So I've started reading the Old Testament, but I started in Exodus after reading the Red Tent and it piquing my interest in old religion-y type things. So I guess I actually started in late Genesis but Moses is pretty interesting so I just kept going!
And I studied the OT for a year in high school in seminary, but let's be honest. It was 6AM and while I had great teachers, I don't have great recall for early mornings so it's been good getting back into it - with my trusty sidekick, the Old Testament Student Manual!
So yesterday I started Leviticus and it's talking about offerings, right? And so far, the manual has laid out the law of Moses to be one of love, rather than an oppressive law as some people (myself included) have viewed it. (Getting into that is interesting but not why I'm writing this.) It says that when burnt offerings are offered (did you know there are different types of offerings? Totally forgot), they are given because the work of getting the fatlings...here, let me just quote from the book:
" 'In the clean animals, which he had obtained by his own training and care, and which constituted his ordinary live-stock, and in the produce obtained through the labour of his hands in the field and vineyard, from which he derived his ordinary support, the Israelite offered...the food which he procured in the exercise of his God-appointed calling, as a symbol of the spiritual food which endureth unto everlasting life [see John 6:27, 4:34], and which nourishes both soul and body for imperishable life in fellowship with God....In this way the sacrificial gifts acquire a representative character, and denote the self-surrender of a man, with all his labour and productions, to God.' This offering was to be 'voluntary' (Leviticus 1:3). It was not forced, but served as a free expression of gratitude on the part of the individual. Anything less would violate a basic principle of free will offerings (see Moroni 7:6-10)." (before this it also says they have to be clean as the Lord defines it AND from domesticated flocks, so nothing wild.)
As I was reading that, I was picturing an Israelite man, carrying the first of his flock. The fattest, the oldest, the most perfect of the animals that he, himself, had raised. I saw him differently than before: here was a man whose life as a shepherd (as I create a fictional Biblical character, he had wavy brown hair and a beard. Original) was completely devoted to these animals. He helped birth them - probably their parents and grandparents, too - helped feed them, guide and nurture them, and, as we know from John 10:3, he probably knew it by name.
Wow! Can you imagine? Taking your livelihood - the best of your livelihood - and physically carrying it to the tabernacle entrance to have it be slaughtered? That symbolism must have been really powerful for the Israelites. And seeing as they were just coming from centuries of living with idolatrous Egyptians, I'm sure it was necessary.
It also made me think of parallels of today. When we provide fast offering, are we not doing the same thing? The money we work so hard for, we bring to the Lord as a voluntary offering, the same way they brought the fruits of their labors. I'll be frank, the only testimony I have of fasting is on faith, and I don't practice it very much. But this made me stop and think about it on a deeper level. If we offer our money to God, how much harder must it have been to bring an animal to be sacrificed, something you can develop an actual relationship with?
Also to note: they mention that burnt offerings were given monthly at the new moon, which is what made me connect it to fasting. It related to tithing too. Also please note that none of this is doctrine. Unless the quoted part of the student manual counts. But nothing I've said.
One last thing - when it says "anything less would violate a basic principle of free will offerings" - it's not how much we give the Lord, but rather that we are willing to give. He knows that if we give back Him, we will be blessed and have our needs provided for; it's simply the faith of offering to the Lord that is required, not any specific monetary value.
Anyway. I'm just really loving getting these new insights to the ancient Israelites.