AN INSPIRED COMMENTARY
As we begin a consideration of the meat offering as detailed for us in Leviticus chapter 2, we must be guided by the Divine commentary on the offerings which is found in Hebrews 10:1-10. In that passage the writer reveals to us that when the Psalmist penned the words quoted in verses 5-9, he was in fact expressing beforehand the determination of Christ to do the will of God completely. The four main classes of offering are listed; sacrifice (peace offering), offering (meat offering), burnt offerings and sacrifices for sins, (sin and trespass offerings). All would find their fulfilment in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, and as a result, those who believe would be perfected by the sacrifice of His body, as He established the will of God.
So we have Scriptural authority for seeing in the offerings detailed in the early chapters of Leviticus foreshadowings of Christ’s person and work. In the sin offerings we are presented with one who is holy and pure, yet who was prepared to be “made sin”, that those who are reconciled to God may become “the righteousness of God in Him”, see 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. In the burnt offering we see one who surrendered Himself wholly in death, so that believers may be accepted before God, see Ephesians 1:6. The meat and peace offerings represent the responses from believing Israelites to the acceptance they found in the burnt offering. No blessing is promised for bringing those offerings, for they themselves are the response to blessing already received.
RESPONSE TO GOD.
As he reacted to the goodness of God in bringing him into acceptance with Himself, the Israelite brought his meat offering. What was he saying as he did this? Let us put ourselves in his position. He is travelling through the desert on the way to Canaan, with neither fields of wheat, nor orchards of olive trees; sweltering under the scorching sun, and therefore needing to maintain salt levels in the body; with no reserves to purchase luxuries such as frankincense. Natural wisdom would suggest that he needs to conserve all available food supplies including salt, and certainly not indulge in the extravagance of purchasing fragrant incense from the travelling merchantmen. Yet what nature would say he should keep for himself, he joyfully allows to be burnt on the altar. He is seeking the kingdom of God first, trusting that all necessary things will afterwards be added, Matthew 6:33. He is losing his life in order to find it, Matthew 16:25. He is not counting his life dear to himself, Acts 20:24. And by so doing, he is giving to His God a foretaste of that total devotion which would be displayed by the Son of God when He came into the world, whose life may be summed up in His own words, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work”, John 4:34.
THREE ASPECTS OF TRUTH.
With these general remarks in mind, let us give consideration to the words of Leviticus 2. There are three ways in which we may look at such a passage. First, we may consider the offering literally, and consider what the offerer did before he brought his present to God. Second, we must then go on to apply the truths learnt and see their final fulfilment in Christ. Third, we must not neglect to apply the lessons to ourselves as believers, so that “the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh”, 2 Corinthians 4:11.
THE CONSTITUENTS OF THE OFFERING.
As we survey the chapter as a whole, we discover that there are four things expected, namely flour, oil, salt and frankincense; two things excluded, leaven and honey, and one thing excepted, blood. We shall think of these as we go down the chapter, it will suffice to mention them at this point. We cannot move on, however, without noticing two things, which are these. The offering is called a meat offering, yet there is no meat, and as a consequence of this, there is no blood involved. To explain this use of the word meat we must recall that language changes over the years. Nowadays, the word is restricted to animal flesh. In olden times, however, the word was more general, as may be seen in John 21:5,6, where the Lord asks the disciples, who were fishing, if they have any meat, and when they say they have not, He commands them to cast their net on the right side, and they will find. To the disciples, meat included fish. A meat offering consisted of foodstuffs of the prescribed sort, offered as a meal to God.
A BLOODLESS OFFERING.
The second matter, that of the absence of blood from the offering, is of great consequence. It may especially puzzle us when we consider that when Cain brought a bloodless offering, he was judged by God. In Genesis a bloodless offering is condemned, in Leviticus it is required, so wherein lies the difference? It lies in the fact that Cain brought a bloodless offering in defiance, refusing to learn the lesson that God had taught his parents in Genesis 3:21, where an animal was slain to provide suitability for the presence of God. The man of Leviticus 2 on the other hand brought his offering as a complement to a burnt offering, and blood was an important part of that offering, and in any case the altar was constantly sprinkled with blood. We see this brought out in Numbers 15:1-11, where the larger the burnt offering, the larger was to be the accompanying meat and drink offerings. Even if an Israelite brought a meat offering in isolation, it was offered upon the altar of burnt offering, so the need for blood was emphasised in that way. All this has an important lesson for us, since Jude has warned us of days when men would go in the way of Cain, seeking to bring to God their own works to gain merit before Him, and thereby despising the precious blood of Christ. A fearful woe is pronounced over all such, Jude 11. Those who profess to preach the gospel, but who do not warn sinners that they have absolutely no merit before God, but must rely solely on the work of Christ at Calvary, are dangerously close to hearing Jude’s woe uttered against them.
THE STRUCTURE OF LEVITICUS 2.
We must notice the structure of the chapter. God’s word is a structured book, not haphazard but orderly, and this chapter is no exception. In verse 1-3 we have the ingredients assembled and brought to the altar. In verses 4-10 we have a deeper exercise on the part of the offerer, for he does not simply assemble the ingredients, but cooks them at home before he brings them to the altar. In the small section of verse 11 the offerer is warned not to bring leaven or honey. Finally in verses 12-16 there is the bringing of firstfruits to the altar. All these things have delightful significance when considered in the light of the New Testament.
Leviticus 2:1-“And when any will offer a meat offering unto the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour”.
There are two different words employed in this statement, both translated offering. The first means a gift or present, whilst the second means an approach offering. So the offerer as he comes to the altar is minded to give a present to God, in appreciation of His goodness. He also remembers as he draws near that God had said to Israel “None shall appear before Me empty”, Exodus 23:15. He approaches with a heart full of gratitude, and hands full of a gift. Let us not miss the application of this. As we draw near to God to worship Him, let us ensure that we have somewhat to offer. Let us not rely on the exercises of others, but rather see to it that can say with the psalmist, “I speak of the things which I have made”, Psalm 45:1.
We come now to the first of the ingredients of this offering, which in fact was the main one, for all the others were added to the fine flour. In Deuteronomy 24:6 we read “No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man’s life to pledge”. A man would need both of his millstones to grind his corn into flour. Deprive him of his millstone and you take away the support of his life. We can easily see that when a man brought flour to God, he was bringing that which supported his life, and inasmuch as he gave that flour away, either to be burnt on the altar or eaten by the priests, he was in effect giving his life away. In the meat or meal offering then, there is represented the surrender of a man’s life to God. This finds its perfect expression in Christ. His was a life wholly given up to His Father’s interests, “For even Christ pleased not Himself”, Romans 15:3, and Calvary was the logical outcome of such a life, as He gave Himself in total self-denial.
The mill-stone reminds us that all four ingredients of this offering were the result of a process which involved pressure and trial. The corn was ground to make the fine flour. The olive berries were crushed and pressed to yield the oil. The frankincense-shrub had its stems cut so that it would give up its fragrant gum, and then was beaten small, Exodus 30:36. The salt was pounded in the pestle. It should be noted, however, that no such process is possible with leaven or honey. How significant are these things when we apply them to the life of Christ. He was constantly under pressure during His life. He suffered as He saw all around Him the effects of creation’s bondage, Romans 8:17-21; as sickness and death took its toll, John 11:33,35; as unbelief held sway in the hearts of men, and wrath was near, Luke 19:41. The measure in which we suffer with Him in these things, is the measure in which we shall know the glory of their final remedy, Romans 8:17,18.
There is a contrast to be noted here, however, for the pressure was applied to the corn, the berries, the gum-tree, the rock salt, in order to refine them. With Christ the order is in reverse, for He is refined in His nature already, and because of this, is under pressure.
THE LIFE WAS MANIFESTED.
The apostle John reminds us in his first epistle that the one who was manifested here is eternal life personified. He did not come to duplicate Adam’s life, even though His manhood was true and real. He came to display the life of God in His life as a man, for eternal life is the life of the Eternal.
The truth of the real manhood of the Lord Jesus must be contended for just as resolutely as His Deity. In fact, the apostle labels as antichristian those who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, 1 John 4:3, as well as those who deny His Deity, 1 John 2:23. There is a danger that we may be so enthusiastic about defending His Godhood, that we over-react, and forget He was, and is, real man. The marks of real manhood are about Him, for His genealogy is traced from Adam through David and Abraham, He was born of a woman, grew normally and perfectly through all the stages of human life unto mature manhood, and then died.
REAL MAN AND IDEAL MAN
He is real man, but He is also ideal man, for He has no sin in His nature or on His record, and represents that perfection in manhood that God had in mind from the beginning. There was no coarseness in the flour of His manhood, as if some feature stood out more than the other. The coarse barley meal of the test of jealousy, Numbers 5, was not needed for this one, for the Father never had cause to doubt His faithfulness. Nor was there any admixture of chaff, as if there were points about Him which were of no value and ought to be discarded. He is the Blessed Man of Psalm 1, who is placed in direct contrast to the wicked which are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
A GREAT MYSTERY
How Godhood and manhood can come together in one person is a great mystery, as the apostle Paul acknowledges in 1 Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.” It is not that the attributes of Deity were transferred to a human body, but that one person, the Son of God, possessed fully the nature of God, and just as fully the nature of man. “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”, Colossians 2:9. He is one undivided person, yet has two natures. This is the reason why the Father is knowable, but the Son is not, Matthew 11:27. By becoming man, Christ did not lose anything of His Godhood, for God is unchanging as to His essence. If He was not God after He was born, He was not God before. Whilst, however, He did not lose any of His attributes as God, He did vary the way His glory was expressed. After all, if He had come in the blaze of splendour that was His in heaven, who would have dared to draw near to Him? What little child would ever have sat happily on His knee? No man can see God in His unveiled glory, and live, Exodus 33:20. Just as the gold that was incorporated into the garments of the High Priest was originally a solid lump, and then was made into thin golden threads, (retaining its nature, but changed as to its manifestation), so Christ displayed the glory of His Deity in ways comprehensible to men. The changing of water into wine being a case in point, when “Jesus manifested forth His glory,” John 2:11.
Because He was God manifest in the flesh, there are bound to be contradictions in our minds about Him, unless we are prepared to simply accept all of the truth about Him, and not just some of it.
The fine flour, then, symbolises the true, real and ideal manhood of the Lord Jesus, who came into the world that He might give Himself wholly to His Father’s interests, and in so doing, be the supreme example of surrender and consecration to God.
LUKE, THE GOSPEL OF THE MAN
It is Luke’s gospel which especially emphasises the manhood of the Lord Jesus, and we shall have cause to refer to his writing as we proceed. Suffice to say for the moment that Luke begins his gospel with a piece of Greek after the classical style, such as Luke would be familiar with through his studies to become a doctor, and then proceeds with the events surrounding the birth of Christ using expressions after the Hebrew manner. Then the remainder of the book is written in koine Greek, the language of ordinary folk. Thus he tells of a man who is not only real and ideal, but who is universal in His relevance, being presented to Greek and Jew alike, cultivated or ordinary, as the man after God’s own heart.
“And he shall pour oil upon it”.
We are not left in any doubt as to the meaning of olive oil in Scripture. In one of his visions, the prophet Zechariah saw two olive trees supplying oil for two lampstands, Zechariah 4:1-6. When he enquired about the meaning, the prophet was told, in effect, that the work of God would not be achieved by human might or energy, but by the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts. The olive oil therefore represents the Spirit of God. Couple this with the fact that the word used here in verse 1 for pour is also used when Aaron was anointed, and we have the idea of the anointing of the Lord Jesus by the Holy Spirit presented to us.
THE BEGINNING OF HIS MINISTRY
When Peter, the apostle to the Jew, addressed his largely Gentile audience in the house of Cornelius, he began by speaking of the anointing of Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, Acts 10:38. Cornelius was used to the idea of power as military might. He now learns that there is such a thing as Divine power, which has far nobler effects that the might of men. Such was the power Christ was endued with.
When Paul, the apostle to the Gentile, addressed his largely Jewish audience in Antioch of Pisidia, he began at the same point, telling how God had raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus, whom John the Baptist had first preached before His coming, Acts 13:23,24. Notice the last phrase, for it indicates that the public manifestation of Christ in the world of men was in a very real sense His coming to them formally. If John preached before His coming, the coming must be after the preaching, and so refers to Christ’s coming to John to be baptised before His public ministry began. The Jews were used to anointings, but it was with physical oil. Here is a real anointing, and Christ is the object of it. Can they ignore such an one?
A CRITICAL EVENT
Both men saw the anointing of the Lord Jesus as a critical event, marking the moment when He was endued, as a dependent man, with power for service. The fact that the Spirit of God came upon Him in person, and not just in symbol as with others, is very significant. John the Baptist was told by God that the one upon whom the Spirit descended visibly, and remained, was the Son of God. John saw this happen, and bare record that Jesus Christ was in truth the Son of God. John 1:32-34. The one who baptises with a Divine person, the Holy Spirit, must himself be a Divine person.
John the apostle saw this moment as having great significance, too, for he describes the Lord Jesus as the one from the beginning, by which he means the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, 1 John 1:1-5. John’s emphasis, however, is on the fact that the Lord Jesus had come to display eternal life before men. He is eternal life personified, and was with the Father in every sense, not only in eternity, but also in the hidden years before He was manifested to the apostles from the time of His baptism in the Jordan onwards. Just as the ark of the Lord led Israel through the Jordan into Canaan, thus introducing them to a further appreciation of God’s purpose, so Christ has come that we may see the outworking of eternal life in practice on the earth, and not only see it but have a real share in it by faith.
As the apostles companied with the Saviour, they had opportunity to hear Him speak and watch Him work. What He spoke were words of eternal life, John 6:68, and what He worked expressed who He was, and bore testimony to His person, John 14:11.
FELLOWSHIP WITH THE FATHER AND THE SON
The apostles were deeply interested in this, so they were not content with seeing things happen, and hearing things said, (which the unbelieving multitudes could and did do), but they gave Him close scrutiny, they “looked upon” Him, 1 John 1:1. As they did this, they “beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only begotten of the Father”, John 1:14. They were privileged to see in a life lived upon earth the full expression of Divine Life as it has always expressed itself in heaven. This manifestation of life is unique, for the simple reason that the Only-begotten Son is unique.
Not content with even this, however, the apostles “handled Him” with their very own hands. Now we must not limit this to their experience of handling Him in resurrection conditions, Luke 24:39, for that was to convince them that He was not simply spirit, but had a real body. Rather, this handling is a spiritual idea, and corresponds to having fellowship with Him. When believers extend the right hand of fellowship to others, they do it to express a link, and not specifically to touch one another. In confirmation of this, we notice that even though the apostles saw and contemplated the Lord Jesus, and then declared what they had seen, 1 John 1:3, they did not give to us a physical description of Him. The sight of Him they give to us is spiritual insight, so what they handled were spiritual realities.
What a privilege the apostles had as they shared in the things that previously had been the exclusive delight of the Father in eternity! But there is more still, for that which apostles knew and enjoyed, believers may share in too, and in this way their joy will be full, 1 John 1:3,4, for there is a close association between the meal offering and the drink offering of joy.
THE POURING ON OF THE OIL
To return to the pouring of the oil upon the flour. Every grain of flour was saturated with oil, thus symbolising the fact that the Holy Spirit could be associated with every facet of the person of Christ. There was no need for adjustment at all. With the believer, one of the functions of the Spirit is to prevent us from doing what we would otherwise do, Galatians 5:16,17. This was unnecessary with Christ, for He had no sinful nature needing to be counteracted. So harmonious is the relationship between the Spirit of God and Christ, that the Spirit is called “The Spirit of Christ”, Romans 8:9, and “The Spirit of His Son”, Galatians 4:6. There was no aspect of the life and person of Christ that was not fully in harmony with the Holy Spirit of God, hence one of the signs to John the Baptist was that the Spirit would remain on Him, there being nothing to disturb the tender, guileless, undefiled dove. David sinned grievously, and needed to plead with God lest He take the Holy Spirit away from him, and thus dispossess him of the throne, (for his right to the throne was vested in his anointing), as had happened with Saul. See 1 Samuel 16:13,14; Psalm 51:11. Christ, however, is anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows, and His throne is for ever and ever because He loved righteousness and hated iniquity, Hebrews 1:8,9. There is no principle of corruption in His person, therefore there is no principle of decay in His reign.
Every believer has the Spirit of God permanently, in virtue of the abiding value of the crucifixion of Christ, when He dealt with our link with Adam, enabling the Spirit to abide with us for ever, John 14:16. It is our solemn duty, however, to not grieve the Holy Spirit by un-Christ-like behaviour or attitudes. Every part of our lives must be permeated by the Spirit, as was the case with Christ Himself.
“And put frankincense thereon”.
Whereas the oil was poured on, the frankincense was put on. So the oil comes into contact with the flour, but the frankincense does not, for all of it is laid on the altar, so it cannot have been mixed with the flour. No doubt the man provided a container, just as the princes provided spoons for the incense, Numbers 7:14. Interestingly, the word used for spoon is most often translated hand, the shape being similar. But the “hand” that holds the frankincense is not a human hand, for the fragrant incense was the Father’s appreciation and grasp of the delight He found in His Son. He expressed this at Christ’s baptism, when the anointing took place. The fine flour of Christ’s manhood, the oil of the Spirit’s anointing, and the frankincense of the Father’s approval, all came together in that pivotal moment.
THE FEATURES OF FRANKINCENSE
We are anticipating, however, for we have not established the meaning of the frankincense. “This is the name (Hebrew lebhonah- to be white) given to a species of medium-sized shrub native to India, Arabia and East Africa, and to the gum which it produces. As with myrrh, whilst the gum does exude from leaves and twigs, the output may be multiplied by incising the stems of the bush; it is also bitter to the taste. Droplets of the resin are whitish when they initially solidify, are brittle and appear like so many glittering jewels. The resin was collected, and transported over the ancient trade routes to the ready markets for it. Because it was so highly and pleasantly aromatic when burned as an incense, it was always in great demand…it was used medicinally also”. From “Rise up my love”, by C. Hocking.
A picture is built up in our minds by these facts. That which manifests itself from within, and this more abundantly under suffering; which by its very name is white, speaking of righteousness and purity; which is at one and the same time bitter and sweet; which is in great demand, and therefore is costly, being said to be worth more than its weight in gold, with kings and emperors competing to secure the best samples; was sourced outside the land of Canaan; which had healing abilities; which was an ingredient of the holy incense used in the tabernacle.
THE SPECIALNESS OF CHRIST
There is presented to us in these things the very features which marked Christ as a man. For thirty largely-silent years He yielded to God that which gave Him the utmost pleasure, for He grew up before Him as a tender plant, Isaiah 53:2. Yet when the trials and buffetings of His ministry amongst men began, they only served to diffuse the blessedness of His person.
He was characterised by righteousness and purity. So much so that He can be positively identified simply by the terms “Holy One”, Psalm 16:10, and “The Holy One and the Just”, Acts 3:14. He is Jesus Christ the righteous, 1 John 2:1. His life was a perfect blend of sorrow because of the condition of things all around Him, and deep, personal joy in God. He was Man of Sorrows, Isaiah 53:3, (the frankincense exuded from the tree in tear-shaped drops), yet spoke of His own special joy, John 15:11.
He is expressly described by God as precious, Isaiah 28:16, 1 Peter 2:4,6, and this is echoed by His people, for “unto you therefore which believe He is precious”, 1 Peter 2:7.
Like the frankincense, Christ came from other climes, being “from above”, John 8:23, or as we sing sometimes “Thy bosom was, of native right, His proper, secret dwelling-place”.
And such was the preciousness of the personality and character of Christ to His Father, that, like the sweet incense of old, He has been given a place before the very throne of God in the sanctuary, Exodus 30:36, Hebrews 9:24. Perhaps the apostle John had this in mind when, having spoken of the one who is the propitiation for our sins, he goes on to comfort the children of God that their sins have been forgiven for His name’s sake, 1 John 2:12. Their forgiveness is firmly established on the ground of the shed blood of Christ, and on the merits of His name, as the Father appreciates them.
The fact that the frankincense was an ingredient of the holy incense, as well as of the meal-offering, reminds us that there has been a man down here who was utterly dependent on His God, for the incense is especially connected with prayer. See Psalm 141:2: Luke 1:10; Revelation 8:3,4 Unlike Adam, who rebelled against God despite the abundant evidence of His goodness and provision, Christ maintained unswerving loyalty even when in the desert and hungry. He would only act in unison with His Father, refusing all the enticements of the Devil. He was cast upon God from the womb, even when it seemed He was most dependent upon Mary. This dependence was evidenced by His energetic prayer-life.
THE DEPENDENT MAN OF PRAYER
Prayer is prominent in Luke’s gospel. In fact, the narrative begins with Zacharias in the temple offering incense at the hour of prayer. He and his wife Elizabeth had been earnest in prayer previously, and now their prayers are about to be answered. Sadly, when told this by the angel, Zacharias was unbelieving, and thus was struck dumb. No such thing happened to another aged saint of those times, for Anna served God with fastings and prayers night and day, and when she came into the temple courts as Simeon uttered his prophecy about Christ, she did not doubt, but gave thanks to the Lord, and far from being dumb, “spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem”, Luke 2:38. At the end of the gospel, the disciples are found in the temple praising and blessing God. It is not so much that they are praying for God to intervene, but rather are praising Him for having done so, and blessing Him for revealing Himself in a new way in Christ.
It is the prayers of Christ that Luke highlights, however. First of all, we are told that as He came up out of the water of baptism, that He did so praying, Luke 3:21. All the others baptized of John would pray for the forgiveness of their sins, and then be baptized with the baptism that sealed that repentance. It is otherwise with Christ, for although He took His place amongst those who waited to be baptized of John, (“when all the people…Jesus also”), He did so not because He was repentant, but because, amongst many other things, He wished to signal His approval of what John and the people were doing. How significant that He should begin His public ministry in this way, for it was the sign of His utter dependence upon God.
REACTION TO POPULARITY
In Luke 5:16 we find the second reference to Christ praying. In verse 15 we learn that there went a fame abroad of Him: and great multitudes came together to hear Him and be healed. His response? He withdrew Himself into the wilderness, and prayed. The tense of the verb withdrew is the one that tells us that this was His habit, not something occasional. So whilst Luke tells us of seven specific incidents of the Lord praying, he does not mean us to think He only prayed seven times. Surrounded by the crowds of admirers, Christ humbly withdrew, lest they should gain the impression that He was in any way interested in popularity. After all, He would be crucified by popular vote.
CHOICES AFTER PRAYER
The scene changes in chapter 6:12, for the scribes and Pharisees were filled with madness over His healing of the man with the withered hand. His response was to retire to the mountain to pray, and continued in this prayer all night. This was a double response, for He knew that the animosity they expressed would eventually result in His crucifixion. No doubt His praying took account of that, and would express His continued determination to do His Father’s will, even though that would involve the cross. But there was another matter in hand. He was going to appoint the twelve apostles the next day, and this would need to be done in obedience and submission to His Father, too. He would deliberately choose Judas, who would betray Him, and only one completely dedicated to His Father’s will would do such a thing. Perhaps there is also the thought that He is preparing for the continuation of the testimony through the apostles after He has returned to heaven, and thus His prayers would be an expression of confidence in the will of His Father in that respect.
PRAYER TO STRENGTHEN HIS OWN
In Luke 9:18 the Lord is alone, praying, yet His disciples were with Him. Does this mean that when He was praying He was totally oblivious of that which was going on around Him? He is about to ask them to give their personal testimony as to who He is, and no doubt He is praying that they may testify aright.
A MEDIATORIAL KINGDOM
The fifth occasion is on the mount of transfiguration, and only Luke tells us that as He was transfigured before them, He was praying. The scene gives a preview of the coming kingdom, and tells us that when Christ reigns upon the earth, He shall do so mediatorially, in dependence upon His Father still. This will be in direct contrast to the rulers of men, who rely on their own resources in self-will.
THE EXAMPLE IN PRAYER
It is no surprise to find that having companied with the Saviour for so many months, the disciples should come to Him as He prayed, and request that He teach them to pray, Luke 11:1. No matter how well they prayed, however, they would never surpass Christ in His utter devotion and dependence upon His God.
HE PRAYED MORE EARNESTLY
The seventh scene is one of great pathos, for in Gethsemane the Saviour is upon the ground, prostrate before His God and Father. Gethsemane means the place of olive presses, and the truly spiritual man, the “green olive tree in the house of His God”, Psalm 52:8, is being pressed and crushed. Yet, nonetheless, He desires only that the will of God be done, even though He knows what that will is.
With these things in mind, we return to the scene on the banks of the Jordan, the place where the “oil” was poured on the “fine flour”. Not only was the Spirit seen to descend, a voice was heard to speak. The Father gives His unreserved approval of the private years of the Lord Jesus. We thus are assured that nothing took place during those years that displeased the Father. And towards the end of that period of public scrutiny, the same words come again, Matthew 17:5. Being in the midst of men with all their wickedness has not spoiled the Lord. He has passed through the midst of them and gone His way, and has not been diverted into the way of sinners, Luke 4:30; Psalm 1:1.
It is well for us as believers that our private lives, which are under the eye of the Lord, meet with His approval. Well with us, too, if lives that delight Him at the beginning, delight Him at the end.
When the Israelite put his frankincense upon the flour, therefore, he was giving to His God a foretaste of what He Himself would do when He would speak of His appreciation of the qualities of His Son.
THE BURNING OF THE FRANKINCENSE
It is said of frankincense that it burns readily, steadily, at length and with strength. How like the Lord Jesus this is! We see Him “burning readily” in Luke’s gospel as at the age of twelve He is heard saying “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”, 2:49. He has not had to be coaxed by Mary and Joseph to remain in the Temple; in fact He gently rebukes them for thinking He would want to be anywhere else. Mark also emphasises this with his constant use of words such as immediately, straitway, anon, all telling of the ready obedience of the Lord Jesus. He was “instant, in season, out of season”, 2 Timothy 4:2.
But He “burned steadily”, too. How often we show great enthusiasm for some work for the Lord, only to waver and falter. Not so He who said “Behold I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected”, Luke 13:32. “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God”, Hebrews 10:9, where the sense of the words “to do” is that He was utterly determined.
It is also true that He “burned at length”; whether we think of the thirty years of obscurity, or the three or so years of publicity, He persevered in the Father’s will. We may perhaps tend to concentrate our thoughts on the known activities of the Lord during His public ministry. It would be a profitable exercise to think of Him in obscurity too, for He was just as pleasurable to the Father then. It is easy for us to conform to what we know is expected behaviour when we are under the eye of men, but with Christ there was no discrepancy between the public and the private, for He grew up “before Him”, and set the Lord always before Him, Isaiah 53:2; Psalm 16:8.
Just because He “burned at length”, does not mean, however, that His devotion was half-hearted, for He “burned with strength”, every task set by His Father being done with the utmost enthusiasm. “The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up”, John 2:17.
Verse 2 “And he shall bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests.”
The offering is now ready to be subjected to priestly scrutiny, and if suitable, will be burnt upon the altar. We must remember that the baptism of Christ was a commitment to Calvary. He later described His death as a baptism, Luke 12:50. There is a sense in which James and John, and all who have been martyred down the centuries, have shared in that baptism, see Matthew 20:23. There are aspects of it, however, which can only be experienced by the Lord Jesus, for only over Him did the waves and billows of Divine wrath roll at Calvary, when He suffered for our sins. When the ark of Noah passed through it’s baptism experience, 1 Peter 3:20,21, no water penetrated the walls. The cry of Christ in His Calvary-baptism, however, was “Save Me O God: for the waters are come in unto my soul”, Psalm 69:1. James and John never experienced this. When the ark reached the brim of the waters of Jordan, they were driven back, Joshua 3:15,16; Psalm 114:3-5. There was no such relief for our Saviour, however, as He endured the full force of Divine judgement. And this is what He commits himself to do by being baptised of John in Jordan.
HIS BAPTISM IS COMMITMENT TO CALVARY
We must remember that as the Lord approaches John the Baptist, He comes to the son of a priest. One, however, who has been removed by God from the untoward influences of the corrupt Sadducean priesthood of his day, who erred, “not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God”, Matthew 22:29. Into the deserts he had retreated, that he may learn from God Himself, so that when the time of Chrst’s manifestation comes, he is in a fit spiritual state to appreciate Him. There is a lesson for believers here, for a true appreciation of Christ will not be gained without separation from the influence of the world.
As the Lord Jesus draws near, John protests that he has need to be baptised of Christ, not Christ of him. Thus he owns his own unworthiness, even though the Lord would say later of him, “Among them that are born among women, there hath not risen a greater that John the Baptist”, Matthew 11:11. And by the same token, he declares the worthiness of Christ, and thus agrees to baptise Him “To fulfil all righteousness”, Matthew 3:15. The righteous demands of the Law which John represented were fulfilled by Christ as He is baptised in obedience to His Father’s will, showing that He loved the Lord His God with all His heart.
He also declares by being baptised of John that He believes John’s baptism is from heaven, and it is therefore a righteous thing to submit to it, Matthew 21:24-27. The publicans justified God when they were baptised by John, Luke 7:29, for they thereby declared God right when He condemned their sin. Christ declared God right when He was baptised, for He was siding with God as He condemned the sins of the multitudes who came to Jordan. He sanctioned the baptism as being necessary because of their sins, but He Himself was distinguished from the sinning multitudes by the word from heaven, which could not come to them.
His baptism, moreover, was the signal to His Father that He was prepared to endure the death of the cross, where He would accomplish the supreme act of righteousness, Romans 5:18, and thereby deal with that sin and condemnation which Adam brought in because of his act of disobedience, and enable God to reckon righteous those who believe.
Finally, His baptism was the sign that the King who would reign in righteousness had arrived. In all these things the sparkling white of the frankincense shines brightly!
“And he shall take out his handful of the flour thereof, and of the oil thereof, with all the frankincense thereof.”
The priests having passed the offering as fit to be put on the altar, the man proceeds with his last action. As he takes out his handful of the flour, he necessarily takes out a handful of oil as well, for the two are intermingled. The frankincense is kept separate, as we have seen, so he is able to take it all and present it for sacrifice. The handful is his handful, but he does not eat this meal- it is presented to God for His pleasure, that it may be the bread of God and not of man. Thus this man has the immense privilege of ministering to the heart of God, not only by displaying a spiritual desire to offer to Him, but also by giving to His God a foretaste of what His Son would be to Him when He came to earth.
Clearly, the larger the man’s grasp of the flour-oil mixture, the larger is the amount placed upon the altar for God.
THE NEED TO MEDITATE
The lesson comes home to our hearts, as we remember the words of John about handling the word of life, and having fellowship with the Father and the Son, 1 John 1:1-3. The more practised we are in this handling of Christ, the more we shall have to lay upon the altar to gratify the heart of our God and Father.
We live in a fast-moving world, where bustle and rush are the norm. This is not conducive to that quiet contemplation of the things of God which will result in a large appreciation of Christ. Faith, however, overcomes the world, 1 John 5:4,5. It goes contrary to it, and succeeds spiritually in spite of it. Far from giving in to the unreasonable demands of the world upon his time and energy, the believer will resist, and give time for spiritual things. If this means a less affluent lifestyle, then so be it.
In 1 Timothy 6, the apostle states very clearly that godliness with contentment is great gain. Those who persisted with the Old Testament idea that gain is godliness, that riches are always a sign of God’s approval, were to be withdrawn from, such was the radically different character of Christianity. Those who are determined to be rich shall pierce themselves through with many sorrows- they think money will make them glad, when in fact it will make them sad, if they keep it for themselves.
Having spoken of those who are determined to be rich, the apostle then speaks of those who are rich, who have been entrusted with resources by God so that His cause may be furthered in the world. Let them not think themselves to be superior, (highminded), nor put their faith in their riches, as if they enable them to be independent of God, but rather use that wealth for good causes, distributing to those in need. By so doing they will lay hold on eternal life, showing that they have an intelligent grasp of the principles which governed the Lord Jesus, eternal life personified, when He was here. He was, and is, the greatest giver of all.
All the frankincense, however, was reserved for God. As its sweet aroma ascended from off the altar, this was but the symbol of the devotion and prayer that would ascend from Christ to the Father during His life.
“And the priest shall burn the memorial of it upon the altar, to be an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.”
As Christ went to Calvary, all those characteristics which had made Him so well-pleasing to His Father during His life came into remembrance, as is suggested by the word memorial. So the offering is now divided into two parts, the handful taken out by the offerer and placed on the altar as a memorial of the whole offering being one part, and the other part being described as the remnant, or portion remaining, which was for the priests. Thus through his spiritual exercise, the Israelite has ministered to the heart of God and to the maintenance of the priesthood.
THE MEMORIAL OF THE OFFERING
We have already remarked on the need to have a large grasp of the truth as to the person of Christ, so that what we offer to God abundantly satisfies Him. We need to notice now, however, that the handful was not the measure of God’s appreciation, even though it represents the measure of the man’s. For the handful is the memorial of the whole, and it is this which God takes account of. Important as our grasp of Divine things is, we are not in the good of Calvary according to our measure, but according to God’s.
THE SWEET SAVOUR
The critical point is now reached, for the offering is upon the altar, from which there is no going back. As we shall see when we consider the next categories of meal offering, there is a fire involved in the cooking of them. Here it is the fire of the altar, God’s fire, that does its work. As the flame feeds upon the offering, two things happen. First, the offering is said to be made by the fire, and then as a consequence, a sweet savour arises to God. When the fire consumed sin offerings, it did so to destroy them, to put sin out of remembrance. Here however, the fire, far from destroying, is said to make the offering. Unless the fire is brought to bear on it, the offering is incomplete. We learn from this the absolute necessity for the death of Christ at Calvary if the will of God is to be fully done. Only so can the full benefit of the life of Christ be obtained. If He shrinks from the sufferings of the cross, then His devotion is not total, His surrender not absolute.
As a result of the action of the fire, a sweet savour arises to God, an aroma which causes Him to rest in satisfaction at what His Son has done. The words are literally, “savour of rest”, and may be translated “soothing fragrance”. God rested after His work of creation, He now rests after the work of establishing the new creation in Christ. After all that Adam’s race has done to make God angry, there is one who soothes His soul with the fragrance of a devoted life yielded up entirely to Him.
Verse 3 “And the remnant of the meat offering shall be Aaron’s, and his son’s:”
The remaining portion of the flour and the oil which was left after the offerer had taken his handful and burnt it on the altar, was for the priestly family. The Israelite had the great privilege of supporting the interests of Divinely appointed priests as they went about their sacred duties. Thus his offering would do the same as the shewbread loaves on the table before the Lord, which were a form of meal-offering, for these were displayed for seven days, and then became food for the priests also, see Matthew 12:4.
THE MAINTENANCE OF PRIESTHOOD
When David was fleeing from Saul and he and his followers were hungry, he went into the tabernacle and the priest gave him the previous week’s loaves. At this time David wrote Psalm 34, and in it urged his readers to “taste and see that the Lord is good”. When Peter is encouraging his readers to grow in priestly characteristics, he takes up David’s words, saying “taste and see that the Lord is gracious”. As the Christian priesthood takes to heart the truths concerning the grace and goodness of Christ, their souls are fed, and they develop in the capacity to offer to God acceptable sacrifices in His presence. This process is open to all God’s people, for the new birth introduces into the priestly family all who believe.
The sacrifices placed on Israel’s altar were called the bread of God, Leviticus 21:6. What a privilege to share a meal with God! Yet this is what the priests of Aaron’s line did, and it is what Christian priests may do too. With this difference- the latter know the realisation of the sacrifices in Christ, whereas Aaron’s sons only knew the symbol.
“It is a thing most holy of the offerings of the Lord made by fire.”
THE HOLINESS OF CHRIST
The innermost compartment of the tabernacle was called the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place, for it was there that God dwelt in His thrice-holiness. How significant that this should be the description of the meal offering. We are thereby reminded of the holiness of the nature and character of Christ as He moved through this defiled scene. He did not confuse sanctification with isolation, as some Christians do, but mingled with men, and was pleased to be known as their friend. All the time, however, there was a marked difference between them, for He was a different sort of man. Whereas all others are begotten by their natural father, He was conceived by the agency of the Holy Spirit of God. Thus it was that the one who was born of Mary could justifiably be called holy, Luke 1:35. He had no link with fallen Adam, and therefore no sin within. For all that He was a real man, tracing His descent right back to Adam as a son of God, Luke 3:23,38. By describing Adam as a son of God Luke is emphasising that as far as his manhood and nature were concerned, they were derived directly from God, for Adam had no earthly father. That the Devil did not understand the title Son of God as applied to Christ as the same when used of Adam is seen in the fact that he tempted Christ to do something there was no possibility of Adam doing.
TOTAL FREEDOM FROM SIN
We dare not compromise on the matter of the sinlessness of Christ. He is not only free from evil negatively, but is full of holiness positively. The fact that the same description is given to the meal offering as is given to the very presence of God indicates to us that at all times He was fit for that sphere. The Psalmist asked who was able to stand in God’s holy presence, and the answer he gave by the inspiring Spirit was “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up His soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully”, Psalm 24:4. The Lord Jesus is the only one that fits this description to perfection. The wonder of it is, however, that by virtue of His sacrifice at Calvary, He has fitted His people for God’s sanctuary, “For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified”, Hebrews 10:14. They are not fit in themselves, but they are fit because of Him.