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"If a man's offering is a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offers an animal from the herd, male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the LORD. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering and kill it at the door of the tent of meeting; and Aaron's sons the priests shall throw the blood against the altar round about. And from the sacrifice of the peace offering, as an offering by fire to the LORD, he shall offer the fat covering the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver which he shall take away with the kidneys. Then Aaron's sons shall burn it on the altar upon the burnt offering, which is upon the wood on the fire; it is an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the LORD. . . . And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which one may offer to the LORD. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thank offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with cakes of leavened bread. And of such he shall offer one cake from each offering, as an offering to the LORD; it shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering; he shall not leave any of it until the morning. But if the sacrifice of his offering is a votive offering or a freewill offering, it shall be eaten on the day that he offers his sacrifice, and on the morrow what remains of it shall be eaten, but what remains of the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day shall be burned with fire. . . . Say to the people of Israel, He that offers the sacrifice of his peace offerings to the LORD shall bring his offering to the LORD; from the sacrifice of his peace offerings he shall bring with his own hands the offerings by fire to the LORD; he shall bring the fat with the breast, that the breast may be waved as a wave offering before the LORD. The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast shall be for Aaron and his sons. And the right thigh you shall give to the priest as an offering from the sacrifice of your peace offerings; he among the sons of Aaron who offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat shall have the right thigh for a portion. . . ."
Leviticus 3:1-5; 7:11-17, 29-33
The law of burnt offerings asked us to look inwards to meet the Lord in the intensity of our aloneness. The law of morning and evening sacrifice also asked us to turn to that inmost sense of the Lord's Presence at moments of beginnings and endings. In both our offering was wholly burnt. Our morning and evening bread was unleavened, pure of all corruption. The symbols here are clear: all good is wholly from the Lord; we turn to God alone. Peace offerings are different. They are the sacrifice we eat. We bring leavened as well as unleavened bread for our feast, and we share our meal with family and friends. We are asked to see the good in us, in those around us, and in the things we enjoy. We are asked to accept joy.
We saw that peace offerings were the most common form of sacrifice in ancient Israel, so much so that Israel's word for joining in public worship was the word "rejoice." The great seasonal festivals of praise and thanksgiving, celebrations of victory or harvest or of living in peace in the land, of return to health, safe journey, or just waking up alive, all called for joy before the Lord. To sing, to dance, to make music, to shout, to clap the hands, to feast together, were normal elements in Israel's worship of God. The peace offering or festival meal enjoyed with others before the Lord, was one of the most obvious symbols of thanking God for the blessings of life.
Blessings were not reserved for some distant time to come in Israel. The ox or bull from the herd of Leviticus 3 was the symbol of material benefits like health, prosperity, or service in the world. Other animals that could be used were the sheep or goat, the sheep meaning innocent love, as for the Lord or for other people, and t lie goat enjoyment of wisdom in a spirit of charity toward others. For this offering the animal could be male or female. The offerer could bring either his awareness of the begetting principle and the receiving of new generating principles from the Lord (symbolized by the male), or the enjoyment of the fruits of the principles of love (symbolized by the female). Israel's psalms of praise, like her command to love, speak not in the abstract or in generalities, but give the reason for the praise. The praise or thanks were given for benefits experienced in a particular success or harvest in this world.
The theory that all good is from the Lord is pure and simple. The experience of enjoying the actual victory or harvest is always mixed, however, partly to do with God's pure gift, and partly with our conduct, right or wrong, of the event. It is this back and forth that creates a problem with accepting joy. And it is precisely to this back and forth that the commandment for the peace offering speaks.
The first steps are the same as for the burnt offering. The worshipper himself brings his bull or sheep or goat, acknowledges that it is his by laying his hand on its head, and gives it into God's hands by doing the slaughtering himself. The priest then throws the blood against the altar, attributing all life and truth to God. But now the rest is not committed totally to the flame. When we rejoice over a good thing the Lord has given us to do or to receive, and when we communicate it to others, we accept it really as ours, expressing it as of ourselves, giving it the unique form that is our life. The greater part of the meat, then, we eat or distribute to those close to us. But as we enjoy and communicate the wisdom and goodness of life, we cannot avoid the knowledge that inmostly the Lord sustains them and gives them their power, and so the inner fat and some of the inner parts of the sacrifice are sent up in smoke to God by the fire on the altar.
In a land as sparse as Israel's, fat had good associations. It is true that a human heart that became "fat" became insensitive and could not understand (Ps. 119:70, Isa. 6:10). But the fat of animals was the choicest part and the fat of the land was the riches of its grain and wine and oil (Num. 18:12-32). The inner fat of the animal had special significance. The priest was to burn the fat that covered the intestines and all the fat that was on them, the two kidneys and the fat that was on them, and the caul or appendage to the liver. The intestines are the parts that absorb nourishment from food, and the fat on them is pure nutriment, deposited for instant use by the body as needed. This fat symbolizes the memory, the wonder of a memory of good things learned from the Lord, providentially stored and ready to come to consciousness in time of need for the nourishment of the spirit.
The kidneys in the Bible as in other ancient understandings of the person, were seen as the seat of the emotions, a part of the body most sensitive to spiritual atmospheres and critical for health. Their function of separating the pure and impure serum of the blood, returning the pure to use and diverting the other, symbolizes the power of discerning between truth and falsity. The abundant fat about them is the memory of the delight of straight thinking. This function and the memory stored with it are to be put totally into God's hands.
In the Bible the liver is associated with the temper of mind, the attitude of heart, the weight or dignity or glory of the person. It has a similar separating function of preparing blood for the heart, removing bitter, acrid, and useless particles, and sending on a fluid pure, rich, and sweet, ready for any use. And so it symbolizes the faculty by which bitter, acrid, and useless things are removed from the mind and the thoughts of the heart are made loving and charitable. The delicate fat which it deposits is the joy of loving, charitable thought. A healthy person needs a liver. The problem is not that hitter, acrid, or useless things appear in the mind. The problem is only if there is no power to discriminate and recognize that they are bitter and let them go. The liver, then, is for us to eat and to enjoy, but the fat and the appendage attached to it are given to the flame.
If the offering is a sheep, its fat tail symbolizes the last and lowest things of the kind represented by the head. And as the head of the sheep represents love to the Lord from perception of God's merciful love, the tail represents a grateful memory of the goodness of God's creation and providence. The fat tail is given with the other inner fat totally to God.
All power has its source in God, and sometimes this is what we must experience. Here, however, we experience the interaction between what lies rightly in our power and what does not. All blood, or life itself; the fat, the amazing, gracious memory of good and truth stored deep within us; the kidneys, seat of the emotions, and separator of truth from falsity; the appendage attached to the liver with its ability to discriminate among the intentions of the heart,--all these are for God's hands alone. Now the breast and the right thigh are given a special, mediating place, as the portion of the priest within us, the part of us which mediates and is merciful, drawing us to good and to the Lord. As the intestinal fat surrounds the vital inner organs, so the breast surrounds the heart, and is "waved as a wave offering before the Lord," and given to the priests to eat. The right thigh, that strong, muscular part connecting our feelings and our vital organs with our power to move and to stand firm, the good of love, is given to the priest who offers the blood and fat. Our priest part brings to consciousness the life from the Lord which comes through into our ability to love and be of use. And now the remainder of the meat, the greater part of the offering, is for the offerer, the familiar human part of us, the worker and enjoyer in this world.
Bringing to the altar means, of course, being open to the inner presence of the Lord, and the meal we share symbolizes our sensing the heavenly things the Lord gives us, filling us with love and peace. God's love and truth are given to us and added to our lives to nourish the inner angelic part of us, to make us strong. But if we forget these gifts are from the Lord, thinking that truth has its source in our intelligence, our souls begin to be separated from their life, and spiritually to die. And so it is commanded that we eat neither the fat nor the blood, but enjoy our gift of life from God.
Our feast demands fresh bread as well as meat. We have seen the symbolism of bread and oil, interior satisfaction of useful work, or love expressed in action. A loaf of bread is given to the priest to lift up and eat before the Lord, to show that we receive the satisfactions of life from God, and the rest is eaten with the meal. Both leavened and unleavened bread are eaten. This is the peace offering in which the joy of ordinary good work, with its mixed motives, is brought to the Lord as good. Self interest too can be real and good. It has its place in this sacrifice in which the actual joy of human beings comes peacefully into the Presence of God and finds its blessing.
Two kinds of peace offerings are described, and these again bring out the rightful interaction between the human and the divine. The meat of the sacrifice of thanksgiving is eaten on the day of offering it, with none left until the next day. Spiritual joys and loves are not things we can lay up or provide for ourselves. They are living and precious only when continually new from the Lord. A votive offering or vow promised ahead to the Lord, or a free will offering, recognized as owed to the Lord and so given, has more of our own foresight in it and can be eaten on the next day also. Our own prudence is often good, though different from the selfless response of pure, spontaneous thanksgiving. We need to provide ahead, and for ourselves. But anything kept until the third day is the confirmation of our own prudence, justice, or generosity, making it the source of our religious practice. This is neither eaten nor burned by the sacred flame into ascending smoke. It is to be burnt with the fire of destruction, into the symbol of annihilation: ash.
Symbols seem always to have at least two opposing meanings. So fire destroys, but also is the touch of love that brings new inner life. The peace offering brings us face to face with two sides of satisfactions in this world. For adults at least, satisfactions seem always to be mixed, partly impure and overly self seeking, and always presenting us with tension between joy in our own strength or sense of what is good, and in God's totally self giving love.
It seems so simple to accept joy. And yet I make it hard. I get caught between the two sides of satisfaction, needing some justification of my own for the joy, or some sort of reassurance that it will really be my sort of joy and not break my categories wide open, when I, where I am, think to accept the gift as mine. And as soon as I start questioning whether I deserve the satisfaction, my guilt begins to work: "The joy can't really be for me. It won't last. It can't be real. They are just saying that to make me feel better." Or my fear: "If I let myself like it, I'll lose it, and that will hurt. Something awful will happen, so it's better if I feel bad now. Then I won't be disappointed." Or my desire to have as owner: "I'll take it. I'll take it as mine and not let go of it. I'll make it last. I'll make it happen again!"
The peace offering is exactly what it says. It brings peace between the inner person, so longing to be open to God's goodness, and the outer, so caught in deeds and justifications that it cannot trust the joy. How does it do this? It gives me the way to go peacefully to God with my successes, the things I have done well. And then it shows me the way to give to God the kidneys and the fat. It helps me know, with humility and with relief, that I am to give the kidneys, that the source of my feelings, of my power to care, is the major element In my discrimination of right from wrong or true from false,--not my own wisdom,--and that the power to care is a gift from God, not under my control. And it helps me know, with equal humility and relief, that am to give the fat, that my deep memory which is such a threat to me when I try to control it, is not meant for my control. I cannot make the time bombs of memory disappear, or tell the uneasy sense of ambush down that path to go away. Thank God, my Lord does not expect me to. But I can put my memory in the Lord's hands, and trust the Lord to be with me in whatever comes, not letting more come than I can handle, and reminding me of strengths and goods in past experience when this is what I need. The conscious memory, that glory of being human that yet so often seems to function as an instrument of hell, can be an amazing instrument of God's grace. The peace offering, the feast of our thanksgiving, of our enjoying our success, puts memory in God's hands.
When we read the accounts of ancient Israel's joy before the Lord, we wonder. Is it all right to take such joy in good things in this world? Is this a joy of simple, primitive people, no longer possible for modern men and women? Is it like seeing the immediate delight of a child in food, in sleep, in life itself, that is so moving partly because it is something we no longer have? When we see ourselves before God, shouldn't we as adults think more of sin and of responsibility than of joy? The Word of God to Israel speaks unmistakably of sin and of responsibility. But it speaks even more unmistakably and emphatically of joy, of gratitude and awe that God works in the whole of Israel's life in the world. Israel knew what we sometimes forget that the courage, the depth of being that is needed to face sin and responsibility, come only on the grounding of accepting joy in God's goodness. Without the experience of joy we are only playing games on the surface of our responsibility, not dealing with the real. The prior reality which lets us respond at all, is God's goodness. The Bible rests on this assertion: God created us for good. Love's joy is to give itself. God's Love has no manipulation in it. It is wholly for our good. Because Israel's faith was grounded in the Lord of history and of creation, she could bring her offerings for victories or harvests confidently to the Lord and accept her joy in them as gifts from God. She could know joy.
What shall we do with the good things that come to us? What shall we do with joy? Let us enjoy them. Let us go peacefully and eat our offerings in God's presence. And the parts we eat, together with the parts we give totally to God shall be "for a pleasing odor, to the Lord," that is, for our inner peace.
Sit quietly a moment. Think of one thing you would like to bring peacefully to God: your health, the power to use your mind or body; the power to do your job; the power to love another person; any one good thing you have received or done.
Are other people near you in the good thing you have received or done? Is your thought of them with you as you think to bring your offering to God?
Turn your mind to the Lord, source of all life and power and good, who called you into being, your true Father and true Mother who has more love to give you than you could ask or think. Feel the joy of that love, breathe in its goodness, rest in its strength. See that love coming also on any you know as near you, in this offering to God.
Now read again Leviticus 3:1-5; 7:11-17, 29-33.
"If a man's offering is a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offers an animal from the herd, male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the LORD. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering and kill it at the door of the tent of meeting; and Aaron's sons the priests shall throw the blood against the altar round about. And from the sacrifice of the peace offering, as an offering by fire to the LORD, he shall offer the fat covering the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver which he shall take away with the kidneys. Then Aaron's sons shall burn it on the altar upon the burnt offering, which is upon the wood on the fire; it is an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the LORD. . . . And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which one may offer to the LORD. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thank offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with cakes of leavened bread. And of such he shall offer one cake from each offering, as an offering to the LORD; it shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering; he shall not leave any of it until the morning. But if the sacrifice of his offering is a votice offering or a freewill offering, it shall be eaten on the day that he offers his sacrifice, and on the morrow what remains of it shall be eaten, but what remains of the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day shall be burned with fire. . . . Say to the people of Israel, He that offers the sacrifice of his peace offerings to the LORD shall bring his offering to the LORD; from the sacrifice of his peace offerings he shall bring with his own hands the offerings by fire to the LORD; he shall bring the fat with the breast, that the breast may be waved as a wave offering before the LORD. The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast shall be for Aaron and his sons. And the right thigh you shall give to the priest as an offering from the sacrifice of your peace offerings; he among the sons of Aaron who offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat shall have the right thigh for a portion. ..."
Now bring your good thing to the Lord. And, especially, put the source of your feelings, your motivation, and your memory into God's hands, releasing them to become instruments of grace and goodness in your life.
O Lord, thank you that all the strength of my life, all my reason for being, is yours already, that I can trust my whole self to you, even my successes and my fear of joy, and those near to me, and know that you are God. Thank you that you are good, that your mercy, your loving kindness, is forever. Amen.
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