The next offering that God instructs to his people to bring before him is the grain offering. What was the purpose of the grain offering? The Hebrew word behind the English reading “grain offering” is minha and is used in a number of contexts. Sometimes minha is used to describe giving gifts.
Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present (minha) and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.” (Judges 6:18 ESV; cf. 1 Sam 10:27; 2 Kgs 8:8)
Sometimes the word is used to describe an offering in thanksgiving.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering (minha) and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; (1 Chronicles 16:29 ESV; cf. Psalm 96:8)
There are also times where the word is used to describing giving tribute to a king or to a prophet.
Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, and the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute (minha) by him to Eglon the king of Moab. (Judges 3:15 ESV)
This has led to much scholarly discussion as to the purpose of the grain offering commanded in Leviticus 2. The basic meaning is a gift from a heart of thanksgiving and paying of homage. “Since the word was employed in the religious sphere, it referred to a gift given by a worshiper to his Lord” (Rooker, Leviticus, New American Commentary, 94).
You will also notice that Leviticus 2 divides into different kinds of grain offerings, just like the first chapter divided into the different types of burnt offerings. The first three verses mainly describe grain offerings that are not cooked. Verses 4-10 instruct how to bring grain offerings that are cooked. Verses 11-16 give some final instructions concerning the various meal offerings.
Recognizing God’s Blessing
According to Numbers 28-29 the grain offering regularly followed the burnt offering. This makes sense in the arrangement of the instructions for the offerings. Once the burnt offering was completed, the grain offering was performed. The grain offering symbolized a recognition for what God had done for them and given them. It was an offering of thanksgiving in a spiritual sense and a physical sense. The grain offering indicated thankfulness to God and dedication to God for the atonement made in the burnt offering. The grain offering also indicated thankfulness to God for the prosperity God had given the people. Notice in Leviticus 2:12 and 2:14 that the grain offering was also given in connection with an offering of firstfruits.
Notice in verse 2 and in verse 9 that only a portion of the grain offering is burned on the altar. Remember in our last lesson we saw that the whole animal was burned in the burnt offering. There was nothing left for the priest or for the worshiper. In the grain offering, however, only a portion was burned on the altar. The rest was given to Aaron and his sons (2:3). This portion is called the “memorial portion” (most translations) or the “token portion” (NRSV). This token portion represented the whole of the offering. In giving a portion back to God on the altar the worshiper was recognizing that all the grain was from the Lord. The worshiper was reminded in this offering that all that they had was given to them from God. The memorial portion symbolized that all the offering belonged to God. The worshiper was recognizing that God has a claim to all of it. Exodus 19:5 reminded the people of Israel that all the earth is the Lord’s. God owns all of it.
It is interesting that this offering was not merely what God had created. That is, the offering did not consist of wheat and olives. Rather, the offering included the work of the people. The offering was to be fine flour and olive oil. Wheat was God’s gift but it included what the people’s labor had made of that wheat, which was, fine flour. Olives were not offered, but olive oil. This was God’s gift of olives combined with the people’s labor. God’s gifts plus our labor equaled God’s offering. This is representative of the parable of the talents where the master gave the money to the slaves who then labored with that money to make more which was given back the master at the end. Everything we have and everything we work with is a gift from the grace of God. We put our efforts and our toils into this world and then offer it back to God because it all belongs to him since it all comes from him.
This attitude of giving back to God because of what he has done for us did not die with the passing of the Law of Moses. We see this motivation used by Paul in a number of places as he encouraged the Lord’s people.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV)
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV)
These are the reasons why we are commanded to give cheerfully. We recognize what God has given us. We realize that God has given us the jobs we have and the possessions we have to be able to put those things into God’s service. Understanding the atonement we have received through Christ leads us to offer a portion of what we have back to God, recognizing that God owns all of it. I believe this is truly the heart of the command to give in 1 Corinthians 16. We are giving back a portion of what God has blessed us, understanding that he has given us everything. God is the giver of every good gift. God wants us to demonstrate our thanksgiving and dedication.
No Leaven or Honey
An interesting prohibition is given in verse 11. A grain offering was not to be made with leaven or honey. Honey was prone to fermenting and corruption and that may be the reason why God was forbidding the use of honey in the grain offering. Honey was also commonly used in pagan worship practices. We know that leaven carried with it the symbolism of corruption (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:8). Therefore, this prohibition of leaven and honey likely symbolizes the need for purity and lack of corruption.
The Salt of Faithfulness
There is another interesting command. All the grain offerings were to be seasoned with salt. This was not for flavoring the food, as we use salt today. We are given a clue as to the symbolism of the salt in verse 13. “You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; will all your offerings you shall offer salt.” Notice the salt is symbolic of the salt of the covenant. In ancient Middle Eastern lands, an agreement or covenant was sealed with a gift of salt to show the strength and permanence of the contract (NLT Life Application Study Bible). It is a picture of the permanence of God’s covenant relationship with his people. When salt was added to the offering, it was a reminder to the worshiper that he was in an eternal covenant with God. Notice a couple examples of this in the scriptures.
All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the LORD I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you.” (Numbers 18:19 ESV)
Ought you not to know that the LORD God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt? (2 Chronicles 13:5 ESV)
Salt is a preservative and indicates the lasting, permanent covenant God has entered into with his people. God will not forsake his people. God will be faithful. God keeps his word. God keeps his covenant. God remains faithful to his people. This truth is exactly what the writer of Hebrews wants us to remember as we go through life’s difficulties.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6; NIV2011)
The salt of the covenant meant that God would never forsake the worshiper. It also was a reminder to the worshiper that he had a perpetual duty to keep the covenant that he had entered into with God, the Law of Moses.
What a beautiful picture the grain offering gives to God’s worshipers. It was a way of offering thanksgiving and paying homage to the Lord for the bounty and blessings, both spiritually and physically, that the worshiper had received. The salt emphasized God’s faithfulness to his people, to provide for them and never forsake them. The salt reminded the worshiper to remain faithful to the Lord. The lack of leaven and honey reminded the worshiper to remain free from corruption while in this covenant relationship. These truths are found in our covenant relationship found in Christ. We give our thanks to the Lord for the work of Jesus who blesses us spiritually and physically. We give back to the Lord through our worship, giving, and service as a token of our dedication and gratitude. We show God that we recognize that everything we have comes from him. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the covenant made through the blood of Christ which calls for our faithfulness to him, remaining free from the corruption of the world.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4 ESV)