Peace-offering: Fellowship with Christ and Brethren
Pr. Sajan Varghese
The Israelite’s system of sacrifice and offering was designed by God and positioned at the very hub and heart of their public life. Sacrifices offered at the altar helped them to have their spiritual life restored. The unending blaze of fire at the altar taught the Jews that they were in need of making peace and fellowship with God.
Guidelines for sacrifice are found throughout the Pentateuch, but chapters 1-7 of Leviticus are entirely dedicated to explain the five Levitical offerings which were the main sacrifices used in the Jewish rituals. They illustrate five kinds of sacrifices: The burnt-offering, the meal-offering, the peace-offering, the sin-offering, and the trespass-offering.
Like all other sacrifices in the Old Testament the peace-offering was also distinctively fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Of all the offerings, the peace-offering is best understood in connection with Christian life and well practiced in terms of fellowship with God and brethren.
Meaning and Purpose of Peace-offering
Peace-offering is introduced in Lev. 3 and further instructions on the same are found in 3:1-17, 7:11-21, 7:28-34, 9:18-21, 22:17-30, 21:21-30 and Num. 15:7-12. Biblical commentators have given this offering many titles. “Peace”, “fellowship”, “praise”, and “thanksgiving” are the most common. Each title shows unique aspect of the ideas contained in it. Peace-offering” is a term covering different kinds of sacrifices. There are three kinds of peace-offering: (1) the thank-offering; (2) the votive-offering; and (3) the free-will offering. The thank-offering is a response to God’s goodness; while the votive offerings are associated with the hope of benefit. The votive offering was brought to celebrate an answer to prayer after a person vowed to thank the Lord if He answered the worshiper’s prayer. It was made by a person whose heart was filled with gratitude and gratefulness at the fulfillment of a request. The free-will sacrifices were voluntary offerings spontaneously made by people. This was neither an act of atoning for sin nor any effort to appease God. In other words Peace-offering was not for making peace with God but enjoying peace with God.
The tabernacle was constructed using materials given as free will offerings. “The children of Israel brought a freewill-offering unto Jehovah; every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all the work, which Jehovah had commanded to be made by Moses” (Exodus 35:29). The people’s desire to give was so great that Moses had to ask them to stop giving (Exodus 36:3-7). Free-will offerings were by tradition given at Pentecost (Deuteronomy 16:10). The hearts of Israelites were motivated and encouraged by God and His generous acts that they loved to make lavish and extravagant offerings at the altar. God’s desire to bring his people closer to the alter of sacrifice was not only to make sacrifices as consequences to their sins but to respond to their redeemer with free-will offerings for all favours received. A never-ending longing for fellowship with the Almighty God always stirred the hearts and made spirits willing to give freely to the Lord.
Further biblical example of the Peace-Offering is found In 1 Sam.1, Hannah made a vow to the Lord that she would set aside her son to the Lord if He would but give her a boy child. When God answered her prayer, she fulfilled her promise, thus completing her vow. So, in compliance to the commands found in Leviticus related to the Peace-offering, Hannah went to Shiloh and gave her son Samuel to the Lord, offering her Peace-Offering (1 Sam. 1:22-28). In many other instances the Peace-offering was offered in Israel. Peace-offering was made both in times of great distress (e.g. Judg. 20:26; 21:4) and in times of great delight (e.g. Dt. 27:7; Josh. 8:31; 1 Sam. 11:15).
Peace-offering always echoed in the ears of every Israelite a sound of restoration and rehabilitation they always needed. It depicted a sense of satisfaction and unity as peace-offering was something they could share with God. A mutual alliance was created as God, priest and the offerer received portions of offering. This fact enhanced social coherence and spiritual relationship in the community. Peace-offering was intended to bring joy and peace to His own people. “And thou shalt sacrifice peace-offerings, and shalt eat there; and thou shalt rejoice before Jehovah thy God” (Deut. 27:7). God expected His people to rejoice in all what they did to keep their relationship with God. Willingness to share with God all blessings they had always led them to fellowship with Him.
Mode and Pattern of Peace-offering
The peace-offering was a meal that was shared with the Lord, the priests, and the common Israelites. The meal being sacred, they were, certainly, required to make themselves holy by cleansing themselves; because uncleanness excluded them from participation. The people washed and changed their clothes as part of purification. Holiness is a prerequisite to the performance of any ceremonial rituals in the Israel community.
The regulations for the sacrifice of the Peace-offering are explained in terms of the kind of animal sacrificed. Israelites had the option to select the animal according to their wealth. Chapter 3 of Leviticus gives us the following structure:
1. From the herd a male or female without blemish (Lev 3:1-5)
2. From the flock, a male or female without blemish (Lev 3:6-11)
3. From the goats (Lev 3:12-17).
We need to comprehend the order and method of sacrifice followed here: The offerer brought his offering to the altar of sacrifice, laid his hand on it, and slew it. The priest sprinkled the blood upon the altar and around it. The animal was then cut into pieces, and God’s portion—almost fully fat, besides the two kidneys—was placed on top of the by now burning burnt and meal offerings. Then the priest received the breast and right shoulder for himself and his children, and the offerer received the remainder of the sacrificial object to eat. However, it had to be eaten within a day if it was a thank-offering or within two days if it was a votive-offering or free-will offering. And if any of the flesh of the sacrifice remained on the third day, it had to be burned. It was a sacred feast in which most of the vital parts offered to God; select portions to the priests and the rest eaten by offerer. Fatty portions burned on the altar of burnt offering for God’s portion (Lev 3:3-5).
Along with the fat which is offered up to God there would also be the offering of grain. In the case of a thanksgiving offering both leavened and unleavened cakes were to be offered, some of which was burned on the altar, and the rest of which was to go to the priests (Lev.7:12-13). Grain made into a cake with oil and a wine libation accompanied the peace-offering. “If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour soaked. With cakes of leavened bread he shall offer his oblation with the sacrifice of his peace-offerings for thanksgiving.” (Lev. 7:12-13).
Message and Portrayal of Peace-offering in the New Testament
The significance of the Peace-offering of the Old Testament could be found in its antitype, Jesus Christ. In the offering of the Peace-offering the Israelites were benefited by knowing and experiencing God’s peace. The Hebrew word used to express this type of sacrifice is ‘shelem’ which has connection with the word ‘shalom’ or peace. The offerer while standing in the presence of God was confident that divine wrath was not there against him but he had become an object of divine favour. Christ’s death on the cross propitiated God’s anger. Because of Christ’s sacrificial death, God is no longer angry with the people who have identified with Him by faith. Paul says: “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity…” (Eph. 2:13-18).
Titles like “Peace-Offering” and “Fellowship-Offering are used almost in equal sense in different version of the Bible.” The meaning of each term is distinctively fulfilled in Christ. Through Christ’s death we have peace and fellowship with God and fellow-brethren. Fellowship is an essential aspect of human life. Spiritual association that man enjoyed with God before his fall in the Garden of Eden was reinstated when Christ became our peace in Calvary. Leading a life in enmity with God is having an experience of hell on earth. There is nothing that soothes the human soul other than the divine invitation to have fellowship with the Creator of his soul. The meal that the offerer was allowed to eat, along with his fellow-Israelites, proclaimed the peace that he received through the Peace-offering. A sense of peace and happiness that each believer now enjoys is because of Christ’s death that brought peace to mankind. The peace-offering makes man accepted, fed, and satisfied.
The Fellowship-Offering helps us to understand the importance of a meal that is shared in common, especially since the Lord’s Table was firstly conducted as a part of a meal (cf. 1 Cor. 11). The early church manifested its life and fellowship by sharing meals (Acts 2:46). The Lord’s Table is, in general, the New Testament version of the Fellowship-Offering festive meal. “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless, a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Peace-Offering foreshadows the peace and restoration of spiritual union that the believer has with God through Jesus Christ in the Eucharist (‘eucharistia’ means ‘thanks’ and the early church also called this communion meal the meal of peace)1Cor 5:7-8;10:16-18;11:23-26; Col 1:20. Even though the Lord’s Table shows the peace which Christ has accomplished on the cross, noncompliance with the standard of holiness, at this table is taken most seriously, just like the offerer in the Old Testament had to undergo the process of purification prior to the sacrifice.
In short, worshipers under the old covenant offered sacrifices before the Lord as part of rituals for propitiation or expiation that everyone had to offer (Lev. 1–2; 4), but a peace-offering or fellowship-offering was brought to the altar as a spontaneous expression of gratitude and thankfulness. It was not the Old Testament commands that insisted the worshippers to let the fire of the altar burn what they brought to the sanctuary, but it was the love that originated from the hearts of the worshippers.
Lack of experiencing peace and fellowship with Christ can make our Christian life dry and fruitless. A life disintegrated from the stream of fellowship with God and brethren can’t be a true and genuine Christian life. Christ is our peace and we are to enjoy peace with Him and our fellow men. Fellowship-offering calls us for a life without selfishness because what we take pleasure in at the altar can be shared with others.
All Christians desire to feel a sense of satisfaction and acceptance while on earth. This is mainly what we all strive for in life. Fellowship and peace are indispensable aspects of Christian life. When our hearts are filled with thankfulness and Christ is the core and vital part of our selfless life He will provide us with all what our souls long for. Christ’s fulfillment of the Peace-Offering does any good to us only when we maintain our relationship intact with God and men.