Righteousness that avails

¨

Was Abel so naive as not to suspect that that this invitation to take a walk in the field was an invitation to death? Did he not suspect or intuit, knowing his brother, that this invitation was not some innocent chat but a prelude to his own death.

Was his willingness to take that walk something of the righteousness of God in Abel, sensing that his death had something to do with the possible redemption of his brother and not, therefore, unwilling to give it?

That is itself the very definition of righteousness.

 

Abel prefigures Jesus Christ himself in this episode, our Lord and savior who gave his life in just that way to just that purpose. Why his offering was acceptable – the firstlings of his flock with their fat – was because it was a symbol and a statement of himself as offering. The animal sacrifice is a statement of our own willingness to be laid upon the altar, and the Lord accepts it as that statement. It is a statement of uttermost sacrifice – the best of the flock.

 

Where a man himself would be that sacrifice, should God want it – and in fact, by making that sacrifice – it is reiterating that statement to God. “This is a substitute, but what it represents is my own willingness to be on the altar of God for your purpose at any moment that is required.” That is what validates the offering. That is what makes that offering acceptable in God’s sight.

 

The man himself is the offering. And, as the episode unfolds he becomes that willingly and not by artifice. It was not that he was tricked to go out in the field. I think that a man who has this kind of relationship with God could only too readily intuit and sense what that walk into the field would mean. But he did not withhold himself from making it, because he had already made it in giving the best of the flock – which is to say, the giving of himself.

 

What made it valid was that it symbolised and represented the sacrifice of himself which is now being called for. When you make that offering, you are saying to the Lord “whenever it is called for, it is made, it is done, it is settled in my heart.” My life is not my own. I am only breathing and walking because now it pleases you as it serves your purposes. The whole end of my life and its purpose in being is your glorification whether by my life or by my death. The issue is settled. And when I put up my sacrifice before you, my offering, it is the reiteration of that statement.

 

This is exactly the opposite of what Cain’s offering meant. Cain was buying something. He was seeking to transact. He was in a commercial venture, wanting to receive some kind of blessing in exchange for something that did not cost him greatly. It was despicable, because the man’s life is lived unto himself and for himself – as is seen in his willingness to ventilate his hatred in the murder of his own brother. When God penalizes him for that murder, his cry is like a stung animal: “This is too much, isn’t this too sever for me?”

 

How is it that God does not require your life, but just makes you to be a wanderer? And you think that that is too severe? And you are afraid that someone is going to take your life? God assures that it will not be taken by giving you a mark. And you are complaining? Where was your sensitivity for Abel’s life? How is it that you are bemoaning your fate now and sucking your lower lip at the severity of this penalty? You did not hesitate a moment to take your brother’s life.

 

If our offerings are given as an exchange for reward. . . That is what Cain’s offering was, an unspoken transaction. I will do this, if God will give me this. Or, even and especially, to obtain a protection from harm or loss of life. . .

 

I am not talking about a commercial transaction that God is going to help me in the field because I have made this cheap sacrifice, but the mater is whether God is going to preserve me from suffering. God is going to protect me because I am righteous and have made an offering that is acceptable in his sight. Even there, though it has moved from a commercial motivation to a spiritual is still transactional. It is still not the celebration of God as God in and for himself. Now there is a spiritual end – my protection.

 

You may ask, is it not the theme which is to be found through all the psalms? The psalmist is crying out, where are you, Lord, and how long must I suffer this oppression and persecution because I stand for you and am righteous? Is not the psalmist asking God to act exactly in this way? In a sense yes, but in a greater sense not because the psalmist who is suffering for righteousness’ sake wants to be alleviated from that suffering but he wants God vindicated through that suffering. He wants God to show himself faithful to his own covenant promises and his identification with his own people. That is the greater motive. Not the alleviation of the distress and pain, but the vindication of God’s name. That is the cry of the heart of the psalms.

 

Who is putting up an offering before the Lord free from any subtle, unspoken transactional thing that puts God at obligation to give an answer to our benefit? The only answer is, the one who has put his life on the altar is free from the necessity of any kind of transaction. There is nothing that redounds to him for benefit, because his whole life is an offering. What he is putting on as a spotless animal with the fat is a statement of his life, reiterating again to God: “It is not my own. So much as I give up this animal, so much is my life given up and it is yours to be required at any moment of your choosing – even now when my brother wants to take me out into the field for a walk.”

 

Art Katz

Published in: on August 31, 2008 at 10:39 am  Leave a Comment  

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