Worship While You Work (Leviticus 2:1-16)

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Just before the Easter weekend this year I developed a (self-diagnosed) case of sinusitis. Since I had been through it before I knew that a course of antibiotics would eventually be needed. I also knew that my wife had some at home. When I went to visit one of our missionary families, she sent the antibiotics with me, in case I found that I needed them there. I am thankful, for reasons I will explain below, that I did not have to use them while there.

After I had returned from India I found that I was still not feeling well. At first I tried to self-medicate with vitamin C and exercise, but it eventually became clear that I needed something prescribed. I called my doctor, a fellow church member, who told me that he would prescribe some medication, including an antibiotic. He confirmed with me, according to his records, that I am allergic to penicillin. I told him that he was correct; in fact, I am dangerously allergic.

When I told him that there was no need for antibiotics, that I had some at home, he asked me to text him text him the name and the active ingredient. I sent him the details—Augmentin SR with the active ingredient Amoxicillin Trihydrate—he immediately called me and, with a sense of urgency in his voice, said, “Doug, that is penicillin—and the ‘SR’ means that it is a strong dose of penicillin!” I duly thanked him for saving my life and asked for some marriage counsel in light of my wife’s attempted murder!

I share that to illustrate that it is very important for us to pay attention to directions when it comes, not only to our physical health, but when it comes to our spiritual health. This is why the book of Leviticus was so important to the nation of Israel under the old covenant. If they approached God in the wrong way it could prove very hazardous to their health.

The book of Leviticus was God’s worship manual for how the children of Israel—and Israel’s appointed priesthood—were to approach God. If they followed the directions then He would accept them. But if they ignored His “prescription” then they would pay the price. In fact, we have a clear example of this in Leviticus 10 with Nadab and Abihu who offered “profane fire” to the Lord, and paid with their lives.

Yes, we are to worship the one true God in His prescribed way! That is one reason why Leviticus was the first biblical book taught to Jewish children when they began to attend school at the local synagogue—at the age of 5. In fact, in light of this practice, we as an eldership have decided to close our 6-7-year-old children’s church for the duration of our Leviticus study and encourage parents to bring their children into the main service with them. If it was important for five-year-old Jewish children to learn Leviticus, I assume that it is equally important for Gentile children to learn the same book! The goal is that children learn understand God’s instructions in such a way that they will come to worship the true God in a truthful way. I plan to speak in simple enough terms that even the adults can understand!

In this particular study, our aim is to cover the second chapter of Leviticus, where we will learn about God’s instructions for the grain offering, which was a tribute to God for His provision for all things that pertained to life and godliness.

The Objective of Worship

This chapter gives instructions regarding the “grain offering” (v. 1). The KJV uses the term “meat” offering, while other translations speak of “meal” (ASV) or “grain” (NKJV, NASB, ESV, etc.). Some have even referred to it as a “cereal” offering. Perhaps “grain” is the most helpful translation.

When the KJV translators used the word “meat,” they were simply using the common term of that day (1611) for any kind of food. Some use the term “meal” because, in these offerings, the grain was crushed into a form of meal or cereal. But since, as we will see, this chapter also speaks of whole grain being offered I prefer the term “grain offering.”

The Hebrew word (minehah) “means ‘gift’ or ‘tribute’ and underscores the subservience of a person who comes into the presence of someone greater (see its usage in Gen. 32:13; Judg. 3:15; 2 Kings 8:8).”1 This is significant.

Submission to the Sovereign

The very nature of worship is submissively responding to greatness; the lesser ‘bows’ to the greater. This brings us to a very important matter with reference to the objective of our worship.

Several years ago, the craze of the Church Growth Movement came on the scene, and one of the favoured sayings, coined by George Barna, was “the audience is sovereign.” This philosophy of church growth was that the audience determines the way worship is carried out. The offshoot of this was that many churches and church planters did surveys in their community to find out what would attract people to attend church. Hymns were discarded in favour of one verse, two chords and thirty minute choruses. Expository preaching was jettisoned in favour of topical studies. Sin was removed from the preacher’s vocabulary. Sermons were streamlined to 20-25 minutes long. Offering baskets were not passed. Prayers were shortened. The main aim seemed to be that everyone left feeling really good.

The odd thing in all of this is that the idea of the audience being sovereign never occurred to God. In fact, what the church growth gurus said about the congregation being the audience was completely antithetical to God’s view of worship. You see, in biblical worship, God is the audience and the congregation is the cast which is to act out its prescribed part. “It is a foolish reversal of roles that places God on the stage as an actor who is required to entertain his people.”2

Let me put it another way: In biblical worship, the audience is sovereign; but, in biblical worship, the audience is God! This is clearly one of the major lessons in the book of Leviticus. Israel was to play its part as mandated in God’s worship script. To the degree that the Israelites did so heartily and faithfully, to such a degree God would accept their worship. In a very real sense He would applaud how they performed. That is, He would show His favour to them. Their offerings would be received as a sweet aroma.

The point to be emphasised is that, when those who truly desire to worship God come before Him in obedience to His revealed (written) instructions, He is pleased. So it was to be with the food offerings.

The Recognition of Provision

In each of these offerings the staple ingredient came from grain or wheat. It was a staple gifted by God to man, which man cultivated. In contrast to the manna, which rained upon the earth, and which the people merely raked up, the offering here required both God’s bounty (provision) and man’s labour. Kellogg (not the cereal founder!) has commented with great insight: “The grain of the offering was not to be presented to the Lord in its natural condition as harvested, but only when, by grinding, sifting, and often, in addition, by cooking in various ways; it has been more or less fully prepared to become the food of man. . . . Food [is] the most common and universal visible expression of man’s secular activities. . . . As the burnt-offering represented the consecration of the life, the person to God, so the meal-offering represented the consecration of the fruit of his labours.”3

When a man offered up this sacrifice to God, he was offering up that which came from his work. The worshipper was, in fact, worshipping with his work. God supplied to the individual both the material to work with and the ability to work with it, and this was directly connected to his worship. So must it be with us.

We are to so labour that not only what we do, but also how we do, is done with an eye on heaven; it is to be done worshipfully. But further, the rewards from our labours are to be offered up to God in worship. This clearly was the picture here in this worshipful offering.

The Offering of Worship

It is has been suggested by some that this particular offering was designed for the poorer of the people since almost anyone could gather such materials for this offering. I disagree.

Though it is true that this particular offering was not an expensive one (see for comparison the burnt offering), the grain that was offered had more to do with its symbolism than with its economic value.

The symbolism was that God is the One who provides all that we need for life and godliness. God is the one who sustains us. He does so by the bread that He supplies and the power of life that He gives. That is why the Scriptures tell us that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3). In other words, God sustains us both through His material provision as well as through His power, by which He daily sustains the beat of the heart. He gives and sustains life. This particular offering was instituted by God for His people to practically recognise this principle. That is why it called for the simple items of grain, oil and, in some cases, frankincense. The reasons were not economic as much as they were spiritual.

It should also be gladly noted that the passage begins with the words, “When anyone offers” (v. 1). The word for “anyone” indicates that “any individual or group, regardless of gender or status, is invited to bring the gift of a grain offering to the Lord and to participate fully in the ensuing ritual as equals.”4

Everyone and anyone who has been saved by the atoning work of Christ can participate in worshipping God with their labour. This surely gives a fresh and wonderfully encouraging perspective to our everyday labours.

Are you a stay-at-home mom? Then remember that, when you are changing nappies, and when you are caring for a family by caring for your home, you can worship God with your labour.

Likewise in every area of life. Do you labour in a factory environment? Then worship God as you do so. Do you manage your own business? Then worship God as you do so. Are you currently studying? Then worship God as you do so.

The grain that was offered as meal was to be “of fine flour.” “If the offering was uncooked grain or flour, the type of flour used was solet, the most purified flour, representative of the best. . . . This Levitical requirement thus indicates that careful preparation of the best product was expected in making this tribute.”5

When an uncrushed grain offering was made, it was to be of the best of the grain. This clearly points to the fact that the grateful worshipper was to give of his best to his Sovereign, who saved and sustained him. If we give God the scraps then we are indicating that we have perhaps lost sight of the great cost of the atonement and our undeserving reception of it. This does not only relate to the matter of our financial giving, but to the giving of our whole life to Him. Once again, this relates to the matter of worshipping while you work.

In the workplace we must give our best. A gratitude attitude is not a Pollyanna approach to life, but rather the disposition that embraces and engages all of life from a sense of gratefulness for who God is (sovereign), for what He has done (salvation), and for what He continues to do (sustain and supply). When this drives and informs our disposition, we will display it in all our duties, including in our place of work (see Colossians 3:22-24).

In other words, submitting to our sovereign Saviour, even in difficult and challenging circumstances at work, is a wonderful act of worship. “The cereal offering symbolized the dedication of a man’s life and work to God. He brought his normal food to the priest, and he declared his willingness to keep the law.”6 In other words the offering of one’s work was God-centred. How easily we lose sight of this—even preachers! As one commentator put it, “For it is sadly possible to call Christ ‘Lord,’ and, labouring in His field, do in His name many wonderful works, yet not really unto Him.”7

It should be further noted that, although this offering was not strictly one to make atonement like were other offerings, it was nevertheless presented daily by the priests, both in the morning and in the evening, in conjunction with the burnt offering (see Numbers 28). This clearly signifies a connection between the atoning sacrifice and this offering. What was the connection?

I believe that the answer lies once again in the symbolism: In the burnt offering we have a picture of the forgiveness of our sins, and in the grain offerings we have a picture of gratitude for that forgiveness. Let me put it this way: The burnt offering secured salvation, and the grain offering served as a dedication of the offerer’s whole life to serve the God who had saved him. “While the grain offering was a bloodless offering, nevertheless it had to be offered on an altar that was consecrated with blood. It was the altar sanctified by blood that linked this offering with the blood offerings.”8

Ross has applied this well, “It is fitting for those who have been accepted by God through sacrificial atonement to express their dedication to him.”9

God provided the grain and He also provided the energy for man to cultivate it. It is because of this that this offering signified an acknowledgement of God’s grace. But, of course, only those who know the Lord as their Saviour would have any appreciation for God as sustainer. This was not merely a “tip” from those who wanted to play religion, but rather a treasure that they offered in response to God’s glorious, saving and sustaining grace.

This, by the way, is the principle behind all biblical giving. We give to the Lord willingly, generously and joyfully because, in Christ, we have given ourselves entirely to the Him (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). In other words, we give graciously because we have experienced God’s saving grace in Christ. Show me someone who is stingy in sharing with others what God has given to them and I will show you someone who has lost sight of how great and glorious and gracious is their salvation.

The Options of Worship

The grain offerings could be offered in a variety of ways. This underscores the point that anyone (male and female) had a variety of ways to worship God within regulated parameters. It could be “fine flour” (v. 1) or “a grain offering baked in an oven” (v. 4) or “a grain offering baked in a covered pan” (v. 7). That is, each offering was to consist of some form of grain, and it had to be accompanied by oil as well as frankincense. But if the offerer adhered to these parameters, God accepted his offering, whether it was ground or whole grain, whether it was offered as a mixture to be cooked, baked in an oven, cooked on a grill or fried in a pan.

This teaches us that, although God does prescribe the acts of worship, and though He orders it, He at the same time allows for variety in how worship is offered.

For example, consider singing in corporate worship. God has certainly prescribed singing to be part of corporate worship, and yet there is variety in the way in which we can offer this to God. We may choose to sing psalms, or hymns, or spiritual songs. We can involve choirs, orchestras, and bands in this offering of worship, or we can sing a cappella. Worship in song ought always to be offered, but the way in which it is offered may well differ from congregation to congregation.

Take, as a second example, the public reading of Scripture. Again, this act of worship is prescribed by God, but precisely how it is done is a matter of liberty. You may choose to read an entire passage of Scripture, or a smaller portion. It may be read by the elders or by other members of the congregation. The text read can be Old Testament or New Testament. Scripture may be read systematically or selectively. The act is prescribed, the details are not.

One more example will suffice. When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, either leavened or unleavened bread is acceptable. A congregation may use grape juice or wine. Bread may comprise an entire loaf, or be broken into pieces before serving. It should be done frequently, but the frequency may differ from church to church: weekly, biweekly, monthly, etc. It may be served exclusively by elders and deacons, or by other selected men in the church.

I think that you can see my point. God prescribes order and limits, but within those regulated forms He gives freedom. The meal offering reveals this message.

But let’s also note the application to worshipping with our work. We can glean from this that regardless of what (legitimate) work we do, how we do it is to be (and can be) worshipful. Of course, we cannot (for example) sell pornography to the glory of God, but in every legitimate calling in life—including recreation—we can worship God. After all, if we can eat and drink to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) we can most certainly labour in our vocation as an act of worship. Everything we do must be done coram Deo.

The Order of Worship

The worship we offer to God must be orderly, and we see at least two elements to this in our text.

It is a Result

Without belabouring the point, it is important that to remember that this offering was the second one listed, and I believe the order is significant. The offering of one’s works (which is what this offering represented) was not the cause of atonement, but the consequence thereof. The burnt offering (chapter 1) secured atonement; the grain offering (chapter 2) was in gratitude of the atonement secured.

Likewise, the offering of our works to God does not secure salvation, but it is a necessary offering to express gratitude for the salvation given to us by God. Salvation is not of works but we are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). As the hymnist sang,

Were the whole realm of nature mine

that were an offering far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine

demands my soul, my life my all.

We should approach our work motivated by the love of God as we find it in Christ Jesus. As we do so, we will want to show Him our love in how we work.

It is Regulated

As noted above, these offerings were prescribed by God and therefore His instructions were to be followed if the offerings were to be accepted by Him. Without being exhaustive (or exhausting!), let me point out some of the main instructions.

Note that in each of the variety of offerings, the priest actually placed it on the altar (vv. 2, 8, 9, 16). It was very important that the offerer recognises the limits. Only the mediating priest could put it on the altar. This points us to the reality that our gifts must be sanctified by Christ alone, the only Mediator between God and men. As we offer our lives to God we do so in dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Apart from Him we have nothing to offer and we have no basis on which any offering could be accepted.

In v. 11 we read of the restriction that no such offering could contain either leaven or honey. To adulterate the offering with these substances was to offer that which was rejected by God. It would not be a sweet aroma to the Lord (v. 12). Why was this?

The standard answer is that leaven is in Scripture a symbol of corruption, that it signifies sin. Honey is categorised in the same way. Since honey (sweet things) ferments, it is interpreted by some as having been corrupted. There are a couple of reasons that we should be slow to accept this as the reason.

First, the first reference to unleavened bread in Scripture is in the context of the Passover Feast (Exodus 12), and the reason that the bread was baked at that time without leaven was because the Israelites were to eat it with haste. It can be argued that this pictured the haste with which they were to leave their old life. The point is that speed, and not sin, was the issue.

Second, some of the offerings prescribed by God required leaven (Leviticus 23:15-17). On the day of Pentecost, for example, the wave offering of bread was to have leaven.10

Third, Jesus described the kingdom of Heaven as bread that is leavened, which indicated the positive growth of His kingdom rule and reign. Though some exegete this as implying negative growth that attends the progress of the kingdom, there is nothing in the text or context that substantiates that interpretation.

Fourth, while it is true that Paul refers to leaven negatively (1 Corinthians 5:6-8), he does not make a general application to leaven. The same can be said of Jesus, who in Matthew 16:6 referred specifically to the false doctrine of the Pharisees as “leaven.”

Taking all of this into consideration, what was the reason here for the prohibition of leaven and honey? I think the answer is fairly straightforward.

For one thing, leaven and honey contained living micro-organisms, and that which was offered on the altar was always to be dead. But perhaps more significantly, the pounding out of the grain, its mixing with oil, and its being cooked were all activities of cultivation by the worshipper. Leaven and honey are active apart from any action of the worshipper. This perhaps speaks of the need for the worshipper to beware of offering to God that which is “accidental.”

We might apply this by saying that when we worship God with our gifts we are to do so simply, without any innovative additives. God wants worship that is in spirit and in truth, not that which is embellished or puffed up to look like there is more than meets the eye. We don’t need to impress God; we simply need to obey Him from the heart.

This may also once again be a means of highlighting the work, or labour, that we are to offer to God. This is why giving to God the fruits of that which have been gathered in a questionable way (e.g. gambling, dishonest gain, etc.) should be rejected.

The final order that regulated this offering was the command to add salt (v. 13). Since this was a “meal” offering it should not surprise us that God required salt at His table.

Some have suggested that the purpose of this requirement was to emphasise the need to season the sacrifice, but that seems to be an exegetical exaggeration. The stated reason is that this was “the salt of the covenant of your God.”

Salt, of course, was a staple in the ancient world. But it was also valuable. In fact, it was so valuable that Roman soldiers were paid with salt (hence the saying “worth your salt”). Because there was no refrigeration, salt was the best natural means of preservation. This idea of preservation seems to be the main idea here in this stipulation.

In the ancient world, treaties were often sealed by passing salt. Sometimes salt was put on a sword or knife and each subscribing party would lick it. This was a way of saying that they would be true to the covenant or else be killed. A covenant of salt was a promise of covenantal faithfulness. That is what it means here. “Salt is a preservative, so it symbolizes the notion that the covenant cannot be destroyed by fire or decay. The phrase ‘covenant of salt’ emphasizes the durability or eternality of the covenant.”11

This is a very rich and profound word picture. It is connected to another important statement that ordered these rituals: the concept of a memorial (vv. 2, 9, 16).

As the priest burned a portion of the offering on the altar it served as a remembrance both to God and to the worshipper. “The ‘memorial portion’ thus reminded or prompted worshippers to live according to the covenant obligations.”12 It served as a reminder to the worshipper that his entire existence depends upon God. Therefore the worshipper was covenanting to honour God in all of life.

With reference to God, it symbolically got His attention so that He would continue to keep covenant with His people and continue to sustain them. This is where the salt came in. You see, salt cannot be destroyed, even by fire. That is why “a covenant of salt” was tantamount to making an indestructible promise. And that is why it is important here.

When we offer the entirety of our lives to God we do so with the commitment that we will forever do so. We are pledging our allegiance to Him. And God expects for us to keep our vows (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6). The use of salt in these offerings was a pledge on the part of the worshipper to continue to work for God with integrity. It was a commitment to live under His Lordship and to worship with their work.

Second, in pledging ourselves to God we are doing so fundamentally upon God’s prior pledge to be faithful to us. We are depending on God’s pledge to continue His work of saving and sustaining us with integrity. That is, we are placing ourselves in His care. (Note that the priest took a part which represented the whole.) We are trusting God to keep His covenant. We are trusting God to act toward us with integrity. We are saying, “God we have offered up both our labours and the fruit of our labours to You. Please continue to sustain us in this ongoing desire of our heart. We are serving You, please do not impoverish us but rather continue to give us work in which we can worship You. Please continue to meet our needs.” And God, as it were, licks the salted sword.

If we continue to persevere then He will continue to provide for us; and we will only persevere because He does provide for us!

We are familiar with the statement of Jesus that His disciples are the salt of the earth. “When Jesus told his disciples that they were the ‘salt of the earth’ . . . he was telling them they were the true people of God, bound to him by a new covenant, and, consequently, called upon to fulfil the mission that Israel had abandoned.”13

Fundamentally, keeping Leviticus 2 in mind, this means that the disciple—the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ—is God’s pledge that He will continue to sustain this world (see Genesis 8). God will continue to keep His promise that season will follow season and day will follow night because He remembers His everlasting covenant (Hebrews 13:20-21).

On the flip side, the believer will also keep covenant with reference to worshipping while he works. As the believer engages every area of life with a God-centred, Christ-committed disposition, he will have a preserving impact on this world. As Jesus said to His disciples, “Have salt in yourselves” (Mark 9:50). This is always possible because God is always faithful to keep covenant! Let us reflect His covenantal integrity by living our own.

Note that we are not called to make a difference; we are called to be different, and this will eventually make a difference. So worship while you work and with your work!

The Outcome of Worship

The result, the outcome, of this worship with their work was twofold.

The most important overflow that such an offering provided is that God was well pleased. As with the burnt offering, when God’s rules were followed in the meal offering, He accepted the offering as a sweet aroma. In other words, God was well-pleased with such sacrifices. The Lord accepted the sacrifices of those who worshipped while they worked.

I want to emphasise here that the only reason that they would show up at the altar with such gifts—and the reason that they would go to all the work of grinding, mixing, baking, cooking, frying, etc.—was because they were aware that they could do so because God enabled them to do so. In other words, they did not turn on the worship switch when they got to church; instead, they were worshipping all week long and this offering evidenced this.

If we will please the Lord, then, through Christ, we must praise the Lord with our gifts that arise from His gifts (see Hebrews 13:15-16).

There was another outcome form this worshipping with their work. You will notice that in these offerings, unlike the burnt offering, the priests were partakers of the altar. That is, that which was not burned as a “memorial” on the altar was to be consumed by the priest in the Holy Place (6:16-18). God had designed a “dining hall” for those who stood as His ministers, and the table was spread by the worshippers.

The gifts of those who kept covenant sustained the work of the ministry. And to the degree that the priesthood and ministry were sustained, to such a degree the work of God progressed. (The book of Malachi shows the breakdown of this.)

If the people saw their labours and the fruit of their labours as entirely of their own making, the priesthood would go hungry. And if the priests went hungry then the nation would go spiritually hungry.

On the other hand, as the children of Israel thought properly about their work they would faithfully offer up a portion of the rewards from this, and the priesthood would be cared for and in turn could care for the flock. So it is with the new covenant church (see 1 Corinthians 9:11-13).

There is a universal principle that you get what you pay for. Related to this is the truth that we pay for what we value. This is no less true in the spiritual realm (see Galatians 6:7-9).

We need to see that by giving of the fruit of our labour that we are furthering the spread of the knowledge of the glory of God through the ministry of the gospel of God. Therefore, we can say that we should work hard so we can gain more in order give more so that the gospel will spread more. In other words, use your God-given gifts in such a labour-intensive way that you will be able to give to those who are in need (see Ephesians 4:28; Philippians 4:18).

The Offering of Worship

As we bring this to a close, let me highlight the New Testament exhortation that we are to offer up our lives as a living sacrifice precisely because Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled this meal offering. He was the ultimate “sweet-smelling aroma” to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Christ was green with youth—a mere 33 years of age—and yet He suffered the fire of God’s wrath for sinners. He was the best that God could offer and was crushed for our sakes. Kaiser has commented, “As the grain was bruised and crushed to make the sacrifice for the ancient Israelite, so the living Bread was bruised and crushed for all who would believe.”14 He was the offering by which the Father kept and keeps covenant. And it is on this basis that we are motivated to keep covenant with Him.

Let us remember the order here: “We are not accepted because we consecrate our works, but out consecrated works themselves are accepted because first we have been ‘accepted in the Beloved’ through faith in the blood of the holy Lamb of God.”15

Let us keep this truth before us and then indeed worship while we work and with our work.

Show 15 footnotes

  1. John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2004), 37.
  2. Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to Be Holy (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 47.
  3. S. H. Kellogg, The Book of Leviticus (Minneapolis: Klock and Klock Christian Publishers, 1978), 64, 66, 68.
  4. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 47.
  5. Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 102-03.
  6. Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 72.
  7. Kellogg, The Book of Leviticus, 66.
  8. Robert I. Vasholz, Leviticus: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007), 42.
  9. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 98.
  10. This, by the way, is the reason that BBC has no hard and fast rule with the kind of Communion bread that is used. Either leavened or unleavened is acceptable.
  11. Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 98.
  12. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 107.
  13. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 49-50.
  14. Rooker, Leviticus, 99.
  15. Kellogg, The Book of Leviticus, 79.