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Vayikra/Leviticus 3:1 And if his offering is a peace-offering ... whether male or female, he shall offer it unblemished before the L-rd.
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While there is much discussion among the commentators about the meaning of the , the "peace offering" (see 5767), less attention is given to the gender and condition of the sacrificial animal. It may be from the herd, cattle (v. 1), or from the flock - so sheep (v. 6) or goats (v. 12). It may be male or female in gender and no age is specified. The only explicit requirement is that the animal must be , here 'unblemished'. The adjective has a closely related set of meanings: "complete, perfect; whole, entire; sound, without blemish or defect; perfect, upright, sincere" (Davidson). If, like all the other offerings - the sin offering for sin, the guilt offering because of guilt, and so on - it is matched against the reason for the offering being brought, what might that tell us about the peace-offering? Targum Onkelos changes to , a "holy sacrifice" in order to stress that whatever the means of the offering, it is holy - holy to the L-rd - and that peace is an essential component of holiness.
TheRamban points out that the peace offering is specifically not a burnt offering or a sin offering: "a burnt offering must be a male, a sacrifice of well-being may be either male or female, and a sin offering should be female". No-one offering a peace offering should be thought of as guilty of any misdemeanour or offence; this an an offering that celebrates or expresses peace. Rashi says that "they are called peace offerings because there is peace in them for the altar, for the cohanim and for the owner"; part is sacrificed on the altar for the L-rd, part is given to the priest performing the ritual, while the bulk of the animal remains the property of the person bringing the offering, to eat and enjoy before the L-rd.
The criteria - being complete or perfect - has an obvious link to the fitness and well-being of the sacrificial animal: the beast may not be offered if it is damaged, blemished or unwell; torn ears, foot rot or a skin sore would all disqualify the animal. Several commentators connect this with the state of the person bringing the offering.Ibn Ezra suggests that "this may allude to the fact that they are offered by a soul that is 'complete' and not lacking due to sin." He sees sin as a blemish, that would disfigure and disqualify the offerer. Hirsch goes for the intentionality of the offerer: "in all cases the offering must be ; his whole united self, no part held back, with which he tries to get nearer to the One Unique Guide of his acts and Disposer of his fate". The offerer must be intent on giving his whole self, not just the the convenient parts of his life, to G-d as symbolised by the whole and perfect offering. God told the prophet Amos to rail against the northern kingdom of Israel because of their sin: "Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them" (Amos 5:22, ESV). Because of their sin and idolatry, He could not be at peace with them, so could not accept their peace offerings - in essence, He could not sit down and eat a meal with them as if there was nothing wrong, because Israel was flagrantly breaking the covenant.
On the other hand, Isaiah spoke clearly about the quality of G-d's peace. In a day when there would be singing in Judah and the gates of the cities would be open so that the righteous nation that kept faith with God could enter, Isaiah says, "You [G-d] keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3, ESV). Here the Hebrew is , literally complete or peaceful peace. The one who trusts in G-d, one whose mind and thoughts are supported by G-d, will be guarded or maintained in complete peace. G-d Himself is peace; one of Yeshua's titles is Prince of Peace (9:6) and it is in G-d alone that we find rest and strength as He works through us. At a time when Israel is seeking a political alliance with Egypt without G-d's approval, He tells them, "For thus said the L-rd G-D, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (30:15, ESV).
There is a recognition in the Scriptures that peace comes from from G-d, that it is His to give and to withhold. In the Aharonic benediction, God instructs Aharon and the priests who will follow after him to bless the household of Israel by requesting G-d to give His people peace: "The L-RD bless you and keep you; the L-RD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the L-RD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace" (B'Midbar 6:24-26, ESV). The Psalmist too invokes G-d for a blessing: "May the L-RD give strength to his people! May the L-RD bless his people with peace!" (Psalm 29:11, ESV); strength and peace go hand in hand.
G-d's peace and the word "guard/keep" appear in Rav Sha'ul's letter to the community in Philippii: "G-d's shalom, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with the Messiah Yeshua" (Philippians 4:7, CJB). The peace that G-d gives is more than we can understand, is bigger than we can describe; that sense of resting in Him and being complete in Messiah Yeshua will keep our hearts safe and protect us. Sha'ul uses a similar image when he urges the believers at Ephesus: "to know the love of Messiah that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of G-d" (Ephesians 3:19, ESV). This time 'love' is in focus, rather than 'peace', but both are larger than human comprehension; it is knowing G-d's love for us in Messiah Yeshua that is a large part of His peace. The Corinthian community is told, "And now, brothers, shalom! Put yourselves in order, pay attention to my advice, be of one mind, live in shalom - and the G-d of love and shalom will be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11, CJB). Once again, love and peace are linked as parallel attributes of G-d, but the community has to put themselves in the way of that peace - they have to live in it and be of one mind.
As Yeshua was preparing to leave the disciples, in the context of the Last Supper, He also addressed the issue of peace. Although at that stage the disciples weren't aware of exactly what was going to happen, He had told them that he was leaving them, He had told them on a number of other occasions that He was going to be betrayed and killed. They must have been on edge and nervous; their questions showed that they did not understand what was happening and were concerned about what would happen to them. Into that uncertainty, Yeshua explained, "What I am leaving with you is shalom - I am giving you My shalom. I don't give the way the world gives. Don't let yourselves be upset or frightened" (John 14:27, CJB). He is giving the disciples His peace, His completeness and rightness before the Father, His sense of the Father's presence and indwelling nature. He explains that unlike the world, which may give on a conditional basis, only to withdraw later, or may give as a weapon or tool to gain leverage, He is giving His peace unconditionally and with no intention to retract. All the disciples have to do is to receive it and live in the good of it.
How then should we respond to G-d's peace and love? Rav Sha'ul again: "Let the peace of Messiah rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body" (Colossians 3:15, ESV). The disciples have to recognise their calling as a commanded people and then allow G-d's peace to reign within them. This is a deliberate action and attitude and, just as the peace offering had to be offered wholeheartedly from a right position, believers have to be reconciled with G-d and have chosen to remove sin from their lives so that they are without blemish or defect before Him.
Further Study: Psalm 85:8-13; Isaiah 55:10-13; Acts 10:34-38
Application: Do you know and walk in G-d's peace or are you at odds with G-d in some areas of your life? How can you make G-d's peace more evident in your life today? Ask the Prince of Peace to give you His peace right now.
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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