This week I was reading in Malachi, where God berates Israel for treating him with less honor and respect than it treats human governors by giving him flawed offerings. The text focuses heavily on the respect due to God by providing the quality of offerings required. But I kept hearing a subtext echoing:
“I am the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32: 27)
Israel’s problem with disrespect ran deeper than simply failing to give good offerings. Israel didn’t trust God to give her good herds. She was clinging to the best animals she had to protect her flocks instead of recognizing that they were gifts from God who could and would continue to bless her with the animals she needed.
Why would anyone hold onto the first perfect male sheep or goat or bull from their flock or herd and send a lame or blind or otherwise flawed animal to be offered instead?
I can think of three reasons:
1. As the text points out, Israel isn’t recognizing that God is worth whatever honor or recognition God requires. If God says to sacrifice your first-born child, as he did to Abram, then God is worth doing whatever God requires. If God is asking for the first unblemished male from your flock or herd, then God is worth it. A human ruler would receive that honor without question, out of sheer human terror about what that ruler might do if disobeyed. God should receive the same honor.
2. Israel sees the temple offering with only earthly eyes. “We’re just going to cook and eat the offering for the festival. Why cook the most useful part of our herd? Why not eat an animal that is useless?” This makes perfect sense to us. Unfortunately, God’s ways are above our ways and God’s thoughts are above our thoughts. We don’t get to tell God how to run God’s world. God gets to tell us how to run God’s world.
3. They don’t trust God to provide for them if they sacrifice the most valuable and useful part of their flock.
The third is very important to consider. The first unblemished male from any flock is the breeding male. This is the animal on which the farmer rests his or her hopes for the future of the herd. Giving up this animal to God is a big risk.
And yet Israel knows that God miraculously provided strong flocks for Jacob when he was in Laban’s service, miraculously multiplying strong streaked and speckled and spotted sheep to provide Jacob the better flock (Genesis 30). How can she not trust God to provide a strong flocks and herds, whatever breeding stock is available?
So it is with us. We like to hold on to what we consider our best, whether by our personal rules about saving and investing or our business rules about how our companies will run and who we will hire. It’s hard to take the risk of sending staff out for charitable service on the company dime or to dare give God the first $10 instead of whatever remains in the wallet at the end of the week.
What happens in your job or home? What have you risked? What happened?