Friday, February 7, 2014

Bulls, Rams, and Male Lambs

When you read through the Levitical sacrifices and the animals that God required His people to offer for sacrifice, you notice clearly one thing: almost all of them are male. There are certainly occasions when it doesn't seem to matter, or even where female sacrificial animals are included in the instructions, but these are always presented as an option, not a mandate. The mandates are the males.

At sanctifications and purifications, males. At holy festivals and appointed days, males. For burnt offerings and sin sacrifices, males. Bulls: males. Rams: males. And rather specifically, one-year-old male lambs.

For many years, as I read this sort of guidance from God, I thought it was just another one of those male vs. female things. In a male-dominated, man-centered society, blah blah blah.... For awhile, I thought it was more proof that men, as a species, are simply more pleasing to God than women. That, of course, would feed right into some of the things many of us have heard about women in God's kingdom, things that just don't stand up in the context of the rest of the Bible. But that's another story for another day. Today's story is that on the basis of this specific type of passage, I was prone to believe such a thing - that I would always be less pleasing to God because of my femaleness, that there was something special about maleness, and that there would always be this line because, hey, who can change such a thing?

As I re-read a section in Numbers this morning during my devotional time, a new thought struck me about all of this. One that changes the way I think about it. And it brings me more in line with the God I see revealed throughout Scripture who doesn't necessarily make such distinctions. From this understanding, I say with confidence that a sacrifice pleasing to God must ideally be male in nature.

And it all goes back to sex.

Nothing gross, I promise. But think about the way sex, in the creation of life, works. The woman bears the egg, the incubator of life. She has within her the ability to grow, to nurture, to cultivate new life. Her body is ripe for development. It is within her womb that something new begins. Of all the world, it is the woman who is prepared to receive life.

Giving God your ability to receive life is no sacrifice. That's quitting. It's giving up and giving in. It's turning your back on yourself and new possibilities. It is testifying against His creative, redemptive power and declaring yourself outside of His will, which is that you would continue to receive new life. That's why God doesn't want an ewe or a cow or a female lamb. If you give God your ability to receive new life, you preclude Him from ever pouring that very thing into you. What loving God wants that?

Not ours.

Which is why the maleness of the sacrifice is a key ingredient. It is the male who is designed to give life. It is he who plants the seed. It is he who transfers the raw material. The woman is ripe, but until the man gets to her, all her ripeness is futile. It is his seed that starts the process.

Giving God your ability to give life is an incredible sacrifice. It's a surrender. This vital thing, this one vital thing, you give to God in a demonstration of devotion. And that sacrifice says, "You, God, give life. You, Lord, create life. I do not. So I give to You a symbol of my ability to do so." It's also why God chose the male sacrifice - when you sin against God, it's really just a usurption of power or authority. In the male sacrifice, God demands you give some of that back.

It's also a recognition that all one has comes from God. Livestock was a big deal in those days, bigger than I think most of us in the 21st Century can understand. It defined a man's worth. It defined his position in society. To give God the male of your flock meant not only that you were, figuratively, giving Him your ability to give life, but that you were giving Him also the most vital part of your possession - the ability of your flock to reproduce. That was no small deal either. Ewes? Sure. They're a dime a dozen. Any ol' cow can get pregnant. But it takes a bull to make that happen. Otherwise, all you've got to show for yourself is a field of rotting cow patties. A bull, a ram, a male lamb - that was a true sacrifice. That one stings a little.

And I think this kind of thing carries over to our generation, even though most of us don't tend livestock any more and we certainly have no obligation to ritual sacrifice. It still speaks to what God wants from us. 

So many of us, when we sin against God, are ready to write ourselves off. We bow down and beg Him to turn His anger away from us..and while He's at it, the rest of us. We're not worthy. We don't belong here. We don't deserve His grace. We're ready to turn our backs on ourselves and long for God to do the same. But that's a female sacrifice. We're trying to give Him our ability to receive life - all for our sin - and that's not a pleasing sacrifice. 

What He wants instead is our surrender. He wants us to give up that part of ourselves that believes we can give life, that thinks we can solve our problems, that is convinced that maybe we can just "do better." He wants the part of us that plants the seed, that starts the process. He wants the part of us that thinks it's "got this" to realize otherwise and give it right back to Him.

He wants us to give Him our bull...  (Go ahead. Read it with double meaning. It's meant that way.)

That's a sacrifice. 

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