My Bible reading in the last week has brought me back through the Exodus and into Leviticus. These books are filled with the story of an omnipotent God establishing His singular status among a people He had claimed as His own generations before, but who were stubbornly clinging to the idols of this world.
Even after He parted the Red Sea for them and then closed it over their enemies, the Egyptians, even after He led them through the desert, feeding them and giving them water when they cried out for it, the Jews continued to mess up. While Moses stayed 40 days on the mountain speaking with the one and only God, his compatriots created a golden calf to worship!
We humans are a stupid lot, unworthy of the grace and patience and mercy that God continues to show us. But, unless you have brazenly broken a commandment of late, when was the last time you really took a long moment to feel the depth, and height, and breadth of your need for God’s forgiveness?
Reading the graphic descriptions instructing the Jews on how to perform their sacrifices that Exodus portrays, I realized a benefit to reading the Old Testament that I had not exactly thought about before. If you put yourself in the shoes of a “pre-Christ” Jew, you begin to understand with even further depth just what His sacrifice on the Cross signified.
I’m a city girl, despite the very country roots of my ancestry. Truth be told, if I had to kill my own meat, I would be a vegetarian (which makes me a hopeless hypocrite, but that is beside the point). The Jews were nomads who relied on their ability to farm and herd to survive. Slaughtering an animal was a regular thing.
But, how regular would it be to take the very best of your flock, carefully kill it, dismember it, and watch it burn, realizing that you had just watched a month’s worth of eating rise in smoke rings to the sky because of your own sin? Here was a real choice between the Spirit and the flesh. The only way to right the individual’s relationship with God was to follow His instructions for sacrifice, to watch the very bread from your table, and the very best bread at that, go behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies, where only a select few could ever go. Then, and only then, would you be right with God again–until the next time you sinned.
Believing in your need to sacrifice was believing in your own failings, and that meant, in part, knowing the awesome wrath of the God who made you. Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God remember and forget, in a sort of bell curve of cycles that truly depicts the stubborn and stupid nature of the human race. At one point, they even lose the Word of God altogether, gathering to have it read to them in rejoicing wonder when it is discovered again.
It is easy to look back and criticize. How can you be so stupid, you rail at the Jews as they wander in the desert for 40 years, victims of their own folly. Did you not see God in the fire and the cloud? Did you not experience the plagues that rescued you from Egypt? Do you not remember Sodom and Gomorrah?
The answer is, of course, that we are all of us stupid on a regular basis. And with Christ’s message of love, it is easy to put aside the potential of God’s wrath.
But, God’s wrath does play a very important role in our relationship with Him. How Christ took that cup of wrath upon Himself for us is a thought for another day. Though, have no doubt, His taking on of that cup of wrath is the most important thing of all.