Something entirely new is happening in the wilderness with Israel. No longer is she left to her own, to an individualized faith that takes place primarily in the single person. No, God has called her to the Tabernacle, to the place where He will dwell among her. And He's told her to bring her sacrifices there.
Sacrifices are not new; God's people have been making sacrifices for as long as they have known Him. Just think about Abraham, who was asked to take his only son to the mountain to sacrifice, only to be blessed by a ram in the thicket at just the last minute. Think about Jacob, who built an altar to the Lord at the place where He wrestled with the man. Think about the sacrifices offered at points of reconciliation between brothers. When thankfulness and blessing abound, God's people make sacrifices.
But with the institution of the Tabernacle, God has to re-train His people no longer to offer their own sacrifices. He has to teach them not to worship wherever they feel like it any more, but to come to Him, to the place where He dwells.
There's actually a whole section about this in Leviticus, a whole paragraph dedicated to the Lord's command to bring your sacrifices to the accepted place, to come to Him with your offerings, to stop sacrificing your own animals and bring them to the priests, to the community, to the Tent, where there is an altar for them. Not just an altar, but the altar.
The reason this ought to stand out to us is that we are living in a time just like this. We are living in a time where persons bring their offerings to God wherever they are and try to offer them for themselves, and I believe that we are under a new call to communal worship and living and we are in a time and place where we need to remind one another to come to God, not just to think about Him.
See, we've been taught over and over again that God is everywhere. That He is Spirit and ever-present, so it doesn't matter where we are, the Lord is there with us. And in one sense, this is true, but it takes away from us the need to ever come to Him. We don't have to seek. We don't have to travel. We don't ever have to move to get to God because we take for granted that He already is wherever we are.
So we end up offering our gifts in the remotest of all places - in our own hearts and minds - and think that is pleasing to the Lord. We think that's what He wants from us. But it's really not.
What He desires is that we bring our gifts where the community can experience them. Where the aroma that is pleasing to the Lord can be smelled for miles around, from the center of it all, from everything and by everyone. He wants us to come to Him, to travel, to move to the place where He dwells among us and to know what that feels like to bring our offerings with us. To truly bring them, carry them, bear their weight and hand them over. Truly give them, offer them, pour them out on an altar. Not just an altar, the altar.
We've forgotten how to do that, and if we listen closely, I think we can hear the call of Leviticus all over again in our own time. No longer should we be a people who sacrifice our own offerings, but we should be a people who offer our sacrifices at the place to where God has called us.
Such a subtle, but exceptionally powerful, difference.