THE WORD USED IN HEBREW for "meat offering" is minchah. It means a gift made to another, usually to a superior. When Cain and Abel presented their offerings to God as recorded in Genesis 4:3,4, it was a minchah they offered. So also was Jacob's gift to Esau. Gen.32:13. It was a minchah, which the brothers of Joseph presented to him in Egypt. Gen.43:11. The name given to these offerings in the King James Version is "meat offering." More nearly correct would be the name "meal offering," as used in the American Revised Version. This designation we shall use hereafter.
The meal offerings consisted of such vegetable products as constituted the chief food supply of the nation: flour, oil, corn or grain, wine, salt, and frankincense. When they were presented to the Lord, a part was burned as a memorial upon the altar as a sweet savour unto the Lord. In the case of a burnt offering, all was consumed on the altar. In the meal offering, only a small part was placed upon the altar; the rest belonged to the priest. "It is a thing most holy of the offerings of Jehovah made by fire." Lev.2:3, A.R.V. As the burnt offering signified consecration and dedication, so the meal offering signified submission and dependence. The burnt offerings stood for entire surrender of a life; the meal offerings were an acknowledgement of sovereignty and stewardship; of dependence upon a superior. They were an act of homage to God, and a pledge of loyalty.
Meal offerings were ordinarily used in connection with burnt offerings and peace offerings, but not with those of sin or trespass. The record in the fifteenth chapter of Numbers states: "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you, and will make an offering by fire unto the Lord, a burnt offering, or a sacrifice in performing a vow, or in a freewill offering, or in your solemn feasts, to make a sweet savour unto the Lord, of the herd, or of the flock: then shall he that offereth his offering unto the Lord bring a meat offering of a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of a hin of oil. And the fourth part of a hin of wine for a drink offering shalt thou prepare with the burnt offering or sacrifice, for one lamb." Num.15:2-5. When a ram was offered, the meal offering was increased to two tenths of a deal of flour; and when a bullock was sacrificed, the meal offering was three tenths of a deal. The drink offerings were increased accordingly. Verses 6-10.
When the meal offering consisted of fine flour, it was mingled with oil, and frankincense placed upon it. Lev. 2:1. A handful of this flour with oil and frankincense was burned as a memorial upon the altar of burnt offerings. It was "an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord." Lev. 2:2. Whatever was left after the handful had been placed upon the altar, belonged to Aaron and his sons. It was "a thing most holy of the offerings of the Lord." Verse 3.
When the offering consisted of unleavened cakes or wafers, it was to be made of fine flour mingled with oil, cut in pieces and oil poured on it. Verses 4-6. At times it was baked in a frying pan. Verse 7. When it was thus presented, the priest took a part and burned it upon the altar for a memorial. Verses 8,9. What was left of the wafers belonged to the priests and was counted most holy. Verse 10.
It seems evident that the offering of flour and unleavened wafers anointed with oil was meant to teach Israel that God is the sustainer of all life, that they were dependent on Him for daily food; and that before partaking of the bounties of life they were to acknowledge Him as the giver of all. This acknowledgement of God as the provider of temporal blessings would naturally lead their minds to the source of all spiritual blessings. The New Testament reveals this source as the Bread sent down from heaven which gives life to the world. John 6:33.
It is specifically stated that no meal offering should be made with leaven. Neither it nor honey might come upon the altar. Lev. 2:11. Yet permission was given to offer both leaven and honey as first fruits. When so used, they were not to come on the altar, however.Verse 12. Leaven is a symbol of sin. For this reason it was forbidden in any offering made by fire.
The question might properly be raised as to why leaven and honey, forbidden with other sacrifices, might be offered as first fruits. Lev.2:12. While leaven is symbolic of sin, of hypocrisy, malice, wickedness (Luke 12:1; 1Cor. 5.8), there is no direct statement in the Bible as to the symbolic meaning of honey. Commentators are generally agreed, however, that honey stands for those sins of the flesh which are pleasant to the senses, but which nevertheless corrupt. Many therefore consider honey symbolic of self-righteousness or self-seeking.
If we accept this interpretation, we would understand that when God says that Israel might bring leaven and honey as a first fruit, He invites us, when we first come, to bring all our sinful tendencies and cherished worldliness to Him. He wants us to come just as we are. While God is not pleased with sin and it is not a sweet savour to Him, and while its symbol, leaven, must not come on the altar, God does want us to come to Him with all our sin and self-righteousness. Having come, we are to lay all at His feet. He wants us to bring our sins to Him. Then we are to go and sin no more.
In the meal offerings, as in other offerings, salt was used. It is called the "salt of the covenant of thy God." "With all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt." Lev.2:13. All sacrifices were salted, both animal and vegetable. "Every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." Mark 9:49. Salt has preserving power. It also makes food palatable. It was a vital part of each sacrifice. It is symbolic of the preserving, keeping power of God.
When bringing a meal offering of first fruits, "green ears of corn dried by the fire, even corn beaten out of full ears," it could be used. "Thou shalt put oil upon it, and lay frankincense thereon." A memorial part was taken by the priest and burned on the altar of burnt offering. Lev. 2:14-16. The American Revised Version, instead of "corn beaten out of full ears," translates: "bruised grain of the fresh ear." Though we are not to find a hidden meaning in every expression, it does not seem far fetched to believe that the bruised corn here typifies Him who was bruised for us, and by whose stripes we are healed. Isa. 53:5. The meal offerings present Christ to us as the life-giver and up-holder, the one through and in whom "we live, and move, and have our being." Acts 17:28.
To the meal offerings also belongs the libation of wine mentioned as the drink offering. Num. 15:10, 24. This drink offering of wine was presented before the Lord and poured out in the holy place, though not on the altar. Num. 28:7; Ex. 30:9.
The wave sheaf offered as the first fruit of the harvest, which was to be waved before the Lord on the second day of the Passover, was also a meal offering. Lev. 23:10-12. Another meal offering was the two wave loaves baked with leaven presented at Pentecost as a first fruit unto the Lord. Lev. 23:17-20. Other offerings were the daily meal offering of Aaron and his sons, which was to be a perpetual offering (Lev. 6:20), and the offering of jealousy recorded in Numbers 5:15. There was also an offering which is recorded in Leviticus 5:11&12. This offering, however, was a sin offering rather than a meal offering.
The shewbread placed weekly on the table in the first apartment of the sanctuary was in reality a meal offering presented to the Lord. Its Hebrew name means the "bread of the Presence," or "bread of the face." It is also called the "continual bread." Num. 4:7. The table is called the table of the shewbread, and the "pure table." Lev. 24:6; 2Chron. 13:10,11. The shewbread consisted of twelve loaves, each made out of four fifths of a peck of fine flour. The loaves were placed in two piles on the table every Sabbath. The incoming priests who were to officiate during the coming week began their work with the evening sacrifice on the Sabbath. The outgoing priests finished theirs with the Sabbath morning sacrifice. Both the outgoing and the incoming priests joined in the removal of the shewbread and in its placement. While the outgoing priests removed the old bread, the incoming priests put the new bread on. They were careful not to remove the old until the new was ready to be put on. The bread must always be on the table. It was the "bread of the Presence."
As to the size of the loaves there is a difference of opinion. Some believe them to have been as large as twenty by forty inches. While this cannot be substantiated, it is clear that four fifths of a peck of flour--which is equivalent to two tenths of an ephah and which was used for each cake would make a sizable loaf. On this bread, incense was placed in two cups, a handful of incense in each. When the bread was changed on the Sabbath, this incense was carried out and burned on the altar of burnt offering.
The "bread of the Presence" was offered to God under "an everlasting covenant." Lev. 24:8. It was an ever-present testimony that Israel was dependent upon God for sustenance, and a constant promise from God that He would sustain them. Their need was ever before Him, and His promise constantly before them.
The record concerning the table of shewbread reveals that there were dishes on the table, spoons, covers, bowls, or as the American Revised Version states, dishes, spoons, flagons, and bowls "wherewith to pour out." Ex. 25:29. While in this connection nothing is said of wine's being on the table, it is evident that the flagons from which "to pour out" were there for a purpose. There was a drink offering of wine commanded in connection with the daily sacrifice. Num. 28:7. The wine was "to be poured unto the Lord for a drink offering" "in the holy place." The record does not reveal were in the holy place the wine is to be poured, but only that it is to be "poured unto the Lord." We are, however, told where it is not to be poured out. As to the altar of incense, Israel was forbidden to offer "strange incense" on it, "neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon." Ex.30:9. If the drink offering was to be poured in the holy place; if it was not to be poured on the altar; if there were flagons on the table from which "to pour out," it seems clear that the flagons on the table contained wine.
It is not a long step from the table of shewbread in the Old Testament to the table of the Lord in the New Testament. Luke 22:30; 1Cor. 10:21. The parallel is close. The bread is His body, broken for us. The cup is the New Testament in His blood. 1Cor. 11:24,25. As often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we "do show the Lord's death till He come." Verse 26. "The Lord of the Presence" is symbolic of the Wine, who ever liveth "to make intercession for us." Heb. 7:25. He is the "living bread which came down from heaven." John 6:51.
As stated at the beginning of this juncture, the meal offerings were an acknowledgement of God's sovereignty and man's stewardship. The burnt offerings said: All that I am is the Lord's. The meal offerings said: All that I have is the Lord's. The latter is really included in the former; for when a man is dedicated to God, that dedication includes his possessions as well as himself. That is doubtless the reason the meal offerings always accompanied the burnt offering. Num.15:4.
The meal offering is a definite and separate sacrifice denoting a consecration of means, as the burnt sacrifice denotes a consecration of life. The dedication of means must be preceded by a dedication of life. One is the result of the other. A dedication of life without a dedication of means is not provided for in God's plan. A dedication of means without a dedication of life is not acceptable. The two must go together. Combined, they form a complete sacrifice, pleasing to God, "a sweet savour unto the Lord."
The idea of stewardship needs emphasis in a time like this. Some who bear the name of Christian talk loudly of holiness and of their devotion to God, but their works do not always correspond to their profession. The purse strings are held tight, appeals go unheeded, God's cause languishes. Such need to understand that consecration of life includes consecration of means, and that the one without the other is not pleasing to God.
On the other hand it would be misleading to believe that a dedication of means is all that God requires. We are responsible for whatever talents we may have, whether they be money or time or natural gifts. Of all these God is the rightful owner, and we only stewards. Such talents as music, song, art, speech, leadership, belong to God. They must be dedicated to Him. They must be put on the altar.
The fine flour used in the meal offering was partly the product of man's labour. God causes the grain to grow; He gives sunshine and rain; He places the life-giving properties within the kernel. Man harvests the grain, grinds the flour, separates all coarse particles from it until it becomes "fine." It is then presented to God, either as flour or as cakes prepared by baking. God and man have cooperated, and the resulting product is dedicated to God. It represents God's original gift plus man's labour. It is a giving back to God of His own with usury. God gives the seed. Man plants it, God waters it. Multiplied, it is given back to God, who graciously accepts it. It is symbolic of man's lifework, of his talents as improved under the guiding hand of God.
God gives to every man at least one talent. He expects man to improve that talent and multiply it. It is not acceptable to God to present Him with the original talent, to give back to Him only that which He gave us. He wants us to take the seed He gives, plant it, tend it, harvest it. He wants the grain to pass through the process that seems to crush the very life out of it, but in reality prepares it to serve man; He wants everything coarse removed from it, and He wants it presented to Him as "fine flour." He wants the talents improved and presented to Him with usury. Nothing less will do.
The fine flour stands for man's lifework. It stands for improved talents. What the shewbread signified with respect to the nation, the meal offering signified with respect to the individual. It is consecrated lifework symbolized.
How significant is the expression "fine flour"! Flour is grain, crushed between the upper and nether millstone. It was grain, capable of being planted, capable of life perpetuation. Now it is crushed, lifeless. It can never be planted again; it is dead. The life is crushed out of it. But is it useless? No, a thousand times no! it gives its life, it dies, that others might live. The crushing of its own life became the means through life is perpetuated, ennobled. It was the life of the seed; now it helps to sustain the life of the soul, a being made in the image of God. Death enriched it, glorified it, made it serviceable to mankind.
Few lives are of real and enduring value to mankind until they are bruised and crushed. It is in the deep experiences of life that men find God. It is when the waters go over the soul that character is built. Sorrow, disappointment, and suffering are able servants of God. They are the dark days that bring the showers of blessing, enabling the seed to germinate and to bring forth fruit.
The problem of suffering may be unfathomable in its deeper aspects. But some things are clear. Suffering serves a definite purpose in the plan of God. It mellows the spirit. It prepares the soul for a deeper understanding of life. It inspires sympathy for others. It makes one walk softly, before God and men.
Only he who has suffered has lived. Only he who has loved has lived. The two are inseparable. Love calls for sacrifice. Sacrifice often requires suffering. Not that it need necessarily be physical suffering. For the highest kind of suffering is joyful, holy, exalted. A mother may sacrifice for her child, she may suffer, but she does it willingly, joyfully. Love counts sacrifice a privilege. I "rejoice in my suffering for you," Paul says, "and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the church." Col. 1:24. The lesson of suffering has not been learned until we know how to rejoice in it. And we may rejoice, when it dawns on us that "as the suffering of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ;" that when we are "afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation;" that Christ Himself "learned...obedience by the things which He suffered;" and that because He "hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted;" when it dawns on us that our sufferings rightly endured and interpreted are permitted that we, as the high priest of old, may "have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity." 2Cor. 1:5,6; Heb. 5:8; 2:18; 5:2. Such suffering is not sorrowful, but happy. Christ, "for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross." Heb. 12:2.
Suffering has been the lot of God's people at all times. It is part of God's plan. Only through suffering can certain lessons be learned. Only thus can we in Christ's stead minister as we should to those who are passing through the valley of affliction and "be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." 2Cor. 1:4. Viewed in this light, suffering becomes a blessing. It enables one to minister in a way not possible without such experience. It becomes a privilege "not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake." Phil. 1:29.
To understand how necessary is "the fellowship of His suffering," we need but glance at the experience of some of the saints of God in past ages. Call to mind those three awful days for Abraham after God had told him to slay his son. Call to mind the night of Jacob's trouble--the night that made a saint out of a sinner. Call to mind the time Joseph spent awaiting death in the cistern; his agony at being sold as a slave; his prison experience caused by false accusations and embittered by ingratitude. Call to mind the persecutions of Jeremiah; the fearful day when Ezekiel was commanded to preach, instead of being permitted to stay with his dying wife; the dark and awful experience of John the Baptist in prison when doubt assailed his soul; the thorn in Paul's flesh which he was not permitted to have removed. And yet from all these experiences issued nobler lives, larger vision, greater usefulness. Without them these saints could never have done the work they did, nor would their lives have been the inspiration they now are. As the flowers give more delightful fragrance when they are crushed, so a great sorrow may ennoble and beautify a life, sublimating it for God's use.
The flour used in meal offerings was not to be offered dry; it was to be mingled with oil, or anointed with oil. Lev. 2:4,5. The oil is the Spirit of God. Only as a life is sanctified by the Spirit, mixed with it, anointed with it, can it be pleasing to God. Suffering in and of itself may not be a blessing. It may only lead to hardness of heart, bitterness of spirit. But as God's Spirit takes possession of the soul, as the sweet spirit of the Master permeates the life, the fragrance of a dedicated life becomes manifest.
As the incense offered each morning and evening in the holy place was emblematic of the righteousness of Christ which ascended with the prayers of the priest for the nation as a sweet savour unto God, so the incense offered in connection with each meal offering was efficacious for the individual. It was making a personal application of that which otherwise was only general. In the morning and evening sacrifice, the priest prayed for the people. In the meal offering the incense was applied to the individual soul.
In the minds of the Israelites, incense and prayer were closely associated. Morning and evening, as the incense--symbolising Christ's merits and intercession--ascended in the holy place, prayers were offered throughout the nation. Not only did the incense permeate the holy and the most holy place, but its fragrance was noted far around the tabernacle. Everywhere it bespoke prayer and called men to communion with God.
Prayer is vital to Christianity. It is the breath of the soul. It is the vital element in every activity of life. It must accompany every sacrifice, make fragrant every offering. It is not only an important ingredient of Christianity, it is the very life of it. Without its vital breath, life soon ceases; and with the cessation of life, decomposition sets in, and that which should be a savour of life unto life becomes a savour of death unto death.
"Every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." Mark 9:49. Fire purifies, salt preserves. To be salted with fire means not only purification, but preservation. God wants a clean people, a people whose sins are forgiven. But it is not enough to be forgiven and cleansed. The keeping power of God must be accepted. We must be kept clean. The fire is not to be a destructive fire, but a cleansing one. We are to be first cleansed, then kept. "Salted with fire!" "Salted with salt!" Purified and kept pure! Wonderful provision!
The meal offering, though not the most important one, has beautiful lessons for the devout soul. All we are should be on the altar. All we have belongs to God. And God will purify and keep His own. May these lessons abide with us.