3.1.4 Fat: The Best We Have To Offer
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 1.4
Fat: The Best We Have To Offer
To hear some people talk today, fat is the kiss of death, something that must be outlawed forthwith. Cooler heads realize that in moderation and balance, it is an essential part of a healthy diet. For our purposes, however, none of this is relevant. Our job is to track down how fat is used as a metaphor in God’s word—what it means, and what our course of action, in light of the symbol’s application, should be.
From an anthropological point of view, body fat once signified prosperity or good health, for it implied a steady, secure supply of food, while those who were thin were presumed to be either ill or underfed and overworked. (Amazing how our perceptions change, isn’t it? Two thousand years ago, I would have been in style.) All I know is, from the very beginning, fat was a scriptural euphemism for “the very best.” “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to Yahweh an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And Yahweh had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard.” (Genesis 4:2-5) Although there’s almost certainly more going on here than meets the eye, the lesson transmitted to us is simply this: Abel presented his best to Yahweh—a living animal, “the firstborn of his flock, the fat portions.” And as we would come to understand millennia later, the fact that life was surrendered in the act of sacrifice was symbolically essential to the story. I have no doubt that Cain’s veggies and fruit were really nice, but their harvest didn’t transmit the picture of blood sacrifice that Yahweh required.
Was Cain unable (by virtue of his agricultural area of expertise) to provide an animal offering? Apparently not (though the conversation is admittedly cryptic): Yahweh asked Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.” (Genesis 4:6-7) The word translated “sin” here is the same word used to describe the “sin offering” over fifty times in Leviticus alone (Hebrew: chatta’ah). I read into this (though I can’t be dogmatic) that there was a lamb or goat within arm’s reach that would have sufficed for a proper sacrifice, but Cain still refused to offer it—hence his guilt, frustration, internal conflict, and the eventual rage directed against his brother. Seems to me, man’s failure to acknowledge the Sacrifice that Yahweh considers perfect still produces the same result. Does a sin offering still “crouch at the door?” Yes, in principle, but now He’s standing. The risen Yahshua says, “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. The one who overcomes, I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne.” (Revelation 3:20-21)
We all remember how God showed Joseph’s Pharaoh in a dream that there were going to be seven good years by showing him seven fat cattle (followed by seven years of famine, symbolized by thin, gaunt specimens). Once again, well-fed and healthy animals are called “fat,” while being lean and bony is an indicator of their ill health, hunger, or relative poverty. After Joseph’s God-given insight had saved Egypt from starvation, the Pharaoh showed him the gratitude he deserved: “And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Say to your brothers, Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’” (Genesis 45:17-18) It’s not that Goshen was dripping with lipids. “Fat” had simply become a metaphor for “the very best.” A grateful Pharaoh wasn’t going to “thank” Joseph by giving his family a worthless hunk of desert to live in. The least he could do was give them the best land Egypt had to offer: fertile, well watered, and productive. It’s worth noting, however, that within a few decades, this paradise would become a prison. If I may read between the lines a bit, it appears that as Israel got used to the good life in Goshen, they forgot all about the God whose foreknowledge and provision had made it possible. So for the next four centuries, they were made to toil as slaves. The point? God’s bounty will be a blessing only as long as we acknowledge the Source. Without Yahweh, wealth can be a curse; the “fat of the land” can become a gilded cage.
I don’t know how significant this is, but New Testament references to “fat” are very few, and found only in parables. The parable of the marriage feast mentions the “fattened cattle” that were killed as part of the preparations for the wedding feast (see Matthew 22:4). Though the King (Yahweh) was “pulling out all the stops” to make the marriage of His Son (Yahshua) a spectacular celebration, the intended wedding guests (the Jews) treated the King’s efforts with contempt and antagonism, so He shut them out and invited others (the gentiles, “both bad and good”—who would form the ekklesia—the “called-out”) to the party instead. The fattened cattle here represent the very best Yahweh had to offer in fulfillment of His plan of reconciliation (in the end, Christ Himself). For almost two millennia now, the church has been feasting on God’s goodness—the “fattened cattle” of rejoicing, while Israel has been (for the most part) relegated to the role of outsiders, or worse, enemies of the King and His anointed Prince, Yahshua. Fortunately, however, there’s hope for Israel as well. They have only to repent. The prophet even tells us when they will do so: “Come, let us return to Yahweh; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up. After two days [read: two thousand years] He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” (Hosea 6:1-2) In case you haven’t noticed, that two thousand year mark (since Yahshua’s passion) is almost upon us.
The story of the prodigal son also mentions a “fattened calf.” “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son [that’s us gentile Christians] said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” The Father knows this, of course, but He’s so happy we’ve returned to Him alive, He doesn’t care. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24) Though seen from a different angle, the point of the story is identical to that of the marriage feast we just saw. The (formerly) prodigal son represents the gentiles of the church—those called out of the world to return to the Father in humility and repentance. Once again, we see that the killing of the fattened calf (ultimately representing Christ) was an essential prelude to the celebration of our restoration.
“Now his older son [representing Israel] was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in.” Israel, for the most part, refused to celebrate with the redeemed gentiles, and thus received no benefit—no nourishment or joy—from the killing of the “fattened calf” (Christ). “His father [Yahweh] came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command.” Well, that wasn’t quite true, was it? Israel’s “obedience” was mostly in their own eyes, not in true symbiotic harmony with the will of their Father, Yahweh. “Yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!...’” What the older son didn’t understand was that killing the fattened calf wasn’t a reward for his brother having led a profligate life (only to return to the Father when he got desperate). But it was inextricably linked to his repentance—something the older son (though not quite so obvious a rebel) had never been willing to do, because of his delusions of self-righteousness. The Father, however, knew the score.
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” This lesson is sometimes lost on the church, but it’s one of the central themes of Biblical prophecy: Israel will, in the end, be restored, honored, and be given the inheritance due the eldest son. The church has not—as some insist—come in and taken Israel’s rightful place. God’s promises have not been abrogated. But Israel can’t take their rightful place either until they stop pouting and make peace with the Father. “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:25-32) There’s plenty of love to go around. For my part, I’m thrilled to at last be “found,” after having been “lost,” but I’m also aware (and delighted) that Israel’s glory days are before them. I have feasted on the fattened calf, the best my Father had to offer. I have put on the robe of undeserved righteousness He provided for me. I have accepted the ring of relationship and responsibility from my Father, and my feet are now shod with the preparation of the good news of peace. If I were never to receive one more good thing from the Father’s hand, I know I have already received more than I deserve, and I am eternally grateful. So Israel, my brother, you really need to get over it.
The popular Old Testament caricature of God’s “wrath and retribution” is a skewed and unbalanced view. Yahweh’s judgment, while perfectly factual, is invariably seen (in context) contrasted with what Yahweh would prefer to be doing: showering us with blessings—beginning with Israel but extending as well to the rest of us. Typical is this passage from Asaph: “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their foes. Those who hate Yahweh would cringe toward Him, and their fate would last forever. But He would feed you with the finest [Hebrew cheleb: literally, the fat] of the wheat [as in the English idiom, “the cream of the crop”], and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Psalm 81:13-16) The odd idea of purposely enduring dour, joyless religiosity in this life in hope of being rewarded with “pie in the sky when you die,” is foolish, and more to the point, unscriptural. Yahweh earnestly desires to “feed us with the finest” in this life. However, I would (once again) point out that the blessings and cursings being discussed here are national in scope: the nation that listens to Yahweh and walks in His ways will be blessed—and vice versa. God is not offering individuals a celestial bribe here, a prosperity gospel guaranteeing earthly riches to “true believers.” That would be tantamount to trying to “buy our love,” and Yahweh knows that although you may be able to buy loyalty or obedience, you can’t buy love.
As if to confirm what I’ve been saying, the word translated “finest” here is actually “fat,” the Hebrew cheleb. According to the Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains, cheleb means: “1. lipid tissue of an animal, a part of an animal’s body as a sacrifice; 2. bounty, i.e., a figurative extension of fat as a sign of prosperity; 3. the finest, best part, i.e., the figurative extension of fat as a choice portion, pertaining to olive and wine products and other products as choice, as the feature of an object; 4. a callous heart.” As we shall see, all of these seemingly diverse definitions really boil down to the same consistent symbol: “fat” is the best one has to offer—no matter whether the “one” doing the offering is God or man.
The majority of cheleb sightings in scripture are found in the Book of Leviticus, for this is where the Levitical sacrifices and offerings are described in detail. But before the Torah’s sacrifices could even begin, the priests themselves had to be consecrated—set apart to Yahweh for ministry on behalf of the people. That procedure is enumerated in Exodus 29, where in several places the issue of what to do with a sacrificial animal’s fat is addressed. After cleansing the candidates with water, dressing them in the appropriate (and symbol-rich) priestly garb, and anointing their heads with oil, Moses was to first sacrifice a bull—symbolic of the endeavors of man, which must be subordinated to Yahweh’s will before anything else can happen. God wasn’t overseeing the invention of a new religion here; the rites, rituals, and precepts He was instituting would, in their totality, prophetically define how (and through whom) He would reconcile the estranged human race back to Himself. Naturally, the “bull” of man’s efforts and schemes was the first thing that had to go.
So Yahweh told Moses, “You shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and burn them on the altar.” (Exodus 29:13) The bull’s carcass was to be burned outside the camp, like so much useless rubbish (which, after all, is what most of our manmade ideas about God are). But these fatty portions were to be ceremoniously offered to Yahweh upon the altar. As always, we must ask ourselves why. If fat represents “the very best,” then Yahweh is telling us something quite remarkable here. He’s telling us that man’s efforts toward reaching out to Him aren’t completely pointless. We aren’t just smart animals. We are, rather, made in the image and likeness of God. There is something within us that, when brought into focus, accurately reflects Yahweh’s presence in our lives—and this is a proper, even essential, offering if we are to function as priests, as intercessors between God and man. Yahweh (if I’m seeing this correctly) won’t respond to our half-hearted efforts, our half-baked schemes, or our half-witted religious prevarications. But He is receptive to the very best, most honest, most pure impulses of our nature, for those impulses emanate from His own Spirit.
It bears mention that Yahweh wasn’t asking His priests to become master butchers (although I’m sure they quickly came to know their way around a carcass). They didn’t have to strip out every last shred of subcutaneous body fat or marbling and offer all of that upon the altar. The organs He specified are where the fat is concentrated—in short, where it would serve as an unmistakable picture or parable: “The fat—the very best you have to offer—belongs to Me.” And why was this so important a concept? Because it works both ways: His plan was to sacrifice, on our behalf, the very best He had to offer. This too is presented in the rites of ordination: “You shall also take the fat from the ram and the fat tail and the fat that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and the right thigh (for it is a ram of ordination), and one loaf of bread and one cake of bread made with oil, and one wafer out of the basket of unleavened bread that is before Yahweh….” If you’re looking for symbols, this is indeed a “target-rich environment.” But for now, just note that the ram represents Christ: a fully mature male “lamb” (the picture of innocence) with horns (i.e., authority)—as John would put it, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Once again, only the obvious, easy to identify fat bits were specified. These instructions were designed to teach a very clear lesson.
“You shall put all these on the palms of Aaron and on the palms of his sons, and wave them for a wave offering before Yahweh. Then you shall take them from their hands and burn them on the altar on top of the burnt offering, as a pleasing aroma before Yahweh. It is a food offering to Yahweh.” (Exodus 29:22-25) Waving (or lifting into the air) the offering before placing it on the altar signified its dedication to Yahweh alone. I find it significant that the word translated “aroma” (the Hebrew reyach) is closely related to ruach—spirit. Yahweh enjoys the spirit we display when we fulfill the symbols presented here. By the way, the ESV’s translation “food offering” here and sixty other places in the Torah is erroneous (though virtually every other English translation gets it right). The Hebrew reads: “an offering by fire,” (Hebrew: ’ishshah) making the symbology quite different. This speaks of purification and separation, not nourishment.
When we get into the actual Levitical animal offerings, the special handling of the fat portions remains a constant theme. There are five distinct types of blood offerings (five, not coincidentally, being the number of grace). Four of these specifically mention the disposition of the fat. (In the fifth type, the bekor or firstborn offering, the emphasis is placed on the distinction between clean and unclean, the concept of a substitutionary death, and the idea of paying a ransom for unclean firstborn animals, including people. So the bekor is clearly a parable predicting the sacrifice of Yahweh’s own Firstborn Son, Yahshua.)
The voluntary “burnt offering” (Hebrew: olah) was to be completely consumed on the altar—a picture of the Messiah’s total commitment to our redemption, not to mention His total obedience to the Father. And yet, the fat of the sacrifice is still to be handled separately: “And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, an offering by fire with a pleasing aroma to Yahweh.” (Leviticus 1:8-9) Though the entire animal would be consumed in the flame, the division and separate mention of the pieces reminds us of the multifaceted nature of what was offered up on Calvary—what God did, felt, thought, and achieved on our behalf. The fat emphasizes that Yahweh’s very best was given up for us.
The “guilt offering” or “trespass offering” (the asham), follows suit. Normally, a female lamb or goat was specified, but there was provision for less expensive substitute offerings if the worshipper was poor. “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 an offering by fire to Yahweh; it is a guilt offering.” (Leviticus 7:1-5) The meat of the sacrifice was to be eaten by the priest doing the work (a definition that normally includes his dependents, his family). But as usual, specific fatty portions were singled out to be removed and burned upon the altar, for they belonged to Yahweh.
The theme is continued with the “sin offering,” or chata’t. Sin offerings and guilt or trespass offerings were very similar. The primary functional difference seems to be that whereas the sin offering covered lapses in behavior, the trespass offering was meant to atone for lapses in holiness. The chata’t was brought by the guilty party, when he became aware of his transgression, to the priest to be sacrificed. The animal varied (male or female, sheep, goat, or bull), depending on whose sin was in view. In this example, a bull is the prescribed offering—indicating that either the priest himself or the nation as a whole was the guilty party: “And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall remove from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails and 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 (just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings); and the priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering.” (Leviticus 4:8-10) A sin offering was to be eaten only by the priests, and then only if they themselves were not culpable in the sin for which the chata’t was being offered. As with the asham, the meat belonged to the individual priest who performed the offering. The fatty parts, as always, were removed and burned on the altar in homage to Yahweh, but the carcass was taken out of the camp and burned there. Blood from the sacrifice was to be sprinkled seven times before the veil (that is, outside the door of the sanctuary), or applied with the priest’s finger to the horns of the altar.
All blood sacrifices speak of atonement for sin, for the life is in the blood. Ultimately, Christ’s sacrifice is in view, but the specific animals for the chata’t to be brought by the different classes of Israelites are instructive of how our position in this world relates to our sin and its consequences. Bulls (brought by the priests or by the congregation at large) indicate the false doctrines of man that lead to sin and death. Male goats (to be offered by the king) represent the sins of those in positions of temporal authority—who exercise human governance in this world—surrogates for the coming King. And female goats or sheep (brought by ordinary citizens) speak of failure to heed the counsel of the Holy Spirit.
The “sin offering” passage refers to its similarity to something called a “peace offering.” This selem was made as a spontaneous expression of praise to Yahweh, as a way to express one’s thanksgiving for answered prayer, to underscore the seriousness of a vow the worshipper was taking, or as a freewill offering to show one’s devotion. The instructions for offering cattle are as follows: “If his offering is a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offers an animal from the herd, male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before Yahweh. And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering [symbolically associating the animal with the worshipper’s purpose] and kill it at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw the blood against the sides of the altar. And from the sacrifice of the peace offering, as [an offering by fire] to Yahweh, he shall offer the fat covering the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and 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. Then Aaron’s sons shall burn it on the altar on top of the burnt offering, which is on the wood on the fire; it is an offering by fire with a pleasing aroma to Yahweh.” (Leviticus 3:1-5) The selem was to be eaten by the worshipper and his family, and shared with the priest, because our homage and thanksgiving to Yahweh nourishes us as it pleases God. But the fat portions (as always) were exclusively set aside for Yahweh, burned on the altar, as if to say, “Our best belongs to You, O God, for Your very best was given for us.”
Because lambs’ anatomies were a bit different from that of cattle, the definition of what constituted their “fat” parts was also a bit different: “If his offering for a sacrifice of peace offering to Yahweh is an animal from the flock, male or female, he shall offer it without blemish. If he offers a lamb for his offering, then he shall offer it before Yahweh, lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it in front of the tent of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. Then from the sacrifice of the peace offering he shall offer as an offering by fire to Yahweh its fat; he shall remove the whole fat tail, cut off close to the backbone, and the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails and 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. And the priest shall burn it on the altar as an offering by fire to Yahweh.” (Leviticus 3:6-11) The principle is identical: the “very best” was reserved for Yahweh.
The same idea (that fat is where you find it) applies to goats: “If his offering is a goat, then he shall offer it before Yahweh and lay his hand on its head and kill it in front of the tent of meeting, and the sons of Aaron shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. Then he shall offer from it, as his offering for an offering by fire to Yahweh, the fat covering the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails and 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. And the priest shall burn them on the altar as an offering by fire with a pleasing aroma….”
The bottom line is now flatly declared: “All fat is Yahweh’s. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood.” (Leviticus 3:12-17) Stated like this (“You shall eat neither fat nor blood”) we are perhaps being given a bit more insight into Yahweh’s purpose. Fat and blood are symbolically parallel, it appears. Blood (as we are reminded over and over in scripture) is where the life is. The principle is that life is Yahweh’s exclusive domain, His privilege and prerogative. He alone has the authority to give life or take it away. So we may take a life—whether animal or human—only on Yahweh’s explicit instruction. It is significant, then, that the Noahic covenant (Genesis 9: 1-7) authorized mankind both to kill animals for food and to execute murderers.
That being the case, what can we learn from God’s prohibition of our consuming fat? Based on what we’ve seen so far, it seems reasonably clear: we are not to seize the “best” for ourselves, but are rather to dedicate it to Yahweh. How? There is only one practical way to show our love for Yahweh: by loving our fellow man. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)
And precisely what does it mean to “love one another?” Actually, Yahweh spelled it out, in practical terms, in the Torah: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am Yahweh your God.” In other words, provide for people less fortunate than yourself—without robbing them of their dignity. “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by My name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am Yahweh.” Be honest, transparent, and trustworthy. “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am Yahweh.” Consider the needs of others before your own, pay your debts promptly, and don’t scheme and deal underhandedly to gain an advantage. “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am Yahweh.” Be just and merciful, evenhanded, fair, and non-prejudicial. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly [that is, reprove, correct, discipline, and reason together] with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 19:9-18) Vengeance is God’s prerogative; it is our job to caution and instruct our brothers when they’re on the wrong path.
So the “fat” of our lives—the good parts that come our way—should not be dedicated to enriching our own circumstances but rather to enhancing the lives of others, especially people in need: in a word, loving them. Does this mean we are to utterly impoverish ourselves in the service of others? Actually, it doesn’t. Remember, there is plenty of “meat” in the peace offering to be shared between the worshipper, his family, and the priest (the one who intercedes with God on his behalf). Only the “fat” is reserved exclusively for Yahweh. But anyone who’s ever eaten a good steak knows that some of the fat is impossible to separate out from the meat. Here too a lesson can be implied: if “all fat is Yahweh’s,” we can hardly go through life without being blessed in some way with what belongs to God. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what’s “marbling” in your steak and what constitutes the “fatty lobe,” the portion reserved exclusively for Yahweh.
With the original Passover still fresh in the minds and memories of the Israelites, Yahweh told them, “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of My feast remain until the morning.” (Exodus 23:18) We have already established the principle that the fat of the sacrifice was Yahweh’s portion. It was to be completely consumed on the altar—a picture of the judgment Yahshua endured. This was a restatement of His instructions concerning the night of Passover: “And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.” (Exodus 12:10. Verses 14-20 go on to explain the reference to “anything leavened.”)
We are thus reminded that the Messiah’s “judgment,” that is, His sojourn in sheol while he endured the wrath of God on our behalf, took place on the Feast of Unleavened Bread. By the morning of the next day (Sunday, the Feast of Firstfruits), Yahshua had already resurrected Himself from the dead. “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb…. The angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.’” (Matthew 28:1, 5-6) It hardly bears mentioning that Yahshua was the “very best” Yahweh had to offer—He personified the “fat portions” of the Passover sacrifice. Note, then, that here at the tomb, the “fat of God’s sacrifice” had not “remained until morning.” It had not continued under judgment, constrained by death, one moment longer than the Torah had required.
Yahshua was the best offering Yahweh could have presented on our behalf. This explains why the “fat” of the sacrifices (characterized as the very best part of the offering) was reserved for Yahweh alone: it’s a picture (just like everything else in the Torah) of what God was in the process of doing for us. What happens, then, when we ignore (or flout) Yahweh’s instructions about reserving “the fat” for Him? What is the result of giving the best to yourself? (Does the commandment “You shall not steal” ring any bells?)
Job’s “miserable comforter” Eliphaz pronounced the following imprecation, as if to accuse Job of having done that very thing (thus explaining his predicament): “Because he [the wicked man] has stretched out his hand against God and defies the Almighty… because he has covered his face with his fat and gathered fat upon his waist… he will not be rich, and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the earth.” (Job 15:25-29) Job’s wealth had indeed fled (at least temporarily). But does that (in itself) define him as “wicked?” Let us not forget: Yahweh Himself called such accusations “darkened counsel” and “words without knowledge.” (Job 38:2) Further, it’s obvious that Yahweh doesn’t automatically impoverish everybody who keeps the “fat” of life for themselves, not in the short run, anyway. If He did, the world would be a very different place. And if having “gathered fat upon his waist” was a sure sign of antipathy toward Almighty God, I, for one, would be in deep trouble.
Where Eliphaz’ rant missed the point, David’s prayer identifies the heart of the problem. You can’t identify the enemies of God by looking at their temporal circumstances—especially in the case of once having had wealth and lost it, as in Job’s case. But you can recognize the wicked by their actions and attitudes, their eagerness to “seize the fat” for themselves. “They close their hearts [cheleb] to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly…. Arise, O Yahweh! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by Your sword, from men by Your hand, O Yahweh, from men of the world whose portion is in this life.” There’s the key: those whose hearts are “fat” and closed to the needs of others live only for what they can get from this mortal life. The “blessings” they gather to themselves are actually stolen—from God. They’re the “fat” of the sacrifice. “You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants.” This has nothing to do with being a loving parent and good provider. It’s an observation that men whose “portion is in this life,” instead of honoring God with their possessions, assume (since they can’t take it with them when they die) that they can leave their ill-gotten gains to their progeny. David’s own personal attitude is now set in sharp contrast to this: “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with Your likeness.” (Psalm 17:10, 13-15) Ironically, David ended up filthy rich in this world. But he reckoned his only real wealth to be the heavenly sort. His children weren’t left penniless, of course, but all he could think about in his old age was honoring Yahweh by building the temple. David found value in righteousness, not worldly treasure. And his focus was always upon the face of Yahweh.
Back in the Torah, the lessons continue. What about eating meat in non-Levitical settings? Do the principles concerning fat still apply if the animal in question isn’t a sacrifice, but merely dinner? Yes, but with an interesting twist. “Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, You shall eat no fat, of ox or sheep or goat. The fat of an animal that dies of itself and the fat of one that is torn by beasts may be put to any other use, but on no account shall you eat it. For every person who eats of the fat of an animal of which an offering by fire may be made to Yahweh shall be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 7:22-25) The stated “exceptions” provide insight into Yahweh’s mindset here. The focus of the prohibition is always on eating the fat, not using it in other ways. Under no circumstances could one eat the meat of any animal that wasn’t on the “clean” list, hadn’t been specifically killed for the purpose, and hadn’t been properly drained of its blood. And of such animals, eating the fat portions (as defined, species by species, in the Levitical instructions) was never allowed. But revealingly, the fat of certain animals that weren’t lawful for food could be used for other purposes—like making soap or candles. Yahweh’s point, it appears, is that what belongs exclusively to Him is not to be used to nourish our own bodies—even if this “fat” is not found in a cultic or sacrificial setting. We are never to usurp the place and privilege of Yahweh, whether we’re “in church” or not.
That being said, whatever belongs to Yahweh can—if and when He wills it—be utilized for our benefit. Notice, however, the circumstances under which we are specifically authorized to use this fat (at least here in Leviticus 7): mortality, disease, or some other untimely catastrophe. I think what God is saying here is that times of misfortune and mayhem can be opportunities to receive unexpected blessings directly from His storehouse—insight, cleansing, and fresh perspective concerning His provision. The next time a tornado hits my house, I’ll try to keep that in mind.
You may be thinking, “There’s no temple today, and nothing is being sacrificed to Yahweh on any altar, so why do I have to pay attention to all this obscure minutiae about fat?” Fair question. Yahweh makes it clear that in the end, it isn’t the strict literal adherence to the rites and rituals of the Torah He’s concerned about, but rather their underlying principles—the reality behind the symbols, fat being one of them. Performing the Torah’s “laws” faithfully was Israel’s job, for these precepts, acted out as if in pantomime, were intended to reveal Yahweh’s purpose and plan to the whole world. But to communicate this plan accurately, Israel had to perform the Torah with the right spirit, an attitude of reverence and love for Yahweh. So in apparent frustration, He asks, “What to Me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says Yahweh; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required of you this trampling of My courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” (Isaiah 1:11-13)
He asks, “Who told you to do all of this?” And we shuffle our feet and stammer, “Umm—You did…. didn’t You?” The point is that the Torah means something—something larger than (and external to) its own individual precepts. It is not an end unto itself, but a symbolic message informing us how to reach that end (hence the title of this study, The Torah Code). Therefore, Christians who assumed they were “off the hook” because God fulfilled the Torah through Christ’s sacrifice (and then physically dismantled the temple and priesthood so Israel could no longer participate) need to think again. Oh, we’ve been released from the penalty of death that once loomed over our heads alright, but the responsibilities and attitudes, the foundational concepts and fundamental truths underlying every precept of the Torah are still very much in force, and as significant than ever. Just because there is no more “solemn assembly” in Israel, it doesn’t follow that Yahweh no longer has a problem with “iniquity.” So when Moses said, “Every person who eats of the fat of an animal of which an offering by fire may be made to Yahweh shall be cut off from his people,” we are being required to sort out the symbols and heed the admonition they present. There are no fewer than five of these symbols in that one short sentence.
In God’s eyes, for Israel to have observed its “solemn assemblies” like this—going through the motions like mindless zombies for centuries on end, all the while harboring iniquity in their hearts—was tantamount to making their sacrifices to some other god. Maybe it was Ba’al or Molech they were honoring. It sure wasn’t Me. So for the moment (“moment?”—it’s been almost two thousand years now) Yahweh has sidelined the nation, just as He had promised to do. But Moses (the first to warn them about it) also predicted their eventual restoration. It’s a good news/bad news story, I’m afraid: “For Yahweh will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants when He sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.” The prophecy is: Israel won’t repent, nor will Yahweh rescue them, until their backs are against the wall. “Then He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge, who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection!” Though blessed with the oracles of Yahweh, Israel has served false gods for much of their history, whether gods of wood and stone, money and influence, or pride and intellect. But they are about to be reintroduced to the One True God—the One to whom they had been instructed to render the “fat” of their sacrifices all this time. And finally, they will “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:36-39)
Daniel saw the same truth. The angel charged with explaining Israel’s future to him “swore by Him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished.” (Daniel 12:7) If you put the pieces of the prophetic puzzle together, you’ll find that this particular three and a half “years” is the same as the 1,260 days of Israel’s flight into the wilderness, described in Revelation 12:6. Satan will be running about loose, his puppet the Antichrist will be in charge of the whole planet, and everybody else will be either grumpy or terrified. God’s people will have no power at all—which is apparently what it’ll take to finally get their attention.
What, then, does it mean for “all these things to be finished?” Daniel had been told of Yahweh’s objective concerning Israel: “Seventy weeks [sevens, i.e., 7-“year” periods—the second half of the last of which is in view in Daniel 12:7] are determined for your people and for your holy city [Israel and Jerusalem], to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24) Note that the very last thing to be accomplished is to “anoint the Most Holy,” that is, to introduce Yahshua the Messiah (read: Anointed One) as King of kings and Lord of lords. Yahweh, in the person of His Messiah, will at last be accorded the “fatness of the earth” that is His due.
Even then, Yahweh will not be quite done with this particular symbol. During Yahshua’s thousand-year reign of righteousness upon the earth, fat will once again be recruited as a symbol to teach the Millennial mortals what He has done for them. Speaking of the service of the Millennial temple, Ezekiel reports, “The Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of My sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me. And they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood, declares the Sovereign Yahweh. They shall enter My sanctuary, and they shall approach My table, to minister to Me, and they shall keep My charge.” (Ezekiel 44:15-16) One last time, we encounter scripture’s seemingly ubiquitous symbolic parallel between fat (the very best one can offer) and blood (the vehicle for life). Every day for a thousand years this dual parable will be retold and memorialized by the sons of Zadok: Yahshua the King is Life itself—the very best gift Yahweh could possibly have given us.
(First published 2014)