Posts tagged provision
Reading through the chapters in the book of Numbers today, one thing kept jumping out to me: the sheer number of animals and grain required as sacrifices. In a society where animals were an indicator – both in perception and reality – of one’s wealth and standing in the community, God was requiring so many of them to be sacrificed.
It’s worth asking the question; why did God need all those animals? Wouldn’t the people have a better use for them? And why the large numbers required for certain sacrifices? Of course, no one can really be sure about why God chose the requirements that he did, but the fact that these questions were in my head led me to one possible conclusion:
God required people to give up that which they thought they needed in order to prove that he was what they couldn’t live without.
You see, it’s hard to really believe that God is the provider until you’ve given up your provision and watched him return it to you. It’s hard to believe that God is in control until you’ve given up control and watched him orchestrate your life. It’s hard to believe that God cares about you, your family, your job, your friends, your hobbies, your passions, your hopes, dreams and aspirations until you give them up. You give them up and see what God does.
In my life, I have had to lay down a lot of things in order for God to prove himself faithful. Most of those were things that he would ultimately place back in my hands. Some, however, were lost forever…replaced with something better. The life that God has provided for me is very different than the one I could have provided for myself. At times, I wonder about that other life and yet, I know this one is better.
For his sake, I have to lay down all of the things I hold dear, to loosen my grip on what I hold tightly and to patiently and persistently choose to follow him and walk closely with him. The outcome, of course, proves beneficial for me, too. I get to live a life of purpose. I get to be instrumental in God’s work in the world. What better life could I ask for? What better life could I offer myself?
Imagine being unemployed for, say, six months. You’re living on a meager unemployment check and barely making ends meet. You have almost exhausted your food supply. Your savings account has run dry and you don’t know what you’ll do if you don’t get a job soon. Then, the phone rings. On the other end of the line is a company with an offer of employment. You accept, start immediately and, two weeks later, you receive your first paycheck.
By this point, you’ve resorted to your old college diet of Ramen Noodles and lemon water. You’ve stopped answering the phone because of all the collections calls. You need money so badly that you can taste it. Now, imagine someone telling you that you should take that first paycheck and give it to the church. Not just a tithe. Not just 10%. The whole thing.
Now you get the picture of the first fruits offering. After months of going hungry and waiting on their harvest to come in, the people of Israel might have been thanking God, but I doubt their first desire was to go give him some of their grain. I mean, wouldn’t it have made more sense to eat a good meal or two and then give some to God? Wouldn’t it make more sense for you to get your creditors off your back and then write a nice check to the church? Sure, that would make sense, but God doesn’t always make sense to us!
The fact of the matter is that without God supplying the provision, neither you nor the ancient Israelites would have anything to eat. You wouldn’t have anything to be thankful for. And so, God commands the people of Israel to make a public recognition of that fact by presenting a first fruits offering to him. In fact, they aren’t to eat anything until they make that offering.
For me, this passage serves as a reminder of how I should prioritize my spending. For the past 15 years or so, my tithe has always been the first thing to come out of my bank account when I get paid. Sure, it’s tempting to delay it a little bit – just to be sure I have enough money to pay my bills. But, let’s be honest, if I did it that way, God might end up on the short end of the stick on more than a few occasions. Yes, the same God that provided the provision would now be short-changed. Not cool.
And so, I give my tithe as a “first fruits” type of gift. That way, I’m sure to give to God, even if it means I might end up short in some other area. After all, God can supply the provision for other things, right?
A famine so severe that people selling themselves into servitude is seen (by those people) as a blessing, because at least they won’t die. Again, this is a picture of the kingdom of heaven – playing out in real life in ancient Egypt. These are people who have nothing to offer. In fact, if Pharaoh wanted to, he could have just taken their land. He didn’t have to pay for it. But Pharaoh, through Joseph, allowed them to offer themselves and their land in return for that which only Pharaoh could give. Does that sound familiar?
They “offered their bodies as living sacrifices”, as the New Testament scriptures say. This was the end of the rope for these people. They had come to the place where they had lost all self-reliance and were completely reliant on Pharaoh. As strange as it may seem to watch Joseph make the Egyptian people into servants, this is a perfect picture of how we are to approach God.
Our notions of self-reliance have to be tossed, our egos in check and the love of our possessions eliminated. We have to approach God with an understanding that he doesn’t need anything we have – our abilities, our giftings, our possessions or even our lives. Then we must be willing to give all of those things to him. Through this story, we are reminded who holds the provision for our lives and, ultimately, what that provision is worth – everything.