Summary: What is the true meaning of sacrifice?
Sacrifice in preparation for the sacrifice
One of the things that makes Leviticus hard to read is the incredible detail written into rituals that are to us now obscure at best and cryptic at worse.
We may understand some of what went on at a Tabernacle sacrifice with great patience and study. But in the end, it is still something of a difficult thing for us to understand.
For example, I’m not sure how many times I have heard someone say that Abel’s offering was acceptable to God because he brought a lamb and Cain brought produce from his fields. This is clearly not the case. Produce was acceptable to God in several respects as we can see from Leviticus 2.
"’When someone brings a grain offering to the LORD, his offering is to be of fine flour. He is to pour oil on it, put incense on it and take it to Aaron’s sons the priests. The priest shall take a handful of the fine flour and oil, together with all the incense, and burn this as a memorial portion on the altar, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. The rest of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the offerings made to the LORD by fire.
"’If you bring a grain offering baked in an oven, it is to consist of fine flour: cakes made without yeast and mixed with oil, or wafers made without yeast and spread with oil. If your grain offering is prepared on a griddle, it is to be made of fine flour mixed with oil, and without yeast. Crumble it and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering. If your grain offering is cooked in a pan, it is to be made of fine flour and oil. Bring the grain offering made of these things to the LORD; present it to the priest, who shall take it to the altar. He shall take out the memorial portion from the grain offering and burn it on the altar as an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. The rest of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the offerings made to the LORD by fire.
"’Every grain offering you bring to the LORD must be made without yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey in an offering made to the LORD by fire. You may bring them to the LORD as an offering of the firstfruits, but they are not to be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma. Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings. "’If you bring a grain offering of firstfruits to the LORD, offer crushed heads of new grain roasted in the fire. Put oil and incense on it; it is a grain offering. The priest shall burn the memorial portion of the crushed grain and the oil, together with all the incense, as an offering made to the LORD by fire.
(Leviticus 2:1-16 NIV)
The Grain offering
Grain offerings were expected at two of the 2 official religious festivals. At the Feast of First Fruits, it was the only acceptable sacrifice. There were several kinds of sacrifices, but one of them was the Sin Offering and a grain offering was acceptable for a poor person to bring.
The details are confusing, but it is worth picking apart and understanding. When we realize that it was the most common offering of a very poor person, it takes on real value for a significant part of the population in Moses’ day. This was an offering made by people who could only dream that someday they could sacrifice a lamb for a fellowship offering, maybe just once. When we look at it, it is all rather foreign.
It is not only confusing for us
Think of this. You have a modern education and own a copy of Leviticus. You also have a regular job with established leisure time you may use for reading and study.
These instructions are written for the primary benefit of people who
• did not have a copy of Leviticus
• could not have read it if they did
• and lived more of a hand to mouth existence than you do
In other words, the original ex-slaves who were expected to live by these details did not have the capacity for understanding and remembering them that you have.
They would have had this passage read to them periodically and would have to remember it. They probably had a much better capacity for rote memory than we have, as is often the case in poorer societies that do not have strong literacy, but if they needed clarification, they would have to ask a priest. However, I’m sure that practicing these details drove them home for the early Israelites.