Maybe you just wrinkled your nose. I did.
Even though I know the good news I hope to convey today, I also know that work clothes typically don’t smell good.
Even after a slow day in the office, my clothes have a slight odor of sweat. And maybe the smell of coffee was nice in my cup that morning, but (pardon the pun) it’s not so hot on my pants eight hours later. Of course, we’re not talking about the literal smell of our clothes. Leviticus 2 is telling us that God’s delights in the faithful work of His people. Let’s take a closer look at part of a book that rarely gets any look at all.
Of the Bible’s five different types of offerings outlined in the first opening of Leviticus, only the first three – the burnt offering, the grain offering, and the peace offering – are described as being “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” (Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17, 2:2, 9, 12, 3:5, etc.) That’s probably because they were also the only voluntary offerings. Sin offerings were required for violations of God’s commands (Leviticus 4:1ff) just as guilt offerings were required for breaches of faith in relationships among God’s people. (Leviticus 5:14ff and 6:1ff) The burnt offering in chapter one symbolized an individual dedicating their life to the Lord but only through the cleansing blood of another’s life, and the peace offering in chapter three symbolized the Lord having genuine intimacy with a sinner through the mediating work of the priest’s sacrifice. Both of these were related but different foreshadows of specific truths of Christ’s ministry on behalf of His people.
The grain offering in chapter two is a little different, though. It symbolized the dedication of a person’s work: the fruit they bore for God. Since Israel’s most prominent work was farming, the contents of the offering were always the fruit of their grain harvests. But it represents work in general, and that may raise a question.
“I thought God cursed work along with the whole earth after Adam & Eve sinned.”
No. If you look back at Genesis 3:14 and 17, God only cursed the serpent and the earth. The Lord imposed great hardships on our labor of men and women, but He did not curse work itself. But why did He make work burdensome and, yet, still enjoy when we work faithfully? What does that mean?
From the very beginning of creation, the Lord has shown us that the most central part of real love is self-sacrifice. The Lord didn’t have to continue mankind after we rebelled against Him, but He immediately began pointing to seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15. By the way, women don’t have “seed”. This was the first prophecy of Jesus’ virgin birth. And in Genesis 3:21 He shows them that He will accept the death of Another to cover our sins.
When we work faithfully through the many daily thorns and sweat in our homes, offices, and other fields as God commands, our self-sacrifice shows our love. That is selfless work that pleases the Lord. We invest our literal or figurative fruits to serve others as stewards of what He’s given, and that inspires Him to breath in deeply and say “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21-23)
There are so many wonderful nuances in the grain offering, I will only comment on a few.
First, notice that the worker is to bring the fine flour, add oil and frankincense, and then present it to the priest. Our active part is not simply in our work itself but in bringing it to the Mediator who will present it to the Father. I highlight this for the same reason that I pointed out God did not curse work: we often wrongly assume that the Lord would only take pleasure in the spiritual things of His Son, surely not the physical and imperfect work of His people. But He does. And one of the reasons for placing the grain offering between the burnt and peace offering may be to remind us that God not only accepts the work of those who dedicate their lives to Him (pictured in the burnt offering) and have intimate relationship with Him through the sacrifice and Mediator (pictured in the peace offering), He delights in their work done for Him, too. The New Testament confirms the Lord’s pleasure in such works. (Matthew 5:16, Acts 9:36, 2 Corinthians 9:8, Ephesians 2:10, Colossians 1:10, 1 Timothy 6:18, etc.)
Notice, too, that part of the grain offering is burned up (physically picturing its rise toward God) but the rest was for the priest. Here is an image of the Mediator literally feeding on our sweet works. In fact, Jesus, our Priest, said that “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:34) What a powerfully personal image of His joy in our good labors, especially knowing that Jesus persevered sacrificially in His work that even caused Him to sweat blood. (Luke 22:44)
All of the grain offerings were also to be made without leaven (verses 4-5, and 11), their yeast-like substance that required time to cause the bread to rise. In Exodus 12:15-39, the Lord taught Israel that Unleavened bread was always to be a reminder to quickly follow Him away from the death of sin toward Life with Him. And 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 confirms that sin is like leaven, if we linger its effects will only grow larger in our lives and its impact on others.
Two last notes on offering our fruit to the Lord for His great pleasure: 1) There is no mention of blood, as in all other offerings, and 2) they were always to include salt with their grain offerings (see verse 13, Numbers 18:19, and 2 Chronicles 13:5). Why?
First, the burnt offering shows that the person is declared cleansed by their faith in the bloody death of another in their place, and their work is part of them. So when the person is cleansed by the Lord, the Lord accepts their work for Him clean, too. (Matthew 23:26, Romans 14:20, 2 Timothy 2:21, etc.) Even so, you might rightly say that God’s Word clearly points to the blood of the covenant in Jesus as the only way to be cleansed. (Exodus 24:8, Zechariah 9:11, Matthew 26:27-28, John 6:53-56, Hebrews 9:13-22, 1 John 1:7, etc.) Wouldn’t they miss the significance of the covenant?
That’s a central reason for the salt in the grain offering. Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chronicles 13:5 tell us that salt was one of the signs of God’s covenant, just as I’ve shown that the supernatural light we often see in Scripture is a sign of the covenant presence of Christ. The Lord’s covenant is first clearly revealed when the Lord alone passed through the animals’ halves in Genesis 15 after He put Abram into a deep sleep off to the side, showing that, “If either of us breaks My covenant, I Myself will pay the price of death.” His covenant is about certain hope for those who follow Christ by faith in Him who dies on their behalf. Just as light reveals the truth in the darkness and shows the way to the lost, salt brings taste, healing, and preservation. Now do you see why Jesus said His people are the Salt of the earth and Light of the world? (Matthew 5:13-16) We are to be signs of His covenant because of His work in us.
And Leviticus 2 reminds us that our works are to be His sweet fruits.
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