Thursday, April 26, 2018

Holy Strangeness

When we first looked at this story a couple of days ago, we said that our God is a strange God. And this strangeness of God goes far beyond the fact that He actually heard and responded to an offering of hemorrhoids. 

It extends even to what He apparently expected of them.

To understand what's going on here, we have to look at what happens when the Ark of the Covenant, which carried the strange offerings, arrives back in the land of the Israelites. It comes to this little town on the outskirts of God's people, and they, of course, rejoice. Then, they opened the Ark. 

They probably opened the Ark to make sure that the things that were supposed to be inside of it were still inside of it and to make sure that nothing inside of it had been damaged. After all, they had already lost one set of tablets that the Lord had written on; it would be no good at all if the second set were stolen or broken in captivity. So they open the sacred box and discover that all is well, but they also find inside the gifts of the Philistines - five golden hemorrhoids and five golden rats. They pull out the molten gold offerings and place them on a rock as part of their celebration and sacrifice.

And then God smote them all.

He smote them because they had looked in the Ark at all, even with noble purposes, for the Ark was holy and off-limits to them. Remember that at one point in Israel's story, a man charged with actually carrying the Ark reached out his hand to steady it when it hits a rough patch and starts to turn, and he, too, is smitten by the Lord. Rule number one in Israel, in terms of faithfulness, is: you don't touch the Ark. For any reason.

These men had touched it, so they died. Right there.

This raises two interesting questions. First, why had God not smote the Philistines for opening the Ark? They would have had to open the sacred box to put their strange offerings inside, but we don't hear about them having been smitten; we hear about them having been healed.

Quite simply, the Philistines were not under the same law as Israel. The sacred box, though it was holy, was not holy for them. They, being outsiders, made holy their offerings by placing them inside. Insiders would have contaminated the holiness by letting it out. It's the mystery of God that resides within that is part of what is holy for Israel.

The second question is perhaps even more interesting, however. What if the people of Israel had followed the rules of their own faith and not opened the Ark? They would not have found the strange offerings, which means they would not have had an opportunity to pull them out. And this means that the strange offerings would have dwelt permanently in the Ark, along with the two tablets of stone, the jar of manna, and Aaron's blossoming staff. How incredibly weird to think that the most sacred element of all Israel's worship would forever contain five gold hemorrhoids!

And apparently, that would have been the way that God wanted it. Which makes this God of ours incredibly strange.

Here's what happened: when the foreigners placed their offerings in the Ark, they became holy. They don't become unholy just because they are removed; once holy, always holy. And what a powerful testimony it becomes to all Israel, to all the world, if the offerings of a people who are not the Lord's have become holy because they have offered them to Him. What a testimony that the Philistines, long-time enemies of Israel, had this moment where they recognized the power and holiness of their Lord, enough to offer Him gifts, even strange ones.

What a testimony to the amazing strangeness and wonderful goodness of this Lord that He somehow made even hemorrhoids holy.

Again, it's not what we expect. We expect "clean" things. Pretty things. Nice things. We expect God to clean up the messes of this world, not to somehow make them holy. But that's exactly what He does. It's what He's always done. He's always taken our unspeakable things and somehow made them a holy part of His testimony.

But only when we dare offer them.

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