This year, I endeavored to really dive into the Old Testament. For much of my life, some of those ancient books of the Bible spanning from earth’s creation to 400 years before the birth of Christ have been difficult for me to understand and put into context.
Other than Psalms and Proverbs, Old Testament passages seem to focus a lot on genealogy, conquest, and an endless litany of examples of people being disobedient to God, only to come running back to him after tragedy strikes.
While the Old Testament tells the story of God’s grace, promises, and plan to rescue and restore his creation, it also describes problems resulting from our free will.
The Old Testament tells tales of war, sexual immorality, greed, wandering, betrayal, slavery, deceit, destruction and chasing after false gods. It’s hard to imagine those stories being part of a book commonly referred to as the “Good News.”
But it is. Old Testament pages reveal a story that leads to a bigger story, which follows a plot toward a climatic conclusion in Revelation.
What I found most interesting about the Old Testament was the level to which ancient Israelites went to revere God.
The process people had to go through to atone for their own sins was pretty remarkable considering all the burnt offerings, grain offerings, fellowship offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, wave offerings, food offerings, and drink offerings.
Animals had to be sacrificed by the thousands to pay the penalty for sin caused by people. The animals had to be perfect and free of defects – not leftovers. In other words, they had to have genuine value in the economy back then.
It is vastly different today when people simply toss a few discretionary dollars or their pocket change into an offering plate on Sunday mornings.
By today’s standards, we find it unfair that animals had to be killed to pay for someone’s mistakes. But, in reality, the act of sacrifice taught the Israelis that:
- Sin is messy.
- Sin is costly.
- Other people and creatures are usually caught up in the consequences of our sin.
Just approaching God required a great deal of respect. In Leviticus 16, Aaron was specifically told he could not come into the Most Holy Place whenever he chose, or else he would die. God outlined the exact instructions Aaron had to follow just to come into God’s presence. Some of them included:
- Sacrificing a young bull as a sin offering.
- Sacrificing a ram as a burnt offering.
- Bathing himself head-to-toe.
- Putting on a sacred linen garment and hat.
- Sacrificing another two male goats as a sin offering, and another ram as a burnt offering.
- Burning two handfuls of incense.
- Sprinkling some bull’s blood seven times over the cover of the ark holding the 10 Commandments.
Aaron had to do all that BEFORE anyone could go in to worship God.
Fortunately, for our sake, God offered one final sacrifice in the form of his son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for the sins committed by everyone who opts to put their faith in Jesus. Jesus died once for all our sins and ushered in a whole new way for us to relate to God.
Rather than having to go to a specific place to encounter God, God’s Holy Spirit actually lives within each believer.
The extent to which people honored God was considerably more respectful in the Old Testament than I think we see today. In 2018, we often waltz into church five minutes late with our lattes in hand while wearing jeans and flip-flops.
We often approach confession as nothing more than a casual, “Sorry, God. I messed up. Please forgive me.”
We approach worship as a spectacle of entertainment involving moving lights, lasers, fog, seven-piece bands and a half-dozen vocalists.
We tend to worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.
Perhaps that’s why America seems to be so lost today.
Because we don’t see an actual penalty paid for our sin, as the Israelis did, I sense that we tend to adopt the same cavalier attitude toward our holy God as we do to the sin he despises.
Yes, the Bible tells us to approach God’s throne with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). However, we are also told in Philippians 2:12 to work out our salvation (deliverance from sin and its consequences) with fear and trembling.