Bible Study With Jairus – Leviticus 2- Grain Offerings, Leaven, and Legalism
Leviticus 2:11-12 says: “No grain offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey as a food offering to the Lord. As an offering of first fruits you may bring them to the Lord, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing aroma.”
Today’s question is, what are the “them” in verse 12? In the part about the grain offerings mentioned earlier, some parts were burned before the Lord. However, it is clearly stated here that no grain offering offered to the Lord is to be made with leaven or honey. They are not to be burned as offerings made by fire. Therefore, to understand this, we naturally assume that God is not pleased with anything related to honey and leaven. The law also stipulates that the Israelites should eat unleavened bread, so it deepens our impression that anything mixed with leaven and honey cannot be offered to the Lord.
We recently discussed this in our Bible study group. At first, we did not understand what “them” was referring to. Eventually we realized that it might be “things mixed with leaven and honey” or just “leaven and honey.” Once we figured it out, it seemed more logical, but our minds were hindered by thinking that the Lord does not like honey and leaven in grain offerings. We assumed that God completely dislikes and does not accept honey and leaven. We thought that the “them” in verse 12 was obviously not an offering mixed with leaven and honey.
The word of God here, says that an offering mixed with honey or leaven can be offered as a first fruit offering, but not as a grain offering. Some of the grain offerings are to be burned, and things with honey or leaven cannot be burned. But God does not say that they are not accepted at all; He clearly says that they can be offered as first fruits offerings.
Leaven is obviously not good since the Israelites were asked to eat unleavened bread. Although it says here that honey may not be offered as a grain offering, the Bible does not say that honey is completely unacceptable. For example, John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey. Isaiah 7:15 prophesied about Jesus Christ the Lord, “he shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.” Israel is also known as “the land of milk and honey.”
Although God said honey is not allowed to be used as part of a grain offering, we know that God allows things with honey to be offered as a first fruits offering. I wonder if there were beekeepers in ancient Israel. If they did exist at that time, what would they have offered to God if honey was all they had? In other words, if God did not allow honey as an offering of first fruits, it is possible that the bee keepers or honey collectors would have had nothing to offer. Although it is such a small detail, allowing honey in other offerings shows God’s care for beekeepers and honey collectors.
This has very practical applications to our spiritual experience as well. For example, a certain law may be more applicable to a person with a more mature spiritual life. If he wants to get close to God and offer a grain offering to God, God would not allow him to mix leaven and honey with it. I was taught that leaven often symbolizes worldly ambition or our sins, and honey often represents our fleshly zeal or natural self. For such a believer, God may want to deal with his uncleanness. If he refuses to deal with it, God will not allow him to draw closer to Him.
But sometimes, a new believer may not understand all the nuances of the offerings, so his first fruits offering to God may have been mixed with leaven and honey. This could represent some undealt with sin or our natural selves. But God will still accept such an offering. This doesn’t mean that God is pleased with leaven and honey or the sins and self they may represent. No, God accepts his offering at this person’s level. What God values is his heart.
Offerings and Legalism
If we don’t understand this spiritual principle, we may commit the mistake we made when first reading this passage: thinking that since God does not take pleasure in leaven and honey as a grain offering, God is totally displeased and does not accept anything mixed with leaven or honey. In the same way, we can be too legalistic in our treatment of new believers or friends who have not yet believed in the Lord. We can often hurt new believers and non-believing friends, for we see at a glance the “leaven and honey” in them. Before God has decided to accept or reject someone’s offering, we assume that God is judging these things and we condemn their faults. This is actually our sin. It is how Moses erred when he was angry toward the second generation of the Israelites. God was not angry, so Moses’s reaction misrepresented God in that moment. It is how the church hurts new believers if the church has a tendency towards legalism. Many believers testify that they have been hurt by the church’s legalism. When God is not angry with us, but is presented as an angry God by the church, it can discourage new believers from drawing closer to God.
I have observed this happening in my previous denomination. There was a fervent group of Jesus lovers among the Chinese. They were ready to dedicate their lives to Christ, even at the price of martyrdom. This group held special meetings each summer to encourage new believers to dedicate themselves to the Lord. I experienced this challenge and dedicated myself in 2004. I was greatly transformed. But I have also witnessed some negative sides to these meetings. During some of the messages at these special meetings, people are encouraged to give up their worldly ambitions and even their lives for the sake of the Gospel. However, this sounds harsh to some new believers and to nonbelievers who have not yet been drawn to the beauty of the Lord. It is hard for them to think about giving up their worldly ambitions, their future, etc. Most of us in these meetings are Chinese immigrants who came to the US to fulfill our American dreams. Those new to the meetings did not understand the spiritual reason we did this. They pointed out that we all had good jobs and big houses while their lives were just beginning. To them, it seemed illogical for them to give up everything for the Gospel. While some new believers were greatly transformed by these special meetings, others stumbled and even left the church or never came to faith.
New believers or non-believers thinking is, of course, not the same as more mature believers. Those who advocate surrendering everything to the Lord don’t think this way. To them, everything is worthless without the Lord. When they have achieved something in their lives, they find that only the Lord is real and everything else is illusory. But here we may be making the mistake we pointed out before. Even people who are mature enough in their spiritual lives to experience the Lord’s dealing with them hesitate to abandon the world. So these words of encouragement are necessary: they need the reminder that they must choose the world or the Lord. Put another way, if they want to offer a grain offering, they cannot mix it with leaven or honey, even a little. The Lord demands our all, not just partial obedience.
For some of those new to the faith, God may give them time to learn His expectations. He does not expect perfect obedience the moment someone is saved. But if we as more mature Christians are too radical in dealing with these matters, we will overstep God, and make these new people think that God is just like us. In fact, God is much more gentle in dealing with new ones and seekers of the Gospel than many Christians are.
I also made this mistake myself. My nephew came to study in the US from China and had not heard the gospel. On the first day when he came to the United States, I took him to the meeting mentioned earlier, hoping that the Holy Spirit would greatly “kindle” him, or let him be saved. Instead, he “stumbled.” He felt that I was “crazy,” so he started to stay away from it. Of course, his unbelief was not entirely the fault of others; his own hardness of heart was the cause. But if I had a choice again, I would not have done it this way.
The same is true for many Christians parents when their children are away from the faith. They are anxious, but what they say and how they treat their children might not necessarily reveal the nature of the Lord at this time; it reveals their own flesh and religion and understanding of the law. Sometimes the more we push them, the more they will stay away from us.
For those of you dealing with these situations, I hope the inspiration here comforts you. These prodigal sons are all in God’s hands, and God has determined their boundaries and scope, when they are saved and when they repent. Don’t worry, don’t rush. Trust in God, wait for God, and do not overstep God in your impatience. The repentance of the prodigal son in the wilderness and the appeal of the tax collector in front of the temple may be a more acceptable offering! If we are like Pharisees or the prodigal’s older brother, our legalism may prevent others from offering even their imperfect offerings to Christ.
Legalism in the Church
I just gave an example of legalism in the church. Many believers have different experiences with this. What is the reason behind legalism in the church? It ties to the inspiration we had earlier. Some of us have a heart to help the believers to be pure and without blemish, but may lack the tender heart of God. We may not have enough understanding about the process it takes for a person to grow in the Lord. We may have knowledge about God, but lack the heart of God. Legalism in the church happens when we have a heart for God but we don’t have the heart of God. We can use the humanity of Jesus Christ to represent the heart of God. Jesus is not only God but was also human. He was not just a regular human being; He was a perfect human being. I grew up as a country boy in China so sometimes I am rude without realizing it. The divine life I carry in me is certainly genuine. But the expression of God though me sometimes is hindered by my nature. It is imperative for us to participate in the grain offering which points us to experience the perfect humanity of Jesus in our spiritual lives. We need to become more like Jesus in his perfect human nature to express more of God’s divine nature!
In addition, a new light we see in this reading is that the grain offering is also divided into several categories: burning on the altar (verse 2), roasting on the stove (verse 4), frying in a pan (verse 5), and roasting in a pot (verse 7). These signify the different degrees of experience in the human nature of Jesus. We need to be sanctified in our human nature. The more sanctified people are, the less they fear the fire of God. Therefore, they experience more fire and can pass through it. From the altar to the oven, to frying in a pan and roasting in a pot, each category represents the level of sanctification a believer can experience based on how close they are to the fire. The closer you are to the fire, the more trials you will experience. This is good, because it grows your faith as you are sanctified. The more holy your life is and the closer you are to the Lord, the closer you will be able to approach the fire during the grain offering, because God is the holy fire (Hebrews 12:29). This also shows the gentle side of God and God’s provision for people at different levels of life. It echoes to the testimonies of some prophetic people. They testify that the more you are transformed on earth, the closer you may live to God in heaven. There are different realms in heaven as well. If a person is not transformed and filled with the light enough, they may not be able to stand the light in the higher realm.
Grain Offerings in Our Lives
Through these lenses, let’s look at the grain offering as a whole and how to apply it to our spiritual experiences. In our reading of Leviticus chapter 1, we refer to five basic sacrifices as representing the five ways of offering Christ as our sacrifice. He is our sin offering, trespass offering, peace offering, grain offering, burnt offering; His work on the cross covered all the offerings we had to make for all time. When we praise God (a sacrifice of praise, as mentioned in Hebrews 13:15), it is like offering Christ back to God as a type of sacrifice. The sequence of these offerings is burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering, sin offering, and trespass offering. These signify God coming out from the Holy of Holies to meet us. The reverse order of these five sacrifices represents the Israelites going into the tabernacle from the outer courtyard to meet God (Please refer to the study of Leviticus 1 for more details.).
Grain offerings are generally interpreted as a typology of the humanity of Jesus Christ. The reason is that the grain offering is generally made with fine flour and oiled with frankincense (Leviticus 2:1). Oil typifies the Spirit of God, frankincense typifies the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and fine flour typifies the humanity of Jesus Christ. It is as if the Lord Jesus had been squeezed in His humanity, experienced pain on the cross, then experienced the resurrection and ascension. Therefore, Jesus Christ is our grain offering. The Lord Jesus also gave this example in John 12:24 “If the wheat does not fall into the ground and die, it remains alone, but if it falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit.” The Lord Jesus spoke of His own death and resurrection in using this illustration. He is that one grain of wheat, and we are the many grains of His death and resurrection. The fine flour is from the wheat being milled and crushed. We are these many grains going through the mill press, being milled and blended together, to become fine flour. The “fine” in fine flour refers specifically to the softness of this flour after it is milled. Of course, Jesus is the ultimate fine flour- we are simply being remade in His image and sanctified to become more like Him.
Part of the grain offering was to be burned on the altar; the things burned included fine flour, oil and frankincense. The other part of the grain offering was to be given to Aaron and his descendants as a most holy offering of the LORD’s offerings by fire (2:3). If we compare the grain offering and the burnt offering, all parts of the burnt offering are for burning. This typifies Christ in His divinity because He offered Himself to God forever as an unblemished sacrifice, entirely for God’s satisfaction. Part of the grain offering was reserved for the priests to eat, which shows that the grain offerings were for God and man to enjoy together. The part left here for the priest is specifically mentioned as being most holy. In other words, we can say that the purpose of the grain offering was to help the priest to be sanctified. In today’s spiritual experience, it is sanctification that changes our humanity. We receive in the spirit the life of Christ, which is entirely for God. But the life in our soul is not yet fully filled with the humanity of Jesus, and therefore needs to be sanctified, renewed, and changed to become more sanctified. This is the purpose of the grain offering.
In the experience of many Christians, they experience Christ as a burnt offering. When they receive Jesus Christ as their Savior, they experience the burnt offering to a certain extent…He is the burnt offering that God accepts to die in our place. But many Christians lack the experience of grain offerings. They lack the experience of Christ’s transformation in humanity, the experience of the blending of flour, oil, and frankincense. They also lack the experience of offering a grain offering to God, and therefore lack the most holy part of the grain offering for themselves.
One characteristic of a grain offering is that it passes through fire. Peter says in 1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith –more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” From Peter’s words here, our faith goes through trials, as if it were going through fire. In fact, this is actually a picture of a grain offering. The reality of a grain offering is to experience the trials of faith and the lessons of the cross in our lives. The purpose is to break us, so that every part of our humanity and inner being is filled and changed by the life of Christ.
Levels of the Grain Offering (Breaking down Leviticus 2)
We previously mentioned the different options for the grain offering, which represent the varying degrees of passing through the fire. This is how we go through different degrees of trials, or how far we have gone through the work of the cross. The more we are tested by fire, the more the dross from within us is removed and our pure nature refined. The first level of the grain offering is that fine flour is mixed with oil, with frankincense (verse 1) and burned directly on the altar (verse 2). The grain-offering at this level also mentions a portion remaining for the priest to make the most holy things (verse 3). The second kind of grain offering is to take something baked in the oven and make unleavened bread of fine flour mixed with oil or unleavened pancakes greased with oil (verse 4). This second level of the grain offering is roasted in an oven, very close to the fire, but not directly in the fire. The unleavened bread can be mixed with oil or anointed. At the third level of the grain offering, food on the frying pan shall be of fine unleavened flour mixed with oil, divided into pieces, and covered in oil. Although the grain offering at this level has heat, it does not go through the fire because it is separated from the frying pan. The grain offering that is baked in the second oven is a whole pancake, but here in the third grain offering it is not a complete pancake, but divided into pieces. This level typifies our experience of Christ as a grain offering, but is not as complete as the second level. And the fourth level of grain offering shall be made with oil and fine flour in a pot. This level does not have a lot of other details. This pot is probably thicker than a frying pan, so there’s less heat going through it.
After the second to fourth grain-offerings, it was mentioned again that the offerings should be brought before the Lord, presented to the priest and brought to the altar; at this time, the priest would take out the memorial part and burn it on the altar, an offering made by fire, a pleasant aroma for the LORD. It is mentioned here again that the remnant of the offerings went to Aaron and his descendants, which were the most holy of the offerings made to the Lord by fire (9-10). This tells us that although the preparation of the grain offering was different for each case, it ended directly through the burning of the fire on the altar.
Our grain offering to God must not be mixed with leaven and honey, since it is an offering made by fire (2:11) We may offer leaven and honey in our first fruits offerings to God (2:12).
Every offering offered as a grain offering must be blended with salt (13). Salt also typifies the killing effect of the cross. In addition, the Israelites had another option. They could offer the first fruits as a grain offering, which were the dried kernels of fresh ears, the rolled ear kernels (14). The “drying” and “rolling” here also typify the work of the cross. Such a grain offering was likewise to be supplemented with oil and frankincense (15). The priest burned the memorial part of it, a few crushed ears and some oil, and all the frankincense, as an offering made by fire to the LORD (16).
To sum up, a grain offering typifies experiencing the changing and filling of our lives through the humanity of Jesus Christ on the cross. Each of us experience the degrees of sanctification and the cross of Christ differently. Therefore, for a new believer, there may still be parts of their lives that need to be refined, as leaven and honey have typified. God’s mercy permits them to offer their own sacrifices with mixtures as a first fruits offerings to God. But if they want to offer a grain offering, they must experience the work of the cross in Christ to renew and change themselves before they can please God. Romans 12:1-2 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” It is specifically mentioned here that the renewal and changing of our minds is God’s good will. Similarly, the Bible says that unless a man is holy, he will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12: 14). 1 Peter 1:16 also says: “Since it is written: you shall be holy, for I am holy.” These verses show that holiness is what God requires of us. A grain offering is a sacrifice of our lives- getting rid of sin and self that we may be more holy. Once we have not only a heart for God, but also the heart of God, we will have less legalism in the church. This will help us to manifest Christ in our lives to draw sinners closer to God.