Previously we saw how the burnt offering is about drawing near to God, and how once we’ve been atoned for, we offer our lives like the grain offering. Now we come to chapter three. This sacrifice is to celebrate our fellowship with God. It is interesting, because in Leviticus 1-5, we find it as the third offering. Yet, in Leviticus 6-7, we find it as the last offering. Then, in Leviticus 9, we find that Aaron and his sons offer sacrifices for themselves, and the offering that seems to be the fellowship offering is called “the wave offering”… The chapter ends by saying Aaron offered the sin offering, the burnt offering, and then the fellowship offering last of all.
What is it that this offering is communicating?
In verse 2, we find that the person would lay their hand on the animal’s head, and the blood would be sprinkled on all sides of the altar – just like with the burnt offering. We find in Leviticus 3:3-4 that the inward parts are offered again. This has the same symbolism of the burnt offering: God desires the inward parts. In verse 5, we read that the fellowship offering gets placed directly on top of the burnt offering… All of the animals mentioned to use for fellowship offerings are killed and offered in the same way. Then, at the end of the instructions, the Lord says, “All the fat is the Lord’s. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live: You must not eat any fat or any blood.”
Why is it that we shouldn’t eat any fat or blood? It is explained later that the life is in the blood, and for this reason we shouldn’t eat the blood. Yet, here we find that God establishes that because the fat portions are specifically to be offered unto God, and that they are specifically the Lord’s, we should not eat fat.
When we jump forward to chapter 7, we find that the fellowship offering is expounded differently… In 7:12, we read, “If he offers it as an expression of thankfulness, then along with this thank offering, he is to offer cakes of bread made without yeast and mixed with oil, wafers made without yeast and spread with oil, and cakes of fine flour well-kneaded and mixed with oil.” Interesting.
So, here we have what seems like a reiteration of the burnt offering, and then a reiteration of the grain offering, and when we combine the two, it is called the “fellowship offering”. Sometimes, you might read in your translation that it is the “peace offering”. Either way, we celebrate that we have fellowship – or, we’re at peace – with God. While the burnt offering and the grain offering are fulfilled in Christ, this offering is now applied to us more directly. I’ve discussed how these first two offerings can apply to us, and now we see it more fully implied in Leviticus 7.
When we get to Leviticus 7:28, details are added about this fellowship offering that aren’t initially given. Anyone who brings the fellowship offering is supposed to take of the fat together with the breast and wave it before the Lord as a wave offering. The wave offering is something that has been debated about. In Allen P. Ross’s book Holiness to the Lord, he suggests that the wave offering was placed in the offerer’s hands, and then the priest placed his hands beneath those of the offerer, moving them upward and downward, forward and backward (p. 192). The wave offering was in the same pattern as the cross.
This is significant on many levels. First, it causes us to think about Christ’s death by crucifixion. Second, it causes me to think about the cruciform life. We, as believers, are ushered to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and to follow Him. The fellowship offering is about following Christ’s example. First, he is the burnt offering – the propitiation of our sins. Second, he is the grain offering – the unleavened bread of truth that came down from heaven. Now, in the fellowship offering, we join in Christ’s suffering and in His resurrection through fellowship. That fellowship is based upon the cross. But the cross has two meanings to it. First, we die to sin. Second, we give our own lives for others as servants.
Next in Leviticus 7, we read about the fat being burned upon the altar, but the breast is the priest’s portion. Also, the thigh is to be given as the priest’s portion. So, we see that the priest is allotted a portion of this sacrifice, but back in 7:15-21, God seems to be saying that this sacrifice is to be eaten by everyone. Who is “everyone”? The rabbinic commentators, as well as many evangelical, assume that it is the family who offered it, but I wonder if this is one of those sacrifices that is mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:24-29.
In Deuteronomy 14:24-29, God basically says that if you’ve been blessed to the point where you can’t even bring your tithe to Jerusalem to offer it, then you should exchange your tithe for silver and take it to the City of God. When you’re there, party it up. Buy cattle, sheep, wine, other fermented drink, or whatever you desire. Then you and your household shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. But, God gives this warning: “Do not neglect… the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless, and the widows who live in your towns.” Basically, when you come to celebrate because God has blessed you, invite the poor, the needy, the fatherless and widows, the foreigner, those who are oppressed, they who are barely scraping by, the Levite, and anyone else that you can think of who needs help, and when you feast with your family before the Lord, make sure they can also feast and whoop it up with you.
In the context of the fellowship offering, it seems like the immediate implication is that the family who is offering this gets to partake in eating it. We partake in it by identifying with the first two sacrifices and laying down our own lives in like manner. We see the intense symbolism in the sacrifices, and we recognize that God doesn’t simply want the blood of goats and bulls… He wants us.
So we gladly offer our lives by extending ourselves to those in need. Whatever we can do, we do. And notice that God never says to His people, “Take care of the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, but only if they aren’t a bum without a job and a ton of debt…” God always says, “Take care of them”. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. We’re seeing the heart of God here. When we see someone in need, we take care of them simply because they need someone who is willing to take care of them. If they are the kind of person to use and abuse that generosity, then we address the issue that needs to be addressed. But we never say that simply because so and so doesn’t have a job and isn’t looking that we aren’t going to help. Instead, we recognize that it is God’s heart – proven by the fact that He died for the righteous and the wicked – to extend love, generosity, mercy, and hope to even those who are unloving, ungrateful, selfish, and without hope. Are there limits? Certainly. But limits are not excuses. And limits are not given directly. Instead, we simply read that it is our place to take care of our brothers in need. That is the way we offer our lives as the fellowship offering.