God Doesn’t Need Help

“O my people, listen as I speak.
Here are my charges against you, O Israel:
I am God, your God!
I have no complaint about your sacrifices
or the burnt offerings you constantly offer.
But I do not need the bulls from your barns
or the goats from your pens.
For all the animals of the forest are mine,
and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird on the mountains,
and all the animals of the field are mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for all the world is mine and everything in it.
Do I eat the meat of bulls?
Do I drink the blood of goats?
Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,
and keep the vows you made to the Most High.
Then call on me when you are in trouble,
and I will rescue you,
and you will give me glory.” (Psalm 50:7-15)

God doesn’t need us to take care of him. He is not a king dependent upon his subjects to pay their taxes. He is not like the gods of the other nations. In the Babylonian telling of the Great Flood, the lone survivor finally built an alter and sacrificed some animals on it. The narrator of the Babylonian story tells us that the gods swarmed the sacrifice “like flies.” Why? Because they were starving from the lack of sacrifices caused by their foolish choice to send the flood.

But the God of Israel, Yahweh, was not like those gods—the gods that the Israelites kept worshiping. God didn’t need them or their sacrifices. They had missed the whole point of worshiping God. Sacrifice was intended to reflect the relationship between God and the worshipper. Sacrifice was a symbol of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. What was important for the Israelites was not to perform rituals, but instead to live an upright life: to love God and to love their brothers and sisters. True worship was not in the spilled blood of slaughtered animals, but in helping the poor and downtrodden—and in giving thanks to God. God helps us because he loves us, not because we said the magic words or performed the magic rituals.

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Giving God the Best

The LORD told Moses to tell Aaron and his sons and everyone else the rules for offering sacrifices. He said:

The animals that are to be completely burned on the altar must have nothing wrong with them, or else I won’t accept them. Bulls or rams or goats are the animals to be used for these sacrifices.

When you offer a sacrifice to ask my blessing, there must be nothing wrong with the animal. This is true, whether the sacrifice is part of a promise or something you do voluntarily. Don’t offer an animal that is blind or injured or that has an infection or a skin disease. If one of your cattle or lambs has a leg that is longer or shorter than the others, you may offer it voluntarily, but not as part of a promise. As long as you live in this land, don’t offer an animal with injured testicles. And don’t bring me animals you bought from a foreigner. I won’t accept them, because they are no better than one that has something wrong with it. (Leviticus 22:17-25)

God does not run a thrift store. Those who give castoff clothing and other used items to the church do so because though they no longer wish to use the discarded items themselves, they believe that they could still be used by someone. However, God wanted his people to give up prized possessions when they gave him their stuff. In ancient Israel practically everyone was a farmer. Their animals were their wealth. Imagine setting your money aflame on an alter and you’ll have a good sense of what the animal sacrifices meant to the Israelites. Giving God the broken or damaged animals, the items that were otherwise unusable, would have been a natural temptation. After all, God was not obviously visible, not obviously there. Perhaps he was a long ways off. What would it matter what sort of thing was burned on the altar? Wasn’t it all symbolic anyhow? But that was precisely it: what mattered to God was the intent of the individual, the depth of his sacrifice, the meaning behind the offering.

Giving the best animals, the perfect animals, the most valuable animals, demonstrated a commitment to God. Why male animals? Because a single male could impregnate many females; the male represented future wealth. Farmers normally had many female animals, but only a handful of males: one bull, many cows, one ram, many sheep, one rooster, many hens.

God expects the best from us. Our sacrifices should cost us something.

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Don’t Waste Your Time

For a voice of wailing is heard from Zion:
‘How we are plundered!
We are greatly ashamed,
Because we have forsaken the land,
Because we have been cast out of our dwellings.’ ”
Yet hear the word of the LORD, O women,
And let your ear receive the word of His mouth;
Teach your daughters wailing,
And everyone her neighbor a lamentation.
For death has come through our windows,
Has entered our palaces,
To kill off the children— no longer to be outside!
And the young men— no longer on the streets!
Speak, “Thus says the LORD:
‘Even the carcasses of men shall fall as refuse on the open field,
Like cuttings after the harvester,
And no one shall gather them.’ ”
Thus says the LORD:
“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:19-24)

Life is more than our stuff. It is more than who we know, how talented we are, or how strong we are. Life consists in knowing God: knowing that he is strong, talented, knows everything, and owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Our treasure is in him, not in ourselves.
The Israelites had focused their attention on themselves and their needs. They forgot that God knew their needs better than they did. They stressed over their circumstances and tried to fix them on their own. They abandoned God and turned to the lies they thought would protect them. They lost everything because they misplaced life’s source.

God warned them they would need the services of professional mourners because what they would soon face from Babylon was so horrific. In ancient Israel, as in many ancient cultures, it was not uncommon to hire people to cry over a dead loved one at a funeral, much for the same reason so many television sit-coms have studio audiences.

Why is it, when tomorrow has an infinite number of possibilities ranging from horrible to wonderful, do we invest so much time and energy worrying about it? God has only given us today, after all. When tomorrow comes and if bad stuff happens, we’ll need our emotion and energy to live through that then. Why use what we’ll need tomorrow, now, when we’ll need it then?

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Shared Pain

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.”
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?
O that my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of my poor people!
O that I had in the desert
a traveler’s lodging place,
that I might leave my people
and go away from them!
For they are all adulterers,
a band of traitors.
They bend their tongues like bows;
they have grown strong in the land for falsehood, and not for truth;
for they proceed from evil to evil,
and they do not know me, says the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:20-9:3)

Our pain is God’s pain. God expresses his suffering over the suffering of his people. Their wounds are self-inflicted, they have turned their backs on God and gone off their own way. They have been unfaithful to him—committed adultery—by worshipping other gods than Yahweh. They have believed lies rather than the truth and as a consequence, they no longer know God: they believe lies about him, have false notions about his intentions, believe the worst about him in order to justify for themselves the poor choices they have made. Like a husband watching his wife spiral down into addiction, leaving him for abusive relationships and suffering privation and misery, so God is miserable, not just because of the loss of affection, but because he still loves his estranged wife and hopes to rescue her from herself.

But he also knows that the time has not yet come. Israel must suffer for a long time, must endure significant pain, must hit rock bottom, before she will be ready to hear God’s voice again and accept his help, his rescue, and be willing to restore the shattered relationship.

In the meantime, God will cry over his people. Gilead, the hill of testimony and the region around it, was noted for its spices, oils and aromatic gums. The question regarding balm in Gilead was rhetorical, akin to asking someone in a swimming pool if they’re wet enough yet. The solution for Israel’s suffering was obvious to God. Their pain was entirely unnecessary. They already knew what God expected and it was so easy.

God’s discipline is not only unpleasant for us, it is also unpleasant for God.

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You assessed your defenses that Day, inspected your arsenal of weapons in the Forest Armory. You found the weak places in the city walls that needed repair. You secured the water supply at the Lower Pool. You took an inventory of the houses in Jerusalem and tore down some to get bricks to fortify the city wall. You built a large cistern to ensure plenty of water.

You looked and looked and looked, but you never looked to him who gave you this city, never once consulted the One who has long had plans for this city.

The Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
called out on that Day,
Called for a day of repentant tears,
called you to dress in somber clothes of mourning.
But what do you do? You throw a party!
Eating and drinking and dancing in the streets!
You barbecue bulls and sheep, and throw a huge feast—
slabs of meat, kegs of beer.
“Seize the day! Eat and drink!
Tomorrow we die!”

God-of-the-Angel-Armies whispered to me his verdict on this frivolity: “You’ll pay for this outrage until the day you die.” The Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, says so. (Isaiah 22:8-14)

You never save money by skipping the oil changes. When God gave this message to the prophet Isaiah, it was still a hundred years or so in the future before the Babylonians would burn Jerusalem down and destroy the sacred temple. God outlined the preparations that had been made for the sieges: the rebuilding of the walls and the water tunnel by King Hezekiah. Despite all those physical preparations, however, no spiritual preparation had been made at all. Instead of mourning over their sins, feeling the pain that they had caused God, feeling regret for how they had turned to idols and oppressed the powerless—the widows and orphans and poor—the people went on as before, worshiping the false gods and reveling in celebrations of their pagan worship, spending their time partying and enjoying themselves instead of repenting instead of fixing the real problems which had absolutely nothing to do with walls or water systems.

God pointed out that the consequences for their behavior, for their attitudes, was dire: rather than the forgiveness they might have enjoyed, they would suffer in the years of siege against Jerusalem and ultimately they would die. God had plans for his people: he intended to fix them. Sadly, the repairs would be both expensive and painful. When the water pump is busted and the tires are flat, if we expect to get home we’re going to have to pay for the tow truck. Thankfully, God realized we were flat broke and paid for it all himself.

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Missed Opportunity

In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.’ ”

Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the LORD, saying, “Remember now, O LORD, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David.” ’ ”

Then Isaiah said, “Take a lump of figs.” So they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered. (2 Kings 20:1-7)

God’s open to hearing you out. Hezekiah was considered one of the righteous kings of Judah. That didn’t keep him from becoming deathly ill. When Isaiah visited him, he gave the king bad news from God: “You’re going to die.”

That was not what Hezekiah wanted to hear, so he prayed. God answered his prayer favorably, granting him fifteen more years of life.

The lump of figs placed on the boil were a symbol for Hezekiah that God would act: an illustration. Lumps of figs do not inherently have healing properties that somehow Hezekiah’s physicians had missed until then.

Had God lied to Hezekiah when he first told him he would die? Had Hezekiah’s eloquence in his prayer changed God’s mind? Neither. Hezekiah had mistakenly assumed God meant he would die from his illness. In response to Hezekiah’s prayer, God told him he would still die. But God added a new detail: not just yet.

His son, Manasseh was twelve when Hezekiah finally died fifteen years later. Hezekiah could have trained him well in the years he had with him. Instead, Manasseh was the most evil king Judah would ever have. Hezekiah failed to take the opportunity God gave him. It’s easy to miss the opportunities that could have been ours.

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Opening Day

The LORD said to Moses:

Set up my tent on the first day of the year and put the chest with the Ten Commandments behind the inside curtain of the tent. Bring in the table and set on it those things that are made for it. Also bring in the lampstand and attach the lamps to it. Then place the gold altar of incense in front of the sacred chest and hang a curtain at the entrance to the tent. Set the altar for burning sacrifices in front of the entrance to my tent. Put the large bronze bowl between the tent and the altar and fill the bowl with water. Surround the tent and the altar with the wall of curtains and hang the curtain that was made for the entrance.

Use the sacred olive oil to dedicate the tent and everything in it to me. Do the same thing with the altar for offering sacrifices and its equipment and with the bowl and its stand. Bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent and have them wash themselves. Dress Aaron in the priestly clothes, then use the sacred olive oil to ordain him and dedicate him to me as my priest. Put the priestly robes on Aaron’s sons and ordain them in the same way, so they and their descendants will always be my priests.

Moses followed the LORD’s instructions. (Exodus 40:1-16)

Worship is more than ritual. Until the tabernacle was built, until the clothing had been made for Aaron and his sons, until the altar and ark, and the lamp stands had been made, until the oil had been pressed and mixed with just the right spices, the Israelites had not performed sacrifices or conducted formalized rituals associated with worshiping God. Centuries later, Jesus would tell a Samaritan woman that one day people would no longer worship God in a temple at all, but rather in spirit and in truth.

The tabernacle and its rituals were not the essence of worshiping God. They were simply an outward expression of what had been, would, and would continue to be the inner reality in people’s relationship with God. Worshiping God was always performed in spirit and in truth, not by means of the outward rituals. Those rituals were supposed portray the attitudes in people’s minds. Robes, spices, and sacrifice were designed to serve as illustrations of a relationship that already existed.

Real worship happens when people love God and love the people around them. Real worship is shown by acts of kindness. The outward show can never take the place of a life lived with God.

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Blue Origin Suborbital

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.

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You Need a Break

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

“‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.’ ”

When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God. (Exodus 31:12-18)

All work and no play doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy, it can make him sick and unproductive. In college, we might brag about how we pulled “all nighters.” But God isn’t so impressed. Instead, he thinks that we should take some time off on a regular basis, one day a week, every week. Even God took a day off after he created the world. Are we better than God?

Besides, we need the time off just for our own health and happiness. Working all the time isn’t good for us and frankly, it ultimately it reduces our productivity. And an hour off here or there doesn’t cut it. For the ancient Israelites, they were expected to take a whole day just to do nothing with it. They didn’t spend their day off mowing the grass, cleaning the garage, or building a shed. Instead, they were required to just do nothing: to goof off, to be lazy, to sleep and eat and play. Not only did the Israelites not get to work, they couldn’t make anyone else work for them: no slaves could work, not even their animals could work. No cooking, either: they weren’t allowed to start a fire; they had to eat whatever they already had at hand. God was serious about the resting thing. And as Jesus would later point out, it was designed, just like any of the laws God made, for our good. So take some time off. The world won’t end because you goofed off one day this week.

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Celebrate Good Times

“Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day. This festival will be a permanent law for you; celebrate this day from generation to generation. The bread you eat must be made without yeast from the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month until the evening of the twenty-first day of that month. During those seven days, there must be no trace of yeast in your homes. Anyone who eats anything made with yeast during this week will be cut off from the community of Israel. These regulations apply both to the foreigners living among you and to the native-born Israelites. During those days you must not eat anything made with yeast. Wherever you live, eat only bread made without yeast.” (Exodus 12:17-20)

God is not a dour killjoy. He is not afraid that somewhere, somehow, someone is having a good time and he needs to stop it. Instead, God is all about joy. He wanted his people to happily remember what God had done for them by rescuing them from Egyptian bondage. Their rescue from Egypt was a good reason to celebrate, much as Americans celebrate Independence Day or enjoy the holiday of Thanksgiving. God wanted the Israelites to set aside not just for an hour, or a day, but for a whole week. Their fun was not to be cut short.

Why no yeast at this annual party? Unlike the modern world, where we can make or get food quickly, in ancient times, making food was a slow process. There was no fast food restaurant just around the corner. There wasn’t even any quick rising yeast for their bread machines. And so they didn’t have time to make bread the right way. Rushed to cook plain dough, they ended up with crackers—matzo—instead. To remind them of that rushed night before their deliverance, during their seven day festival they were not allowed to have normal bread, only matzo.

Given that the Israelites enjoyed their celebrations, we should never imagine that we are somehow less Godly, or less connected to God, or less holy because we happen to be having a good time with our friends and family. It’s spiritual to have fun.

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