The Peace Offering

Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland

Part 4 of 7 of the series The Levitical Offerings

4. THE PEACE OFFERING

In Leviticus chapter three God set before Israel His requirements with regard to the peace offering. This is the translation of the Hebrew word shelem, coming from a root meaning to be safe. The Revised Version margin sometimes renders it ‘thank offering’.

The idea behind this offering occurs previously in the Old Testament, when a sacrifice to God has been made the occasion of sharing a meal with others. In Genesis 31. 54, Jacob and Laban met to make a vow before God, and partook of a sacrificial meal. Jethro, in giving thanks to God for His deliverance of Moses and the children of Israel from Egypt, offered a sacrifice and sat down before God to a meal of which he, Aaron and all the elders of Israel took part, Exod. 18. 12. Thus God, as in the cases of the burnt and meat offerings, was pleased to use a sacrificial custom already existing, to correct what was wrong in man’s method and to supply what was missing, at the same time pointing forward to the One who should come, the perfect peace offering for man.

The peace offering was a salvation offering, being offered (i) as thanksgiving for deliverance, Lev. 7. 12; (ii) on the fulfilment of a vow, when the requested salvation had been realised, Lev. 22. 21, and (iii) as a freewill offering, simply expressing the desire to rejoice with God, as did Solomon at the dedication of the temple, 1 Kings 8. 63.

The peace offering consisted essentially of an animal slain, part being given to God in firing, part to the priest as food, and the rest eaten as a festive meal. It acknowledged the Israelite’s peace with God, and indicated his desire to have fellowship with others in expressing the peace he had found in God’s deliverance. It was a time of rejoicing because of the peace experienced, cf. Luke 15. 23; moreover, it expressed God’s satisfaction in the peace enjoyed.

How beautifully Christ is prefigured in the peace offering. We rejoice in Him who is our peace, Eph. 2. 14; through Him we have peace with God, Rom. 5. 1; He made peace through the blood of His cross, Col. 1. 20. Christ gives us peace, and satisfies our longing hearts, since He has given us the security and certainty of eternal life.

The Offering and the Ingredients

The choice of animal that could be presented as a peace offering was threefold, Lev. 3. 1, 6, 12; the offerer might bring an animal from his herd of oxen, from his flock or from his goats. It must be without blemish, as for the burnt offering. But in Leviticus 22. 23, a bullock or a lamb that had something superfluous or lacking could be used for a freewill offering. There was more freedom of choice than in the case of the burnt offering in that he could offer a male or female animal, but there was no provision for offering a pigeon or turtle dove. This liberty is understood when we consider the main purpose of the peace offering - a sacrificial meal. God would permit more latitude that men might more easily - and therefore more frequently - join together with Him in the fellowship of thanksgiving. A small bird could scarcely furnish enough for many to have a share.

This latitude of choice finds a ready explanation in the person of Christ. As our peace offering, He amply supplies all requirements. God delights in His own appreciation of His Son. As priests we rejoice to minister to others of the peace found in Christ; as sharers in the feast, we express our gratitude for the salvation Christ has wrought. Meditation on Him produces abundant satisfaction and thanksgiving, and the different sized animals suggest different comprehensions of His person.

God ordained that the peace offering should be accompanied by various kinds of cakes: (i) unleavened cakes mixed with oil before baking, (ii) unleavened wafers anointed with oil after baking, (iii) unleavened cakes baked by frying in oil, and (iv) cakes of leavened bread. One each of these four varieties of cakes was taken, the sample heaved unto the Lord, and given to the priest, 7. 11-14.

In these cakes we see a picture of the service men and women rendered to the Lord when on earth. The unleavened cakes (either mixed with, anointed with, or cooked in oil) tell of those holy ones with whom the Spirit dwelt, John 14. 17, and who ministered to Christ on earth, for example, Mary upon whom the Holy Ghost came, Luke 1. 35, John the Baptist, 1. 15, and Simeon, 2. 25-26, both filled with the Holy Spirit. The leavened cakes remind us of the publicans and sinners with whom the Saviour ate. Christ was pleased to accept what sinners provided, even the washing of His feet by the sinful woman, 7. 44.

The Ritual

The ritual of the peace offering differed in some respects from that of the burnt offering. The offerer presented his offering at the door of the tabernacle, and laid his hands on its head, thereby acknowledging identification with it. There he killed the animal, the priest taking the blood to sprinkle it on the altar. This followed the pattern for the burnt offering, and reminded the Israelite that the animal took his place in death. Its sprinkled blood made atonement for him.

The offerer then removed some parts of the animal as God’s portion. This consisted of (i) the veil that covered the intestines, the omentum, a net-like membrane which is commonly laden with fat, (ii) the fat closely attached to the intestines, (iii) the two kidneys and the fat in which they are buried, and (iv) the caul above the liver. The caul, literally, is the structure that extends from the liver-not so much a lobe of the liver as the lesser omentum, also a net-like membrane which contains fat. These four portions contain practically all the fat inside the animal. One difference is seen in the case of a lamb. In this animal as found in Palestine, another great depot of fat was the tail, especially the upper part, near the back bone. This, too, must be set aside as God’s portion - ‘the fat tail entire’, Lev. 3. 9 R.V. With his own hands the offerer brought all the fat to the priest, who burned it on the altar. It was the Lord’s portion; it was an offering made by fire, that is, a firing. It indicated full devotion to God, being wholly consumed by the fire; it was a sweet savour to God, ‘All the fat is the Lord’s’. It was His ‘food of the offering’, 3. 16. The burning was the visible evidence of divine appropriation.

The offerer next gave the priest his portions, Lev. 7. 34, the wave breast and the heave shoulder (or thigh, R.V.). The former was waved to and fro, possibly both by the offerer and the priest. They waved it towards the altar as indicative of being first offered to God, and then back again to represent God giving it back to the priest. In like manner the thigh was heaved up towards God, 10. 15, to acknowledge its gift from God to the priest.

Then followed the sacrificial meal. The remainder of the sacrificed animal was given back by God to the offerer and his family. This was eaten before Jehovah, in the place where He chose to put His name, Deut. 12. 11, 18. It was an occasion of rejoicing, v. 7. God was the host, for the animal had been given to Him, and He called on the Israelite to share the animal with Him. Well might he do so with joy! 1 Corinthians 10. 18 tells us that the Israelite in thus partaking of this meal was expressing his communion with the altar, that is, with God. The meal must be completed the same day in the case of the thanksgiving peace offering; a vow or a freewill offering might be eaten on the following day also. What remained after these times must be burnt. If any was eaten after the prescribed period, the offering was not accepted; the offerer must bear the consequences by bringing another sacrifice. God desired that there be no delay between the slaying of the animal and partaking of it ; the offerer must not have time to forget the death while enjoying its benefits.

Several conditions must be fulfilled in the participation of the peace offering. If the flesh came into contact with anything unclean it must not be eaten, but burnt. All who ate of it must be ceremonially clean. Any who disobeyed this injunction must be excommunicated, being put outside the pale of the protection of the elders of the people, both for life and for property. He would lose the privileges of the covenant people, Lev. 7. 15-21; cf. Gen. 17. 14.

Some prohibitions are also set forth. No fat might be eaten; this was God’s portion. Neither was the blood to be eaten, Lev. 7. 22-27; the life of the flesh was in it, and it was for atonement, 17. 11.

The Truth Set forth by the Offering

In this ritual we see Christ the Offerer, the Priest and the Offering. As Offerer, Christ presented Himself to God for our salvation, Heb. 10. 7. He gave Himself to be slain for us, that all should share in the satisfaction that His death brought. We, as one with Him and members of His body, appreciate Christ our peace offering today, and acknowledge our identification with Him in death, Gal. 2. 20. In the slaying of the animal, we see Christ voluntarily going into death for us. No one took His life from Him; He laid it down of Himself having power to do so, John 10. 18. The priest sprinkling the blood portrays Christ presenting His blood to God in heaven, where the blood of sprinkling is seen today, Heb. 12. 24. Next, Christ the Offerer is seen dividing the sacrifice. The fat covering the inwards and the kidneys were given to God. The inward fat and the kidneys tell of the hidden excellence and secret motives that God alone knew and could appreciate in Christ; ‘No man knoweth the Son, but the Father’, Matt. 11. 27.

The priest’s portion - the breast and the right shoulder -tells of Christ finding special satisfaction in some of His own attributes. The breast speaks of affection, the right shoulder of His strength. How often the Lord spoke of His love, for God, for His own and for the world. He spake, too, of His power - to heal, Luke 5. 17; to teach, Luke 4. 32; to forgive sins, Matt. 9. 6; to die and to rise from the dead, John 10. 18; to overcome the strong one, Satan, Matt. 12. 29; to come in kingly glory, Matt. 24. 30. Yea, all power was given unto Him, Matt. 28. 18. Christ rejoiced as a strong man to run His course, Ps. 19. 5 R.V.

But believers find their joy in Christ as the Offering. We appreciate Him as our peace offering. He was slain for us; His blood was sprinkled on our behalf. God received His portion in that He has appreciated the hidden excellencies of Christ. The Lord Himself has received His portion in seeing of the travail of His soul, thereby being satisfied. There remains therefore the sacrificial meal - the believers’ communion with God - a token of friendship and peace with God. This meal today is eaten in God’s appointed place and according to His ordinance. God invites the believer to sit at His table and to enjoy fellowship with Him, Heb. 13. 10. This is experienced not merely in the Lord’s supper, but in all God’s provision for us. We feed on Christ who died for us; His flesh, given for the life of the world, sustains our spiritual life, John 6. 51. This peace-offering meal is portrayed for us in our remembrance of Him, ‘the bread which we break is it not a communion of the body of Christ?’, 1 Cor. 10. 16 R.V. There we sit in fellowship with God, rejoicing in what Christ has done for us, Luke 22. 19, 20. The command to partake of the animal on the day it was slain reminds us ever to keep fresh in mind the death of Christ; in heaven He is seen as the freshly slain Lamb, Rev. 5. 6.

Upon bringing a thanksgiving offering, the Israelite had to partake of his portion during that day and night, but if his offering were for a vow or a freewill offering he could eat of it on the first or second day, but not on the third day. The ‘morning’ typifies the time of Christ’s appearing, John 21. 4, the day of our salvation, Rom. 13. 12; the ‘third day’ is the day of resurrection, 1 Cor. 15. 4. Both these figures suggest to us that in the Lord’s supper Christ is enjoyed as a peace offering whilst awaiting the redemption of our bodies. The feast is only ‘till he come’, 1 Cor. 11. 26. Moreover, thanksgiving to God for His Son ought to have a prominent place in our petitions every time we gather for prayer. Then we can rejoice with God, and share with Him our varying appreciations of Christ as we express gratitude for the salvation He has wrought.

The believer should be in the right spiritual condition to partake of this peace offering. To have communion with Him, we must not walk in darkness, a life characterised by impurity of motives, thoughts, words, deeds, 1 John 1. 6. Cleansing from such unrighteousness demands the confession of our sins, and the acknowledgement of the cleansing value of the blood of Jesus Christ His Son day by day, v. 7.

The believer can also enjoy the priest’s portion of the peace offering. As he ministers Christ to others, he himself receives the wave breast and heave shoulder. He appreciates in a greater degree the affection of Christ, and experiences the power of Christ to meet his manifold needs. Let us seek more and more this holy service and its ample rewards.