best part, and thus, it belonged to the Lord (v.16). As we have seen repeatedly, it was to remind us of the importance of who He is and place Him first above all. God is not an afterthought. What about us? We learn that since in Gen 9:4, we are told that the blood is the symbol of life, and that since our peace with God is won through the spilling of innocent blood (i.e. atonement made through it) God’s people should not indulge in the eating of blood like the pagans did in worship of their idols. It was viewed as barbaric and unclean to eat the lifeblood of an animal.
(B) Fellowship through the cross: the reality of the peace offering (Eph 2)
Up to now, we have been going through the technicalities of the peace offering, and have tried to draw out some principles. But in our culture, why is it important for us to understand the peace offering? How are we supposed to understand it? Frankly, we struggle with understanding it because we don't live in the age of relationship and fellowship. We live in an individualistic culture, the age of self. We are quite good at customizing our world. How? If we want to ignore someone, we can easily unfriend them from Facebook or ignore their calls. When it comes to compulsory events, such as family dinners, it is often an awkward and grudging affair. As a result, it is not difficult to see why our relationship time with God suffers, and QT is boring. We take these principles and apply them to our spiritual life, thinking of them as necessary but doing so grudgingly.
Now, we will use Ephesians 2 to help us see how peace offering and peace with God has a more practical effect by transforming our relationships. In this passage, Paul borrows from the picture of peace offering and applies it to people who are very different -- the Jews and Gentiles. From verses 13-22, he peppered his letter with an extensive description of the peace because both groups are first reconciled to God, and therefore reconciled to one another:
- "far off", "brought near" (v.13,17)
- "who has made us both one", "broken down ... the dividing wall of hostility"(v.14)
- "He himself is our peace" (v.14)
- "one new man" (v.15)
- "reconcile us to God in one body", "killing the hostility" (v.16)
- "access in one Spirit to the Father" (v.18)
- "no longer strangers and wanderers" (v.19)
- "fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (v.19b)
- "joined together, grows into a holy temple" (v.21)
- "built together" (v.22)
- "into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (v.22)
This passage gives us a similar picture as the one presented in Leviticus. The peace offering allows us to be reconciled to God (c.f. Rom 5), and this peace with God also helps us to have peace with one another. The peace offering forces us to see that if we have peace with our judge, we cannot still stand as judge over another, and be at war with our brothers. The peace of God draws us to Him, but also transforms our relationships with others, bringing together vastly different people like Jews and Gentiles and make them one. And how is this possible? Right in Eph 2:13, Paul tells us that Christ Jesus is the once-for-all-time peace offering.
This study teaches us that our problem is that we are at war with God, and it is only through Christ that we can make peace with God. We have a holy God who is also gracious enough to provide for a means of reconciliation to Him, because He desires a relationship with us. It also means therefore, that Christ did not die bring us into heaven, as if heaven is merely a physical location and paradise, where we are content to live our lives for all eternity in whatever ways we imagine perfection to be. Rather, Christ Jesus died to reconcile us who were at war with Him into fellowship with the Father, so that we might know heaven. This changes the way we think of the Bible, or think of our "Christian duties" like quiet time! God is not a cold, distant taskmaster that we need to appease in order to get Him off our backs. Quiet time with Him allows us to find out more about Him as He has revealed Himself through His word, and in the process, we learn to love Him more. This also means that every moment of the day is our peace offering and fellowship time with him, more than just 15 mins a day or two hours on a Sunday.
Have you made peace with God by placing your faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ? If so, do you joyfully partake in the fellowship with Him and other believers today, and also eagerly look forward to the final wedding supper of the Lamb?