Chapter 5: The Peace Offering
by David West, England
The principal Levitical Offerings were five in number and can be divided into:
- the sweet savour offerings, burned upon the brazen altar
- the non-sweet savour offerings, burned outside the camp.
Our present consideration is that of the third sweet savour offering, namely, the peace offering.
If, in type, the burnt offering and the meal offering, taken together, provide the basis for our acceptance and approach to God, then the peace offering sets forth the blessedness and enjoyment of our acceptance and approach, together with the fellowship which the offering provides. The peace offering was not an offering brought in order that peace with God might be obtained, but rather one that celebrated and rejoiced in peace already made. Paul writes, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Rom.5.1. In the peace offering, the thought is not that of peace of conscience; it was rather an offering that was made out of an enjoyment of the peace of communion. The language of the peace offering is “It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad” Lk.15.32.
Christ Himself is beautifully prefigured in the peace offering: through Him we have peace with God, “having made peace through the blood of His cross” Col.1.20. Whereas Psalm 40 is the psalm of the burnt offering and, for example, Psalm 16 is the psalm of the meal offering, Psalm 85 is the psalm of the peace offering, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” Ps.85.10.
We rejoice in One Who is our peace, “For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” Eph.2.14, i.e. the middle wall between Jew and Gentile. Christ has not only made peace between believing Jew and Gentile, but between God and man; He is now the Lord of peace, “Now the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always by all means” 2Thess.3.16. In a coming day, when He returns in glory to set up His millennial kingdom, He will be manifested as “The Prince of Peace” Isa.9.6.
The idea behind the peace offering is seen earlier in the Old Testament when a sacrifice to God was made the occasion of sharing a meal with others. Thus, according to Gen.31.53,54, Jacob and Laban met to make a vow before God and partook of a sacrificial meal, “And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac. Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount”. Jethro, in giving thanks to God for His deliverance of Moses and the children of Israel from Egypt, offered a sacrifice and sat before God to a meal of which he, Aaron and all the elders of Israel partook, Ex.18.12.
“Peace offering” is the translation of a Hebrew word shelem, coming from a root word meaning ‘safe’; indeed, the cognate verb means ‘to complete’; the Revised Version margin sometimes renders the word “thank offering”; occasionally, the peace offering is referred to as a “prosperity offering”. The word “peace” is, in fact, in the plural, and could be rendered ‘a sacrifice of peaces’. The plural in the Hebrew signifies the completeness of a thing and would be expressive of the fulness of the peace which can now be enjoyed. It may also contain the idea of the variegated character of the peace.
We shall further consider the subject under the following headings:
- Categories of Peace Offering
- The Offering and Its Ingredients
- The Ritual
- The Allotted Portions.
There were three categories of peace offering; these were according to the offerer's motive:
The Thank Offering – Lev. 7.12-15
“If he offer it for a thanksgiving” Lev.7.12; such seems to be in acknowledgement of special blessings received from the Lord. Examples would be, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing (or singing)” Ps.107.21,22; “I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving” Ps.116.17.
The Votive Offering (i.e. an offering linked with a vow)
“If the sacrifice of his offering be a vow” Lev.7.16 – this would be in fulfilment of a promise or pledge made to God for the granting of some special request in prayer, e.g. preservation on a hazardous journey by land or sea. Thus, “whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord to accomplish his vow ... it shall be perfect to be accepted” Lev.22.21. It should be noted that vows and fasting are similar in that neither is obligatory for the believer in this present Church age, but it is not wrong to do so. Yet neither should be taken lightly once it has been embarked upon, in view of the words of the preacher, “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed” Eccl.5.4.
The Freewill Offering
“If the sacrifice of his offering be...a voluntary offering” Lev.7.16 – this would appear to be in the nature of a spontaneous expression of praise to God for what He has revealed Himself to be, rather than simply for something He has done. So, on the occasion of the dedication of the temple, “Solomon offered a sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered unto the Lord” 1Kgs.8.63, simply expressing a desire to rejoice with God. The votive and freewill offerings seem to imply deeper spiritual exercise.
The peace offering consisted essentially of an animal slain, part being given to God upon the altar, part to the officiating priest and to Aaron's sons, the priests, and the rest eaten as a festive meal. As far as the Israelite of old was concerned, it acknowledged his peace with God and indicated his desire to have fellowship with others in expressing the peace he had found in God's deliverance. It was a time of rejoicing because of peace experienced and it told of God's satisfaction in the peace enjoyed.
According to Leviticus chapter 3, the choice of the animal that could be presented as a peace offering was threefold:
- “of the herd” - male or female, v.1
- “of the flock” - male or female, v.6
- “a goat” (word meaning a she-goat) v.12.
It had to be “without blemish” Lev.3.1,6; however, a bullock or lamb (marg. ‘kid’) that had something superfluous or lacking in its parts could be used as a freewill offering, “Either a bullock or a lamb that hath any thing superfluous or lacking in his parts, that mayest thou offer for a freewill offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted” Lev.22.23. There was more freedom of choice than in the case of the burnt offering, thus a male or female could be offered. However, there was no provision made for offering turtledoves or young pigeons. Taking into account the main purpose of the peace offering, namely, a sacrificial meal, more latitude was permitted by God in order that men might more easily join together with Him in the fellowship of thanksgiving. On the other hand, a small bird could scarcely furnish sufficient for many to have a share.
The male victim may well typify the active dedication of the Saviour's will to His Father; thus we hear Him say “I do always those things that please Him” Jn.8.29 and, again, “the cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” Jn.18.11. However, the female suggests His passive submission and subjection to the will of the Father, thus, “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done” Lk.22.42. The animals of different size would imply varying measures of spiritual intelligence in the apprehension of Christ Himself as the peace offering.
We learn from Lev.7.11-14 that the peace offering was to be accompanied by various kinds of cakes:
- “unleavened cakes mingled with oil” v.12 (before baking)
- “unleavened wafers anointed with oil” v.12
- “cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried” v.12
- “leavened bread” v.13.
Note that “leavened bread” was included, signifying that the offerer's thanksgiving could not but carry some taint of his inherent sinfulness, though this might no longer be seen in its former activity, since the leaven in “fired cakes” would have ceased working. With all its imperfection, the believer's thanksgiving may be presented for God's gracious acceptance because of its association with the sacrifice of Christ, “the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offerings” - this would seem to be the teaching of Lev.7.13.
This differs in some respects from that relating to the burnt offering. The offerer first presented his offering “unto the Lord”: “He that offereth the sacrifice of his peace offerings unto the Lord shall bring his oblation unto the Lord ... His own hands shall bring the offerings of the Lord made by fire” Lev.7.29,30. He then laid his hand upon its head, thereby acknowledging his identification with it: “he shall lay (lean) his hand upon the head of his offering” Lev.3.2. He then slew the animal at the door of the tent of meeting, and killed “it at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” Lev.3.2, and dissected the body to separate the allotted portions, Lev.7.30ff.
The priests, the sons of Aaron, then sprinkled the blood “upon the altar round about” Lev.3.2; not merely sprinkled with the finger (as when put upon the mercy seat), but so scattered that the whole altar was covered with blood; this was a standing witness to the fact of death having taken place. It was the responsibility of the officiating priest or priests to attend the altar, to burn God's portion “upon the burnt sacrifice, which is upon the wood that is on the fire” Lev.3.5. The burning was the visible evidence of Divine approval.
It is important to emphasise this fact in the consideration of the peace offering. The thought in connection with the burnt offering is that of our acceptance before God: “it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” Lev.1.4. The believer arrives at that fulness of peace that God wishes him to enjoy when he appreciates his acceptance before God, the fact that he is “accepted in the Beloved” Eph.1.6. Then again, “And the priest shall burn it upon the altar” Lev.3.11; the word used here for “burn” is not that which expresses “judgment fire”, but simply “causing to ascend” and is applicable to the fragrance which was brought out in the burning, as, for example, in the burning of incense.
In Leviticus chapter 3 we read of the Lord's portion, whilst in chapter 7, which is concerned with the law of the peace offering, we are told of the portion of the officiating priest, the priestly family and the Israelite who brought the peace offering, together with his family. It should be noted that the law of the peace offering is given last of all in Leviticus chapter 7 because it typically unfolds the communion of the worshipper resulting from the appreciation of Christ as seen in the other offerings.
The Lord’s Portion
The offerer removed certain parts of the animal as the Lord's portion. Thus for the offering from the herd:
- “the fat (suet) that covereth the inwards” Lev.3.9, i.e. the veil that covered the intestines which was a net-like membrane commonly laden with fat
- “all the fat that is upon the inwards” Lev.3.3, i.e. the fat closely attached to the intestines
- “the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them” Lev.3.4, i.e. the fat in which they are buried, which is “by the flanks” Lev.3.4
- “the caul (or ‘midriff’ – marg.) above the liver, with the kidneys” Lev.3.4, i.e. the structure which extends from the liver. It is also a net-like membrane which contains fat.
These four portions contained practically all of the fat inside the animal. It should be observed that the fat was also offered in connection with the burnt offering; however, the word used for “fat” is different in each case. The fat of the burnt offering was the inner skin of fat of the animal, whereas the fat of the peace offering was the internal fat, the suet of the animal.
The difference should be noted in the case of the lamb: “the fat thereof, and the whole rump (“the fat tail entire” R.V.), it shall he take off hard by the backbone” Lev.3.9. In this animal, as found in Palestine, another great depot of fat was the tail, especially the upper part near the backbone. The goat had no fat tail.
“All the fat is the Lord’s” Lev.3.16. It is called “the food of the offering made by fire”, because it fed the altar fire and with other sweet savour offerings was “the bread of their God” Lev.21.6. The words employed in Hebrew to designate these inward parts are beautifully significant. Thus the word for “fat” expresses that which is most excellent and is sometimes rendered “best”, e.g. “all the best of the oil” Num.18.12. The choice fat represented the intrinsic excellence and reserve energy of the animal, and typified the holy feelings and sustained energies of the Saviour in relation to the accomplishment of God's will. Thus the fat was God's right. Leviticus chapter 3 closes with these words, “It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood” v.17. Why did God prohibit the eating of blood? The reason is given, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” Lev.17.11. It was therefore wholly for the blessing of the people of God that they were not allowed to eat the blood.
There is something very precious in the meaning of these vital organs. The Hebrew word for “kidneys” signifies “perfection” and reminds us of the perfection of His integrity: the Son of God completed every work to which He put His hand; He never left a task incomplete. The word for “flanks” conveys the thought of “confidences”, telling of those confidences which, in their absolute sense, were only to be found in Him. Then the expression “the caul above the liver” may be rendered “the superabundance of the glory”, which is again resident in Him alone. Here was the only One Who, in every sense, could say, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart” Ps.26.2.
The Officiating Priest's Share
This, which he later ate with his family (according to Lev.10.14,15), consisted, in part, of the right shoulder, Lev.7.33, and of the bread cakes, one of each kind of the bread cakes, Lev.7.14. This made up a “heave offering”, so called because, when presented before God at the altar, it was heaved up to the extent of the offerer's reach before he handed it to the priest. The heave offering thus became the priest's as a gift from God. The shoulder is the place of strength, so we read, “the government shall be upon His shoulder” Isa.9.6 and sets before us the strength of Christ, cf. “And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders (plural), rejoicing” Lk.15.5. It should be noted that in the study of the tabernacle or the Levitical Offerings, when the officiating priest is viewed, as distinct from the priestly family, he speaks of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Aaron's and His Sons' Share
This was a wave offering consisting of the animal's breast, “but the breast shall be Aaron's and his sons’” Lev.7.31. It was waved to and fro before the Lord, Lev.7.30. It was waved towards the altar as indicative of first being offered to God and then back again, to represent God giving it back to the priest; it then became food for Aaron and his sons. The affections of Christ shared by all believers as a priestly family, were thus typified.
It is interesting to observe that the Epistle to the Ephesians is the Epistle of the peace offering: “He is our peace” Eph.2.14; He made peace, “so making peace” Eph.2.15; He preached peace, “And came and preached peace to you which were afar off (Gentiles), and to them that were nigh (Jews)” Eph.2.17.
Believers, as God’s priests, feast on the heave shoulder: Christ’s power, “the exceeding greatness of His power” Eph.1.19 (in the context of the prayer of chapter 1 it is the Father’s power). They also feast on the wave breast: Christ’s affections, “and to know the love of Christ” Eph.3.19. This is the prayer of chapter 3.
The Offerer's Share
The worshipper is introduced, not merely as a spectator, but as a participator, not merely to gaze, but to feed. To the offerer pertained all the remaining flesh and cakes, the major portion of the offering to be feasted upon with his family, his servants and other guests. This was to be eaten before the Lord in the place where He chose to put His Name, “But thou must eat them before the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose” Deut.12.18, (cf. v.11 of the same chapter). It was an occasion of rejoicing, “thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God” Deut.12.18. God was the host and He called upon the Israelite to share the animal with Him.
Strictly speaking, the Israelite and his family speak of Israel, that nation which is going to share in the blessings of Calvary. Israel as a nation will yet come into the good of the fruits of the sacrifice made at Calvary; in their feeding on the flesh, we learn that Israel feeds on the mercy of God; Israel will yet be restored on the ground of sovereign mercy, “Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy” Rom.11.31.
The following verse tells us that the Israelite, in partaking of this meal, was expressing his communion with the altar, and thus with God, “Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” 1Cor.10.18. Today God invites the believer to sit at His table and enjoy fellowship with Him. It is necessary to distinguish between the expressions “the Lord's table” 1Cor.10.21 and “the Lord's supper” 1Cor.11.20. “The table” in Scripture is invariably expressive of fellowship. The cup is mentioned first in 1Corinthians chapter 10 because it is the basis of fellowship, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” 1Cor.10.16. We can sit continually at the Lord's table and feed upon Christ, but we must meet together upon the first day of the week to partake of the Lord's supper; our remembrance of the Lord Jesus in this way is always connected with the assembly of the saints.
David knew what it was to sit at the Lord's table, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” Ps.23.5, but he did not know the privilege and joy of partaking of the Lord's supper. The symbols are the same, both in 1Corinthians chapter 10 and chapter 11 but the implications are different: the Lord's table is saintward, whilst the Lord's supper is Godward.
The meal had to be completed the same day in the case of the thanksgiving peace offering; God desired that there should be no delay between the slaying of the animal and the partaking of it; the offerer must not have time to forget the death of the animal while at the same time enjoying its benefits. God knew that if He had granted to an Israelite some particular mercy and he desired to be thankful, that did not call for any degree of devotion. God would ever have His people remember the close association of His altar with His table; this is the truth set forth in 1Corinthians chapter 10. However, taking account of the increased degree of devotion when it was a vow or voluntary offering, God allowed the Israelite another day, “But if the sacrifice of his offering be a vow, or a voluntary offering, it shall be eaten the same day that he offereth his sacrifice: and on the morrow also the remainder of it shall be eaten” Lev.7.16, accepting that the offerer would not eat it at home as a common meal, but still connected with his visit to the altar.
Then it was strictly enjoined that only persons ceremonially clean could partake of the peace offering, Lev.7.19-21. Uncleanness did not destroy relationship, but it removed the individual from the privilege of communion. Fellowship with God demands at all times holiness of life. We must never handle holy things if there is unjudged or unconfessed sin in the life. Sin necessarily involves suspension of fellowship. In such circumstances, there must be confession, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1Jn.1.9. Then we can say, “truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” 1Jn.1.3.