What role does sacrifice play in a community? The altar formed the center of life for the Israelites. This is where they came to interact with God. They came with their sacrifices.
Some people say this practice – the sacrificing of animals – is brutal and grotesque. But really, the people were offering back to God something that he had given to them – their livestock and their grain. These are the things of life and survival. They are blessings.
The people could simply have gone on eating of their livestock and their grain. But the sacrificial system put God into the center of their working and their eating. At the appointed time, they would sacrifice – and then eat. They stopped to recognize that what they had came from Him. He is the giver of all good things.
And so they would sacrifice to God from among the things that they had.
In our secular American culture, where do we find sacrifice? I had to think about this for a minute.
We sacrifice to pay our taxes, so there is that. We groan and pull out our wallets and recognize that the government needs some of our money to operate – that our roads and our military and our schools and our law enforcement need money to function appropriately. This calls for a sacrifice on our part. We are commanded to do these things. We can’t really function as a nation or a county or a town if we all don’t do our part. And this requires sacrifice.
Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
Our government has a certain claim on us. We receive the benefits of living in this place, but there is a cost. So some of the things that I have in my possession (and my bank account is a possession) ultimately belong to the government. This is what the government is due from my life.
We might say the same thing about the military draft. We owe the government this service in times of national crisis.
So what kind of claim does God have on the lives of humanity? Well, it’s a much greater claim than the government’s because God is the creator of life and everything in the world. We would have nothing without God. And so to render to God that which is God’s, we really owe him everything that we have – our whole lives.
But for the people of Israel in the wilderness and later in the Promised Land, God set a boundary on what he required of them. We will read more about that in Leviticus. The people didn’t give him everything, but they did give their sacrifices as they were commanded. They paid what was owed.
This, of course, is re-oriented by Jesus, who gave all. And now what are we to give? “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
Think about sacrifice in your own life. What kinds of sacrifices do you make on a regular basis, and to whom do you make those sacrifices? What kinds of sacrifices do you make to God – and why do you make those sacrifices? What is your attitude as your make those sacrifices?