The wave offering is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament, but what exactly is it? This ancient ritual is rich with meaning for Christians today. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the biblical foundations of the wave offering, its symbolism and spiritual implications, and how we can apply its lessons in our walk with God.
In the Old Testament, God gave His people the Law – a set of commands and rituals – to set them apart and help them understand His holiness. One unique ritual was the “wave offering” (Hebrew: tenufah). This was a special sacrificial offering, which was waved or elevation before the Lord.
It was practiced on several sacred occasions, including during consecrations, purification rituals, and festival celebrations. The wave offering expressed thanksgiving, surrender to God, and devotion to Him. As we explore this rich practice, we’ll gain insight into God’s character, the meaning of true worship, and principles for Christian living today.
- The wave offering was a symbolic sacrificial ritual commanded by God in the Old Testament Law.
- It was offered on joyous occasions and feast days as an expression of thanksgiving and devotion to the Lord.
- The ritual entailed elevating or waving portions of a sacrificial animal or grain offering.
- The gesture symbolized an uplifting to God’spresence and a transference of the offering to Him.
- For believers today, the ritual illustrates core spiritual principles of wholehearted worship, gratitude, and surrender to Christ’s Lordship.
The Prescriptions for the Wave Offering
The wave offering is first introduced in Exodus 29, as part of the consecration ceremony for Aaron and his sons as priests:
“Then you shall take them from their hands and burn them on the altar as a burnt offering, as a sweet aroma before the LORD; it is an offering made by fire to the LORD. And you shall take the breast of the ram of Aaron’s consecration and wave it as a wave offering before the LORD; and it shall be your portion.” (Exodus 29:25-26 NKJV)
Here, the breast of the ram of consecration was elevated as a special offering to the Lord.
The wave offering is detailed more clearly in Leviticus 7, along with the “heave offering” (a related ritual).
” ‘The breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering you shall bring with the offerings of fat made by fire, to offer as a wave offering before the LORD. And the priest shall burn them on the altar as food, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma; all the fat is the LORD’s.” (Leviticus 7:30-31 NKJV)
The right thigh and breast of the sacrifice were set apart for the priests while the rest was burned on the altar. The priest would elevate these choice portions to the Lord as a symbolic act of transference and dedication to Him.
Leviticus 23 outlines how wave offerings were also incorporated into feast celebrations:
“You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD… The priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs.” (Leviticus 23:17,20 NKJV)
At the feast of Pentecost, two leavened loaves were waved with sacrificial lambs as a celebratory wave offering.
The ritual procedure:
- A choice portion of the sacrifice or firstfruits was set aside for the wave offering. This was the breast of an animal or two loaves.
- The priest placed this portion on the offerer’s hands and placed his hands underneath.
- They would elevate or “wave” the offering together before the Lord’s presence.
- The offering was thereby transferred symbolically to God’s possession.
- The breast or loaf was then eaten by the priests while the rest was burned on the altar.
The Significance and Symbolism
Beyond mere ritual, the wave offering held deep spiritual symbolism for Israel:
It acknowledged God’s blessings – Firstfruits and the choice portions given to God expressed dependence on Him as the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17).
It showed complete surrender – Placing the offering in God’s hands depicted the offerer’s total devotion to Him.
It pictured transference to God’s realm – The uplifting motion symbolized entering God’s presence and belonging to Him.
It was an act of dedication – Like setting something apart for exclusive use, they committed the offering entirely to the Lord.
“But I have raised my hand in an oath to the LORD. I will give them to him to be a wave offering from the sons of Israel.” (Numbers 18:11 NKJV)
It was linked to purification – Wave offerings were part of cleansing rituals for lepers (Leviticus 14) and Nazirites (Numbers 6).
It showed obedience – By observing the ritual, Israel demonstrated their desire to obey and honor God.
It was a proportional response – The greater the blessing, the bigger and higher the wave offering was to be.
The Wave Offering and Worship Today
While we are no longer bound to perform elaborate sacrificial rituals, the wave offering still powerfully illustrates core aspects of worship:
We surrender completely to Christ – Like wave offerings lifted to God, we yield our entire lives to Jesus’ ownership and Lordship. This is our “true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1).
We devote our best to God’s service – Instead of paltry leftovers, we offer God the finest of what He’s given us – time, talents, resources. Our “firstfruits” still belong to Him.
We exalt Jesus above all – Just as offerings were elevated, we lift high the name of Christ in our worship. He alone is worthy of all glory, honor and praise.
We depend fully on Christ – As we lift empty hands to God, we acknowledge our reliance on Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for salvation. He has given us every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).
May the wave offering inspire us to worship our King with extravagant devotion, praise, and surrender today!
Frequently Asked Questions
What was used for wave offerings?
The breast of an animal sacrifice or choice firstfruits like wheat or barley were used. The ritual focused on elevating a token portion to represent the whole.
How was waving done anciently?
The priest would place the offering on the hands of the worshiper, then put his hands underneath. Together they would elevate the token gift to the Lord, moving it in a wave-like motion.
When were wave offerings performed?
They were incorporated into many sacred festivals and rituals – consecrations, cleansing ceremonies, celebrations, and feasts.
What was the purpose of wave offerings?
To express joyful thanksgiving, celebrate God’s blessings, pledge complete devotion, acknowledge His provision, and demonstrate belonging to Him.
Do we need to perform wave offerings today?
The wave offering provides a tangible picture of the grateful, devoted heart posture God desires. As we “lift up holy hands” (1 Timothy 2:8) to our Lord today, may we echo this rich tradition of exalting Christ with our full affection, awe, and wonder. Though styles of worship may change, the essence remains presenting ourselves as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) to the One who is worthy of all blessing, honor, glory and power forever!