Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Strange Offerings

Strange things happen all the time in the Bible. And that is truly good news because strange things happen all the time in life. At least, strange things happen all the time in my life, and I suspect I'm not alone in that.

Most of the strange things that happen in the Bible are God's doing, of course, and this gives us a glimpse into the kind of strange God that we have - a God with a strange sense of humor, a strange sense of hope, a strange sense of wonder. The strangeness of God is invaluable to building a real life of faith, to learning to trust Him and even to love Him. If we are to love God, we must love His kookiness. 

But occasionally, we see something in Scripture that is the strangeness of man, and this is good news, too. It's good news because I think it helps us to see how we ought to handle the strangeness of God. By being, of course, made in His strange image.

One of the stories that truly demonstrates our strangeness comes in 1 Samuel 6. 

The Philistines have captured the Ark of the Covenant and taken it to one of their own towns, and immediately, their people are afflicted with rats and hemorrhoids. Yes, really. And they think to themselves that they'll just move the Ark to a different town. That way, these afflicted people won't be afflicted any more. But surprise of all surprises, no other town in Philistine territory wants the Ark of the Covenant. They've heard what it did to the first guys. 

So the Philistines devise a plan to get the Ark back to the people of Israel, where it belongs. They build a little cart for it and take some animals to carry it. They set up the animals with the Ark and turn it down the road, telling themselves that if the animals, undriven by human hands, go toward Israelite territory, then they will know that their affliction was truly from the Lord. So of course, the animals head straight toward Israelite territory, and the Philistines know that it was the Lord who afflicted them with these terrible things. 

In preparing the Ark to return to the Israelites, however, at least one of the Philistines says that they need to include with it some gift from their people. They need to put in with the Ark some token of their own atonement, some symbol that they recognize the power of the Lord and that it is on His account that they are returning the thing to where it belongs. 

Now, what precious, wonderful, worthy gift do we give to a God who is not our God? What glorious, valuable treasure do we include with the sacred element of His very Word and mercy? 

Aha! We shall send five golden hemorrhoids! And five golden rats. 

And you probably thought God was more interested in our hearts or something.....

It's not the way that our faith normally works. At least, it's not the way we normally work it. Our inclination is usually to give to God what seem like actual gifts, truly precious, wonderful, worthy, glorious, valuable treasures that complement the sacred element of His Word and mercy.

I wonder what Israel did when they opened the chest and found the "gift." I wonder what the people of God determined to do with such a strange offering. The Bible gives us a few clues, although they're not what you'd probably expect. 

Still, I think that Israel - and Christians today - have a lot to learn from the Philistines and their strange offering. I think we have a lot to learn about our strange selves made in the image of our strange God and what truly pleases Him. 

(Stay tuned.)

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