What kind of offerings?

Part 1, 2, 3

What can we bring to the Lord, what kind of offerings should we give him?

Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?

I have always been a bit of a procrastinator. As far back as middle school I can remember putting off projects until the very last minute only to scramble to finish them in the final moments before they were due. It is a terrible habit to get into, and an impossible one to break. Better just to make to do lists at the beginning and keep to them. But that has never worked very well for me.

Occasionally I would find myself consumed with a sense of panic about all of the school work that was looming on the horizon. I would feel my heart racing as I thought through all of the tasks that would need to be accomplished for each project and how little time I had left to complete them. Then, once the panic had reached a fevered pitch, I would do the only thing I could possibly do to get myself moving in the right direction.

I would clean my room.

Then, after my room was put in order and everything was in its right place, I would sit down and make a list of the soon overdue projects. Only I wouldn’t just make a list of the projects. I’d make a separate to do list for each project that outlined all the tasks associated with the project, and all the tasks associated with those tasks, ranking them in order of importance and scheduling them according to priority. I would waste hours making lists of tasks instead of actually doing any work toward completing the projects themselves. Come to think of it, it is a miracle I ever graduated high school.

I’m sure this behavior sounds absurd. Frankly it is. All it did was feed into my tendencies to procrastinate by wasting more time. At best it was an insincere gesture designed to offer the appearance getting myself back on track. But the projects would still remain neglected for a while longer.

I still do this to this day. You can always tell when I’ve been neglecting things at work if you see me cleaning my office. And then the lists. Like I said, it’s a hard habit to break. I may need therapy.

At the very beginning of Micah 6 we see a God that has been neglected by his people. Like a young girl desperate for her boyfriend’s attention, or a marriage deteriorating from gross banality, God pleads with Israel to understand why they’ve grown tired of him. He reminds them of all that he has done for them over several generations, how he brought them out of slavery in Egypt and protected them from their enemies. Yet, despite all that he had done for them, Israel had become bored with God. He felt neglected, and they were getting an ear full about it.

Israel’s response almost seems sarcastic and insincere, as if they had no interest in restoring their relationship with God. They begin to ask what offerings they could bring to the Lord that would appease him. But as their list progresses their suggestions become less realistic and increasingly exaggerated.

Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves?

This might be a fitting sacrifice and in the spirit of Levitical code. And it certainly would be a significant offering. Maybe God would understand this to be a sincere gesture and find it acceptable. After all, it’s the thought that counts.

Should we offer him thousands of rams …

This one would take some work. First everyone in Israel would have to be on board with a sacrifice of this magnitude as it would likely affect the entire community. And it would probably decimate the food supply and ruin the economy. God has never required anything like this before, surely he wouldn’t hold them to it. But it doesn’t hurt to offer, right?

… and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?

Okay, now they’re just being ridiculous. There’s no way they could ever do that. There isn’t enough olive oil in all the world to fill one river, not to mention ten thousand.

Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?

There’s no way they would ever do that.

With each proposed sacrifice, Israel’s repentance seems to grow more disingenuous. It is almost as if Israel is intentionally proposing these absurd sacrifices as a way of pushing God further away. Her lover opened his heart and shared his feelings of abandonment and neglect, and rather than simply repenting and resetting the relationship, Israel begins planning ways to lasso the moon.

But we do this same kind of thing all the time, don’t we? We feel convicted about not spending enough time studying the Scriptures, so rather than simply opening a Bible and reading it, we research a plan to read it cover to cover in a year. A plan we frequently abandon sometime after day six. Or we wish we were serving our neighbors more, so we get a few people together to dream up some grand effort that odds are will never materialize. We could just as easily pick up the phone, or knock on the door, and ask someone what we can do to help them. Today.

There’s something about us – probably sin – that keeps us from embracing the simple remedy. The obvious solution. We’d rather spend our days searching for answers that were already given long before we dug ourselves into this rut. In much the same way I would plan out my homework to the most minute detail right before it was due instead of just sitting down and doing it. Insincere gestures.

So what can we possibly offer to God? How can we possibly make things right with the one we’ve neglected?

He has already shown us.


5 thoughts on “What kind of offerings?

  1. Definitely guilty of trying to develop a 5 year plan when I could be looking at what might take me 5 minutes (but be much more uncomfortable).

    I was thinking about sacrifice the other day as well and how hard it is to connect with the idea of making a sacrifice of an animal or harvested food. Those things had a limited supply that could not easily be replenished regardless of will. Today it seems I can always “make more” by working harder, getting a second job, etc, if I experience some sort of want. In a sense, if I sacrifice something but need it later, I can go try to “make more”. Whereas I think that historically that was much more difficult. Maybe you could go buy more grain or animals, but you certainly would have wait till next year before it all naturally multiplied. I say all this to say, once it was sacrificed, it was gone! No chances of recovery. I can think of very few things like that today.

  2. Excellent point, Chris. Biblical people had a real sense that a life was being sacrificed for them every time they killed an animal. Even when they broke bread they understood that resources were being destroyed so they could keep living. (This gives additional weight and significance to the Lord’s table.)

    Today we are so separated from the living things that feed and clothe us. We just go to a store and buy a package. We need to find another framework in which to appreciate sacrifice.

  3. Josh I think you open the real question, that is, what does sacrifice look like when we live in a world of somewhat “unlimited” supply. I haven’t fleshed this one out fully, but I’m asking the same question. I know that there is talk of sacrificing “time”. That is certainly a commodity that we don’t ever get back. Like intentionally taking a Sabbath. When I first started my business it was easy to see how I could just keep working and making money, rather than stopping my work and resting. This might be the tip of something, but I’m still thinking that “time” is a bit to abstract for sacrifice. Somehow I don’t think God’s going to be looking at me the same way he looked at Abraham and knew something about him because I sacrifice my time.

  4. Sacrifice and Sabbath are two biblical concepts that took me many years to appreciate. Sabbath rest is so important to God that it made the Top Ten, and yet for most Christian believers it’s vague at best. I’ve heard some teach that the point of Sabbath is to get rest and refresh yourself. That might be part of it, but when I think about God’s rest after Creation, I don’t think it was because he was worn out. I get the sense that Sabbath is more about completion and contentment than it is about rest. We have a God who finishes what he begins, and we should be the same way.

    To the question of sacrifice, it is a tough one. Time and money seem to be the most popular gifts Christians offer up, but it’s so easy to portion those out in meager little chunks. It doesn’t usually hit us where it hurts.

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