Leviticus 02 – Why Does God Hate Yeast and Honey?

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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Leviticus 01 – God Loves a Barbeque

The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Read the rest of the chapter, here)

The book everyone loves to hate.

Let’s spend a little time with the book everybody loves to hate, Leviticus. About the only thing “in style” about Leviticus right now is spending time refuting it. Two of the six clobber passages (passages used to denounce homosexuality) are found in Leviticus. Almost any compilation of “weirdest rules” or “strangest passages” in the Bible samples heavily from Leviticus.

There’s a pervasive need of modern readers to patronize Leviticus. We’ve all seemed to develop a sense of superiority sitting here looking at it, almost four centuries after it was written. Sometimes, that sense of superiority is factually based in the cumulative knowledge that time has brought, but other times I think it’s just a bit haughty of us.

If we take the time to research Leviticus it not only brings the past – in this case, the time of Moses, to life – but also presents us with (you guessed it) even more examples of God’s unending love for us. A book of rules – very specific rules, at that – seems a strange place to look for boundless love. But I’m happy to report I’ve found a lot of it, and I’m excited to share that with you here. Some of the more perplexing verses can be understood in context: obsessive directives about skin diseases and mold make more sense when you remember that this is a time before bleach and antibiotics. But more than anything it is a book about care: God caring for Xyr people, and those people caring for each other and God in return. It is a book of joyous communion.

God loves a barbeque.

And bless my southern little heart, what is a more joyous communion than a barbeque? If you come away from Leviticus learning one thing, let it be this: that God loves a barbeque. The phrase “aroma pleasing to the Lord,” in reference to the animal sacrifices made on the altar, is mentioned three times in this opening chapter alone. I cannot stress enough: God opened this book of rules with a cooking lesson. How to present the meat, butcher the meat, and prepare the meat is all detailed, similar to how a pit master might do. Come to think of it, another name for the first few chapter of Leviticus could be “this is how we eat together.”

I realize that whole last paragraph might come off as a little trite. But really, these opening chapters are a codified invitation to sit at the Lord’s table. And God makes it available to all: If you can bring a bull, definitely bring a bull. Can’t afford that? No worries, bring a ram, or even a bird. Can’t bring any meat? How about a grain offering? God wants us, all of us, with them. Because what is a barbeque without lots of people?

Practical concerns surrounding sacrificial butchery.

I’m also enjoying these opening chapters because, for those of you that don’t know, I am a farmer in my other life. I have herded cows, castrated pigs, and eviscerated chickens. I have carved a pig head, among other things, and make stock from chicken feet. So reading some of the practical instructions surrounding animal sacrifice is particularly amusing. Today’s winning line is verse 1:16, “He is to remove the crop with its contents and throw it to the east side of the altar, where the ashes are.”

First off, the word translated as “contents” is uncertain, according to my NIV study notes. Some translate it as “crop and feathers.” I don’t need to be a Hebrew or religious scholar to tell you that word means “anything you wouldn’t want to eat on the bird.” Having removed thousands of them myself, I can tell you that crops – the “holding stomach,” if you will, on birds, is stinky. As are their intestines and feathers. You do not want any of that burning on your holy altar – it would not be an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Imagine diarrhea and burnt hair, and that’s probably a pretty close approximation of what burning bird offal smells like.)

I also like that it is further explicitly stated that said gross stuff be thrown away on the east side of the Altar. There are detailed descriptions of how the Tabernacle should be constructed (we’ll get to them when we read Exodus), and my study Bible has a handy little drawing of how the Tabernacle was set up. Sure enough, the east side of the Altar is the farthest side from the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant rested. Basically, God is like “keep that nasty stuff over there.” I’ve smelled a gut bucket full of the offal of 100-plus birds. It is not conducive to communing with the Lord.

Alright enough about bird guts, for now. But be prepared: we’re going to talk more about animal entrails in the not too distant future. My writer’s block seems to have cleared, Leviticus is thoroughly enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to sharing chapter two with you all next week. Remember that you are always welcome at God’s barbeque, for God loves us all.

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Psalm 65 – A Blackberry Sea

You care for the land and water it;
    you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
    to provide the people with grain,
    for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
    you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
    the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
    and the valleys are mantled with grain;
    they shout for joy and sing.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here)

This past spring, I was walking through the farm with the girls, meandering and exploring. We walked behind the fence-line of field four, a part of the property that had been timbered a few years ago. The undulations of the land were completely festooned in sprays of blackberry flowers. It was a sea of white and green. Since then, I have been eagerly watching roadside berries grow and turn dark, knowing that the same thing was happening in my secret blackberry sea. Last weekend, we went to pick some and were not disappointed.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of the land, a land that had been used for its resources and left as a ravaged wound. When we arrived here a few years ago, what is now a blackberry sea was a hot, depressing place: raw dirt, old stumps, and piles of brush baking and bleaching in the sun, with nothing to break the heat and wind but the occasional scraggly clump of weeds. Now, in addition to the blackberry, there is wild grapevine, shiso, and milky oats. On the perimeter, there are young paw paw trees already producing, and what I have a suspicion are persimmons too young to produce fruit yet, but full of promise for future years. I felt like I was in Eden.

God is so generous, Xe gives us solutions to problems of our own making. My blackberry sea is but one example. The other one that had me marveling anew this week was the fact that oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are inadvertently growing huge reefs of those wonderful water filterers – oysters – on their charged, underwater metal equipment. And I think I’ve shared before that trees sequester carbon (up to forty-eight pounds per mature tree), provide oxygen, and literally seed clouds – yes, more trees equals more rain.

I do not think this means we get a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to caring for our wonderful island planet. Nor do I think that “letting nature be” is necessarily the best approach. Certainly, there are some areas of the wild that need to stay just that: completely wild. But if you remember, our original role in the Garden of Eden was gardener, so Biblically, you could argue that is humankind’s original and preferred vocation. There is constantly unfolding research about the Americas that show pre-Colombian populations were those edenic gardeners: tending the lands on a broad scale to make God’s fertile gift even more abundant. Early explorers were astounded by the park-like settings of eastern forests (which still had bison roaming through them) and the overwhelming number of fish in the Hudson river. 1491 and Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America are both excellent books if you are interested in learning more about how humans have actually, at least at some point in time, been beneficial to the earth.

What our role in caring for the Earth should be is something I’m sure I’ll revisit in greater detail in future posts, since that is what our farm is all about (and my husband, Chris, writes about it with more knowledge and eloquence than I, here). Today, though, I just want to celebrate the amazing abundance that is earth, from the cancer-fighting properties of ancient algae to the oxygen-producing capabilities of the Amazon Rainforest, and everything in between.

I thank God for the shade of the oak trees, the sweetness of a strawberry, and the puffs of dandelion seeds that delight my girls. (If there was ever proof that God loves play I think the answer lies in the irresistibility of a dandelion head to a small child.) I thank God for volunteer squash in the old pig paddock, the ever-forgiving and ever-cheerful zinnia blossoms, and the meteoric growth of my ten foot high corn. I thank God for the surprise stand of persimmons at the end of the driveway, quietly growing for a decade from seeds thrown there by my father-in-law many years past and just fruiting now. I thank God for the lush grass in the well of my front yard – a marsh in the winter but perfectly evergreen and inviting in the summer, where my girls run and roll and play with the dogs. I thank God for wildflowers. I thank God for gentle, rolling hills. I thank God for cool rivers and warm summers. I thank God for my blackberry sea.