Leviticus 07 – God’s Constant Desire for Communion

“‘These are the regulations for the guilt offering, which is most holy: The guilt offering is to be slaughtered in the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered, and its blood is to be splashed against the sides of the altar. All its fat shall be offered: the fat tail and the fat that covers the internal organs, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the long lobe of the liver, which is to be removed with the kidneys. The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering presented to the Lord. It is a guilt offering. Any male in a priest’s family may eat it, but it must be eaten in the sanctuary area; it is most holy. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Forbidden Fat, Forbidden Blood

Let’s start with a word about the latter half of the chapter, where the blood and fat of the animal are yet again expressly forbidden. Actually, it’s not much of a word, but more of a pointing you in a direction of where I and others have talked at more length about this specific restriction. First, the work of Mary Douglas informed most of my thinking of fat as a metaphorical covering: a protective barrier between mundane humanity and the dangerously powerful divinity of God. You would not want to consume something with that much symbolism, that much power, but rather, dedicate it to God. You can read more about that in my post on Leviticus 03. As to the special sanctity of blood, I wrote about that while discussing Romans 03, and have to once more give a shout-out to Almost Heretical for informing these ideas.

7:1 “which is most holy”

I want to spend today talking about the first part of the chapter, specifically verses 7:1 and 7:15, because they truly emphasize God’s desire to be reconciled to us and in communion with us.

7:1 reads “These are the regulations for the guilt offering, which is most holy:” (emphasis my own). Let’s refresh our memories: The guilt offering is made after someone intentionally commits a sin or a crime. This is slightly different than the sin offering, which seems to apply mostly when someone sins unintentionally. There is some mention of unintentional sins in stipulations regarding the guilt offering, but by and large it applies to: restoring property that has been stolen or extorted (see 6:4-5), breaking faith with a community member (6:1-3), or providing restitution for holy articles that have somehow been carelessly treated (5:16).

The guilt offering is being made by someone who has committed the gravest of errors: an intentional sin against God, and now is looking to make right. Whoever is offering a guilt offering has broken a divine covenant, violated a divine agreement, and, quite likely, is in danger of execution: Nadab and Abihu presented the wrong fire to God (in violation of their contracts as priests) and were literally burned to death, as just one example of such violations from here in Leviticus.

But look what we are told: this offering, the offering that restores said sinner to God, that restores them to life, is the most holy offering. The thanksgiving and fellowship offerings, that thank God for Xyr gifts to us, are not the most holy. The sin offering, which is, in comparison to the guilt offering, just a little expression of mea culpa, is not the most holy. No, the offering that restores a sinner to God is the most holy. Of course it is nice to be thanked for your gifts, or apologized to if someone steps on your toe, but what is really soul-healing is to have someone who has wronged you offer a heartfelt apology (and restitution). And we see that reflected in the fact that the guilt offering is the most holy of all the offerings. God leaves that doorway to forgiveness open for us, even here in the book of rules that modern Christians like to deride so often. The guilt offering is the most holy, because it restores our communion with God.

7:15 “leave none of it till morning”

7:15 falls in the Fellowship Offering Recap section. It reads, “The meat of his fellowship offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the day it is offered; he must leave none of it till morning.” Now, certainly this is partially a practical consideration: in an era without refrigeration, meat only lasts so long. But I’m here to tell you, it can last til morning. Maybe I’m a lazy housewife, but I often leave a chili or roast on the stove overnight and just reheat it at lunch the next day. No one has gotten food poisoning yet. So that practical consideration only goes so far.

I think it again shows God’s eagerness to be in communion with us. When you are presented with a gift, who wants to wait to open it? Waiting to open your gift is the hardest part of Christmas as little kid, right? Well, God, being in charge, can say “no waiting on these thank you gifts, we’re going to enjoy them right now!” When we come bearing gifts and thanks to God, God receives them graciously and effusively, because God enjoys being in communion with Xyr creation.

God delights in you

“The Church,” however you conceive that to be historically or institutionally, has done a good job of making people feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness. The Church as done a good job of hiding God’s joy in us and God’s desire to be with us. The church would often have you believing that you are scum, and nothing you could do would bring pleasure to God, that we can only bring God anger and sorrow and then repent in whatever pathetic way possible in the hopes that we won’t be thrown into hell. I will agree with them on one thing: that our actions can bring God sorrow, and probably anger, too. When we turn against each other, when we abuse God’s creation, even when we fail to take joy in what is given to us (take a look at Ecclesiastes to see how God wants us to be joyful) – that is an affront to God.

But I hope that these two verses discussed today help highlight exactly how much God loves us, and loves being with us. When we recognize the error of our ways and turn to God (and whomever else necessary) and say sorry, and work to do better, we are restored in God’s eyes, and God is delighted. When we say “thank you” for the gifts God has given us, God is there to hear it, and is delighted.

One last thing I want to point out: there are no stipulations on who can bring a guilt offering. You do not have to be white, rich, straight, employed, sober, college-educated, skinny, and with all your shit together. No matter what anyone else tells you, you are not an irredeemable sinner. You may perhaps need to make a proverbial guilt offering or two…or maybe you just need to say thank you more. Or maybe you’ve already done all of that. (Or maybe those things need to be said and done to you by some offending party.) Whatever the case, God loves you, and loves when you turn to Xyr. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. One more time, in case it wasn’t clear: God loves you. Thanks be to God.

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Leviticus 03 – Gratitude and Generosity with Fellowship Offerings

“‘If your offering is a fellowship offering, and you offer an animal from the herd, whether male or female, you are to present before the Lord an animal without defect. You are to lay your hand on the head of your offering and slaughter it at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall splash the blood against the sides of the altar. From the fellowship offering you are to bring a food offering to the Lord: the internal organs and all the fat that is connected to them, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the long lobe of the liver, which you will remove with the kidneys. Then Aaron’s sons are to burn it on the altar on top of the burnt offering that is lying on the burning wood; it is a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Today’s chapter talks about Fellowship Offerings. Fellowship Offerings are a voluntary act of worship made in gratitude to God, and are also the only burnt offerings that include a communal meal. These offerings, sometimes translated as Peace Offerings, symbolize peace and wholeness between the offerer, the congregation, and God. As it is a recognition of peace and gratitude, as well as communal, I think this might be my favorite offering.

If you didn’t read the chapter, basically it talks about pulling the fat off the animal and dedicating it to God’s altar. There seem to be two schools of thought on why this fat was so important:

Fat as a choice cut

First, that in offering God the fat of the animal, we are offering something of value – a choice cut, if you will. The fat, nowadays all too often ignored, has historically been viewed as one of the best parts of the animal. Loaded with energy, helpful in cognitive function, and easily rendered into shelf-stable products like tallow and lard, fat is also what makes meat flavorful. A fun little side note about why this chapter makes special stipulations for lambs’ tails: there is a breed of sheep common in the Middle East (and thought to be raised by ancient Israelites) that has a particularly large and fatty tail. It is, according to my reading, delectable. I, for one, am a huge fan of oxtail (the fatty, meaty tail of a cow) so have no doubt that’s true. Taken as such, this offering is a symbolic gesture of giving God our best. In gratitude and thanksgiving, worshipers were giving God the choicest cuts, which, at the time, included lambs’ tail.

Fat as a symbolic covering

A second hypothesis to why the fat is so important as to be dedicated to God is that it is a protective covering. To oversimplify a concept about which many, many volumes have been written: Much of Levitical law has to do with making sure that holiness and uncleanliness don’t cross-contaminate. Often, things were ritually cleansed. But just as often, they were ritually covered, thereby protecting the mundane from the divine and vice versa. The fat that covers an animal’s inner organs is a protective covering, and therefore highly symbolic of the many layers of covering and separation that Levitical priests were responsible for maintaining. (I have to thank the guys over at Almost Heretical for introducing me to this idea – if you want to explore it further you can listen to episodes 84-88. Also, Mary Douglas may have been the first to explore this idea from an anthropological standpoint, and I read her 1993 paper “Atonement in Leviticus” with great interest – available on JSTOR.).

Jesus as fulfillment of Levitical Law

In perhaps the most important blog entry I’ve written so far, I discuss how the faith of Jesus Christ (as opposed to faith in Jesus Christ) allowed his blood to become the ritual covering and purification that we needed to be in fellowship with God all the time. Thus, Jesus didn’t render Levitical law obsolete. Rather, he fulfilled it by fully and completely atoning for our sins and fully and completely cleansing and anointing the world. Jesus is the choicest cut of humanity, if you will, and his blood – like the fat of fellowship offerings before him – ritualistically covers our mundanity so we may commune with the divine.

Generosity and Gratitude

Luke 12:48 reads “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” And through Jesus, we have been given everything. To be in fellowship with God is a joyous thing, but it is also a responsibility. Nowadays that doesn’t mean ritually burning intestinal fat from a sheep’s stomach, but we can still learn from this chapter, recognizing it as a metaphor for doing good work in God’s name. When we give – whether to the church, or an organization, or a friend – we need to do it freely and in good faith. When we receive, let us be truly thankful. And let us continue to look for ways to keep giving and keep being thankful.

Being generous and thankful is harder said than done, especially right now with a global pandemic, contentious political season, and ongoing denial of human rights for everyone from Syrian refugees to Black Americans. Just yesterday I told my husband that I am really afraid – I truly believe that the democratic USA might not survive the next four years. Fear is normal, and necessary. But it does not negate our need to be generous and thankful. In fact, being generous and thankful right now is probably of the utmost importance. Joy can be an act of defiance in and of itself. It is our responsibility, as Christians, to spread that joy. We must exercise the virtues of generosity and gratitude because it is exactly what the world needs more of, in the face of fear.

Once more I want to reiterate the fact that God made this special fellowship offering so all worshipers could have communion with God. The meat is shared between the altar, the priests, and the worshipers. It is an invitation from God to be with Xyr in celebration and gratitude. It is up to us to accept that invitation. Now that we are fully covered in Jesus’ blood, we are able to do so all the time. We won’t always live up to the standards set for us, but that’s the great thing about Jesus: we get to keep trying. So try with me, won’t you? Let us be generous and grateful in the world, counteracting fear with joy. Let us continue to bring God our best, in good faith and in loving fellowship.

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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.