GIFTS TO GOD
There are moments in every spiritual man’s life when gratitude yearns for special vent of utterance—times when he feels strongly what David said on a certain occasion, “I will not offer unto the Lord my God that which hath cost me nothing”, Words in a sense cost him nothing: he longs to do something more than offer praise. It is not that he supposes God can be enriched by anything he can give, or that he can put God under obligation, or that he can establish a claim to His favour by anything he can do: for such a man earnestly recognizes above all things what David also said when he handed over incom-putable treasure of gold and silver to the divine service: “All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee … . All this store that we have prepared… cometh of thine hand, and is all thine own” (1 Chron. 29:14–16). Yet he feels an intensity of gratitude that can only find satisfactory expression in deeds of self-deprivation—above and beyond the freewill and thank offerings of sacrifice provided for in the routine service of the tabernacle.
For such times, the law made suitable provision. A man might make “a singular vow” concerning anything not already under divine claim (Lev. 27:2). He might “sanctify to God” anything under his control: himself; an animal (clean or unclean); a house; a field; or part of a field. All these particulars are set forth in Lev. 27. He might not consecrate the firstborn of any beast, because that was already the Lord’s, nor for the same reason could he consecrate “the tithe of the land, whether seed or fruit”, Any object lawfully consecrated to God might be purchased back again on payment of a sum to be fixed according to what might be called the tariff of the tabernacle. In that case, the money paid was reckoned as the thing that had been consecrated. This was a convenient arrangement both for the man making the vow, and the priests into whose hands the consecrated things might come for administration. It might often happen that a thing given to God might be essential to the proper working of a man’s affairs; or that it might not be capable of being turned to any use in the hands of the priests. A commutation in money relieved the transaction in such cases from its embarrassments, while at the same time preserving the principle of the inviolability of vows.
The same merciful adjustability was shown in carrying out the assessment of the value made by the priests in cases of commutation. If it happened in the redemption of a man’s own person that the priest put a higher value on him than the man could pay, the priest was directed to reduce the assessment in harmony with what he might ascertain to be the man’s ability to pay. If the consecrated thing was “a beast, whereof men bring an offering to the Lord”, it was to be neither altered, changed, nor redeemed. In case of any attempt to substitute the consecrated thing by an inferior animal, both the consecrated thing and the exchange were to be impounded. But an unclean beast, or a house, could be redeemed by paying a fifth over and above the valuation put upon them by the priest; or if it was a field or part of a field dedicated after the year of jubilee: if not redeemed before the next jubilee, or if sold to another man, then at the next jubilee, it went into the hands of the priests, as a field holy to the Lord for ever. But if redeemed, it was to be resumed by the original possessor at the year of jubilee. Persons sanctifying or separating themselves to the Lord could be redeemed by a money payment fixed by age, according to the following scale :-
|From 1 month to 5 years||5 shekels||3 shekels|
|From 5 years to 20 years||20 shekels||10 shekels|
|From 20 years to 60 years||50 shekels||30 shekels|
|From 60 years and over||15 shekels||10 shekels|
But there were circumstances in which the law of redemption was suspended. “No devoted thing, that a man shall devote unto the Lord of all that he hath, both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy unto the Lord. None devoted, which shall be devoted of men, shall be redeemed; but shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 27:28–29).
This at first sight appears to be inconsistent with the liberty of redemption provided in the other cases. The inconsistency disappears when the difference between the two words—“sanctify” or consecrate and “devoted”—is realized. They are different terms in the Hebrew—KODESH (sanctify), meaning to separate or set apart; and CHARAM (devote), to hand over without reservation. It would seem as if a man, in the ardour of his loyalty, was at liberty, if he chose, to surrender the option of redemption, in the act of giving a thing to God. This appears to be the difference between sanctifying and devoting a thing to God. A separated thing might be redeemed, but a devoted thing was God’s for ever. Samuel was an illustration of the two combined (1 Sam. 1:26–28). He was “lent to the Lord” and therefore could not be taken back, but he was not a “devoted thing”, and therefore the law requiring death was not applicable. In the case of Jephthah’s daughter, it was a case of utter devotion (Jud. 11:31), and came under the law of Lev. 27:20, as Jephthah recognized in the verse referred to.
It is a matter provoking enquiry, why there should be this difference between things “sanctified” and things “devoted”. Why should death be required in the latter place and not in the former? It is permissible to seek a reason in a system of things which, besides being “a rule of national and individual life” was “an enigmatical enunciation of divine principles and purposes”. Perhaps we see the reason in the difference between life in mortal flesh, and life in the incorruptible nature of the spirit. It is possible to sanctify mortal life to God, but this is a merely preparatory, tentative, probationary thing, and never, in its blemished and ineffectual character, could be a finality. It may even be taken back by the offerer, in a practical apostasy. The only service that can be truly fit and final is the service rendered in the power, perfection, and glory of the spirit nature. This is a life of pure devotedness to God, both as regards entirety, acceptability, and undistractedness by other occupations. But to reach such a life, the devoted man must die to this present life—either by the process of consumption by spirit power at the appearing of Christ if alive, or by death, resurrection, and change in the same way and at the same time.
There are several dim hints, in apostolic allusion, at this difference. Thus Paul says concerning Christ, “In that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God” (Rom. 6:10). And again, “Though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4). And again Peter (1 Pet. 3:18; 4:1–2), “Christ hath once suffered for sins… being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit … . Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he should no longer live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” Again Paul (Rom. 6:7). “He that is dead is freed from sin” In the Apocalyptic exhibition of the final perfection, there is the same suggestion of a true service being only possible in the spirit state: “A pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him; and they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there … . Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them” (Rev. 22:1–5; 7:15).
For what other reason should things devoted to God be put to death under a typical system except to intimate that God can only be fitly served in the state that comes after “this mortal”, and that all our present sanctifications are but preparatory and provisional?
On the face of it, it might seem as if the special consecrations sanctioned and almost invited under the law we have been considering, implied that, apart from these “singular vows”, Israel were at liberty to live purely secular lives like the Gentile communities of modern “civilization”, and that only persons under these “singular vows” were holy or religious persons. How far this was from being the case is well known to those who know the Scriptures. Israel as a whole was “an holy people unto the Lord their God” (Deut. 7:6). How often is this urged in the course of the law as a reason for the various observances prescribed. “Thou art an holy people. Be ye holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44–45). The life of every Israelite was “holy to the Lord” from the first moment of his existence. He was introduced to the national covenant with God by circumcision on the eighth day. He was presented to the Lord on the day of his mother’s ceremonial cleansing. He was to be instructed daily from his earliest childhood in the history of their origin, and in the divine commandments and institutions, upon their conformity to which the continuance of God’s favour depended. He required no special dedication to come under the obligation of holiness. He was to keep himself aloof from all the practices of the surrounding nations, and to make no alliances with them for fear of infection with their principles and their ways, which would lead Israel away from God. The unclean practices that were rife among the Egyptians and among the Canaanites whom they displaced in the land were not to be known or spoken of among them. Lev. 18 specifies these abominations, commencing at verse 6, and concludes with this strong admonition: “Defile not yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: and the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it.”
The individual sanctifications, therefore, which we have been considering in connection with “singular vows” were in the nature of special holiness, supplemental to the general holiness of the nation: like the introduction of special plants into an already well-kept garden. The nation was a typical nation in this respect—a prophecy of things to come, as well as a teacher for the time then present. God’s purpose is that human life upon earth should be a thing of holiness and therefore of beauty and joy in all lands. The Gospel is the glad tidings that He will bring this about. He has been working towards this result in all He has done hitherto. There has been no waste time, though there has been much apparent failure and confusion—comparable to the disorder caused by clearing the foundations for a house, or burning down the bush to bring the land into cultivation. There has been steady progress all the time towards the day now near at hand when “every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness to the Lord”, and when the very “bells of the horses” shall be inscribed with the words that appeared only on the golden plate of Aaron’s mitre: “Holiness to the Lord” Israel under Moses was an important step towards the goal: Israel under Christ will show us the goal reached, and all the earth invited to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”: “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name … . Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved. He shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad: let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein. Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord, for he cometh to judge the earth; he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth” (Psa. 96:8–13).
The Law of Moses provided even for sanitation in a way that was the most effectual of all sanitary methods from what is called the hygienic point of view, and at the same time, as a type, yielded some interesting suggestions concerning the perfect state that is coming. The uncleanness and stench of military camps are well known in times of war. This was provided against during Israel’s journey in the wilderness by the direction contained in Deut. 23:13—which was probably acted on when they settled in their land. The system of earth closets is considered in our day the best method of disposing of nightsoil. The principle of the earth-closet (covering up at once with a layer of mother earth) is the principle of the Mosaic enactment. The earth, by its chemical action, soon absorbs the rejected elements, and turns into an earth-enriching manure that which by a bungling treatment easily becomes a source of disease. It is far better than the modern systems of disposing of sewage. If it cannot be carried out under modern conditions in great cities, it is because the modem system of banishing the people from the land and huddling them together in masses at great centres does not admit of it. Men are beginning to see that this system itself is as much a mistake as the systems of sewage, and that the best conditions for mortal population are those prescribed by the Law of Moses.
While they have begun to see this, they have not begun to discover how the system is to be altered. This is beyond their power. God will alter it in the day when He fulfils His promise to set up a Kingdom that will break in pieces all others, and stand for ever, as the everlasting refuge of man for the glory of God. The “the isles shall wait for his law”, They will say, “He will teach us of his ways and we shall walk in his paths”, But His name must be hallowed and His will be done before the blessedness can come. This will result from the judgments which will teach the world righteousness. A clean, holy, happy earth will then outspread itself to view everywhere to the joy of righteous men.
But what suggestion of the perfect day is there in the Mosaic method of sanitation? What type can we see in this? The comment associated with the injunction may help us’ “Therefore shall thy camp be holy, that he see no unclean thing in thee”, While this was a word of practical direction for the time then present for Israel, we cannot err in seeing a typical significance in so striking an element of a law which was “a shadow of good things to come”. We read in the Apocalypse (20:9) of “the camp of the saints”—the camp of the holy ones—in the happy day.
This is a camp in which no unclean thing is seen: “There shall in nowise enter into it anything that defileth”. While this applies to the moral characteristics of those admitted, it is true physically as well. All who “enter therein” are incorruptible in nature. They require no longer to say, “He shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body”, because this has been done. They can now exult historically that though “sown in dishonour” they have been “raised in glory: sown in weakness, raised in power: sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body”, A corruptible and unclean body is no longer their experience. All that has been buried away in the earthy experience of the past. By the weapon which they used—“the sword of the Spirit” —is the change which has caused “this corruptible to put on incorruption”.
The relation of the spirit-body to food is a matter upon which we must have experience before we can have knowledge. We know that spirit-being can eat, as shown by the angels and the Lord Jesus after resurrection (Gen. 19:1–3; Luke 24:39–43), but we know nothing of how the food is utilised when taken into spirit-organisation. Nevertheless, we may safely draw certain conclusions. There will be no corruption or corruptibility in the process of digestion, because of the power of the organisation. It is a law of physiology now that the assimilation of food is proportionate to the power of the organisation. Weak bodily machinery performs the process very imperfectly and passes much nutritive aliment unappropriated. In healthy, powerful organisa-tions, the proportion of rejected matter is much smaller. We should be justified in reasoning how small it must be in an immortal organisation, upon the analogy of this natural principle. But may we not go a step further: nay, must we not go a step further, and say, there will be no residuum at all in the digestive operations of the spirit-body, but that every atom will be consumed in the spirit-combustion at work in the body of every glorified saint? All substances are spirit at the base, and it is probable—shall we not say inevitable—that a spirit-body has the power of assimilating spirit to spirit without natural residue? If so, there is this pleasing thought before us in the prospect of immortality, that while food may not be—cannot be—necessary for the sustenance of life in the spirit-body as it is in the natural body, yet pleasure and refreshment will be found in the partaking of food and its re-conversion into spirit without any remnant of corruption such as belongs to the present body of our dishonour? Here is a glorious anti-type to the Mosaic prohibition of all defilement in the camp in which God walked in Israel’s midst.
Wizards were not to be tolerated. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Ex. 22:18). A similar stringent law was established against “any one that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer” (Deut. 18:10–11). The reason given is, “For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord” (Deut. 18:12). We are not told why they were an abomination, but we need be at no loss to understand. God is a jealous God (Exod. 20:5).
He says, “My glory will I not give to another” (Isa. 42:8). This is reasonable, though it is made to appear otherwise by captious minds. Suppose any of the critics were principal in an establishment, how would he like to see visitors and customers referring and deferring to some subordinate as if he were the head? He would undoubtedly resent it. Honour, deference, and praise should be reserved for those to whom they are due. This is recognized in the relation of man to man. How much more should it be as between man and God. Man has nothing but what he has received. God is the origin of all that we have, or can have, or be. Well may we join with David in saying, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory”; in the language of the hymn :-
Not unto us, who are but dust,
But unto Thee is glory due.
Why should we thank and praise people for what they have had nothing to do with bestowing? What should we think of a town’s meeting passing a vote of thanks to the tallow chandler for a fine season, or to the grocer for the absence of rinderpest? Or, taking it on a lower plane, would you thank your servant for a legacy left by your uncle, or the greengrocer for the reduction of the income tax? The incongruousness of such a thing would be discerned by every one. The incongruousness is as great in giving to others the glory due to God alone. It is far greater. It is not only a violation of truth, and fact, and good sense: it is an interference with the well-being of man and the pleasure of God. It is good for man to worship God: it is degrading and demoralizing for him to be diverted from it. And it grieves God to be deprived of His due by the folly of man.
All this is according to sense, fitness, and truth. There is no maudlin sentimentality about it, but the simple placing of facts which may enable us to see why wizardry and divination of all kinds should come under such reprobation in the Mosaic Law. Diviners, necromancers, consulters with familiar spirits, wizards, witches, and the whole class of professors of supernatural powers of insight were (and are to this day under changed names) mere pretenders to a power they did not possess. Most of them possessed some degree of a power and perhaps imagined it divine power, but it was merely natural power in an extra degree. The whole vital mechanism of man is charged with an electric energy of which the nerves are the conducting wires. By this, he lives and performs the wonderful functions of his brain and being. When used for the normal purposes for which it was intended, all is well, but often it is directed to abnormal purposes, and made the instrument of purposes for which it was never intended and which it cannot fulfil. It cannot be made to discern the future or to know the occult; and when it is made the ground of pretension in these directions, it becomes a mere imposture—odious enough as the benighted misinterpretation of ignorance, but trebly so when made the ground of authority to draw Israel away from submission to divine law. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Israel was drawn near to Him to walk in light and truth and excellence. No marvel that God had no toleration for a class of ignorant pretenders who came into collision with His aims and intentions with them.