One of the most prominent words in the book of Leviticus – based on my word cloud I made and referenced in my last post – is “Offer.” The first 7 chapters are all devoted to descriptions of the various offerings (also called “sacrifices”). Chapters 1-5 recount the five offerings from the perspective of the offerers. Chapters 6-7 recount the same 5 offerings from the perspective of the priests. As I explained in a previous post, the first 3 offerings are all sweet smelling offerings made voluntarily and represent celebration, confirmation, and continuance of a positive relationship with God. Those first three sacrifices are: burnt offering (Lev. 1), grain offering (Lev. 2), and the well-being offering (Lev. 3). The next two sacrifices were not sweet smelling and served a different purpose. These last two sacrifices were for the purposes of purification and repairing. The purification (Lev. 4) and reparation (Lev. 5) offerings were made to restore a potentially lost relationship with God or neighbor.
Stop and think about it for a moment. This is what God tells Moses when he speaks to him from the tent of meeting (Lev. 1:1). This is the only time when God speaks to Moses from the tent while Moses is outside the tent. In all the other places God speaks from the Ark of the Covenant with Moses inside the tent, but behind the veil (Exod 25:22; 30:6, 36; Num 7:89; 17:19). This special occasion is prompted because the cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the YHWH filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of YHWH filled the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34-35 NRSV). Thus, these instructions about offerings are the very first thing God wanted Moses to tell the people now that the sanctuary was built and ready. These instructions come even before the ordination of Aaron and his sons (Lev. 8-9).
Our eyes tend to glaze over when reading about offerings, but this is extremely important given its timing and prominence. Sacrifices were a way to embody faith and participate in the drama of salvation. Sacrificing involved sights, smells, feelings, sounds, and even tastes (some offerings were consumed by the offerer and/or the Priest as a meal). Sacrifices are an important reminder that we must worship as embodied beings. Yes, we worship in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:24), but that doesn’t mean we worship without our body. We need worship practices and rituals that engage all of our senses. We don’t have to engage all of our senses all of the time, but we should engage all of them at some time or another. One area I think protestant churches are sub-par at across the board is the olfactory sense. We don’t use things like incense much in our worship. Our Catholic and Orthodox friends do though!
Another point is worth noting here also. There is NO mention of God’s anger in these verses. Any reading of these passages that talks about the sacrifices appeasing the wrath of God are not reading the passages. Period. NEVER does the reader get the sense that blood or offerings appease God’s wrath. Rather, atonement and sacrifice are for purification of God’s people and sanctuary so that relationship can continue. There are only a two brief mentions of stories in the Old Testament where blood sacrifices are made to avoid God’s wrath (1 Sam. 14:31-35; 2 Sam. 24:10-25), but far and away they are the exception and NOT the rule. God is not angry with you. He wants to have a relationship with you and thus He is willing to do anything and everything He can to remove all barriers to that relationship. That, of course, includes the sacrifice of His one and only son.
Again I present Paul’s words in Romans:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2 MSG)
Yahweh, I am so glad that you want to be in relationship with me. Who am I that you even know me? Give me worship practices that engage all of the senses you’ve given me. Please also forgive me for those times I have pictured you as some angry tyrant of a god. Fill my mind and heart with the images of your love for me. Flood my senses with your love. Amen.