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Sign Language

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Sign Language

and you shall wave them for a wave offering before the face of YHWH Exodus 29:26

Wave Offering – Many English translations of the Hebrew word tenufah make us think that this offering is something like the Catholic ritual of signing the cross. On the surface, it appears as though the priest or the worshipper is supposed to move his hand in a certain fashion. But this can hardly be what it really means since the same word appears in Leviticus 14:12 where it is applied to a live lamb and in Numbers 8:11 where it is applied to the entire tribe of Levi. No one can imagine “waving” a whole group of people before the Lord. That means we need to look at the deeper idea, not the actual physical action. What we find is religious sign language. The idea behind the “wave” offering is the demonstration of a special consecration.

Of course, there is an action associated with this offering. You can see that in the previous verb (“you shall wave”). The Hebrew verb is nuf. It’s used to describe the movement of a saw or a sword. It’s used to describe the falling of rain and the motion of one’s hand. Apparently the priest did follow some similar movement, but the priest’s actions are not the offering. The offering is the decision to proclaim a special consecration. The action only represents the underlying intention. So, it’s possible to consecrate an entire tribe, a live animal or an individual with the same symbolic movement.

Many churches today use similar symbolic gestures in religious worship before the Lord. From child dedication to marriage, from benedictions to “the right hand of fellowship,” we still participate in religious sign language. The only real question is how much of these rituals belong to God’s order of worship and how many of them come from other sources. This much we know for sure. God included sign language in His instructions about consecration.

There’s something else we need to know about the “wave” offering. It is almost always connected to another kind of offering – the peace offering. Some part of the peace offering is eaten by each participant, the priest, the one who makes the offering, and God (His part is consumed in the fire on the altar).

Christianity doesn’t pay much attention to the various offerings and their place in the worship of the Lord. Apparently most Christians think that the offerings commanded by God are part of a system of worship that no longer applies. That seems to be a mistake. After all, long after the resurrection of Yeshua, Paul, Peter and the other apostles were still following these ancient rituals. A lot of Paul’s discussion with his missionary communities is about the proper understanding of offerings. Somehow we seem to have retained some of the sign language but lost most of the meanings. Just because these rituals were given by God to Moses and Israel doesn’t mean that they don’t have any significance today, does it? What would change in your viewpoint about the world if you incorporated a “lifting up – wave” offering in your worship? Would it help you remember the practice of consecration? Would it remind you of your day-to-day fellowship with God and His people? Maybe we need a better greeting than “Have a nice day.” Maybe we need a “wave.”

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