Burnt offering31.  Burnt offerings

“. . .  if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not  be pleased.”       – Psalm 51:16b

I would sit at the edge of the fire pit and poke at the logs and embers  as they cracked in the night.  You could watch as bits of ash and other scorched debris lifted into the night sky, following the updraft of the column of smoke.

In biblical times, the ritual of giving a burnt offering is established under Noah and then directed in Numbers 28:3 —  ‘This is the food offering you are to present to the LORD: two lambs a year old without defect, as a regular burnt offering each day.’   These rituals were central to the early worshipping practices of the people of Israel.

The term “burnt offering” is derived from the Hebrew noun olah, which has the meaning of “that which went up [in smoke].”   It is drawn from the verb alah meaning “to ascend.”  In later years, it was translated, eerily for our modern consciousness, into the term “holocaust.”    So while the NRSV translates Exodus 18:12 as  “And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God;” this same passage is rendered by the New American Bible as “Then Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, brought a holocaust and other sacrifices to God.”

One of the most wrenching stories in the Old Testament comes as Abraham takes his son Isaac up a mountain with the intent, per the Lord’s instructions, of giving his son as a burnt offering to God.  Only at the last moment is the boy spared as the ram appears in the thicket.

Our verse fragment today from Psalm 51 follows yesterday’s “Part A” of verse 16 that  “For you have no delight in sacrifice”.  Part B, per usual, expands on the Part A —  “. . . if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not  be pleased.”    The psalmist understands that the Lord wants something else, something different, something more than these ritualistic burnt offerings — and that will be explored in the next verse on Thursday and Friday.

But sitting as we are on the doorstep of Holy Week, we cannot help but to consider the sacrifice that is just in the offing.  The death on Calvary will not include fire.  But in the dark days that follow, it will involve a  lifting up, an ascent.

Prayer

Holy God,

As we stand before you today, help us to discern the ways that we can dedicate our lives to you.   And we thank you for the sacrificial gift of your son, whom you raised, to set us all free.

Amen

 

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