OT: Exodus 29:1-30:1
Wow. I didn't need the illustrated Bible today. I saw everything in my head like I was watching a movie! My only question was the sound. Was everyone silent during these consecration ceremonies? Or did Moses read aloud a part of the Law and then do it? Did people cheer at various times? Or was it reverent? I picture it reverent and silent. At least, that's how I felt while "watching" it.
As Moses dressed Aaron and his sons, I reflected on the importance of ceremony. In college, while I was studying Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, my professor pointed out how the play both starts and ends with a formal ceremony and how important ceremonies are to civilization. In the play, the ceremonies symbolize the civilization that exists before and after all hell breaks loose in the middle. God seems to understand the importance of ceremony to humans because He institutes some rather complex ones, such as this consecration ceremony. Today, we have the ceremonies of marriage and of baptism. It occurs to me that, strictly speaking, we don't need those things. People can be married without a ceremony, and the Bible makes clear that it is not the baptismal water that saves us. Similarly, God could ordain the priests without all that formality. But He knows how our minds work and how we need those outward symbols.
The ceremony took a rather gruesome turn with the slaughtering of the animals. I usually mentally gloss over the animal sacrifices, but today, I clearly pictured the whole bloody thing. In this solemn ceremony, all the people witnessed death in a way that I rarely do today. I buy my meat already dead from Bi-Lo, and there just aren't many animal deaths to witness in my neighborhood. But seeing an animal bleed to death was to become a normal sight to the Israelites. It was not just that,though. The animals were also dismembered, and their insides were removed and burned. Blood was liberally sprinkled in various places, including ON the priests. Ick. This was gruesome! I can see how witnessing this elaborate, bloody ceremony would really put the fear of God in people. When they see all that has to happen for a person or altar to be "consecrated," they would surely see how far above them God was. It is no easy task to commune with Him!
Speaking of which, I wonder if the priests every got tired of the daily bloodshed, the slaughtering of a lamb in the morning and in the evening. Their lives must have shown them just how heavy a burden sin is to a people. It took such effort, and such large amounts of death, just to remain in right standing with God.
NT: Matthew 26: 14-46
Speaking of bloodshed for sin, we are leading up to the ultimate bloodshed in the NT reading.
After reading all about the bloody atonement in the OT passage, I was struck by verses 27-28: "Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'" Our modern mindset may view the daily slaughter of animals as cruel, but it was not a command that God gave or took lightly. It was so important to Him, that He was willing to be slaughtered like an animal in order to provide atonement for us. That is simply amazing. It is beyond comprehension. What kind of God would die for His creation? That honestly makes no sense to me. Who could have made such a thing up?
Furthermore, even if someone did dream such a thing up, surely they would not have portrayed Jesus as the gospels portray Him. I picture a self-sacrificial God as stoic, as beyond emotion. But Jesus' sacrifice was not only fully divine, it was also fully human. When contemplating His own sacrifice, Jesus tells His disciples, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (38). And He twice prays for God to spare Him from the altar. Unlike an animal who has no idea what is about to hit him, Jesus knows exactly what is going to happen, and He knows that it is worse than any animal ever faced before God's altar. And yet, I would hardly say that His prayer constitutes begging for His life. If you want to see a beggar, check out David. When compared to some of the groveling he does in his psalms, Jesus' prayer is downright impassive. What an amazing act: a divine being willingly walking as a lamb to the slaughter. Seriously, it defies all comprehension.
It is crazy to me that this is the third installment of a single psalm. I looked back, and the first part was pretty emotionally neutral. The second part was wailed from the pit. And this part is fairly triumphant. All in one psalm! David is a complex guy. You can almost see his emotions and his logic battling it out, as his fear struggles against his faith. Thankfully, it seems to end with faith reigning victoriously. He tells God, "How great is your goodness," and he recounts some of God's past triumphs (19a, 21-22). After contemplating the faithfulness of God, he is able to conclude his thoughts with the lines, "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord" (24). Good job, David!:)
Prov. 8: 14-26
Wisdom continues her argument today. She is still using beautiful superlatives that make me crave her. Today, I was especially intrigued by the idea of Wisdom existing before the earth was formed. Wisdom boasts, "The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began" (22-23). While this picture is similar to the Johannine picture of the "Word," one major difference is that Wisdom is clearly described here as being created by God, while the Word was said to have always existed.