The Pentecost grain offering contains leavening, while the typical grain offering does not. Because of the leavening, God forbids the priest from putting the loaves on the altar, as shown in Leviticus 2:11-12:
No grain offering which you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the LORD made by fire. As for the offering of the firstfruits [that is, the leavened loaves on Pentecost], you shall offer them to the LORD, but they shall not be burned on the altar for a sweet aroma.
The altar symbolizes God's table, and He never shows Himself partaking of corruption. Instead of being burned on the altar, the priest holds up the loaves before God—he waves them before Him, picturing God's close inspection, and hopefully, His acceptance. But God designates the loaves for use by the priest rather than being His portion (Leviticus 23:20).
Scripture consistently shows leavening to be a symbol of corruption. If the leavening typified something positive in the Pentecost offering, it would have been acceptable for God's altar. God, however, clearly distances Himself from it.
To grasp more fully how far corruption reaches in each of us, recall Jesus' expounding on the two great commandments as loving God with all one's heart, soul (life), and mind and loving one's neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:37-39). Sin, basically defined as transgressing God's commands, can be further defined, then, as imperfect love toward God or man. A person's deed, word, or thought that does not show perfect love toward God and man signals corruption inside, even if it does not manifest in recognizable idolatry, Sabbath-breaking, murder, adultery, theft, etc.
We may keep the commandments in their letter, yet, writes the apostle John, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves" (I John 1:8). Paul discovered the law—that is, the active principle—of sin and death in his flesh, and it grieved him (Romans 7:21-24). In short, everything we think, say, and do, unless it is exactly what God thinks, says, and does, falls short. We may do the right thing toward a neighbor but not do it with the exact, perfect attitude that God does it in. Thus, our "good" work contains corruption. The more we compare ourselves to God, the more we realize that everything that proceeds from us is tainted. It is not good or perfect as God is.
Interestingly, the grain offering had oil poured on it. Scripturally, oil symbolizes wealth, abundance, health, energy, and a vital ingredient for a good life—all gifts of God. Though there is not a direct biblical reference, God's Spirit can be included within the symbol of oil. Even so, none of oil's symbolism—including the Holy Spirit—can completely counteract the corrupting effect of the leaven. By God's Spirit, we can control the flesh sufficiently so that sin does not rule over us, but as long as we are in this flesh, a taint of corruption will exist. The only solution is to be totally changed, which occurs in the resurrection (I Corinthians 15:50-52).
The symbol of leavening indicates that the wave loaves relate to this life rather than the resurrection. In the resurrection, the corruptible will put on incorruption (I Corinthians 15:53-54); such people will no longer contain any leavening. In this life, differences and division (concepts contained in the number two, as seen in Part One) are factors in our relationships with others. In the resurrection, the division will be gone. Thus, the wave loaves do not picture spiritual completion but rather God's acceptance in this life of what would otherwise be unacceptable.
Even though the priest prepares the loaves first, he does not offer them first. The sequence in this compound ritual helps us resolve the tension in the themes. Leviticus 23:18 shows the priest making a substantial burnt offering first, consisting of ten animals. Ten indicates the perfection of divine order. Those ten include seven lambs, which is another number symbolic of perfection, indicating something being filled up. The priest completely burns this offering on the altar, picturing unreserved devotion to God—life completely consumed in service to Him, as mentioned in Part Two.
Next, the priest makes a sin offering, which provides symbolic cleansing (verse 19). Then the priest makes a peace offering consisting of "two male lambs of the first year," which pictures God and man in harmonious fellowship, sharing a meal, through the work of the priest. Then, after all those blood sacrifices, the priest waves the leavened loaves before God.
Critically, the priest does not wave the leavened loaves by themselves—if he did, there would be no basis for God's acceptance. Notice verse Leviticus 23:20: "The priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest."
In other words, the priest also waved two lambs of the peace offering (or portions thereof), but before that, God commands, "the priest shall wave them. . ." (emphasis ours). The plural pronoun "them" refers to the burnt and sin offerings, portions of which the priest also waved, along with the loaves and the two lambs of the peace offering.
This complex picture teaches that God's acceptance of the leavened loaves is dependent on everything else that the priest holds up before Him. That is, God accepts a harvest of devotion and service to others (the grain offering) that contains differences and carnality (two loaves with leavening) only in conjunction with a substantial burnt offering, a peace offering, and especially, a sin offering. Then, and only then, God accepts the leavened offering, but even so, He does not allow it on His altar. He accepts it for use by the priest, but His portion must be without leavening.
Consider how this parable-in-a-sacrifice teaches about the Messiah. Jesus Christ is the compassionate High Priest, approaching the Father on our behalf and mediating and advocating for us. He lived His life as a flawless and complete burnt offering. Day by day, He was wholly consumed in service to the Father, giving of Himself up to His final breath, reserving nothing for Himself. His sinless sacrifice fulfilled the sin offering, paying for our transgressions. And He is our peace offering—He is the means by which mankind and the Father can have abundant fellowship.
All these immaculate elements held up together before God make the two different, leavened loaves acceptable to Him. He accepts our tainted works because of Christ's work in multiple roles.
David C. Grabbe