A heave offering was a way of presenting one’s offering to God, and it appears in the Old Testament along with burnt offerings, grain offerings, freewill offerings, and the offering of the firstborn of the flocks. The heave offering is part of the Mosaic Law and was one of the common sacrifices or offerings given to God by the Israelites.
Only a few translations, such as the KJV and the NAS, call it the “heave offering”; most translations consider it simply an offering presented before the Lord. The “heave” of the “heave offering” is a simple upward movement. It could refer to the generic movement of lifting or “heaving” the sacrifice toward the altar, or it could refer to lifting up or separating a portion of the sacrifice from the rest. This “heaved” portion was set apart for use by the priests (Leviticus 7:34).
The heave offering was not really a separate offering but the portion of another offering that was reserved for the use of the priests. “You shall consecrate the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering which was waved and which was offered from the ram of ordination, from the one which was for Aaron and from the one which was for his sons. It shall be for Aaron and his sons as their portion forever from the sons of Israel, for it is a heave offering; and it shall be a heave offering from the sons of Israel from the sacrifices of their peace offerings, even their heave offering to the LORD” (Exodus 29:27–28, NAS).
The heave offering was often used in conjunction with a wave offering, and both were then given to the priests. The heave and the wave refer to the movement of the sacrificed item over the altar. With a wave offering, the priest moved the offering from side to side over the altar, and, with a heave offering, the sacrificed item is presented with an up-and-down motion. The Hebrew word terumah, which is the word for “heave offering,” comes from the verb stem rum, which means “exalted” or “lifted up.” In most biblical instances, the heave offering was the part of a sacrifice set aside or “lifted up” for a higher purpose.
The heave offering was often given in conjunction with tithes (Leviticus 7:14, 34) as a provision for the Levites, the priestly tribe who did not have land of their own and therefore could not grow their own food. They depended on the Lord’s provision through tithes and heave offerings (Numbers 18:24, 29). The heave offering is also similar to the tithe in that it was to be given of a person’s firstfruits, that is, out of the first portion of the produce harvested each year (Numbers 15:21) The Levites themselves also offered a heave offering to the Lord out of the tithes of the Israelites. A tenth of all they were given by the other tribes was offered up to God (Numbers 18:26).