Today’s section in Numbers 15:17-21 is about setting aside for God some of the bread that was made AFTER the people enter the Promised Land. It is kind of interesting and instructive.
Remember: even though we may struggle with which of the Torah commands we are to obey literally still, and also just HOW we are to follow them in a practical way in our modern western society (and of course factoring in the advent of Christ), God is setting up unchangeable patterns that we are to learn, recognize, and apply to our lives FOREVER.
And what is being discussed beginning in verse 17, is the first of the bread dough that is regularly made in every Israelite household. And, the instruction is that the first of each batch of bread is to be given to a Priest. It is a holy portion.
The principle this is operating from is the principle of Firstlings, or in more familiar language, Firstfruits. That is, the first of everything belongs to God;
- Your first male child (called the Firstborn),
- The first of your crops (called bikkurim), and
- The first of your bread dough (called Challah).
Now, what is interesting is that typically only farmers could participate in the most regular Firstfruits offerings, because they were the ones who grew the crops, and therefore they were the ones required to offer the first of their crops as a sacrifice.
What this new command does is to bring the ability to offer Firstfruits sacrifices out of the field, and into every Hebrew household. Every Hebrew home baked bread as it was the staple daily food. And now with the requirement of an offering of a portion of that bread dough to God, every Hebrew home could have direct participation in offering Firstfruits on a regular basis.
This custom of offering some of the dough from the household bread baking became such a deeply ingrained tradition within Israel. That even after the Temple was destroyed the Talmud tells us that the woman would take a small piece of the bread dough and throw it into the fire as a sort of min-sacrifice in remembrance of this commandment.
Now, let me quote for you a saying of Paul; one you have heard several times, but now, perhaps, you will better understand why he chose the words that he did.
If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. Romans 11:16 (NASB)
Paul was only using the standard language of an everyday occurrence in virtually every household in Israel as an illustration. He was referring directly to the principle of Firstfruits, and to the law and custom of offering a bit of the bread dough as a sacrifice, which in turn sanctifies the remainder of the large lump of bread dough.
In my next blog post, we will be studying the laws concerning unintentional sin. Have a blessed day!