The Levitical Offerings
This is the eighth article on the Levitical Offerings by brother Naismith. The author was a missionary in India for many years. He now lives in Scotland. His ministry has been enjoyed in Britain, United States of America and Canada.
8 The Drink Offering
The regulations concerning the drink-offering or libation are given in Numbers 15:1-10. Unlike any of the offerings in the early chapters of Leviticus, it was entirely in liquid form and consisted of wine only. Leviticus is the book of Israel’s priesthood, Numbers the record of pilgrimage. The libation was the pilgrim’s offering, but it must be accompanied by one or more of the priestly offerings to be “an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.”
In the New Testament the Greek word “spendomai” — translated “be offered” in the K. J. version, signifies being poured out as a drink offering, and occurs twice only, in Philippians 2:17 and 2 Timothy 4:6. In both Scriptures the apostle Paul uses the expression concerning himself as a libation to the Lord Jesus Christ in life (Phil. 2:17) and in death (2 Tim. 4:6). Though there is no etymological relationship between the Greek word and the English term “spend,” the assonant connection is readily recognized; and when Paul tells the Corinthian saints (2 Cor. 12:15), “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you,” we can envisage the frail form of the faithful Apostle being poured out for their sakes as a libation in life and in death.
Certain features of the drink offering convey to the student of the Word important truths for the Christian life. In reckoning and in value the libation was one of the least of the offerings. When Paul compared his service to a libation and evaluated the “service and faith” of the Philippian believers laid on the altar of sacrifice as greater and more basic than his own ministry, he displays the “mind that was in Christ Jesus Who … humbled Himself.” The humility of the Apostle who counted himself ‘less than the least of all the saints’ is manifest in the comparison. Humility as a sovereign grace is the crown of the Christian faith. Paul may also have had in mind their gifts sacrificially contributed out of deep penury and conveyed to him by Epaphroditus who risked his life to take them to Rome.
The libation was always poured around the altar along with one of the major offerings in Jewish sacrifices, Josephus tells us, and most frequently with the burnt offering which sets forth our Lord’s complete dedication to His Father’s will, even to the death of the cross. In heathen practice the libation was poured on the altar. The Christian’s aim, like the Apostle’s, should be “that Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death,” so that “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Any sacrifice we make, any presentation of ourselves and our service to the Lord, should always be the outcome of our appreciation of “the Son of God Who loved us and gave Himself for us.”
The measure of the drink offering varied according to the value of the burnt offering or peace offering and the meal offering around which it was poured. When the victim was a lamb and the meal offering a tenth deal of flour, the drink offering was a quarter of a hin of wine. When a ram was offered with two tenth deals of flour for a cereal offering, the amount of the libation must be increased to a third of a hin of wine. Along with a bullock as a burnt offering and its meal offering of three tenth deals of flour, half a hin of wine must be poured as a libation. On this analogy, our presentation of ourselves as living sacrifices to God will be according to our appreciation of Christ and His sacrifice for us.
The quantity of oil in the meal offering was the same as the measure of wine in the drink offering. It might be a fourth, or a third or a half of a hin. Paul claimed that “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” enabled him to rejoice in the preaching of the gospel whatever might be the motive that prompted it, and confirmed in his own mind the determination that Christ should be magnified in his body by life or by death (Phil. 1:20). His libation, the offering of himself in dedicated service to the Lord, was commensurate in his experience with the supply of the Holy Spirit of which oil is the type. “Be filled with the Spirit,” says the Apostle (Eph. 5:18), and He will lead you to a full consecration to Christ.
The order in which the various measures of wine in the libation are prescribed in Numbers 15 is significant. It represents a gradual increase in the amount of wine used in the libation. This gradual outpouring of the libation adequately depicts the gradual spending of the Apostle’s strength in the service of his Lord and Master, and the gradual ebbing away of his life until he could say on the eve of his departure, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering” in the final stage of his supreme act of sacrifice.
A beautiful Old Testament illustration of a libation of extreme costliness is found in the devoted venture of three of David’s mighty men who, breaking through the ranks of the hostile Philistines at the risk of their lives, brought to their king the water from the well of Bethlehem for which he longed. So precious was it that David, recognizing that it was ‘the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives,’ poured it out as a libation to the Lord.