Commentary On Leviticus

I. A Handbook for the People and the Priests (1:1-7:38)

A. Commission (1:1-2)

The Lord called to Moses from the Tabernacle and said to him, 2 "Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. When you present an animal as an offering to the Lord, you may take it from your herd of cattle or your flock of sheep and goats.


1:1 In the MT the verse begins with the conjunction "and" (waw [TH 2050.1, ZH 2256]), thereby joining the last verse of Exodus (Exod 40:38) with the first verse of Leviticus. As such, one can read a continuing narrative from Exodus 40 to Leviticus 1. The continuity is grammatical as well as literary, since the same characters, themes, and chronology bridge Exodus and Leviticus.

1:2 When you. This is the contemporary American English indication of an unspecified subject of a sentence. The Hebrew uses a third-person form, "one, a person" (indicating any unnamed person), much like the British use the wording "when one." The actual term used here ('adam [TH 120, ZH 132]) denotes a human being as distinct from both God on the one hand and animals on the other. It was a general term, specifying neither male nor female exclusively. It thus referred to all of the Israelites, whether male or female (see 15:29), who could come to present sacrifices, bringing them near to God.


In Leviticus, God is primarily referred to by his personal name, Yahweh. The title "Lord" is the traditional English rendition of the Hebrew "Yahweh," which was the personal name of the God of Israel. From early in their history, the Israelites were very serious about the fourth commandment against misusing God's personal name (Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11). In order not to misapply it, they determined not to utter it at all. Instead they read it as Adonai (Lord) or "the Name." Most English translations still take this traditional approach, refusing to put "Yahweh" in the text. Instead, they use "Lord," marking it as a distinctive divine name through the use of special small-capital letters.

Yahweh had called to Moses twice before using this same name—from the burning bush (Exod 3:4, 14-15) and from Mount Sinai (Exod 19:3). The continuity with the previous two events in Exodus is shown by the "and" that begins Leviticus, though it is not translated in English translations (see note on 1:1). This is also shown by "the Lord" not being explicitly mentioned as the subject of the first verb of the book, only the second. These elements suggest a grammatical tie to the previous chapter—the last chapter of Exodus (Exod 40).

In Leviticus, God's revelation comes from the Tabernacle, the inner tent that contained the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Moses was never allowed into this dwelling place of God after he had it built (Exod 40:35). He, like the other Israelites, was only able to approach it as far as the outer court. Israel's God did not want his will to be secret, completely separate and hidden from those who might seek him. Rather, he revealed himself, calling out to his people rather than leaving them to guess at who he was and what he desired.

God revealed his will to Moses, who was to pass it along to Israel, since this section was most directly relevant to them (cf. 6:8-9a). God was separate from the people, being in the Tabernacle, while they could only remain outside. At the same time he was in their midst. The Tabernacle's place was in the middle of the camp, equidistant from all the people to allow equal access to the place of worship (Num 2:1-3:30). God expected their worship, giving all of them instructions for "when," not "if," they approached him with their gifts.

The individual people of Israel were to bring or present these gifts to the Lord, since, especially in Leviticus 1-3, the offerings were voluntary—true "presents" of love (though elsewhere they were part of the daily sacrificial practice of the nation as a whole; Num 28). They also were to have been at a cost to the offerer, that is, a sacrifice. In an agricultural society where wealth and the very maintenance of life were measured in livestock, these animal presents came from the very life necessities of the people. By comparison, have not our gifts to the Lord at times become trivialized and cheap, not costing us? Does money, which is the ordinary form which offerings take today, really cost anything to many in today's society? What would, in fact, be a sacrifice for those with abundant financial resources? Might not our time, our work, our service cost us more than cash in some cases?

Leviticus 1-7: A Reference Manual for Offering Sacrifices. The first seven chapters of Leviticus are a unit showing both the priests and the people how to offer sacrifices. However, it is too limiting to focus only on the "how" and thereby read these chapters as strictly functional and ritual texts (Mulholland 1985:83-93), though much of the material of the chapters themselves concern "how." This interpretation led not only Israel but also later readers into a complete misunderstanding of the text. Israel came to view the rituals as the initiating means by which they could enter into a relationship with God, when in fact the actions described were to result from an already existing relationship with God. They served to maintain the relationship spelled out in Exodus, not to establish it. Even the most well-known "ritual" or functional text, the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:3-17; Deut 5:6-21), does not provide ways to merit participation in God's covenant. The commandments were preceded by, and were the result of, the previous verse: "I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery" (Exod 20:2; Deut 5:6). Prior to Israel's following any of God's requests, before they even knew them, they were already God's people and had been blessed by this relationship. The laws were then given as instruction on how to live within this covenant relationship with the greatest benefit for self, neighbor, and God himself.

Israel, as a nation, too often mistook the laws and rituals as an end in themselves, the opposite error to that mentioned in the last paragraph. Concentrating on the outward action of sacrifice without an inner commitment to the one receiving it was equally wrong for Israel. She thought that ritual functions of doing could replace a right relationship of being God's people (Mulholland 1985:95-105). God soundly condemned this attitude through his prophets (Jer 7; Amos 5:21-24). It was not that he did not desire the actions, since he was the one who set them up in the first place. It was rather that he wanted the attitude inspiring them to be the correct one; he wanted rejoicing instead of lifeless rote.

It is important to remember that meaning comes from context and that the geographical and historical context of Leviticus is the same as that of the Ten Commandments. Israel was still at Mount Sinai (7:38) and was just learning how to maintain its covenant relationship with God. The questions giving rise to chapters 1-7 were, What happens if I do something to endanger the relationship? Am I irrevocably separated from God? A motif of the book is holiness, and these chapters indicate how holiness, upon which an intimate relationship with God depends, might be regained if it was somehow lost, as it inevitably would be. Rather than being dead, stultifying rituals, they were gracious avenues of forgiveness.

It is also important to note chronological context. The sacrifices described here were not new, since offerings were mentioned from the beginning of the human race (e.g., Gen 4:3-4; 8:20-21; 22:2; Exod 18:12). Plans had been put in place for performing them earlier at Sinai (e.g., Exod 20:24; 24:5), but here they were presented in detail. These sacrificial regulations precede the installation ceremony for the priests (ch 8), so they had not yet begun their work, which started in Leviticus 9. Chapters 1-7 anticipate the idea that the specific priestly guild was an extension of the concept that the entire nation of Israel was a priesthood (Exod 19:6). Thus, the sacrifices and offerings brought by individual, non-priestly people as described in Genesis and Exodus were not replaced but supplemented by the provisions made here (cf. Goldingay 2003:416).

Both priest and offerer had obligations to meet and procedures to follow when coming with sacrifices into the presence of the Lord. Various aspects of these offerings are summarized in the following tables (adapted from LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush 1996:83).

Name Function Material Offerer's actions Priest's actions Disposal
'olah [TH 5930, ZH 6592] (lit., "going up"); [whole] burnt offering; holocaust; 1:3-17; 6:8-13; 7:8 Atonement Bull, sheep, goat, bird; male; no defects Bring; lay hand on head; slaughter; skin; cut up; wash animal Sprinkle blood; build fire; burn offering Completely burnt; hide saved for priest; bird crop and contents thrown on an ash heap to the east of the altar
minkhah [TH 4503, ZH 4966] (lit., "gift"); grain offering; present, meal, oblation; 2:1-16; 6:14-23; 7:9-10 Celebration Choice flour, olive oil, incense, salt; roast grain Bring material; pour oil; sprinkle incense Take handful; burn on altar Portion burnt; priests eat remainder
shelem [TH 8002, ZH 8968] (lit, "peace"); peace offering; communion, common, shared, fellowship, well-being; 3:1-17; 7:11-36 Rejoicing Cattle, sheep Bring animal; lay hand on offering; slaughter Sprinkle blood; burn offering on altar Organ fat, liver, kidneys burnt; meat eaten by priests and offerer
khatta'th [TH 2403A, ZH 2633] (lit, "sin"); sin offering; purification; 4:1-5:13; 6:24-30; 7:7; Num 15:22-31 Atone for unintentional sin (a) High priest: bull, no defect; (b) Community: bull; (c) Leader: goat, male, no defect; (d) Citizen: sheep/ goat, female, no defect; (e) Poor: young dove/pigeon; (f) Destitute: choice flour Bring offering (all); lay hand on head (a-d); slaughter (a-d; leaders act for community in each step) Place blood before inner curtain, on incense altar horns, at altar base; remove organ fat, kidneys, liver and burn these on altar (a-b); take the rest outside the camp; (f) burn Organ fat, liver, kidneys burnt; remainder eaten by priests (c-f) or burnt (a-b)
'asham [TH 817, ZH 871] (lit., "guilt"); guilt offering; reparation; 5:14-6:7 Atonement Ram, no defect, or cash equivalent Bring offering; slaughter; restitution Sprinkle blood; burn fat, kidneys, liver Fat, kidneys, liver burnt; male priests eat rest

SECONDARY SACRIFICES (Subcategories of the Peace Offering).
Name Function Material Offerer's actions Priest's Actions Disposal
todah [TH 8426, ZH 9343] (lit, "thanks"); thanksgiving offering; praise; 7:12-15 Give thanks Same as peace offering (shelem [TH 8002, ZH 8968]) Same as peace offering, plus bread (leavened and unleavened), olive oil Same as peace offering Priest and offerer eat meat offered on the day offered and eat bread
neder [TH 5088, ZH 5624] (lit., "oath"); vow; votive; 7:16-17 Complete a vow Same as peace offering Same as peace offering Same as peace offering Priest and offerer eat meat offered on the day offered or the next day
nedabah [TH 5071, ZH 5607] (lit., "voluntary"); freewill offering; 7:16-17 Rejoicing Same as peace offering Same as peace offering Same as peace offering Same as vow

The layout of the text of Leviticus 1-7 is that of a reference manual, part addressed to the people (1:1-6:7) and part to the priests (6:8-7:38). It is divided into separate, easily discernable sections that could have been consulted depending on the kind of offering brought (burnt, grain, peace, sin, guilt) or what the material of the offering was (e.g., cattle, sheep, goats, or birds in ch 1) or who was bringing the offering (e.g., priest, nation, leader, or common citizen in ch 4). They were ordered according to whether the sacrifices were voluntary and spontaneous (chs 1-3) or required (chs 4-5). We don't have any of the original documents available, but we can surmise that each section and subsection probably started a new paragraph and that the key introductory words of each option might have been highlighted in red, as they were in some Aramaic (e.g., the Deir Alla Balaam inscription) and Egyptian (e.g., some coffin spells) texts (cf. also 4QNumb XIII 27, XV 16). This would have aided in quickly finding the section applicable to the offerer's particular needs. For reference purposes, the document was undoubtedly posted prominently at the entrance to the Tabernacle or near the altar to be readily consulted when necessary (Baker 1987).

B. Instructions for the People About Offerings (1:3-6:7)

1. Burnt Offerings (1:3-17)

3 "If the animal you present as a burnt offering is from the herd, it must be a male with no defects. Bring it to the entrance of the Tabernacle so you may be accepted by the Lord. 4 Lay your hand on the animal's head, and the Lord will accept its death in your place to purify you, making you right with him. 5 Then slaughter the young bull in the Lord's presence, and Aaron's sons, the priests, will present the animal's blood by splattering it against all sides of the altar that stands at the entrance to the Tabernacle. 6 Then skin the animal and cut it into pieces. 7 The sons of Aaron the priest will build a wood fire on the altar. 8 They will arrange the pieces of the offering, including the head and fat, on the wood burning on the altar. 9But the internal organs and the legs must first be washed with water. Then the priest will burn the entire sacrifice on the altar as a burnt offering. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

10 "If the animal you present as a burnt offering is from the flock, it may be either a sheep or a goat, but it must be a male with no defects. 11 Slaughter the animal on the north side of the altar in the Lord's presence, and Aaron's sons, the priests, will splatter its blood against all sides of the altar. 12 Then cut the animal in pieces, and the priests will arrange the pieces of the offering, including the head and fat, on the wood burning on the altar. 13 But the internal organs and the legs must first be washed with water. Then the priest will burn the entire sacrifice on the altar as a burnt offering. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

14 "If you present a bird as a burnt offering to the Lord, choose either a turtledove or a young pigeon. 15 The priest will take the bird to the altar, wring off its head, and burn it on the altar. But first he must drain its blood against the side of the altar. 16 The priest must also remove the crop and the feathers and throw them in the ashes on the east side of the altar. 17 Then, grasping the bird by its wings, the priest will tear the bird open, but without tearing it apart. Then he will burn it as a burnt offering on the wood burning on the altar. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.


1:9 special gift. This term ('isheh [TH 801, ZH 852]) is difficult. It has most commonly been interpreted in association with the similar word for "fire." This whole offering was burnt, but not all offerings described by this term were burnt (e.g., the drink or wine offering, 23:37; Exod 29:41; Num 15:10). Also, not every burnt offering was described by the term (cf. sin and guilt offerings, 4:1-6:7). In 3:5, the term is placed immediately next to the word for fire, which would make a meaning such as "made by fire" redundant. A study of the same form in other Semitic languages suggests a meaning of "[food] gift" (Milgrom 1991:161-162; Hartley 1992:22), or special offering, which fits better into most of the contexts where the word is used. This term is commonly associated with the phrase "a pleasing aroma to the Lord."

a pleasing aroma to the Lord. The phrase concerns an odor, the smell of the smoke which arose to God. Some translations see it as calming God, settling his anger ("soothing odour," NEB; cf. the Heb. of 1 Sam 26:19). It reached God from Noah after the Flood and is presented as part of what convinced him to never again bring such widespread destruction on the earth (Gen 8:21-22). The suggested soothing function is problematic, since the phrase only occurs once in association with a sin offering (4:31), which seeks to receive God's pardon. The other sacrifices with which it was used (burnt, grain, fellowship) were not generally for this purpose. Others see the act as bringing God delight (NLT, NIV; NIDOTTE 3.1071).

1:10 goat. A male goat was much rarer among burnt offerings than was a sheep (22:19; Num 28:30).

1:11 on the north side of the altar. The exact location of the slaughter is more specific here than in the other two cases (1:5, 15 [different verb]). It was still in the Lord's presence (1:5), but on the north or right side of the altar as one entered the Tabernacle.

1:14 a turtledove or a young pigeon. They are both members of the dove family, which was common in the area of Israel (Isa 60:8). Two species, Columba livia and Streptopelia decaocto, were domesticated, possibly for both food and sacrificial purposes, though when this took place is unknown. Undomesticated birds were probably also accepted for sacrifice.

1:16 remove the crop. The organ called the "crop" is the enlargement of the gullet in birds, and so equivalent to the animal intestines (1:9, 13).

and the feathers. This is the reading preferred by the LXX and most early rabbinic interpreters. Others (Targum, Syriac, TEV; cf. HALOT 1.683) understand the last word as "excrement" or the matter found in the crop rather than feathers, which would fit the context since this unclean material would have been unsuitable for offering (see commentary on 1:9).

ashes. The Hebrew word here is not the regular word for ashes ('eper [TH 665, ZH 709]) but one for ashes soaked by the dripped fat (deshen [TH 1880, ZH 2016]), which was the special part of each meat offering dedicated to God alone. Since these ashes were special, they needed special handling (4:12). The word is used elsewhere for the choicest and the best (Job 36:16; Ps 63:5; Isa 30:23).


The first part of Leviticus was directed toward the people who were bringing offerings to the Tabernacle, instructing them what to bring as demanded by different occasions for sacrifice. All could come to sacrifice. Both men and women had equal access to the courtyard, the altar, and the rituals done there (12:6; 15:29); this stands in contrast to the later Herodian Temple, which had a separate "Court of Women." All were invited to participate, and all were also enabled to do so. There were offerings affordable not only to the wealthy (the bull; 1:3-9) and the middle class (one of the flock; 1:10-13), but also to the poor (birds; 1:14-17). No one was exempt from coming. Whether high priest or leaders, common citizens or the destitute, none could reestablish a damaged relationship with God apart from the means he provides in these chapters.

The whole burnt offerings, addressed in this section, were the most important in Israel. They were offered daily (Num 28:3; cf. 2 Kgs 16:15; 1 Chr 16:40), and they were the first offering of any of the weekly (Sabbath) or annual festivals (Passover, Harvest, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Shelters—see ch 23; Num 28:4-29:40), as well as on special occasions such as finishing the Tabernacle (Exod 40:29), preparing for war (1 Sam 7:9-10), or bringing the Ark up to Jerusalem (2 Sam 24:22). The whole burnt offering seems to have become the offering par excellence, since the writer of Chronicles calls the bronze altar "the altar of burnt offering" (1 Chr 21:29; 22:1; 2 Chr 29:18), even though all of the offerings in Leviticus 1-7 were burnt on that same altar. The first offering, a sacrifice of a bull, is presented in more detail than the others since some of the details, such as the location of the altar (1:5) and building the fire (1:7), would be assumed from here on in the text and would not need repeating.

"Burnt offering" (1:3) is a single word in Hebrew ('olah [TH 5930, ZH 6592]), which has the root meaning of "going up," since the complete flesh of the offering went up in smoke toward God, with none of it remaining. While many other offerings involved burning, the difference here is the relative completeness of the act—all that remained was the skin (for the priest's use; 7:8), or, in the case of a bird, the crop, which was cast aside (1:16). It is specifically called a "whole burnt offering" in 1 Samuel 7:9 (see Ps 51:19).

Adult male animals were the rule for the whole burnt offering, though others were used elsewhere—for example, a cow was acceptable for a peace offering (3:1; cf. Num 19:2), also a calf (9:3; Deut 21:3), and a bull (9:4). Since far fewer males were necessary to maintain the herd or flock size, male animals were more dispensable. Each of these must have had no physical defects since God demands the best (see 1:3; 3:1, 6). This was necessary for both sacrifice and sacrificer to be accepted or shown favor by God, which was the goal of the burnt offering (22:19-20; Jer 6:20) and peace offering (19:5; 22:21), but is not mentioned of the sin and guilt offerings, which have different functions (see below), though it shares with these two the function of atonement.

A person entering the Tabernacle court first encountered the altar, which was just inside the gate. A perpetual fire burned on it, welcoming worshipers to approach the Lord much as a warm hearth welcomes weary travelers. The animals were brought here and sacrificed, in plain view not only of the priests, but of other worshipers and others passing by the Tabernacle entrance. This aspect of Israelite worship was thus a public proclamation of devotion to God.

Laying one's hand on the sacrifice (samak [TH 5564, ZH 6164]; 1:4) is perhaps better understood as pressing with some force (cf. Judg 16:29) in contrast to doing so without pressure, as one did while imparting a blessing (cf. shith [TH 7896, ZH 8883]; Gen 48:14). One hand is mentioned here, in contrast to the scapegoat ritual (16:21; cf. b. Menahot 93a), where two are mentioned. There are several suggested understandings of the act's significance. The most likely understands the laying on of hands as indicating a substitute, as discussed below. Laying on of hands as an indication of ownership, as some suggest, seems redundant since the offerer had personally brought the animal. Another suggestion is transference, passing sin or guilt onto the animal, much as one might pass on a blessing (Gen 48:14-16). This suggestion is unlikely since the animal would then have been defiled and not have been allowed to touch the altar.

Whichever reason is accepted, the action is done to "make atonement" (1:4, NLT mg). This translates the term kapar [TH 3722, ZH 4105], which has a range of possible meanings. The basic meaning of the verb is "to rub," originally "to smear, rub on" (Gen 6:14), then "to rub, wipe, dean off," or "to clean, purify." The material with which this was done was usually blood, which was applied ritually to wipe off any impurities (4:20, 26, 31, 35; for oil, cf. 14:18), almost like a spiritual detergent. The purifying material itself must not become polluted because it would come directly into contact with the altar. There is a further meaning of the verb—namely, "to substitute for, be a ransom for," which is not rare in the Old Testament (e.g., Exod 30:12-16; Num 35:31-33). Finally, the verb could mean "to atone for," itself containing many of the elements of meaning included in the earlier discussion, since sin was carried away at the cost of shed blood. Atonement was only rarely associated with the burnt offering (16:24; Job 1:5; 42:8). Though sin is not specifically mentioned in this connection, the verb could imply it, as it was part of the context of the burnt offering elsewhere (Job 1:5). (See the fuller discussion in the comments on 5:6.)

The offerer was intimately involved in the sacrificial process, which was appropriate because the offering was to serve as a substitute, taking the place of the offerer. Other examples of this include the Levites replacing the firstborn of the other tribes as dedicated to the service of God (Num 8:10). This interpretation of the relationship between the animal and the offerer is supported by Genesis 22:13, where the ram provided by God served as a substitute for Abraham to sacrifice "in place of" Isaac. Here the animal was taking the place of, and receiving the death deserved by, the offerer, as he showed by laying his hand on its head.

Transference of authority or power is a subcategory of this interpretation. A medieval monarch did this through the ritual of knighthood, and some today lay hands on the ordinand at ordination services. The person so acting indicates that the recipient of the action is a substitute for him, having some of the authority or power which he exercises.

Physical contact with the animal shows that there was no worship by proxy or at a safe distance. The worshiper personally carried out over half of the ritual steps, more than the priest did. This personal involvement is an immediate reminder of the life taken in the sacrifice, since its blood would literally have been on their hands. Blood was the life-giving element dedicated to God alone and could not be used for human consumption (17:10-14). Only the sanctified priests could use it, and only as part of the ritual. This life element was returned to God, its giver, by the priest's sprinkling, not burning, it on behalf of the offerer on the altar. Active, direct involvement of this kind precluded distancing oneself. Sacrifice cost a life, and this life was to be taken by the offerer. It was a substitute for his or her own life.

Since dirt or physically unclean matter could not be allowed to contaminate the altar, the internal organs, including the stomach and intestines (but not the liver and kidneys; Exod 29:13, 22), needed to be cleaned of partially digested matter, which could not be part of the offering. The legs, most probably the shins or lower section below the knee joint, which would have been literally as well as ritually unclean, were washed with water.

All of the previous steps were preparatory. The animal only became an offering when reduced to smoke. This burning of the offered material was the only common element of all of the offerings here in Leviticus. Sacrificial loss of life was found in most, along with manipulation of blood, but neither of these were evident in the grain offering (ch 2), which was just as efficacious as all of the others. Therefore, the burning, rendering all or part of the sacrifice into smoke, which in its turn ascends to God, is a central element for understanding Hebrew sacrifice. In anthropomorphic terms, the text says that God smells the aroma of the sacrificial smoke and finds it very pleasing. This description is common for the burnt offering (e.g., 1:9, 13, 17; Exod 29:18), grain offering (e.g., 2:2, 9, 12), and peace offering (e.g., 3:5, 16; Exod 29:25), but only occurs once in relation to the sacrifices made to seek pardon for sin (4:31). The offering found favor with God, and he accepted it (1:4), as he did when Noah presented such an offering immediately after the Flood (Gen 8:20-21). It's almost as if it reminded God of his love for his people and attracted his attention to their worship of him (cf. Num 23:3).

The second permissible burnt offering was a male sheep (1:10-13). These were more commonly offered than bulls since they were more affordable. Even the affluent would have more of them in their possession (cf. Job 1:3). These, the most common domesticated animal for ancient Israel, were a reminder of a principle later exemplified by Brother Lawrence in the seventeenth century: Practicing and celebrating the presence of God in worship and service is of everyday stuff. It is not something esoteric, hidden, and inaccessible. Even in the ordinary, God is pleased to receive worship.

The ritual procedures for the sheep and goats were very similar to those for a bull. The lack of mention of laying on of hands (1:4) has led some to suggest this as particular to the bull, though I have suggested that its mention once applies to all three offering types. This omission was not unique, since three of the other necessary steps listed for the bull (slaughter, stoking the fire, and arranging wood) are not mentioned here either. This is further evidence that Leviticus 1-7 served as a reference document rather than a detailed description, since the missing steps were supplied from the written text posted for the offerer's consultation (Baker 1987).

A bird was the third category of offering (1:14-17). This offering would have been within the economic reach of almost everyone, since wild birds could have been caught with only the cost of time. If the wild birds were acceptable, this is the only instance where nondomesticated creatures could have been sacrificed. Here a choice is specifically allowed, though a choice is also implicit in the flock offering, where either a sheep or goat could have been offered. God is often more flexible than we give him credit for (see Num 9:10 and 2 Chr 30:17-20). The birds are not explicitly required to have been without blemish (1:3, 10). This also could have been presumed from the previous two instructions, or it could have been less important or more difficult to monitor, due to the covering of feathers. There is no mention of the laying on of hands either, since they would have been presented by the hand of the offerer—unlike the other, larger animals, which were probably led by a rope.

The offerers played a less active role in this offering. The priest was the one who performed the ritual tasks mentioned (slaughter and blood sprinkling, the equivalent of skinning and cutting it up and burning it), possibly because birds were small enough that their proper handling required some skill. Each person, however, still had to bring their own offering. It was up to the offerer to make the decision, to select and approach God with something, which, while not expensive, was still valuable. God, who provides life itself and all the necessities for sustaining it, received the things given from these potential food items as a gift.

What can we take from this chapter that will help us in our worship? First, we can see that in the entire chapter, there is no explicit gradation of acceptability or honor for the offerings—that is, the bull is not better than the bird. All were welcomed by God; all were equally pleasing to him (1:9, 13, 17). Psalm 69:30-31 indicates that prayer and praise from a truly worshipful heart are preferable to the sacrifice of animals—presumably sacrifice from a lukewarm heart. This permits even the truly destitute, those without access to any of the acceptable animal sacrifices, to be able to worship. Offering was made from love and gratitude; it was a matter of worshiping God rather than competing with one's neighbor. Second, the ritual steps listed in the chapter were most probably not exhaustive. In particular, it would be surprising if the rituals were accomplished in complete silence. Most likely there were prayers and hymns that accompanied various ritual steps. We have the "video" portion of the proceedings (if you will), while the "audio" could well have been provided by some of the psalms mentioning the burnt offering (see Pss 20:3; 66:13, 15). Third, all of the five senses would have been actively stimulated in the proceedings mentioned here and in the next chapters. There would have been a commotion of animals and people for eye and ear, the smell of animals and blood, the feel of the hand on the animal and its slaughter, and the taste of the offerer's portion of some of the sacrifices. The whole being, not just the intellect, would have been caught up in this celebration of worship for the God who held life itself in his hand, who gave blessings and heard prayers, and who even smelled the scent of his people's worship.

Is not our contemporary worship too often more cerebral than sensory, thinking about God rather than celebrating him? Sound doctrine and belief are necessary and proper, but so is physical jubilation. We need to consider the senses, the visual in architecture, art, and pageantry; the sound of music, oral prayer, and praise; the smell, taste, and feel of the communion loaf and cup, the handclasp, and the kiss.

In conclusion, we need to consider the significance of the burnt offering as presented in the New Testament. The burnt offering is referred to only twice in the New Testament, in each case being replaced by something better—in Mark 12:33, by complete love for God, and in Hebrews 10:6-8, by the obedience of Jesus Christ. Obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22). The epitome of obedience in the New Testament was Jesus Christ in his life and in his death on the cross. In this act he gave his life, shed his blood, and acted as a whole burnt offering, fulfilling his description as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, 36). He exhibited the perfection and lack of blemish required for a sacrifice (Heb 9:14; 1 Pet 2:22) and ransomed people from their sins (Mark 10:45; 1 Pet 1:18-19). He was acceptable and pleasing to God (Matt 3:17), a sweet smell to God (Eph 5:2).

In the Old Testament, an offering itself was not a thing of power, not magical stuff that would necessarily and by its own might bring results. It was to be prompted by love, an act of willing obedience. Christ's death was a sweet fragrance to God (Eph 5:2). If our spiritual sacrifices don't have this motivation, they are without effect, a stench rather than a fragrance to the God toward whom they are directed (cf. 1 Sam 15; Amos 5:21-24). These sacrifices symbolized the offerer's being sacrificed to God. This is implied in Romans 12:1, where a more general term for "sacrifice" is used. God desires lives working, serving, worshiping him, rather than dead animals. Atonement was a serious business: It cost a life. This life was lost on behalf of the offerer, and it was also taken by the offerer's hand (1:5, 11; cf. Isa 53:4-7). In the Old Testament, this was done daily and also at special occasions (Num 28-29), since it was at heart a symbolic act. By contrast, according to the New Testament, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was effective in bringing complete and actual atonement, and so it was necessary only once (Heb 10:1-10).

2. Grain Offerings (2:1-16)

"When you present grain as an offering to the Lord, the offering must consist of choice flour. You are to pour olive oil on it, sprinkle it with frankincense, 2 and bring it to Aaron's sons, the priests. The priest will scoop out a handful of the flour moistened with oil, together with all the frankincense, and burn this representative portion on the altar. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 3 The rest of the grain offering will then be given to Aaron and his sons. This offering will be considered a most holy part of the special gifts presented to the Lord.

4 "If your offering is a grain offering baked in an oven, it must be made of choice flour, but without any yeast. It may be presented in the form of thin cakes mixed with olive oil or wafers spread with olive oil. 5 lf your grain offering is cooked on a griddle, it must be made of choice flour mixed with olive oil but without any yeast. 6 Break it in pieces and pour olive oil on it; it is a grain offering. 7 If your grain offering is prepared in a pan, it must be made of choice flour and olive oil.

8 "No matter how a grain offering for the Lord has been prepared, bring it to the priest, who will present it at the altar.

9 The priest will take a representative portion of the grain offering and burn it on the altar. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 10 The rest of the grain offering will then be given to Aaron and his sons as their food. This offering will be considered a most holy part of the special gifts presented to the Lord.

11 "Do not use yeast in preparing any of the grain offerings you present to the Lord, because no yeast or honey may be burned as a special gift presented to the Lord. 12 You may add yeast and honey to an offering of the first crops of your harvest, but these must never be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 13 Season all your grain offerings with salt to remind you of God's eternal covenant. Never forget to add salt to your grain offerings.

14 "lf you present a grain offering to the Lord from the first portion of your harvest, bring fresh grain that is coarsely ground and roasted on a fire. 15 Put olive oil on this grain offering, and sprinkle it with frankincense. 16 The priest will take a representative portion of the grain moistened with oil, together with all the frankincense, and burn it as a special gift presented to the Lord.


2:1 you. In this chapter, a different but synonymous word (nepesh [TH 5315, ZH 5883]) is used instead of 'adam, which occurred in 1:2 (see note). Each includes both men and women (see Num 5:6-7) and is rendered with second-person forms in the NLT.

2:14 the first portion of your harvest. The word bikkurim [TH 1061, ZH 1137] indicates something given at the beginning and is often translated as "firstfruits." Milgrom (1991:190-191) suggests that there was a distinction between this term, indicating that which was first ripe or first harvested (rendered "first crops" in Num 18:13), and the term used in Num 18:12 (rendered "harvest gifts"), indicating that which was first processed.

fresh grain. This was crushed or ground fresh ears of grain, usually barley (Exod 9:31), but here it is possibly ripening wheat. The descriptive word translated as "fresh" in the NLT is related to the name Carmel, an area that produces lush, rich crops due to abundant water (Amos 1:2), indicating the choice nature of this offering.


The next offerings to Yahweh were no farther away than the breakfast table. He desired a gift from the very bread of life, which was originally a gift from him in the form of grain. The grain was reworked, processed by human hands, and returned to God. These gifts implied the hospitality that was, and still is, part of Near Eastern life—the notion that "what I have, I am pleased to share with you" (cf. Gen 18:6; Kidner 1971:6). We all like to share a meal with a friend, and God was more than that: He was Israel's covenant partner. The major difference between this sacrifice and the previous was that here there was no blood shed, and as a result, there was no atonement (1:4; Heb 9:22). Since grain offerings regularly followed the burnt offering in daily rituals (Num 28), they follow it here in the written description. It became representative of those types of offering that did not require blood (Heb 10:5).

A grain offering was a gift from any of the people, male or female, to Yahweh as covenant Lord and King (2:1-3). Very frequently it accompanied the burnt offerings or peace offerings. The term "grain offering" (minkhah [TH 4503, ZH 4966]; 2:1) is ambiguous in the Old Testament. It first referred to both animal and vegetable sacrifices (Gen 4:3-5), and at other times it indicated offerings of meat (1 Sam 2:12-17), mixed meat and bread (Judg 6:18-20), incense (Num 16:15-17), and offerings in general (1 Chr 16:29; Ps 96:8; Zeph 3:10). In fact, in one eschatological passage the term refers to human beings who would be an offering to Yahweh (Isa 66:20). At other times, including the passage in Leviticus 2, it designated offerings of grain (9:4, 17; 14:10, 20, 31; Num 15:1-10). In nonreligious contexts, the term spoke of a gift, often to someone who was being honored (Gen 33:10), such as a king (1 Sam 10:27; 1 Kgs 10:25; 2 Chr 17:5), or tribute, an expected or enforced "gift" (Judg 3:15-18; 2 Sam 8:2). "Gift" seems to have been the basic meaning, becoming more specific if used in a religious or in a sociopolitical context (NIDOTTE 2.978-990). Here it was a gift in appreciation and worship of God.

Most of the ingredients were ordinary, from the daily stuff of life. They are listed in the first verse. Choice flour came from wheat (Exod 29:2) and not barley, the other main grain of the area. (According to 2 Kgs 7:16, the value of wheat was double that of barley.) Olive oil was obtained by crushing, pressing, or grinding the olives. It was a staple part of Israel's diet (1 Kgs 17:12-16) as well as part of its rituals. It was a part of sacrifices such as this, though never offered on its own, and was also used for purification through anointing (see commentary on 8:10-13). The exception to common household products was the incense. It was made of a tree resin available to Israel only through trade with its source areas in southern Arabia (Jer 6:20) and Somalia. It was transported in dried form and was used not only with grain offerings (Neh 13:5, 9; Isa 43:23; Jer 17:26) but was also burnt on the inner incense altar (Exod 30:7-8, 34-36) to provide a sweet odor. It was very costly since it was imported.

Only a part of the offering was burnt, in contrast to the completely destroyed offerings of chapter 1. This was called a token portion since only a part, or token, of the whole was burnt. The Hebrew word ('azkarah [TH 234, ZH 260], 2:9) involves "remembrance," though what was remembered is debated. Some suggest it was the goodness of God, especially in his provision of food, or that it serves as a prod to God to remember the offerer (Hartley 1992:30). More likely it was a reminder that this was just a token of all the offering, which in fact belonged completely to God (Milgrom 1991:182). The remainder was given to the priests for their use, since they were to be provided for from the people's gifts instead of having to raise their own food (Num 18:8-32; cf. Deut 18:1-4). Just because they were dedicating themselves to God's work, they should not miss out on his goodness. This has serious implications for today's full-time religious workers, who are often expected by their congregations to exemplify sacrificial poverty rather than enjoying God's providential bounty (see Luke 10:7; 1 Cor 9:3-14).

Different types of grain offerings receive detailed discussion in this passage, though the ritual actions of the offerings themselves remained constant (2:4-16). Bread made without any yeast (matsah [TH 4682, ZH 5174], 2:4) was the unleavened bread similar to that made by Israel when they had to leave Egypt quickly, not having time for their bread to rise (Exod 12:8, 15). It could not be made with leaven, a fermenting agent that helped bread to rise. No reason is given here for its exclusion, though numerous suggestions have been supplied by commentators. Most probably it was excluded since its processes include fermentation, a type of spoilage that would not fit in with the perfection required of sacrifices. In later Jewish and Christian interpretation (Matt 16:6; 1 Cor 5:6-7; Gal 5:9), leaven often symbolized humanity's sinful nature, a nature that had the propensity to spread to whatever it contacted. The one exception to this appears in Jesus' parable of the Kingdom of God, where leaven symbolizes the secret, effective spread of the gospel (Matt 13:33; Luke 13:21).

Honey (2:11) was rarely taken from beehives (cf. Judg 14:8-9); in the Old Testament, the word most often refers to the sweetening nectar from fruit, an agricultural product (2 Chr 31:5; cf. Deut 8:8). It was banned along with yeast. While it is said in many verses that honey is a blessing (20:24; Gen 43:11; Deut32:13; Prov 16:24), its prohibition here was possibly because of its tendency to ferment quickly (Ross 2002:105). Yeast, but not honey, was allowed rarely for certain offerings, such as those presented at the Harvest Festival (23:17; see also 7:13), a special time of thanksgiving for God's faithful provision.

Salt (lit., "salt of God's covenant") was necessary for all of these offerings. It was a natural preservative, especially important in a temperate climate without refrigeration. It was an appropriate symbol for the binding, nondegenerating keeping of a covenant (Num 18:19; 2 Chr 13:5). Salt is also not destroyed by fire, another possible symbolic reason for its inclusion. A covenant was a binding agreement between two parties, often in the political sphere. A great king would often enter a suzerain-vassal covenant with several minor rulers, who would obey him and support him with taxes, conscripted soldiers, and so forth. The relationship between God and his people Israel was very often presented as a covenant, and this salt reminded the people of it.

The details of different ways of preparing the grain were given because it is human nature for people to wriggle their way out of any obligation that might cost them something. All the regular ways meal was prepared were covered, and just in case something was left out, the summary statement (2:8) covers them as well.

The grain offerings were a constant reminder that everything in life is a gift from God and must be offered back to him. This involves offering one's entire resources and being (Rom 12:1-2) and sharing resources with God's ministers, a requirement that should be expanded to everyone in need. We should share with others the abundance God has shared with us (Heb 13:15-16).