November 27, 2007

On the angry gods: Part 2

There was a longer break in between the last post and this post. Sorry. That's what happens when you have a four day weekend and a pile of work. Moving on to the next section.

When we last left Abraham, God had just asked him to sacrifice his son--the one he had been waiting years to have. But then God stopped Abraham just in time and provided a ram for the sacrifice. Rob pointed out that most people interpret this passage as a test for Abraham. God was testing Abraham's willingness to follow God and obey God. It's as though God was testing to make sure Abraham was worthy of being the father of His nation. Rob presents the idea that this view of the story is wrong. God was showing just the opposite of what many people would first think about this. God was showing Abraham (and the future generations who would hear this story or read this story) that He is not like the other gods--He doesn't ask us to do barbaric things like sacrifice our own children (or any human for that matter). What an amazing and freeing concept! To go from angry, distant gods who were never happy for long--to a God who spoke to you and desired a relationship. This is a God who provides (the ram).

This interpretation makes more sense when you keep in mind what the world was like when this story first occurred and when it was being told and re-told years later. I think Christians often forget that the Bible was taking place in the middle of the same history we learn about in school. This story was taking place during the time when people believed all those crazy gods actually existed. So try to imagine what others thought of Abraham and his story and compare it to what they most likely believed. Our interpretation of the story is tainted by our world and what we live in now--a time when we aren't expected to sacrifice our own family or possessions or careers because we live in a 'me first' world. How dare God ask Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son? But if we lived in a world where our gods demanded we sacrifice constantly for them and it was the common occurrence, then what would it be like to hear about a God who didn't demand constant and unreasonable sacrifice and always provided for the sacrifice we did make?

As anyone who has attempted to read the Old Testament has found, God gave the Jews a lot of laws. A lot of them. But even these laws were different because you knew exactly where you stood with God. You knew how much sacrifice to make and when to make them. If you followed these laws, you and God were on good terms. If you didn't follow them, well...just read what happened to the Israelites. Fun stuff.

Rob also pointed out that there were five sacrifices required of the Israelites and they each had a different purpose. I couldn't write as fast as he spoke, so I looked them up. In the first chapters of Leviticus we learn about the five types of sacrifices:

1. The Burnt Offering: The only sacrifice where the whole animal is burnt. The animal must be male and without defect. This sacrifice showed their devotion to God.
2. The Grain Offering: An unbloody sacrifice of grain, flour or cakes. Part was burnt and part was eaten by the priests.
3. The Fellowship Offering: A male or female herd animal was sacrificed. Part was burnt and part was eaten by the priests. This sacrifice showed fellowship or peace with God.
4. The Sin Offering:
A bull, goat, sheep, dove or flour could be offered. This sacrifice was made on special occasions such as the Day of Atonement. Part of the animals were burnt and part eaten by the priests. The Sin Offering signified a restoring of the covenant relationship with God.
5. The Guilt Offering:
A ram was sacrificed. Part was burnt and part eaten by priests. This sacrifice was offered for specific sins.

Sounds pretty involved, right? And that doesn't even go into all the detail. But remember that this way of life offered them something they never had before: A clear and consistent standard to live by so they knew exactly where they stood with God. No guessing games. And any parenting book will tell you that people crave discipline and structure and rules. They want to know what they have to do to earn the love and devotion of others, including God. They want a three-step process or 40 days to solve a problem. We love rules and regulations. We love to do things by ourselves (especially Americans love independence and not having to work in groups).

But then God did something even more radical and amazing and freeing: He moved on to phase 2 and sent His son, Jesus.

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