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B'Midbar/Numbers 15:8 And when you shall prepare a son of the herd as a burnt offering or a sacrifice
Burnt offerings (see Vayikra 1:2) may be from the flock or the herd; 'flock' means sheep or goats, 'herd' meaning cattle. The previous few verses have been dealing with the accompanying grain and drink offerings for a ram, while this verse moves on to , a son of the herd, a young bull. In some instances the choice of which animal to offer is dictated either by the kind of offence, the wealth of the individual or the status of the offering. In other situations, the choice seems to rest more with the person concerned as to how the offering reflects or conveys what they wish to say toHaShem through the offering. For example, bringing a ram might suggest that the person is identifying themselves as one of the flock, a sheep approaching or looking up to the Shepherd. Conversely, bringing a bull - both a larger and heavier working animal - may suggest the idea of being a worker in G-d's kingdom; as oxen are often yoked in pairs, it might even signify an acknowledgement of being a co-worker with G-d. Sometimes, then, the type of offering that is selected may be intended to portray a particular attitude or message towards G-d, describing the perspective in which the person sees themselves and their relationship with G-d.
A number of the prophets spoke about Israel's attitude to the offerings as an indicator of their attitude and relationship to G-d. "'You also say, "My, how tiresome it is!" And you disdainfully sniff at it;' says the L-rd of hosts, 'and you bring what was taken by robbery, and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?' says the L-rd" (Malachi 1:13, NASB). The priests are being rebuked for their sin in bringing very much less that perfect animals as sacrifices in the Temple. "When you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?" (v.8 NASB). The Temple and the ritual service were falling into dishonour because the attitude behind the sacrifices was wrong. Instead of seeking out the best and bringing that to G-d, the people were sacrificing those animals that they did not want to keep for themselves, passing off the worst of their flocks for sacrifice and so indicating that the commitment to G-d was in the wrong state. "'Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you would not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,' says the L-rd of hosts, 'nor will I accept an offering from you'" (v.10, NASB). When the attitude is wrong, the whole sacrifice is wrong, the ritual does not 'work' and G-d cannot accept it.
The Hebrew word comes from the root , a very common verb which is most often translated as "to do, work or make". Here it has the sense of "to make ready, prepare or dress", as of a meal, a feast, a sacrifice (see Davidson and Brown-Driver-Briggs). It speaks of deliberate action to prepare something in advance, following a recipe or a procedure to bring something to the point of readiness, so that it can be sued, offered, eaten or given. Rav Sha'ul clearly has this in view when he writes to the Corinthians about an offering that they were going to make to support the community in Jerusalem: "So I thought it necessary to urge these brothers to go on ahead of me and prepare your promised gift in plenty of time; this way it will be ready when I come and will be a genuine gift, not something extracted by pressure" (2 Corinthians 9:5, CJB). Sha'ul doesn't want to turn up in Corinth and then have to start collecting the money the people had promised, because then people would feel under pressure to give and their attitude would be wrong so the process of giving would not work for them. Sha'ul continues: "Here's the point: he who plants sparingly also harvests sparingly. Each should give according to what he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for G-d loves a cheerful giver" (vv. 6-7, CJB). Whilst we do not give in order to receive, Sha'ul senses G-d's heart: the attitude to the offering is more important than the value of the offering, because it is the attitude of the heart that G-d is interested in rather than the money. G-d, who after all owns "the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psalm 50:10, NASB), can easily arrange for money to be where He knows it needs to be; but He chooses not to command our hearts or demand our offerings - they are to be offered willingly and generously so that they will be a pleasing sacrifice to G-d, a sweet smelling aroma before Him.
Yeshua spoke in exactly the same terms when He called people to follow Him: "If anyone wants to come after Me, let him say 'No' to himself, take up his execution-stake daily and keep following Me" (Luke 9:23, CJB). There is no compulsion here, no force-majeure to coerce us into reluctant or unwilling submission; this is a frank - for it does not hide the costs involved - invitation to join the Master on His travels, to enter the kingdom of G-d willingly, of our own free-will and so to experience true and open relationship with G-d. So Yeshua echoes the words of the Torah: if you want to bring a burnt offering or a sacrifice, then prepare it and come - "Follow Me!"
Further Study: Leviticus 22:17-25; 1 Corinthians 15:58
Application: How do you relate to offerings? Is your life an offering set apart and holy for G-d? Think about what sort of offering is appropriate to respond to what Yeshua has done for us and how you might prepare it for Him.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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