Food For Thought

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons so that they abstain from the holy things of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to me, so that they do not profane my holy name: I am the Lord. Say to them, ‘If any one of all your offspring throughout your generations approaches the holy things that the people of Israel dedicate to the Lord, while he has an uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from my presence: I am the Lord. None of the offspring of Aaron who has a leprous disease or a discharge may eat of the holy things until he is clean. Whoever touches anything that is unclean through contact with the dead or a man who has had an emission of semen, and whoever touches a swarming thing by which he may be made unclean or a person from whom he may take uncleanness, whatever his uncleanness may be— the person who touches such a thing shall be unclean until the evening and shall not eat of the holy things unless he has bathed his body in water. When the sun goes down he shall be clean, and afterward he may eat of the holy things, because they are his food. He shall not eat what dies of itself or is torn by beasts, and so make himself unclean by it: I am the Lord.’ They shall therefore keep my charge, lest they bear sin for it and die thereby when they profane it: I am the Lord who sanctifies them.

10 “A lay person shall not eat of a holy thing; no foreign guest of the priest or hired worker shall eat of a holy thing, 11 but if a priest buys a slave as his property for money, the slave may eat of it, and anyone born in his house may eat of his food. 12 If a priest’s daughter marries a layman, she shall not eat of the contribution of the holy things. 13 But if a priest’s daughter is widowed or divorced and has no child and returns to her father’s house, as in her youth, she may eat of her father’s food; yet no lay person shall eat of it. 14 And if anyone eats of a holy thing unintentionally, he shall add the fifth of its value to it and give the holy thing to the priest. 15 They shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, which they contribute to the Lord, 16 and so cause them to bear iniquity and guilt, by eating their holy things: for I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” Leviticus 22:1-16 ESV

In this section, God addresses the priests’ relationship with “the holy things of the people of Israel” (Leviticus 22:2 ESV). This is a reference to those offerings given by the people of Israel, of which a portion was set apart as payment to the priests for their service in the Tabernacle. In point of fact, since every sacrifice was dedicated to God, the portion which was given to the priests was actually a gracious gift from God. Yahweh was allowing Aaron and his sons to join Him in a meal of fellowship.

There were a number of different sacrifices or offerings that, once given to God, included a payment to the priests for their service. This included the grain offering.

“These are the instructions regarding the grain offering. Aaron’s sons must present this offering to the Lord in front of the altar. The priest on duty will take from the grain offering a handful of the choice flour moistened with olive oil, together with all the frankincense. He will burn this representative portion on the altar as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Aaron and his sons may eat the rest of the flour, but it must be baked without yeast and eaten in a sacred place within the courtyard of the Tabernacle.” – Leviticus 6:14-16 NLT

But the priests also received a portion of every sin offering.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions regarding the sin offering. The animal given as an offering for sin is a most holy offering, and it must be slaughtered in the Lord’s presence at the place where the burnt offerings are slaughtered. The priest who offers the sacrifice as a sin offering must eat his portion in a sacred place within the courtyard of the Tabernacle. – Leviticus 6:24-26 NLT

God also allotted a portion of every guilt offering as a gift to the priest who participated in the sacrifice.

“This is the law of the guilt offering. It is most holy. In the place where they kill the burnt offering they shall kill the guilt offering, and its blood shall be thrown against the sides of the altar. And all its fat shall be offered, the fat tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys. The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering to the Lord; it is a guilt offering. Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy. – Leviticus 7:1-6 NLT

Finally, every peace offering presented to Yahweh included a sizeable gift of food for the priest to eat.

“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever offers the sacrifice of his peace offerings to the Lord shall bring his offering to the Lord from the sacrifice of his peace offerings. His own hands shall bring the Lord‘s food offerings. He shall bring the fat with the breast, that the breast may be waved as a wave offering before the Lord. The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast shall be for Aaron and his sons. And the right thigh you shall give to the priest as a contribution from the sacrifice of your peace offerings.” – Leviticus 7:29-32 NLT

But since these gifts had been given to God and He had then shared a portion of them with His priests, they were to be considered holy and treated as such. The consumption of these food gifts came with conditions. They were not to be treated flippantly or irreverently. All the purity laws detailed in Leviticus 11-15 come into play here. The priests were to avoid anything that might render them ceremonially unclean. To partake of these holy food offerings in a state of impurity would be to defile that which belonged to God, and that would be a serious breach of priestly protocol.

These men had been set apart by God to serve in His house, therefore, their holiness was mandatory. That’s why God instituted a rigid purification process for every priest before he could serve as a mediator for the people. Aaron and his sons had to be cleansed and their sins atoned for before they could enter God’s house and offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. And once they had completed their sacrifices for the day, they were free to enjoy the gracious food offerings God had provided for them. But even then, they were not to let down their guard.

The priests were free to share these meals with their family members, but only under the strictest conditions. The purity of the priest’s family came into play as well. Since no priest could eat in an unholy state, neither could any member of his family. This ruled out anyone who was unclean for any reason whatsoever. All the purity laws found in chapters 11-15 came into play here.

“These included skin diseases (chapters 13, 14), bodily emissions (chapter 15), and contact with unclean animals and the dead (chapter 11).” – Kenneth A. Matthew, Leviticus: Holy God, Holy People

No priest or any member of his family could enter into the fellowship meal with Yahweh in an unclean state. The presence of an unclean person at one of these meals would have run the risk of defiling every other participant as well as the food that had been dedicated to God. This was unacceptable and to be avoided at all costs.

There is a sense in which the priest could view the eating of this meal as a post-work celebration. His job was done and now it was time to enjoy the fruits of his labor. But God wanted Aaron and his sons to understand that their holy status did not change when they took off their priestly roles or exited the Tabernacle. And, when it came to these meals, they were to be eaten within the Tabernacle compound – in the very presence of God Almighty. So, the priests were not to let their guard down. They were not free to invite anyone to join them in these meals. No layperson outside of the priest’s immediate family was allowed to participate.

“No one outside a priest’s family may eat the sacred offerings. Even guests and hired workers in a priest’s home are not allowed to eat them. – Leviticus 22:10 NLT

But even the priest’s own children could be banned from the table for a variety of reasons. If they were unclean, they were prohibited from taking part. And if one of the priest’s daughters married outside the tribe of Levi, she forfeited her right to eat the Lord’s offering.

“If a priest’s daughter marries someone outside the priestly family, she may no longer eat the sacred offerings.” – Leviticus 22:12 NLT

God was quite specific and unwavering in His conditions concerning this matter. He even reiterated His ban by stating, “No one outside a priest’s family may eat the sacred offerings” (Leviticus 22:13 NLT). There were to be no workarounds, exemptions, or exceptions. While technically, these food offerings belonged to the priest, they had been dedicated to God. The right for the priest to consume these holy items had been given to him by God. Therefore, these gifts were not to be treated as common or ordinary. God gladly shared what rightfully belonged to Him, but He expected His gift to be treated with dignity, honor, and reverence. That’s why He warned the priests to protect the integrity of His name by preserving the holiness of the food offerings.

The priests must not let the Israelites defile the sacred offerings brought to the Lord by allowing unauthorized people to eat them. – Leviticus 22:15-16 NLT

These food offerings had no special properties and conveyed no supernatural attributes to those who ate them. But they did reflect the character of God. Since they had been dedicated to Him, they were an extension of His very nature. Just as the items in the Tabernacle were to be viewed as holy and treated with reverence, so too were the food gifts that God shared with His priests. And God had Moses warn Aaron and his sons to tread carefully and reverently when feasting on the goodness and graciousness of God.

“Tell Aaron and his sons to be very careful with the sacred gifts that the Israelites set apart for me, so they do not bring shame on my holy name. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 22:2 NLT

The food itself was never the point. It was always about the holiness of God. Anything associated with the name of God was intended to reflect the holy character of God. And, as such, it was to be treated with care and handled with appropriate respect and reverence.

The apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to live their lives with the goal to please God at all costs.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV

That same idea was to motivate the lives of God’s priests. There was no point at which they could take off their robes and let down their guard. Just as the food of the sacrifice belonged to God and deserved to be treated with reverence, so too did the priests belong to God and they were to live every moment of their lives to bring Him glory and honor His name.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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