This past week, we read a passage from Leviticus that said, “The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites and say to them: ‘This is what the LORD has commanded: Any Israelite who sacrifices an ox, 2 a lamb or a goat in the camp or outside of it instead of bringing it to the entrance to the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to the LORD in front of the tabernacle of the LORD— that person shall be considered guilty of bloodshed; they have shed blood and must be cut off from their people. This is so the Israelites will bring to the LORD the sacrifices they are now making in the open fields…. (Leviticus 17:1-7). On first reading, we may not see this as very significant. But, I think upon further reflection, it reveals something significant about who God is, and about those of us that worship him.
As we have read, God chose the Israelites to be his people, and made a covenant with them that he would work through them to bring about the redemption of the world. Along with this covenant, came the sanctification (setting-apart / making holy) of the people of Israel. God set Israel apart (made them holy) by the way of life that he commanded and instructed them to live. As we have encountered, this way of life included: where the Israelites should camp, how the camp should be arranged arranged around the tabernacle, who was to tend to the tabernacle, and how the resources of Israel were to be offered back to God in appreciation and worship of his care for them. As we reflect on these, a central focus stands out. All of these aspects of Israel’s way of life revolve around the presence of God in the midst of their camp.
Remember, Israel at this time, was a wandering community. They have not yet reached the Promised Land and were not yet settled. But, as they have developed as God’s people, God had given them some structure and order along their journey. When they started-out, they had not central hub. They had no central location of God’s presence. The cloud and pillar of fire were there, but constantly on the move. And, when it came to sacrifices, they were made on makeshift altars.
But now, with the tabernacle, there was a central hub and a central location for the presence of God to be found within the camp of Israel. The establishment of the tabernacle was a sign to Israel that God was in their midst; and that they had the privilege of abiding in his presence. So, when it came to shaping and molding the Israelites on how they were to offer sacrifices, it should not surprise us that they were instructed to offer sacrifices only in the tabernacle. One observation that we can take away from this scenario in the life of Israel is that it reflects the reality that God wanted his people to realize that they were to live in and out of his presence.
For those of us on this side of history and followers of Jesus, I think this same dynamic still applies. We may not offer sacrifices in a tabernacle, but we do still offer our lives to God and others as living sacrifices (see Rom. 12:1). Even the New Testament instructs us to remember that we live in and out of God’s presence — and not just in a church building or in a group of Christians, but everywhere we go (see Acts 17:27-28; Eph. 4:6). I think God’s instruction for the Israelites to offer sacrifices only at the tabernacle was part of shaping and molding them to realize that life is truly found in living in and out of God’s presence. And, those of us who are in Christ also have this privilege, because of what Jesus has done, that we now know that God’s presence is not just found in a religious building, but it is everywhere because of his Lordship and the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.
This week, as you reflect on the way of life that Israel had in their wanderings, I encourage you to reflect on the following. Where do you offer your life as a sacrifice? Do you see the activities of your everyday life as a living sacrifice that your are offering to God in his presence? If so, I hope your realize the great privilege we have of abiding in and out of his presence — anywhere and everywhere.