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Vayikra/Leviticus 3:6 And if his offering is from the flock, for a sacrifice of peace offerings to the L-rd ...
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The anomaly in our translation of this verse - and hence our understanding of it - is that there is much uncertainty about the word . Drazin and Wagner report that, "we do not know the precise meaning of the noun and ancient, mediaeval and modern commentators offer different definitions including: peace, well-being, completeness, vows, shared offering, concluding sacrifice, covenant sacrifice, a gift, reconciliation and agreement." David Clines describes as the plural of , "'alliance offering', traditionally 'peace offering'" giving as its root.1 In turn, the root has a range of meanings across its voices ranging from "to be complete, finished; to be at peace" Qal, "to repay, make restitution or amends; to fulfill or restore" Pi'el, "to make peace, surrender, cause peace, accomplish, fulfill" Hif'il.
Our understanding of the phrase is guided by the early translations. TheSeptuagint offers , a sacrifice of/bringing salvation. Jerome's Vulgate provides "pacificorum scilicet hostia", a sacrifice of peace, with the word 'pacificorum' being a combination of the noun pax, peace, and the verb facere, to make; literally: making peace. Targum Onkelos translates the phrase as "holy offerings". Rashi says that they are called "peace offerings" because they bring peace into the world; or, because there is peace in them for the altar, the priests and for the owner. In this view, there must be peace because G-d, the priest and the owner share a meal together - as Walter Kaiser explains: "this sacrifice signifies a peaceful, harmonious relationship between the worshiper and G-d."2 Quite contrary to the prevailing idea that sacrifices are always solemn, depressing affairs, all about blood, guts and sin - and certainly some of them do seem that way - the peace offering is exactly the opposite. Samuel Balentine tells us that "the zevakh sh'lamiym, whenever and however it is offered to G-d, is an occasion of great rejoicing. It is a ritual that enacts and concretises the donor's delight in being able to draw near to the presence of G-d."3
Looking at Israelite history, we can see peace offerings being offered on a number of significant occasions. They are offered as part of the covenant-making ceremony at Mt. Sinai, when " they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed bulls as offerings of well-being to the LORD" (Shemot 24:5, NJPS). They are offered again as part of the coronation or installation of Saul as the first king of Israel: "So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the L-RD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the L-RD, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly" (1 Samuel 11:15, ESV); notice the great rejoicing! David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem is another occasion when peace offerings are made: "And they brought in the ark of the L-RD and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the L-RD. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the L-RD of hosts" (2 Samuel 6:17-18, ESV). Here, no mention is made of priests; although unlikely, the text suggests that David himself made the offerings. David also takes the priestly role at the conclusion of the ceremony to bless the people inHaShem's name. Solomon's dedication of the first Jerusalem Temple was also accompanied by vast quantities of peace offerings "The same day the king consecrated the middle of the court that was before the house of the L-RD, for there he offered the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat pieces of the peace offerings, because the bronze altar that was before the L-RD was too small to receive the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat pieces of the peace offerings." (1 Kings 8:64, ESV).
Mark Rooker points out that peace offerings are prescribed as par of the official cultic ritual on three specific occasions:4 at Shavuot. the Feast of Weeks, "And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the L-RD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the L-RD for the priest" (Vayikra 23:19-20, ESV); at the completion ceremony for the Nazirite vow, "he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of peace offering to the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread. The priest shall offer also its grain offering and its drink offering. And the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire that is under the sacrifice of the peace offering" (B'Midbar 6:17-20, ESV); and as part of the installation (or ordination) of priests, "Then he killed the ox and the ram, the sacrifice of peace offerings for the people. And Aaron's sons handed him the blood, and he threw it against the sides of the altar" (Vayikra 9:18, ESV). These are all times when a sense of peace and well-bring is important and mark the way forward for HaShem and the people together.
RabbiHirsch picks up one of the root meanings for , to be complete, and writes that this "really designates the completeness, the lack of any deficiency, of an object. Referring to human beings, it expresses the condition in which a man feels that he has nothing lacking in any respect, that he has everything he wants." This is surely in Rav Sha'ul's mind when he writes to the Philippians to thank them for expressing concern about his physical well-being and being prepared to send him some means of support. "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content," he says, "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV). Sha'ul is at peace with God, the Philippians and his circumstances; he is content. The gift the Philippians sent has been received as a sacrifice of peace offerings, making peace between Sha'ul, the Philippians and G-d.
So how do we reach a place of peace with G-d? Do we have to offering peace offerings in some way? The prophet tells us that "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3, ESV) and conversely that "'There is no peace,' says the L-RD, 'for the wicked'" (Isaiah 48:22, ESV). The Lamentations writer is beyond distress - "my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is" (Lamentations 3:17, ESV) - while another prophet explains what to do: "These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the L-RD" (Zechariah 8:16-17, ESV). This is clearly a matter of relationship with and dependence on G-d, worked out with our neighbours and in our communities. The key to peace is found only in one place, Yeshua: "He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5, ESV). Our peace can only be found in Him, by knowing Him and following His ways; we believe in Him and "since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with G-d through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah" (Romans 5:1, ESV).
We are to share the good news that G-d is making peace with mankind and tell people that they too can find peace in Yeshua: "Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace!" (Nahum 1:15, ESV). G-d has made us His ambassadors, entrusting us with His message of peace and reconciliation as Rav Sha'ul explains: "we are ambassadors for Messiah, G-d making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Messiah, be reconciled to G-d" (2 Corinthians 5:20, ESV). This is the only to find peace, that sense of knowing that you are complete and lack nothing, when you have everything in Messiah Yeshua. Peace is a precious commodity in these turbulent days when everyone seems to living under increasing pressure even to stand still. People need to be able to make peace with themselves, their pasts and their futures. We need to be able to catch a breath, sit and eat a meal, rejoice and laugh in fellowship with our Maker. Do you know? That's exactly what Yeshua is offering each and every one of us today: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20, ESV).
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 456.
2. - Walter C. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 541.
3. - Samuel E. Balentine, Leviticus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), page 34.
4. - Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 101.
Further Study: 1 Timothy 6:8; Hebrews 13:5
Application: Is your life constantly in turmoil, never finding or reaching a place of peace and contentment? Are you always stretching for the next job, pay-rise, house, relationship or are you content with what G-d has provided, at peace with Him, your neighbours and yourself? Yeshua has the answer for you and He has even brought dinner with Him. Sit down and talk your life through with Him today.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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