7-2 The Breaking of Bread as a Peace Offering
The Bible defines peace with God as being the peace which comes as a result of forgiveness. God is not promising us the human emotion of peace; but a constant peace, which will reign in our hearts (Col. 3:15) as a permanent experience. The breaking of bread is a reminder of the peace which was made possible by the blood of the cross; a way to appreciate more finely how the chastisement of our peace was upon Christ as He hung on the cross (Is. 53:5). We remember and celebrate our peace with God, by way of that memorial feast. This leads us back to the idea of the peace offering under the Old Covenant, which effectively served the same purpose.
One of the most obvious similarities between the peace offering and the breaking of bread is that they both feature bread and wine, associated with a slain animal in the midst (Num. 15:9,10; 2 Sam. 6:17- 19). And further, both require the eating of the sacrifice by the offerer. The peace offering and Passover (also typical of the memorial meeting) featured the offerer eating the sacrifice " before the Lord" . This phrase " before the Lord" is continually emphasized in the records of the peace offerings. I guess we would all admit that our sense of the presence of the Father and Son at our memorial meetings has much room for improvement. We really are " before the Lord" as we sit there. God came unto men when they offered acceptable peace offerings (Ex. 20:24), as He is made known to us through the breaking of bread.
We know that Ps. 116 was one of the Passover Hallel psalms which would have been read at the last supper, the prototype breaking of bread. Much of that Psalm is wonderfully relevant to the last supper: " I will take the cup of salvation...I will pay my vows...in the presence of all his people (cp. the twelve disciples)...precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (an intensive plural referring to Christ?)...I am thy servant and the son of thine handmaid (Mary)" . But think of the primary context. David was rejoicing in God's mercy to him, perhaps in the context of his sin with Bathsheba. He asks: " What shall I render unto the Lord for all his (spiritual) benefits toward me?" . He decides that he will offer a peace offering: " I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving (the peace offering; Lev. 7:12)...I will take the cup of salvation...I will pay my vows...in the presence of all his people...in the courts of the Lord's house" . As we sit " before the Lord" at the memorial meeting, beholding the cross of Christ and the blood of Calvary, we should be intensely aware of God's great benefits towards us: our salvation assured, sin forgiven, peace with God. Our response should be to renew our vows joyfully, here in the ecclesia, God's house, in the presence of His people, as we eat the peace offering, the sacrifice of thanksgiving. As the peace offering was to be offered publicly, " before the tabernacle of the congregation" (Lev. 3:13), so in the sight of each other we too renew our vows and express our peace with God. And if we are all at peace with God, we should therefore be at peace with each other.
Peace And Sin
The record of the peace offerings in 2 Chron. 30:22,23 associates them with Bible study and confession of sin; which provides a very strong link with the memorial service. The awareness of sin in the peace offering is brought out by a highly unusual feature. The offering was to be made with " leavened bread" (Lev. 7:13), even though it was normally forbidden to offer any sacrifice made with leaven (Lev. 2:11). The unusualness of this feature was in order to drive a point home. Whilst we are not to offer our bodies to God with the leaven of sinfulness (cp. 1 Cor. 5), we are to have an awareness of the presence of sin as we keep our peace offering. The record of the sin offering in Lev. 4:10,26,31,35 stresses an impressive four times that the animal was to be prepared and offered (e.g.) " as the fat is taken away from the peace offering" . This serves to emphasize the link between the two sacrifices; the peace offering was in gratitude and rejoicing for the peace of sins forgiven. For this reason it was totally voluntary. Our ecclesial lives inevitably feature a regular time for the memorial meeting. But we should come here each time from a spontaneous joy at the peace we have with God through the blood of Christ. If the breaking of bread, our peace offering, is something done voluntarily, in thanks for the peace we have with God, perhaps it ought to be something we do at times during the week, purely from our own joy at being at peace with God. But how many of us have ever done this? It's something to think about.
The peace offering was " the sacrifice of thanksgiving" (Lev. 7:12). The Hebrew for " thanksgiving" is rendered " confession" (of sin) in Ezra 10:11. Again, we see that the peace offering was linked with confession of sin. It is significant that after Manasseh's marvellous confession of sin (is there any greater encouragement as to the possibility of repentance than his case?), he then offered peace offerings (2 Chron. 29:31). In Hezekiah's time, all those who were of a " free heart" offered " thank offerings" , i.e. peace offerings (2 Chron. 29:31 cp. Lev. 7:12), after they had consecrated themselves. The free conscience that comes from realistic re- dedication was reflected in making the peace offering. Coming to the breaking of bread should have a like motivation. But how much Saturday night or early Sunday morning meditation do we do to ensure that this really is the case? The peace offering was offered with unleavened cakes as well (cp. the Passover, a clear type of the memorial meeting). The bitterness of sin was to be ever remembered, amidst the joy of peace with God. The description of the peace offering as " the sacrifice of thanksgiving" is alluded to in Heb. 13:15: " Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God" . Praise and thanks for our spiritual peace with God, our forgiveness through His grace, should therefore feature at our gathering this morning.
The peace offerings are nearly always mentioned as coming after the sin offerings. This further stresses that the peace which they commemorate is spiritual peace with God due to forgiveness. The Law always lists the sacrifices in a specific order: sin offering, burnt offering, peace offering (e.g. Lev. 9:2- 4). This may foreshadow the New Testament trio: " Grace, mercy and peace" . Thus the peace offering is a result of having received mercy. Therefore we keep our peace offering, the memorial meeting, to recall the mercy which we have received. We do not specifically come here to find mercy. We do not need to break bread in order to be forgiven. Ps. 100:4,5 seems to allude to the peace offerings: " Enter into his gates (the peace offering was to be offered at the gate of the tabernacle) with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto Him...for the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting" . We have seen that the peace offering was " the sacrifice of thanksgiving" , and in practice it was offered in thanks and praise of God's mercy towards human sin(1). In similar vein, Ps. 107:17- 21 exults in the wonder of God's mercy in forgiving men. The spirit told Israel to respond by making voluntary peace offerings: " Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving" (v.22), i.e. peace offerings (Lev. 7:12).
Because of its association with the forgiveness of sins, the peace offering therefore brought together a variety of emotions, blending joy, sober recognition and gratitude. We therefore find it being offered in both days of gladness and solemnity (Num. 10:10). But normally there is at least some mention of joy connected with the records of the peace offering (2 Chron. 29:35,36; Dt. 27:7). The fact we have peace with God must inevitably produce joy, not necessarily arms round the neck and grinning from ear to ear, but the real spiritual joy of being at one with God. 1 Sam. 11:13- 15 recounts the offering of the peace offering to commemorate God's salvation of Israel, and their renewal of their covenant with Him. We should be able to say, at any given point in time, that we are confident that if Christ comes now, we will be saved.
As we think of the work of Christ as we break bread, and our own sinfulness which it gloriously overcomes, we should be moved to make the same response; to renew our covenant, to rejoice, and to commemorate His salvation in this feast which He has appointed. At times, we are oppressed by the weight of our problems, perhaps by the physical effects of our sins. Peace offerings were also offered in times of Israel's sadness and defeat (Jud. 20:26; 21:4). In our traumas of life, we need to remember that the only thing that matters is our peace with God, the joyful fact that we have nothing separating us. As Israel made their peace offerings at those times, so we too should consider the possibility of breaking bread, perhaps alone, as we meet the desperate traumas of our lives.
Our Bible study before we take the emblems should convict us of sin. It is not a time for platitudes or academics. This is perhaps prefigured in the command to offer peace offerings with wafers anointed with oil, mingled with oil, and fried in oil. The oil/spirit of the word is to be on us, around us, in us, we are to be as it were fried in it. This teaching is to be associated with our peace offering at the breaking of bread. It is for this reason that we read and study Scripture at the same time as we break bread.
The Meaning Of The Sacrifice
We now want to think in more detail about what the peace offering animal represented. The offerer put his hand on its head, thereby associating himself with it. In a sense, the animal therefore represented the offerer. But it had to be " without blemish" (Lev. 3:1), and to produce a " sweet savour" when burnt (Lev. 3:16). But how are we to offer ourselves as an unblemished sacrifice? We are surely each aware of our desperate sinfulness. The answer is in the fact that the language of the peace offering sacrifice is applied to Jesus. " He is our peace" (Eph. 2:14), our peace offering (2) by metonymy (in the same way as Christ was made " sin" for us, i.e. a sin offering). He is the unblemished animal (1 Pet. 1:19), and if we are in Christ, we too will be counted as being without spot and blemish (Eph. 5:27). We ought to know whether we are in Christ. If we are, we will be seen by God as just as pure as He is.
The peace offering was to make a sweet savour. Through His death on the cross, Christ was this: " Christ...hath given himself for us an offering (a peace offering?) and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour" (Eph. 5:2). If we are in Christ, then God will see us too as a sweet savour. And this is exactly what 2 Cor. 2:15 says: " We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ" . Yet we must fellowship His sufferings if we are in Him, really fellowship them. The peace offering was to have the fat and rump " taken off hard by the backbone" (Lev. 3:9). The ruthless division of flesh and spirit within Christ (shown superbly in the way His wilderness temptations are recorded) must be seen in us too. We must ask if we are really taking off the fat hard by the backbone. Are we even prepared for the pain, the pain of self- knowledge and self denial which this will necessitate?
The Bread Of God
The peace offering was the " food (also translated " bread" ) of the offering made...unto the Lord" (Lev. 3:11). The peace offering was therefore God's food, or bread. Yet the offerer was invited to eat the bread of God. This implied that when the offerer sat down to eat the food, as it were, God was sitting with him, also eating of it. This was symbolized in human terms by the fact that the priest, as God's representative, ate part of the peace offering, while the offerer ate the other part. Presumably they sat down together to do this. The closeness of God which this implies is almost beyond our comprehension. We are invited to see the exquisite beauty of true fellowship with God.
The idea of eating the bread of God, the sacrifice which represents His son, and thereby having fellowship with Him, should send our minds forward to John 6. " The bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven" , i.e. our Lord Jesus (Jn. 6:33). Not for nothing do some Rabbis speak of 'eating Messiah' as an expression of the fellowship they hope to have with Him at His coming. The sacrificial animals are spoken of as " the bread of thy God" (Lev. 21:6,8,21; 22:25; Ez. 44:7 etc.), pointing forward to Christ. In addition to alluding to the manna, Christ must have been consciously making this connection when He spoke about himself as the bread of God. The only time " the bread of God" could be eaten by the Israelite was at the peace offering. When in this context Christ invites us to eat the bread of God, to eat His flesh and drink His blood (Jn. 6:51,52), He is looking back to the peace offering. But this is also an evident prophecy of the breaking of bread service. Many of the Jews just could not cope with what Christ was offering them when He said this. They turned back, physically and intellectually. They just could not grapple with the idea that Christ was that peace offering sacrifice, and He was inviting them to sit down with God, as it were, and in fellowship with the Almighty, partake of the sacrificed body of His Son. But this is just what Christ is inviting each of us to do in the memorial meeting, to sit down in fellowship with Him, and eat of His bread. God really is here with us now. He is intensely watching us. He is intensely with us, He really is going to save us, if only we can have the faith to believe how much He loves us, how much He wants us to share His fellowship and know His presence.
Are we going to take all this seriously? Or are we going to refuse to mentally cope with it, and take the emblems just because we're Christians, and there's no way out? Or are we going to be like Israel, who offered peace offerings, and then rose up from their tables to worship idols and indulge their flesh (Ex. 32:5,6)? Are we going to be like those Israelites who offered a peace offering, when actually they were not at peace with God at all (1 Sam. 13:9; 2 Kings 16:13; Prov. 7:14; Am. 5:22)? How can we be like that, now that God has so opened our eyes to what this meeting is all about? Try to visualize the Almighty on His throne far above us, the Lord Jesus at His right hand, yet very present with us as we break bread, beholding our hearts, knowing our desire to be as unblemished and as sweet a savour as He is. He really does count us as if we are perfect, we are justified, counted righteous, by faith. So we do have peace with God, surely. God will come near to us in the bread and wine, He will fellowship with us, eat with us, as we eat the emblems of His sacrificed Son.
(1) Psalm 100 has many links with 2 Chron. 30, which records the making of peace offerings (See George Booker, Psalm Studies).
(2) If this is not the meaning of Eph. 2:14, what does it mean? How can a person be " peace" , unless some figure of speech (e.g. metonymy) is being employed?