On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, but offer a food offering, a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls from the herd, one ram, and seven male lambs a year old; see that they are without blemish; also their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil; three tenths of an ephah shall you offer for a bull, and two tenths for a ram; a tenth shall you offer for each of the seven lambs; also one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you. You shall offer these besides the burnt offering of the morning, which is for a regular burnt offering. In the same way you shall offer daily, for seven days, the food of a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. It shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. Numbers 28.18-24.
Not exactly an exciting passage, is it? … one of those random scriptures that made me want to shut down my E-Sword program and have another go. But then, in my mind’s eye, I went through this passage with a yellow highlighter painting over the words “offer” and “offering”. Fourteen highlighted words. And I’ve been asking myself, “Why is God so interested in having offerings? After all, he is God and he has everything anyway, yet he is always asking these Israelites (who don’t have very much to begin with) to give him more.”
Immediately, I had the answer. I recalled David’s prayer after all the gifts had come flooding in for the building of the temple: “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chronicles 29.11-14).
I see that (leaving aside the functional and ceremonial aspect of each offering) God set up a 24/7 through-the-year schema of offerings (to say nothing of the schema of tithes) simply so that his people would never for one moment forget that everything they had and enjoyed was a gift to them from him. Every time they had to suffer the loss of another lamb from their flock, the “hurt” was to remind them that the flock wasn’t theirs anyway: it was God’s. Offerings were to be his people’s recognition of his generosity towards them and their dependence upon him. They were to underline the grace upon which God’s relationship with them was based. Without the offering, a person begins to think, “I’ve earned this … worked hard for it. It’s mine. What’s God got to do with it?” With the offering, the person thinks (or is meant to think), “God enabled me to earn this. He has given me my health, my strength, my skills and talents. He has provided me with the opportunities, been behind each lambing, each hiring, each contract, each engagement, each sale. Thank you, Lord.”
As a Christian, I am not under brought under either the offering regime or the tithing regime imposed by Jewish law, but I do nevertheless need to remind myself constantly of this great truth — that everything I have has come to me from God and all of it belongs to him. Even my very life is his … “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6.19-20). And that is why I need to give and keep on giving. It is to be a joy and privilege to me to “offer willingly” (as David put it) of my money and time and talents. Paul puts it in a nutshell when he tells the Corinthians how to approach his appeal for money to take to the Christians in poverty in Judea: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9.7).
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love;
take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King;
take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold;
take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine:
take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love; my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure Store:
take myself, and I will be ever, only, all, for Thee.
Frances Ridley Havergal (1836 79)