Grace and Sacrifice.
“Then the king and all the people offered sacrifices to the LORD.” – 2 Chronicles 7:4 NLT
The celebration lasted for eight solid days. For seven of those days, Solomon and the people offered sacrifices to God. So many in fact, that they had to consecrate the main courtyard because there were s0 many animals sacrificed that the bronze altar could not accommodate them all. We are told that Solomon himself sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. All of this can end up sounding like one big party to celebrate the dedication of the Temple, but there is something far more important going on here. Just a day or so earlier, Solomon had had the Ark of the Covenant moved into the Holy of Holies. This elaborately decorated box contained the original (2nd draft) of the Ten Commandments that God had given Moses on Mount Sinai. The lid of the ark was called “the mercy seat” or kappo„reth, This was God’s throne so to speak. It was where His presence dwelt in the Temple. “There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites” (Exodus 25:22). The ark was a symbol of God’s presence, but also of His grace and mercy. In that ark was contained the law of God in the form of the Ten Commandments. These were God’s expectations for His covenant people. These laws were given to be obeyed and followed. But God knew that His people would be incapable of keeping His commands faithfully and perfectly. So He established the sacrificial system as a means of providing atonement or payment for their sins. If they sinned, they could offer the appropriate sacrifice and receive forgiveness. The shed blood would cover their sins. They would receive grace and mercy from God as long as they were faithful to avail themselves of the sacrificial system that He had provided. But over time, this all became ritualistic and rote. The people learned to just go through the motions. They lost the true meaning and significance.
The altar was to symbolize the people’s response to the grace of God. Because God had chosen them, set them apart, and agreed to dwell in their midst, the appropriate response was to be sacrifice. God had done much for them. The least they could do was offer up sacrifices to God in order to present themselves as a holy people, set apart for His use. You see throughout this chapter a series of if…then statements. The most familiar one is found in verses 14 and 15. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, [then] I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land. [then] I will listen to every prayer made in this place” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15 NLT). While this passage is often used by modern day Christians here in America as a call to prayer for our country, it was a promise given to the nation of Israel. It had direct ties to the land of promise. While there are principles we can glean from these verses regarding repentance, it does not contain a promise to America that God will restore our land if we pray. America is NOT the promised land of God. Americans are NOT the chosen people of God. Israel was and still is.
But God’s blessings on Israel were conditional. If Solomon obeyed all of God’s commands and laws, then God would not allow anyone to take his throne away from him. God expected Solomon to be obedient. If Solomon abandoned God and went after other gods, then God would abandon the people and allow them to go into captivity. He would remove His presence from the Temple, from above the mercy seat. He would even allow the Temple to be destroyed. God demanded sacrifice and a big part of that sacrifice had to do with obedience. Samuel put it this way: “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 NASB). David echoes this thought: “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17 NASB). God wants the sacrifice of a broken, humble heart. He wants us to offer sacrifices based on an understanding of just how broken we are without Him. We have been extended grace and mercy. Our response should be gratitude and sacrifice, expressed in obedient service and submission to His will for us. The Israelites would fail miserably at this. But we do too in so many ways. The great news is that the new covenant under which we live is non-conditional. God’s grace and mercy to me is not dependent upon anything I do or have done. It is all a free gift provided to me because of what Christ has already done on my behalf. And while I don’t have to DO anything to remain in God’s good favor and graces, I will do all things to the glory of God because of His good favor and grace. My response to His grace is obedient sacrifice and service. Grace like that deserves gratitude expressed in obedience and selfless sacrifice.
Father, Your grace for me is unbelievable. That You would choose me and shower me with Your grace and mercy is hard to understand. I always feel like I have to do something to earn Your grace. I keep thinking I have to do something to make You love me. I have to do something to stay in Your good graces. But Christ has done it all. My obedience should be an expression of my gratitude for Your grace. Help me understand more and more just how magnificent Your grace really is so that I might be willing to sacrifice more and more to You. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men