The Day of Atonement

Reflections based on Leviticus 16:1–34.

For 364 days of the year, the priests were not allowed in the Most Holy Place within the Tabernacle – and last week we saw how God’s holy fire could simply consume people. During the Day of Atonement, however, the priests were instructed to go in to make atonement for the sins of the nation as a whole. As we can see at the start of this passage, Moses had been warned after the death of Aaron’s sons that the priests were not allowed to enter the Most Holy Place whenever they wanted. This means that on the Day of Atonement the priest (here Aaron) had to go through elaborate preparations before he could enter past the final curtain placed in front of the atonement cover on the Ark. The Hebrew word kaphar means ‘to cover over’ and was used to describe the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. The word can also be translated as ‘atonement’. This Day of Atonement was a day of great celebration, and yet it only covered over Israel’s sins. Only Jesus’ sacrifice would allow for the removal of sins so, until that day, the people needed the priests to cover their sins in this way. 

It is interesting to note that there are two goats here – one sacrificed and another sent out into the desert as a scapegoat. This is really significant, as it shows God was not only forgiving their sins through the sacrifice, but was removing them from sight thereby taking away both their guilt and shame. What a great picture of what Jesus does for us! It seems only fitting that God instructed the people to celebrate the Day of Atonement as a day of rest, in order to mark it as special.

Prayer: God, You not only made a way to cover over Your chosen nation’s sins until Your Son’s appointed time on earth, but You also dealt with our guilt and shame. Thank You Lord. Amen.

Instructions on offerings

Reflections based on Leviticus 1:1–17.

In the latter part of Exodus, God continues to give instructions to the Israelites on what is necessary for Him to dwell with them. In an amazing act of humility, He tells them that He will come and dwell with them in the Tabernacle that He instructs them to erect in the campsite. One of the Hebrew words used in Exodus to describe the Tabernacle tent is miqdash, which means holy place. God also instructs them to set apart priests to work in the Tabernacle. Leviticus starts with God speaking to Moses from the Tabernacle about the types of offerings the people should give. The whole of Leviticus is centred around God’s holiness – the very word holiness is mentioned more times than anywhere else in the Bible (152 times)! 

To our modern eyes, Leviticus seems like a blood-filled, strange book. But just think – God had taken up permanent residency with the Israelites so they needed to continue to consecrate themselves. If they wanted to continue to enjoy His favour and presence then, as we see in this first chapter, blood had to be shed. As God said to them in Leviticus 11:44, ‘consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.’ In order to approach their holy God, the people’s sin had to be atoned for. This first chapter of Leviticus talks about the burnt offering, while the subsequent few chapters cover the other four types of offerings. In each one it is the perfection of the sacrifice that was so important – and by laying hands on the sacrifice the priest was transferring peoples’ guilt to it. This all points towards the final sacrifice that was to come: Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Prayer: Loving God, just as blood sacrifice was a way of atoning for the Israelites’ sins thank You that Your Son provided a way for us to be saved. Help me never to take that for granted. Amen. 

Costly worship

worship-hands

Reflections based on Genesis 22:1–18.

‘Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son,
your only son.’

Imagine what is going on between the lines here for a moment. At the start of this passage we are told that God asks Abraham to take his son and sacrifice him on an altar. In the very next verse we are told Abraham set off the following morning, early, to do just that.

I am curious about what must have been going through his head during the night, but what an incredible act of obedience to get up and prepare to do what God has told him to! He doesn’t know that God is going to step in and provide a different object for the offering – even if he does say in faith when Isaac asks him where the lamb is that God would provide (oh how deeply that question must have cut him).

And how must Isaac have felt when his father then bound him to the altar!? He must have thought he was crazy! And yet he then sees how God steps in in his sovereignty and listens as God makes a promise about Abraham’s descendants. Of course, this episode also gives us a beautiful picture of how God would, in the future, give up his own son to death. While he stepped in and saved Isaac from the altar he had to allow his own son to suffer in order to save humankind.

We may never be asked to pay such a high price as Abraham, or indeed be tested as much as he was, but, when we hear God’s clear direction, it is an act of worship to be obedient – whatever the cost. Interestingly, in 2 Samuel 24:24 David says, ‘I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing’. In a way, worship needs a cost – as it then reveals how much God means to us.

Question: When was the last time that you offered God something that cost you greatly in terms of personal sacrifice?

Suffragette – and sacrifice

SUFFRAGETTEOfficialUKPosterI was so excited to see the new film Suffragette last night. It was everything I was hoping it would be – challenging, inspiring, uncomfortable in (lots of) places, beautifully shot, well acted. When I take the time to ponder what those women went through I still can’t quite believe that it was such a relatively short time ago. Our generation of women owe a huge debt of gratitude to the women of that era who refused to be silenced. (But yes I do acknowledge there is still much to be done…)

I have to say, I’m not sure that I would have condoned the violent methods that were employed by the WSPU. But watching the film last night, having the bits of history literally brought to life in front of me, did make me think again. How would I have felt if I had been led to believe that there were men in government that supported votes for women, who spent time listening to women’s testimonies, only to be told in a quick announcement that nothing was changing? As Meryl Streep said in her speech as Emmeline Pankhurst, for fifty years they had tried peaceful methods. How much pent-up frustration must there have been amongst the crowd of women at that point?

suffragette film pic

I know, if I’m truly honest, how frustrated I get if my voice isn’t heard. So while I can’t say I agree with all I saw and have read about their methods, and it’s a shame the film didn’t include the more peaceful ways the suffragists, for example, protested, I don’t feel that I can sit in judgement. I can’t get the thought of the women being expected to simply accept the decision out of my mind, and the way the police dispersed the crowd using violence – and even physical abuse (ripping clothes and groping).

The film’s action is propelled by the story of a young mother, Maud. It is hugely emotive at times – she seems to be pushed into becoming a suffragette by others and I found myself finding that rather uncomfortable. But, trying not to give too much away, she gets to a point where standing up for the rights of women could cost her everything – including her family. I was really challenged by that. Is there a cause that I’m that passionate about?

Then I thought to myself: what would I do if there comes a point in my life when following Jesus could cost me my family? It’s such a painful thing to consider – and yet the Bible talks about us losing our lives for Jesus (Matthew 10:39), and there are many around the world doing just that right now.

What I was reading as part of my daily devotion today, Rachel Gardner’s wonderful book Beloved, has a line that really jumped out at me: ‘Nothing life can offer, including life itself, can compare to knowing Jesus’. Wow. I know I know that, but just reading it afresh made that truth hit me again. Wow.

Watching Suffragette made me truly grateful for those who stood up for what they believed in, and also made me question whether I ever do the same. But this morning I’ve been challenged once again to consider how much I am willing to give up for Jesus…

Giving it all… whatever the consequences?

It was only a few years ago that I fought against my husband’s calling. I didn’t want to become a pastor’s wife and, at the time, wrapped up in my own depression and sin, I didn’t love the people he felt called to. I certainly didn’t want to be involved at all…

But then God did a deep work in me, and made me view the church as He does – full of wonderful, complicated, imperfect individuals who are each on their own journey with Him. I began to love with His love and count it a real privilege to be serving among them.

Today I realised that I was beginning to lose some of that viewpoint. As I struggled with frustration and annoyance it suddenly dawned on me that I was getting upset because of things that were having an impact on me – on my time, on my pocket and on my emotions. But if, as the song I’m listening to says, I’ve ‘given it all to Him’ then those things aren’t my own anymore are they? So, however what I am doing is received, whether my efforts are appreciated, my time and point of view respected, shouldn’t matter. I should be continuing to give my all because it isn’t about the consequences, it’s about offering myself as a sacrifice daily to my God and King. And if part of that is pouring myself out for those in His church, then so be it.