A grain offering, also known as a cereal offering or meat offering, was a type of sacrifice offered to God in the Old Testament. It involved presenting grain, fine flour, or baked goods to the Lord as an act of thanksgiving, dedication, or atonement for sin.
The grain offering is first introduced in Leviticus 2, where the Lord instructs Moses, “When anyone brings a grain offering to the Lord, their offering is to be of the finest flour. They are to pour olive oil on it, put incense on it and take it to Aaron’s sons the priests. The priest shall take a handful of the flour and oil, together with all the incense, and burn this as a memorial portion on the altar, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.” (Leviticus 2:1-2)
This passage gives an overview of the basic elements of a grain offering: fine flour, olive oil, incense, and fire. The offering was partially burned on the altar, with the remainder going to the priests for their consumption. There were several variations and special instructions for grain offerings depending on the purpose of the sacrifice.
The Elements of the Grain Offering
The core components of a grain offering according to Leviticus 2 were:
- Fine flour – This was made from wheat, barley, or any other grain crop grown in Israel. The flour was to be of high quality and finely ground.
- Olive oil – This was poured or mixed into the flour before presenting it. The oil likely represented the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life.
- Incense – Incense, such as frankincense, was sprinkled on top of the grain offering. The smoke from the incense ascending to heaven symbolized the offering being accepted by God.
- Salt – Salt was another required element, perhaps signifying purity and preservation. “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings” (Leviticus 2:13).
In addition to these ingredients, a drink offering of wine could accompany the grain sacrifice (Numbers 15:4-10). The offering was to be brought to the priests at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. A portion of it would be burned on the altar. The remainder was kept for the priests and their households to eat – it was considered “most holy” (Leviticus 2:3).
Types of Grain Offerings
There were several variations of the grain offering depending on the purpose and resources of the giver:
- Raw flour – The most basic grain offering was raw flour mixed with oil and incense (Leviticus 2:1).
- Baked goods – Rather than raw flour, someone could offer breads or wafers baked without yeast. “If your grain offering is prepared on a griddle, it is to be made of the finest flour mixed with oil, and without yeast…break it in pieces and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering” (Leviticus 2:5-6).
- Firstfruits – These offerings were made annually from the first ripened grains of the harvest. The people would bring the early produce from their land as a thanksgiving to God for provision (Leviticus 23:9-14).
- Voluntary offerings – Grain sacrifices could be given voluntarily when someone wished to express gratitude, make a vow, or freewill offering to the Lord (Leviticus 22:18-25).
There were also special variations for the poor who could not afford the normal grain sacrifice (Leviticus 5:7-13), as well as daily grain offerings made on behalf of the nation of Israel (Exodus 29:38-42).
The Purpose of Grain Offerings
While the sacrificial system can seem foreign to modern readers, the grain offerings served several spiritual purposes:
- Worship – Like other sacrifices, the grain offering provided a way to worship and honor God by giving one’s best to the Lord.
- Thanksgiving – Grain offerings expressed thanksgiving for God’s provision of the harvest and daily food.
- Dedication – Offerings marked times, events, vows, or the dedication of the tabernacle and temple to the Lord.
- Atonement – Some offerings made atonement for unintentional sins or ceremonial defilement.
- Covenant – The offerings were part of keeping the covenant and retaining fellowship with the Lord.
In general, grain offerings recognized God as the source of all blessings and provision in life. The sacrifices nurtured thankfulness, generosity, and reliance on the Lord rather than on material goods.
In addition to the practical purposes, grain offerings carried symbolic spiritual meaning:
- Gift of firstfruits – Giving one’s best to the Lord first, rather than leftovers, showed He was the priority.
- Total surrender – Holding nothing back signified complete devotion to God.
- Living sacrifice – The offerings represented the believer’s life as a “living sacrifice” belonging fully to God (Rom 12:1).
- Trust in God – Sacrificing valuable grain demonstrated reliance on the Lord to meet needs.
- Purity – Elements like salt and absence of yeast symbolized moral and spiritual purity.
- Christ’s atonement – Some see the grain offering as foreshadowing Jesus’ perfect life offered up for our sins.
The imagery of grains of wheat dying and being buried in the ground to produce new life also pointed towards Christ’s death and resurrection for our salvation (John 12:24).
New Testament Fulfillment
While grain offerings are no longer needed for atonement, we can still apply their spiritual lessons today. As believers, we are called to offer our lives and resources to God as “living sacrifices” in response to Christ’s sacrifice for us (Romans 12:1). This includes:
- Giving God first priority through regular worship, prayer, and obedience.
- Expressing gratitude to God by sharing our time, talents, and treasure.
- Serving God wholeheartedly, not holding anything back.
- Living purely and sincerely for God’s glory.
- Acknowledging our dependence on God’s provision.
- Offering up our gifts to support gospel work and ministry.
Rather than physical grain on an altar, God now desires spiritual sacrifices offered through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). While we no longer follow ceremonial laws about offerings, the heart attitudes behind the grain offering still apply today.
Summary of Key Points
To summarize some key facts about the grain offering:
- It was a cereal offering of fine flour, olive oil, salt, incense, and sometimes baked goods or fresh grain.
- A portion was burned on the altar with the remainder consumed by priests.
- Variations included firstfruits, freewill offerings, vow offerings, and daily offerings.
- Purpose was worship, thanksgiving, dedication to God, and atonement for sins.
- Symbolized devotion, reliance on God, purity, and Christ’s sacrifice.
- Principles of wholehearted offerings to God still apply for believers today.
While not required anymore, grain offerings provide a helpful model of wholehearted generosity and trust in God’s provision. They remind us of the sacrifices made for our salvation and call us to offer ourselves fully to the Lord in grateful response.
The grain offering was a simple but profound act of worship in the Old Testament. As humble gifts of the harvest, they honored God’s role as faithful Provider and pointed forward to the greater spiritual harvest of redemption through His Son Jesus Christ.