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The first thing to notice is the name given to it. The King James calls it the "meat" offering, which, in the seventeenth century indicated food in general. Today, because its usage has evolved over the years, meat means "flesh." The term "meal" to us more accurately describes the main ingredient of this offering—finely ground flour.
The meal offering gives us yet another aspect of the perfect offering of Jesus Christ. As we consider the meal offering, it will be reinforced that the greatest sacrifice of all is the sacrifice of the self. The meal offering shares with the burnt offering the imagery of a meal being set before God. Even as a meal would not be set before a man consisting only of meat, grains and oil are added to prepare a more complete meal. Tree fruits and garden vegetables were excluded as suitable for offering on the altar.
The offering was not only a gift to God, but there is also a sense of it being the personal property of the offerer, the fruit of his own labor (Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 22:25). The meal offering could be given in three forms:
1. In the form of groats, with the fresh ears roasted by fire, or dried grains coarsely rubbed or crushed (Leviticus 2:14).
2. As finely ground wheat or barley flour. These first two forms were covered or mixed with oil and frankincense (Leviticus 2:1).
3. In the form of loaves or cakes, made of the fine flour mixed with oil. These could be prepared in an oven (Leviticus 2:4) or upon a flat iron plate (Leviticus 2:5-6).
Leviticus 2:9 contains an additional feature important to understanding this offering. "Then the priest shall take from the grain offering a memorial portion, and burn it on the altar. It is an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD." Like the burnt offering, it is a sweet savor to God. Another similarity to the burnt offering is its contrast to the sin offering: The offering's intent contains no thought of sin. It represents a man in perfect obedience giving God a sacrifice that He accepts as pleasing to Him.
Leviticus 2:1 supplies us with a key difference from the burnt offering: In addition to fine flour, the meal offering also contains oil and frankincense. These ingredients demonstrate that no life is given, unlike the burnt offering. In the burnt offering, a man offers his life to God, while in the meal offering, he offers the fruit of the ground.
God says to Adam in Genesis 1:29, "See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food." This verse defines what portion of the earth God allotted to man—its produce. Thus, if we combine our knowledge of the burnt offering, the meal offering, and this verse, we can determine what they symbolize. Life is what God claims as His part of the creation. For example, God commands us not to eat blood (Genesis 9:3-6) because the life "is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:10-14). This implies that life belongs to Him because He gave it, and we are to respect His ownership. We are also to respect the fact that the animal gave its life so we can live.
Within the context of the offerings, life symbolizes what we owe God. In contrast, the grain, oil, and frankincense—the fruit of the earth—symbolize what we owe to man. Both characteristics are our duty. The one is the surrender to God of our life as it is being lived; the other is the fulfillment of our duty to our neighbor.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Three): The Meal Offering