3 R’s of Temple Sacrifice

From our trip to Israel, insight #7:  Worship in its truest form is accepting God for who he is, while idolatry is making God who we want him to be.
Another one of our interesting stops was near the ancient city of Arad. The city of Arad which only covered 27 acres had two eras of occupancy, the first inhabitants were early Canaanites in 3000 B.C., while the second occupation began around 950 B.C. Eventually Solomon conquered this area and built a fort near the city in order to protect themselves from the invaders such as the Edomites who came from east of the Jordon River.
What made this site unique is that is was home to a Jewish temple, the only existing temple in the world. Everything was built according to the instructions as found in Exodus 25-27. More than likely Solomon allowed a special temple to be built in this location so that the soldiers could stay and protect that part of the country without having to travel to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. Although the walls had been knocked down to about 5 feet, we could clearly make out the outer court of the temple, the Holy Place where the priests were allowed to go, and then the Holy of Holies. I also found it interesting that there was evidence that the Sons of Korah also spent time in this location. The Sons of Korah were King David’s favorite worship band that inspired the writing for the contemporary song, As the Deer Pants. (See Psalm 42-43)
In order to understand why I found this site so profound, I would like to share what our tour guide, Dr. Widbin, taught us about the meaning of the 3 R’s of temple sacrifice.
1. Release your sins onto the animal. To sacrifice is to release yourself from sin in order to become what God wants you to be. When the people would come to worship, they would do so for the sake of seeking God’s face. Although there was no certainty of God showing up, their desire was to experience his presence. When gathering for worship, they would enter the outer court where the altar was and the head of the family would lift up their offering (usually their finest animal—like a pet) indicating they were presenting something highly valuable to God. They would never come empty handed. When releasing their offering, they would put their hand on the head of the offering which became representative of releasing their sins.
2. Remove your mud pies from the altar through the blood of the atonement. Then the priest would take the sacrifice and kill it on the altar and the blood would run down a groove and would be caught in a container. Imagine now, a person’s sin was as though he/she were throwing mud pies at the altar. The Levites then would take the blood and sprinkle it all over the altar representing the cleansing of the altar of the person’s sin. The blood was actually considered more of a cleansing agent for God because our sin hurts him more than it hurts us. The result of the blood covering the person’s sin then opened the door to a renewed relationship with God.
3. Reconciliation with God by eating with him. Finally they would gut the animal and barbeque it and the smoke would ascend as a sweet aroma to God. It was at that point a portion of the sacrifice was taken off the altar and the people would eat it as if they were sharing a meal with God. The sharing of the meal was an indication of forgiveness, a symbol of reconciliation.
As you can imagine this was a powerfully moving experience as we stood in the same place where men and women of thousands of years ago sought the presence of God hoping he would show up. And then to think, because of Christ becoming the “once for all sacrifice,” we now have the presence of God living in us and can daily enjoy the sweet fellowship of God.
After explaining the significance of the temple sacrifice, Dr. Widbin showed us the Holy of Holies, and much to our amazement stood two standing stones (one big, one smaller) signifying that God protects by fire and smoke. The people of Arad had adopted a pagan belief system that God had a wife whose name was Asherah. It was a fertility figurine with the name Asherah on it. They had made an attempt to conform to the relevant worship of that day; in fact Ezekiel makes reference in chapter 8 of the detestable things that were being done in temple worship. The thing that struck me was how idolatry so subtly slips into our theology and into our worship. Dr. Widbin went on to explain to us that idolatry is not necessarily finding another god, rather it is what we do to God. Idolatry is making God who we want him to be or to do what we want him to do.
The question I found myself asking on that beautiful day out in the Judean desert, the question I continue to ask myself today: In what ways do I commit the sin of idolatry by rejecting God for who he is? In what ways have I tried to shape God into who I want him to be? What areas of my life do I refuse to offer as a living sacrifice?  In what way is our worship little more than a game of charades?
Covered by His blood,  Mike

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