Monday, March 24, 2008

Ancient Offerings

I am reading in my Stewardship book about the different types of offerings made by the Jews to Yahweh, as chronicled in the Old Testament.

It seems to our modern sensibilities entirely wasteful. Whenever a building was consecrated, or someone committed a trespass against their neighbor, or whenever a prayer was answered, they would bring an animal to the Temple and burn it. All of it. The cooked meat wasn't given to the poor or anything, the hide wasn't used, nor the hair, the horns or hooves. Everything was given to God.

It's amazing to me to consider that level of worship. It's the equivalent of taking five hundred dollars and burning it in your fireplace. That's it. Gone. Like you never had it. The money goes nowhere, it simply disappears from the world.

Not only does it require a level of trust in God to replace what we've just given, but it illustrates in a very tangible way the profound faith the Hebrews had that God was real: He existed as surely as the offering did.

In some ways, I think it's easy to give to charity, especially when you give to a reputable organization that operates programs you believe in. You know for a fact that your money is going to good use. You can think about it helping someone and feel a sense of pride and solidarity that you yourself, personally, have helped someone. In a sense it's buying a service, -- even if you're not the direct beneficiary, you're controlling how the money is spent.

Burning a ram on God's altar doesn't return that sense of pride. It doesn't feel like you're doing anything concrete.

It's one of the most humbling forms of sacrifice and worship I can imagine, and I don't know what the modern equivalent could be. There's nothing in my life that I give back to God in the way the Hebrews gave holocaust to Yahweh.

I am humbled and astounded by their fidelity to their Covenant.


Jennifer F. said...

Another post that really made me think. Very interesting!

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that your current frustration with not being able to help the poor the way you want to is exactly like the offering you describe--or it could be. The reason you find your present situation so difficult is precisely because you don't feel like you're doing any good. It's the hardest offering to give.