The Drink Offering

Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland

Part 7 of 7 of the series The Levitical Offerings

7. THE DRINK OFFERING

Many of the major offerings of the Levitical economy were accompanied by two of a subsidiary nature, namely, the meat and drink offerings; the latter we shall now consider. The term drink offering, Exod. 29. 40, is the English rendering of the Hebrew nesek, a word that comes from a root meaning “to pour out”. The pouring out of a liquid was a recognised method of propitiating a god among the heathen nations. In Daniel 2. 46 the word “oblation” is, literally, the thing poured out. Thus Nebuchadnezzar ordered that worship be rendered to Daniel. Apostate Israel had copied the practices of the heathen in pouring out drink offerings to false gods, and to the host of heaven, on the tops of their houses, Jer. 32. 29. For this they received righteous retribution from God as He sent the Chaldeans against them. The god to whom the drink offering was offered was said to drink the wine of their offerings, Deut. 32. 38.

The first example of a drink offering is seen in the life of Jacob. In Genesis 35. 14 he is described as having “poured a drink offering” on the pillar of stone that he had erected as a memorial to the occasion when God had talked with him. He used oil for this purpose, and thus he expressed his worship of God. On first leaving home, he similarly poured oil on the top of the stone that he had used as a pillow during the night when God spake to him in a dream, Gen. 28. 18. David also employed such an offering by itself when, on receiving the water from the well at Bethlehem from men who had hazarded their lives to obtain it, he poured it out as an offering unto the Lord, 2 Sam. 23. 16.

Thus the Hebrew nesek is used, first, of drink offerings in general, and secondly as a technical term for the drink offering of wine which God commanded to be poured out on the burnt and peace offerings - the sweet savour offerings. It does not seem to have been used with either the sin or trespass offerings. The most frequent use of the drink offering in the Levitical ritual seems to have been its application to the burnt offering, where it was intimately associated with the meat offering. Apparently no burnt offering might be presented without these subsidiary offerings. The omission of the drink offering in Leviticus chapters 1-6 is significant. The explanation is found in Numbers 15. 2. It was intended to be implemented only when Israel came into the land, as wine in such prescribed quantities would not be readily available in the wilderness.

The Materials

Various materials were poured out as drink offerings. Jacob poured out oil, the emblem of fatness, as an expression of the abundance that he had received from God. David poured out water, offering to God the service that men had rendered, even their lives which they had risked for David’s sake. The psalmist speaks of the drink offerings of blood that idolatrous Israel offered, Ps. 16. 4. Here, blood may mean literal blood, since some offered human sacrifices to Moloch and Chemosh. On the other hand, it may be that blood is put for wine - the blood of the grape, Deut. 32. 14. Or again, the drink offering of blood may be a metaphorical way of expressing the fact that the offerer had hands stained with blood.

God ordained that the drink offering presented to Him should consist of wine, Exod. 29. 40; it was also called strong wine, Num. 28. 7; it was the best that the Israelite used. This wine made glad the heart of man, Ps. 104. 15, but if taken to excess it was intoxicating, Prov. 23. 29-30. Wine, the evidence of the blessing of God, Gen. 27. 28, is used in Scripture as an emblem of joy - cheering God and man, Jud. 9.13. Thus the drink offering brought joy to God. It was a sweet savour unto the Lord, Num. 15. 7; it was well-pleasing unto Him. In Hosea 9. 4 the prophet said that because Israel would fail to offer wine offerings they would cease to please God. The drink offering expressed, too, the pleasure the offerer had in bringing his sacrifice to God. On the other hand, the ill-effects of over indulgence in wine point to it as a symbol of wrath, Rev. 14. 10. This was what the sacrificed animal experienced as it was being consumed by the fire.

The Ritual

There was no elaborate ritual associated with the drink offering. It consisted in the pouring out of the offering. Varying quantities of wine were ordained to be offered with the different sacrifices, Num. 15. 5, 7, 10. With a lamb a quarter of an hin (about two pints) was offered; with a ram a third of an hin (about three pints); with a bullock half an hin (about four pints). The differing values of the offerings upon which these varying quantities of drink offering were poured indicate the different appreciations of the offerer. Thus the greater the offering the more joy God received in the sacrifice.

The quantity was measured in the holy place. Numbers 28. 7 describes it as being poured out there unto the Lord. For this purpose golden vessels were kept on the table of shew-bread, Exod. 37. 16; Num. 4. 7 R.V. In Numbers 4. 7 the word “covers” (r.v. “cups”) is the rendering of the Hebrew nesek, elsewhere translated “drink offering”. The wine was then poured on the offering. Some expositors think that the wine was poured on the brazen altar, because of the prohibition about pouring it on the altar of incense, Exod. 30. 9. Urijah, in setting up the false altar for Ahaz, poured his drink offering upon the altar, 2 Kings 16. 13. But it would seem from Leviticus 23. 18 that this offering was poured on the portion of the animal that was burnt; it was part of the offering made by fire and is often designated as belonging to the sacrifice, Num. 15. 5, 11-12. None of it was drunk by the priest; it was all for God. The pouring out of the wine denoted the offerer’s devotion to God.

The Truth set forth by the Offering

The drink offering, in common with the other Levitical offerings, has lessons to teach us concerning the work of the Lord on Calvary. It symbolises the joy the Father received from the death of His Son. Christ was ever well-pleasing to the Father, in the work of creation, Gen. 1. 31; in His incarnation, Heb. 10. 6-9; in His years of obscurity, Luke 2. 52; 3. 22; in His service, Matt. 12. 18. But from His death the Father received His greatest pleasure. It pleased Him that One so capable was willing to bear man’s judgment. With joy the Father raised Him from the dead, exalted Him to the right hand of the Majesty on High, and set Him forth as a propitiation for sins. What a delight the Lord Jesus Christ was to God!

The drink offering also gave expression to the offerer’s pleasure. So Christ was pleased to offer Himself for our sins. He delighted to give Himself to the Father’s will for our redemption, Ps. 40. 8. Wine as a symbol of wrath prefigured what the Lord Jesus Christ endured on Calvary, as God poured on Him the wrath that was our due.

The New Testament teaches us another lesson from the drink offering. Note the Revised Version margin of Philippians 2.17. Here the pouring out is emphasised. Paul writes that if he is “poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service” of the Philippians’ faith, he rejoices with them. He regarded as a burnt offering the sacrifice and service that their faith called for, and his own activity and service on their behalf as the drink offering poured out on their burnt offering; This caused him joy. In the Old Testament, the drink offering sets forth the Israelite’s joy in his desire to pour out himself, his strength, his energies for the service of God. This is not so much the pouring out of life unto death, but looking rather to the things of others, as Paul had enjoined, Phil. 2. 4. Thus in Philippians 2. 17 the pouring out implies an action akin to what we find in Romans 12. 1, the giving of one’s body as a living sacrifice. In 2 Timothy 4. 6 (R.V. marg.) the pouring out is looked at differently. There it is regarded as the giving of one’s life in martyrdom for the cause of Christ. Paul describes the imminence of his death as “already being poured out as a drink offering”. Thus the apostle not only regarded the use of his life for others as a drink offering, but also the laying down of that life for God.

All this is seen in perfection in the life and death of Christ. In His life He came not to be served, but to serve. His joy was to see His disciples loving one another, John 15. 10-12; He rejoiced in their enlightenment, Luke 10. 21. In His death, too, the Lord Jesus Christ ever had joy set before Him - the joy of bringing many sons to glory. It caused Him to endure the sharpness of the cross, and despise its shame, Heb. 12. 2; it caused Him to pour out His soul unto death, Isa. 53. 12.

The experience of the Lord Jesus Christ as pictured in the drink offering is the example for believers today. May we seek joy in pouring out our life’s energy and activity for the sake of others, thereby to help them serve and worship God. May we be ready, as the Lord, and as Paul, to pour out our lives even unto death for the sake of God, who loved us and planned such a great salvation. Such love we can never repay, but our hearts would fain respond in the words of the familiar hymn,

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

We have thus completed our study of the offerings. They have set before us Christ in His various attributes. We have learned, to appreciate how His work on Calvary is so very comprehensive and so far reaching in its effects. We see in it the cleansing of the sin offering that prepares us for God’s presence. The cross displays the trespass offering making restitution for the debt our sins had incurred. Calvary enables us to worship God. We can present the work of the cross as an adequate burnt offering, and know that God will accept it. We apprehend Christ’s life as it answers so perfectly to the details of the meat offering. In fellowship with God, and with one another, we feast on Christ as a peace offering, on Him who has passed through the fires of Calvary for us. We rejoice in this participation, and God smells a sweet savour from it. Let us learn to view the Lord Jesus Christ and His giving of Himself to the death of the cross more from the standpoint of the offerings. They display details that we might otherwise pass by. Then shall we appreciate more about Him, more of what He has done for us, and more of our privilege and responsibility to walk with Him.

His precious blood is sprinkled there,
Before and on the throne;
And His own wounds in heaven declare
His work on earth is done.

’Tis finished! here our souls can rest,
His work can never fail;
By Him, our Sacrifice and Priest,
We enter through the veil.

Within the holiest of all,
Cleansed by His precious blood,
Before Thy throne Thy children fall,
And worship Thee, our God.