11 “‘Every grain offering you bring to the Lord must be made without yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey in a food offering presented to the Lord. 12 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. 13 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. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)
Spoiler alert: God doesn’t “hate” yeast and honey. In fact, in v. 12 yeast cakes and honey are encouraged to be brought as an offering of firstfruits, they just shouldn’t be burnt on the altar. As throughout much of Leviticus, the instructions for the grain offering found in the chapter are a combination of symbolic and practical.
Symbolic reasons for the rejection of honey and yeast
Let’s start with the symbolic, which, based on my Google research, seems to be two-fold. Bread (or wafers or cakes or whatever) made without yeast is a food that can be made quickly – hastily, even. It is what the Israelites ate as they fled Egypt, because you need to eat something and letting a loaf of bread proof is going to take too long. Also, pre-packaged granola bars weren’t around. This is why unleavened bread is eaten during Passover, as well: in remembrance of fleeing Egypt in haste, under the protection of the Lord.
Leavening, such as yeast or even fermented honey, is also a symbol of pride and corruption. It makes the dough puff up, much like a prideful chest, but if left unchecked turns sour and ruinous. Viewed as such a symbol, it’s not exactly what you want to be offering to God.
It is also possible that honey was used in Canaanite religious rites. As I’ve discussed in a previous post, Canaanite and early Israelite religious practices shared many commonalities, and Israelite leaders were very intentional in separating themselves from anything that might connect them to the Canaanites and their false Gods. If honey did factor into Canaanite religious practices, then it would be important that it not factor into the new, codified Israelite religious practices.
Practical reasons for the rejection of honey and yeast
There are also practical concerns with bread and honey offerings in a time that lacked refrigeration and modern food preservation methods. Bread goes moldy. Homemade bread using homemade yeast and unbleached flour goes moldy even faster. The priests took some of this grain offering for their own consumption. If you have pre-prepared foods as part of your sustenance, you want to make sure that those foods aren’t going to go bad before you can eat them. The shelf-life of unleavened bread is longer, therefore more practical.
As for honey, it’s messy. It’s a sticky liquid that gets even more runny when hot, and it can fuse into a carbonized mass onto wherever it burns. Pouring honey onto the altar was probably just not a good idea from a housekeeping standpoint. So there you have it, practical and symbolic reasons for keeping yeast and honey off the altar.
Some closing thoughts
I don’t want to leave this chapter without pointing out that God makes a special stipulation not to leave salt out of the grain offering. In v. 13 God say three times to add salt. Not once, but three times. This may be partly a practical concern: salty food keeps longer. But it really sounds like God needs some seasoning! No bland food for the altar!
It is yet another subtle indication that God loves the physical world. Xe wants to taste it in all its glory! Much of Biblical scholarship and interpretation has focused on a rejection of the physical world. In fact, one reason offered up regarding the rejection of honey on the altar was that honey is a symbol of sensuality and pleasure, the opposite of devotion and worship. But I want to reject that rejection, because if God wants salt, and fat, both tasty components of food – why wouldn’t God want sweet, too? Maybe it’s not right for the altar, but God still wants it in the form of firstfruits.
I think the takeaway from this chapter is that there are many right ways to worship God. Some are more appropriate sometimes, others at another time. As I mentioned in my last post, God wants to invite us to their table. The grain offering, and the mention of firstfruits offerings, are two more ways for Israelites to join in given in Levitical law, inviting them into communion with God. And now, just think how many new ways we have to join God at their table, since Jesus paved the way with his blood. And how many more ways we have to join in that worship with the advent of the printed word, mass communication, and the internet. God is constantly opening new paths to Xyrself, and that is a wonderful thing! Have a great week y’all, and spend a little time praising God, however you best deem that to be.
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