In my Commentary on Luke 6:1-5, I wrote the following about the grain offering that was brought into the Temple at that time of year:
Two things are unique about this offering.
First, it is the only offering that is presented to the Lord with leaven. Leaven, or yeast, is always a symbol for sin in Scripture, and so no other offering ever contained leaven.
Second, this was the only offering that was prepared and shaped by the hands of men. Every other time, when grain or an animal was brought into the temple as an offering, it was offered just as it was. Yes, the grain might be roasted over a fire, and the animal would be slaughtered before it too was roasted, burned, or boiled, but no other actions of forming, shaping, or molding the offerings were to be performed. Only the two loaves on the Feast of Weeks were formed in such a way.
What I did not address is the purpose, symbolism, and application of this unique offering. Let me attempt to do so here.
The Purpose of this Offering
There are multiple purposes for the various sacrifices and offerings that were given to God in the Temple. This offering was to thank God for the first portion of the harvest, and show trust in Him for the remainder. In agrarian societies, bad weather or invaders could quickly ruin your harvest, and so many would quickly store and save the first portion of the harvest, and then later, as the harvest became more bountiful, give of the bounty to whatever deity they worshiped.
God instructed the Israelites to not only give a portion of their entire harvest, but also to give the firstfruits of the harvest. The firstfruits offering was not a large offering, but it was nevertheless an offering of thanksgiving, and trust. Thanksgiving, in that the harvest time had arrived, and trust in that it required trust in God to give to Him the first part of your harvest, rather than store it away for yourself.
The Wrong Application of this Offering
Many try to get from this a teaching about tithing, and how we must given the first portion of our income to the church. Aside from the problem that giving income “to the church” is not the same thing as giving of our income “to God,” there are other problems with this sort of application.
Usually, when this sort of application is taught today, it is presented this way, “Give God the first portion, so He can multiply it, and bless you, and give you abundantly more!” In such a way, the giving of the first portion becomes less of an offering and sacrifice, and more like a bribe.
Is that why we give to God? So we can grease the hinges on the heavenly storehouse and get God to pour out more financial and material blessings into our lives? I think not.
First of all, the people who brought this offering into the Temple were only bringing a symbolic portion — a couple of handfulls of grain. If we were really going to apply this passage to say that people should give the firstfruits of their paycheck, then a few dollars tossed into the offering plate would be sufficient.
Furthermore, the real offering, the two loaves of bread, was not a significant offering either, and most importantly, it did not come from the people at all, but from the priests! It was the priests who would go out into the fields and harvest three seahs of flour (about 30 liters or so). The priests would then make two loaves of bread from this flour (yes, they were large loaves), and then “offer” them to God, which actually included the priests getting to eat the bread themselves.
As you can see, there is really not much here that backs up the practice of giving the first portion of your paycheck to the church. In fact, the “offering” doesn’t seem to have much to do with giving at all. The significance seems to lie in the symbolism of the bread.
The Symbolism of this Offering
The two loaves were unique. Aside from their size, I indicated above that they were the only offerings of the entire year that included yeast, and which were formed. All other offerings and sacrifices were pretty much offered just as they were.
To be honest, I am not certain what the significance of this might be, and would be interested to know what your ideas are, but here is what it seems to me God was trying to show the Israelites in this offering. But before we make a guess at what the symbolism might be, it is important to note that in Luke 6:1-5, Jesus seems to be teaching His followers the true symbolism and significance of this offering.
And what is it that Jesus does? He invites His followers to eat the grain that was reserved for the Temple priesthood. This wasn’t an act of rebellion against the Priests, nor was it an act of disobedience against God.
Instead, as I point out in the Commentary on Luke 6:1-5, Jesus was showing that the purpose of this law was to provide for those who were in need, and Jesus was also showing that in Him, a new Priesthood was being inaugurated.
In this way then, it seems that the symbolism of the loaves is as follows. The leven shows that when we give to God, we never give with perfectly pure motives. There is always sin mixed in with everything we do. But that does not make the offering unacceptable to God.
The fact that the loaves are intended to meet the needs of others shows how to truly make an offering to God. God does not need loaves of bread. God does not need bulls and goats and rams. But the hungry do. And when we give food to the hungry, we are making an offering to God.
The Application of this Offering
I think the application is pretty clear: bring two loaves of bread to church this week, and drop them in the offering plate. That will make God very happy, and will also confuse your church treasurer… which might also make God happy.
No. Just kidding.
Do you want to make a firstfruits offering to God? Then forget about giving anything “to God” and look around you for the people who are in need, then figure out how to meet those needs. Are they hungry? Feed them. Are they cold? Clothe them? Are they lonely? Spend time with them? Is their car falling apart? Get it fixed.
A true offering to God is where we partner with God in bringing His love and healing to a broken and hurting world. God does not want your bread, but we all know someone in our town or neighborhood who does.
Great post! I think you’re right on target. “Interpreting” Scripture to mean that we should give a “tithe” to a local group that goes by the name of “church” to help them pay their mortgage and salaries is misappropriating (read that “stealing”) the gifts. What should be given to the poor is kept by the group to pay for their meeting place and the staff who is there for their benefit.
I think God is pleased when we help others. God does not need our bread, nor does God need a large building on a large piece of property. Nor do we. But we do need to help others, even if we do not recognize that need. Even if we somehow ignore all the words of Jesus to that effect. Even if we rationalize that we are not”called” to that “ministry”. (Which has to be in the top ten lame Christian excuses for not doing what Jesus clearly says to do.)
Jeremy Myers says
As always, GREAT comment. I like how you point out that so few of us “feel called” to obey Jesus. When put that way, it makes the excuse sound much lamer than usual.
As we consider what to do with our “tithe”, perhaps reading and prayerfully considering these two links will give us some ideas:
http://www.jamesmollison.com/wherechildrensleep.php?project_id=6&p=synop (James Mollison’s photo – look at all 27 images)
(remembering Mother Teresa)
Oh that the things that break the heart of God would break our hearts, instead of inspire us to build a great, beautiful beautiful building (for our use) replete with all manner of adornment – we’re not Jews and no where does God even hint that we should try to compete with Solomon’s temple.
Jeremy Myers says
Both are great links. That photo truly is amazing. We are beyond rich here in the US!