My daily reading today took me through passages in the book of Numbers.
Specifically, verses outlining the sacrifices that God required of His people, the Israelites. Aside from a short paragraph on land disputes with women, and the choosing of Joshua to lead the people, the majority was a re-giving of instruction. Every day, kill this many baby animals. Weekly, on the Sabbath, add to the number. Begin each month with yet another addition, or several. On this handful of festivals that occur yearly, slaughter this other quantity in addition to the daily, weekly, monthly killing.
Attending Bible college warped me in some ways. It may be an indication of a weak mind on my part. The truth of the matter, whatever the reason, is that I tend to read the Old Testament very allegorically. This sacrifice means this. Other sacrifices relate to my life in this manner. Specific rituals depict this cleansing in my life. Symbolism out the wazoo. The trouble is, while many of these scenarios and comparisons may, in fact, hold validity, what happened to reading for the sake of the text? What happened to reading for the narrative? Have I been so absorbed by how the Word of God relates to me that I have forgotten these conversations actually occurred? That Moses sat down and listened to God tell him all of these things in detail? I imagine he sat there shaking his head at various moments. Eyes wide with wonder, confusion, disbelief even. A rolling of the stomach. A headache that started behind his eyes, perhaps, as he wrote obediently the words, sentences, paragraphs, being translated from sound waves and vibrations by his fragile human brain. And again, wonder, as he heard the voice of God.
Imagine, also, with me the priests who carried out the commands of Holy God. Day after day, week in, week out. The blood, the death, the sadness… Reading this, I wonder: did any of them snap from overwhelming depression? Did it ever get to be just too much? Did human eyes fail to see what spiritual would have realized? My mom frequently says of ministry and the oft-repeated story of loss and betrayal: “If we get to a place that it no longer hurts us, we are no longer in a place of being able to minister.” I mentally, experimentally, apply this to the repetitive priestly duties. What must it have been like to serve the people of God by sacrificing the animals they had raised in an act of worship and submission to Him? How did they see death every day, and still have hearts soft enough to represent to the people the God they worshiped?
God knows that we are human. He also has a much bigger picture than we do. His plan in place required such vast quantity of bloodshed and death. It required the death of His only Son. Reading the Law, I stagger at a loving God expecting fragile mankind to bear up under this kind of longterm mental agony. Reading the Gospels, I stagger at an eternal God, giving His only Son as the Ultimate Sacrifice for the sins of mankind.
The temporary conclusion I come to is this: it is not more than we deserve. It was not more than the priests deserved. It was not more than Moses, or any of the Israelites deserved. As humans, born into separation from their Creator, death and Hell is deserved. God, in His great love, allowed them to see death, but not their own death, and for a purpose. His commands made a way for redemption till Redemption could be purchased in full. They sacrificed every day because one day, He would sacrifice for them.
And He asks us to do the same. (Romans 12:1) “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” The sacrifice of the people of Israel looked forward expectantly to the fulfillment of His promised Salvation. Our sacrifice looks back at the completed work and says, “Thank you. I belong to you.”
It may have been brutal, seeing death the way they did. It is brutal, seeing the death of our selves. It was brutal, seeing His only Son on the cross for the sins of a world who, for the most part, would not recognize His Love.
I have come to a temporary conclusion. I am in a temporary body. I am in a temporary state of mind. My prayer is that I will continue to be able to look at the Scriptures with new eyes. I do not want to be finished learning. I need to be continually changing. The only permanent is God. And the unfathomable gift of Redemption through His Sinless Son’s Sacrifice.