“It is not over your sacrifices that I reprove you; your offerings are before me continually. I will not take a bull from your house or from the folds of your goats. For all of the animals of the forest belong to me along with the beasts on a thousand mountains. I know all of the birds of the mountains and the things that move in the fields are mine. Were I hungry, would I not say that to you? The world and its fullness is mine.”
Oftentimes people will ask, “Why does God command blood sacrifices if in places like this (as well as in the prophets) God turns around and reproves the people for their sacrifices. Cannot God make up his mind? Of course, God’s mind is made up and it was made up before the eternities shifted into creation and began to be measured by time. What we find is a contrast between the way the offerings were being made and the way our God expects them to be made.
You see, the people were clearly obeying the letter of the law with regard to sacrifices, but their hearts were far from him. God is not interested in obedience unless that obedience is given with a heart of thanksgiving and praise. Indeed, there is sacrifice needed to come before God, for their is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). Yet, those sacrifices were not meant to simply be a matter of mechanical obedience; the obedience must stem from a desire to show gratitude to God for his deliverance and mercy to us.
And so God reminds us of one additional great truth. Those things that we give to God, whether it was the sacrifices of the Old Testament era or it is the tithes and offerings we bring into the church today, God already owns it all. Thus, it is truly not our “gift” to God, but only a sign of our gratitude for permitting us to have and enjoy some of His good things. I heard a preacher once say, “It is not what percentage of your wealth that you give God that is most important, it is what percentage of God’s wealth that you keep for yourself that indicates where your heart happens to be. There is great truth in this statement and the Psalmist will develop that idea further.
For us, it is important to grapple with our own service to the church. Often service can be confused with piety and people assume that because they are involved with event “x” or activity “y” that they are a “good Christian.” That is not true at all. Our works avail us nothing when it comes to satisfying God’s eternal demands. Works should flow out of a heart of gratitude, but they don’t always do so. In turn, we must be wary of our own motives to serve. Service acceptable to God is only that service which flows from a gratitude and submission to God’s Law through faith in Christ Jesus. We cannot generate that in ourselves; that must be generated in us by the work of the Holy Spirit. Will you pray for that sort of heart so that your offering of thanksgiving may truly be an offering of thanksgiving that is acceptable to God.
Okay Pastor Win, I am a little confused. You told me earlier that the Law of God had to be satisfied either by myself or another — and that I am unable to satisfy the Law. This, of course leaves the category of “other.” But isn’t that what the sacrifices in the Old Testament were meant to do? Didn’t the slaughter of goats and lambs and rams and birds satisfy the demands of the Law? Blood was shed on the altar. Doesn’t that solve our problem?
The answer, of course, is no. God will not punish an animal for your sins or mine. Think about it, if we could just slaughter a bunch of animals, we could live like pagans and just sacrifice a bunch of animals to “make it all better.” How is there justice in that? Further, how does the life of an unthinking and unreasoning animal truly stand in for the life of a human made in the image of God?
So, why all these sacrifices? The simple answer is that the sacrifices made at the altar in Jerusalem (or at the Tabernacle as it moved through the wilderness) were meant to foreshadow another sacrifice to come. These animal sacrifices had no power in and of themselves, but became powerful in the completed sacrifice of Jesus. The Heidelberg Catechism will move toward explaining what kind of substitute that we must have, but in question 14, it makes it quite clear that no creature can endure the weight of God’s wrath and redeem others from it. The sin of humans must be meted out on a human; animals cannot be a substitute. Further, the greatness of the animal sacrifices (oceans of blood were shed at these altars) anticipates the greatness of the sacrifice of the Son of God that must come).
“And the scribe said to him, ‘Very good, teacher, you speak truthfully that He is one and that there is not another besides him. And to love Him with the whole heart, with the whole understanding, with all strength, and to love a neighbor as ourselves is far greater than all of the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
It is obvious that the scribe is pleased with Jesus’ response, and this sets up an interesting dynamic, for Jesus will commend (at least on one level) the scribe as well. This makes for one of the more unusual interactions that Jesus has during this week. Prior to this question, Jesus has been bombarded by challenges to his authority and traps to try and trick him into siding with this group or that. Here, as we discussed above, is at least an underlying question again as to who Jesus will side with in his interpretation of the law. Some have made the suggestion that this comment by the scribe is rather insincere, but that seems rather odd given the context of Jesus’ statement in response. So how are we to understand this dialogue and how are we going to understand the variation between what Jesus taught immediately before and how this scribe paraphrases his statement?
To begin with, we see the scribe giving the briefest summary of the Shema. Jesus has quoted it verbatim and the scribe is giving his own interpretation of what Jesus said, tying in Deuteronomy 4:35 to support his answer. This was a common rhetorical technique amongst the Jewish Rabbis. Theology was done in the form of dialogue, so one might begin with a question, and the discussion that ensued would be in the form of more questions, answers, and interpretations in the hopes of arriving at a better understanding of the question at hand. We should not see the Scribe as being incompetent and unable to quote the Shema back to Jesus, but that he is interpreting Jesus’ statement in the context of the discussion. With this in mind, it sets the stage for the second part of the scribe’s statement. The scribe misses the language of yuch/ (psuche), or life, altogether and he replaces Jesus’ language of dia/noia (dianoia), or understanding, with the language of su/nesiß (sunesis), or intelligence. In addition, the scribe ties in passages like Hosea 6:6 and 1 Samuel 15:22, to speak of our loving obedience to God is far better than the ritual sacrifices of the temple. Again, what we find is that the scribe is responding to Jesus’ statement by offering an interpretation of it, and Jesus will respond favorably.
One of the major issues that Jesus battled with during his earthly ministry was the issue of people missing the intent behind the law in their pursuit of the letter of the law. The Pharisees, especially, were guilty of this. In their zeal for obedience, they had allowed the law to be understood in a legalistic way and had become blinded to the truth behind what God was commanding. God demands love and obedience from his people in every aspect and area of their lives. As Abraham Kuyper commented, “There is not an inch of this whole life that Jesus, as Lord of creation, does not put his finger on and declare, ‘Mine!’” And in the case of this scribe, it seems that he got it. He understood the intent of the law and demonstrated that understanding by the way he tied in other passages of scripture that spoke of similar things. So, beloved, what should we be reminded of from our scribe’s answer? We should be reminded that in all that we do, in whatever capacity that we serve the church, we are to be wholly committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. This commitment must never take the form of a list of “dos” and “don’ts” apart from what scripture commands to be a “do” or a “don’t,” but instead, we are to pursue God and his righteousness in service to our fellow man. This is our calling, to share the gospel with all and to make disciples by baptizing and teaching people to obey all that Jesus taught. Beloved, what a task we have before us; pray that the Holy Spirit will bless that task and empower it in such a way that God is glorified in all we do.