Maintaining Cleanness When Bringing Gifts
“Ascribe to Jehovah the glory belonging to his name; carry a gift and come into his courtyards. Bow down to Jehovah in holy adornment,”—Ps. 96:8, 9.
1, 2. Why must God’s people be pure, and how was this impressed on the Israelites?
THE holiness, purity or cleanness of Jehovah requires that his people remain pure. (1 Pet. 1:14-16) This fact was deeply impressed on the Israelites by the provisions of the Mosaic law. They were to remain separate from the immoral and degrading practices of surrounding nations, and avoid, if possible, touching a dead body or anything else that would defile them, and not eat animals that were unclean.—Lev. 11:4-8, 10-20, 24, 25; 18:3-24.
2 When on military expeditions, the Israelites were under command to maintain cleanness in their camp. The Law stated: “Your camp must prove to be holy, that [Jehovah] may see nothing indecent in you and certainly turn away from accompanying you.” (Deut. 23:14) If an Israelite did become defiled in some way, he had to ‘wash his garments, and he was unclean until evening.’ (Lev. 11:40) Even the washing was insufficient. Not until a new day came at sunset, according to the Hebrew manner of counting days, would the person again have a proper standing with Jehovah. During the period of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, when the camp numbered into the millions, upholding the divine standard for cleanness was no small matter.
3. In matters of cleanness, what responsibility did the Aaronic priests have?
3 To offer an acceptable sacrifice, an Israelite had to be ceremonially clean. (Lev. 15:31) It was the duty of the priests to uphold God’s standard of cleanness, maintaining purity themselves and helping their fellow Israelites to be in an acceptable condition to present offerings that would be divinely approved.—Mal. 2:7.
4. How did Jehovah God view the sacrifices of the Israelites who were not measuring up to his requirements?
4 When the Israelites ignored the divine requirements for proper conduct, their sacrifices not only became meaningless but were actually detestable to Jehovah God. The Scriptures tell us: “The sacrifice of the wicked ones is something detestable to Jehovah, but the prayer of the upright ones is a pleasure to him.” (Prov. 15:8) “The one slaughtering the bull is as one striking down a man. The one sacrificing the sheep is as one breaking the neck of a dog. The one offering up a gift—the blood of a pig! The one presenting a memorial of frankincense is as one saying a blessing with uncanny words. They are also the ones that have chosen their own ways, and in their disgusting things their very soul has taken a delight.”—Isa. 66:3.
5. Why should we today be concerned about our standing with God?
5 The righteous principles incorporated in God’s law to Israel have not changed. They apply at all times, in all situations and under all conditions. That is why Christian witnesses of Jehovah today would want to consider soberly their own standing before God. Each one might ask himself: ‘Am I striving to remain clean mentally, morally, physically and spiritually? Do I contribute personally to the cleanness of the Christian congregation—a cleanness that causes it to stand out in contrast to a wicked, unclean generation? Does the way in which I care for and use my home and other possessions, including my fleshly body, demonstrate close adherence to Jehovah’s way? Is this true of my whole way of life?’ Our affirmative answer to these questions would be an evidence that we are striving to heed the inspired exhortation to guard against “every defilement of flesh and spirit.”—2 Cor. 7:1.
LEARNING ABOUT ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE FROM OTHER PROVISIONS OF THE LAW
6. What did the Law say about the anointing oil?
6 The stipulation regarding the anointing oil contained in the Mosaic law also makes clear the importance of upholding God’s standard of holiness. When given the special recipe for making the anointing oil, Moses received strict rules governing the use of this substance. We read: “This is to continue as a holy anointing oil to me during your generations. It is not to be rubbed in the flesh of mankind, and with its composition you must not make any like it. It is something holy. It is to continue as something holy for you. Anyone who makes an ointment like it and who puts some of it upon a stranger must be cut off from his people.” (Ex. 30:31-33) A failure to respect the sacred purpose of anointing oil constituted a capital offense.
7. What vital lessons can we draw from the divine commands about the anointing oil?
7 This furnishes vital lessons for us. The Bible identifies the oil as being representative of Jehovah’s holy spirit. (Compare Zechariah 4:2-6.) It was, not with anointing oil, but with holy spirit that the great King-Priest Jesus Christ was anointed. (Matt. 3:16, 17; Luke 4:18; Heb. 1:8, 9) Truly, then, we want to have the highest regard for God’s spirit, doing our utmost to follow its leading. This includes preserving a good conscience so that we do not slight or ‘grieve the spirit.’ (Eph. 4:30) Moreover, since it is by means of his spirit that Jehovah God is building up the Christian congregation, we need to guard against giving credit to men for what is being accomplished. (1 Cor. 3:5, 6) Our firm faith in the inspired prophecies also is a confirmation of our having a proper attitude toward the spirit that is responsible for those prophecies. (2 Pet. 1:21) Do our words and actions demonstrate that we are awaiting “new heavens and a new earth” and want as many others as possible to learn about this grand hope?—2 Pet. 3:13, 14.
8. What did the Law prescribe regarding the incense?
8 As in the case of the anointing oil, God’s law to Israel outlined specific instructions regarding the incense. After listing the ingredients and the method to be used in preparing the incense, the Bible says: “It should be most holy to you people. And the incense that you will make with this composition, you must not make for yourselves. For you it is to continue as something holy to Jehovah. Whoever makes any like it to enjoy its smell must be cut off from his people.” (Ex. 30:34-38) In this way, profane use of the holy incense was strictly forbidden. What can we learn from this?
9 The incense was pictorial of the acceptable prayers offered up by God’s faithful servants. This truth is expressed at Psalm 141:2: “May my prayer be prepared as incense before you, the raising up of my palms as the evening grain offering.” Also, in the book of Revelation (5:8), we read that “the incense means the prayers of the holy ones.” How important it is that we highly value the privilege of prayer! We can show such appreciation by praying regularly, making our requests in harmony with God’s will. (1 John 3:21, 22; 5:14, 15) Selfish, wrongly motivated prayers would be comparable to the misuse of incense and would not be given a favorable hearing by our heavenly Father.—Jas. 4:3.
10. What counsel do the Scriptures provide as to who may represent the congregation in prayer?
10 Because prayer is such a vital part of true worship, men who represent the congregation in prayer should be exemplary. The apostle Paul directed this inspired advice to Timothy: “I desire that in every place the men carry on prayer, lifting up loyal hands, apart from wrath and debates.” (1 Tim. 2:8) Untainted by acts of disloyalty toward God and men, and free from feelings of ill will, such men could properly represent the congregation. In keeping with the seriousness of prayer, we would seek to keep our minds from wandering when others are petitioning Jehovah God in our behalf.
11, 12. (a) What is a vow? (b) According to the Law, how serious was a failure to fulfill a vow?
11 Closely linked with the arrangement of making sacrifices was the Law’s provision about vows. The Israelites were commanded: “You must render up an offering made by fire to Jehovah, a burnt offering or a sacrifice to perform a special vow.” (Num. 15:3) Many vows were made as an appeal to God for his favor and help. Provided that the Most High granted the request, the one making the vow voluntarily obligated himself to do something special or to refrain from some activity in which he otherwise had the right to engage.
12 In effect, a vow carried the force of an oath. A failure to follow through on the vow was a very serious matter, as can be seen from the following statement in the Law: “In case you vow a vow to Jehovah your God, you must not be slow about paying it, because Jehovah your God will without fail require it of you, and it would indeed become a sin on your part. But in case you omit making a vow, it will not become a sin on your part.”—Deut. 23:21, 22.
13. In harmony with God’s law on vows, what should be true of our word as Christians?
13 The principle that we can learn from this is that our heavenly Father expects us to be honest and upright in all aspects of life. Like that of the psalmist David, our desire should be: “Let the sayings of my mouth and the meditation of my heart become pleasurable before you, O Jehovah my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14) When this is the case, we will be heeding the admonition of the disciple James: “Let your Yes mean Yes, and your No, No, so that you do not fall under judgment.” (Jas. 5:12) Yes, our word should be as good as a signed document. Others should have confidence that our word is reliable, trustworthy. Since Jehovah expects his servants to ‘speak truth each one with his neighbor,’ a person lacking in truthfulness or honesty could hardly expect the Most High to view his gifts favorably.
14, 15. (a) What arrangement for festivals did the Law outline? (b) Do these festivals find their parallel in Christian assemblies today, and what does 1 Corinthians 5:7, 8 reveal in this regard?
14 There is yet another field of Christian activity in which we do well to reflect on what the Law prescribed. Jehovah enjoined on his people Israel the observance of three annual festivals. Every Israelite male was required to attend these. (Deut. 16:16) For many, this meant considerable travel, with the inconvenience of being away from home. Today we may attend two or three assemblies annually, and our attendance may involve a measure of sacrifice. Do we put forth the needed effort to attend conventions because of wanting to enjoy association with our brothers and the generous provision of spiritual food?
15 Of course, more is involved than our appreciating assemblies of God’s people. Why? Because we are not limited to the observance of specific days and festivals as were the Israelites. (Col. 2:16, 17) The apostle Paul wrote: “Clear away the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, according as you are free from ferment. For, indeed, Christ our passover has been sacrificed. Consequently let us keep the festival, not with old leaven, neither with leaven of badness and wickedness, but with unfermented cakes of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor. 5:7, 8) Jesus Christ, as the reality of the Passover lamb, was sacrificed only once. Hence, our entire life course as Christians is comparable to the festival of unfermented cakes. Are we willing to remove what is sinful to maintain personal and congregational purity? Day-to-day observance of God’s righteous requirements is absolutely essential for our service to be acceptable to him.
JEHOVAH’S DEEP CONCERN FOR US
16. (a) Through whom did Jehovah provide strong admonition in the fifth century B.C.E.? (b) At that time, what were the circumstances as to rulership?
16 Since Jehovah’s inviting us to bring our offerings is not for his benefit but, rather, for our eternal welfare, we do well to take note of his kindly warnings about what makes our gifts acceptable. In the fifth century B.C.E., it was by means of his prophet Malachi that Jehovah God provided strong admonition about this to those professing to worship Him. At that time the Persian World Power was ruling. Areas that had once been controlled by petty kingdoms were under provincial administration, with governors representing the Persian monarch. To enable governors to maintain imperial rule and to gather the taxes for the imperial treasury, these officials were granted life-and-death power over the citizens of their respective provinces. In view of the governor’s great authority, citizens, for the most part, would pay their taxes and even bring an extra gift for him. They did not want to arouse his displeasure and jeopardize their own lives.
17. In Malachi’s time, how were the people of Israel and their priests failing in the matter of presenting acceptable gifts to Jehovah?
17 Against this background, we can appreciate the appropriateness of Jehovah’s word through Malachi. The Most High remonstrated with the Israelites. Through Malachi, he pointed out how sinful it was for the people to bring blind, lame and sickly animals as sacrifices and for the priests to accept such blemished offerings. Next came the challenge: “Bring it [your gift offering] near, please, to your governor. Will he find pleasure in you, or will he receive you kindly?” (Mal. 1:7, 8) It took no great imagination on the part of the Israelites to realize the undesirable result of such a course in dealing with a human governor. How, then, could they hope to receive the approval of the great King Jehovah? They simply could not do so. It was in their best interests to act in harmony with Malachi’s encouragement: “Now, please, soften the face of God, that he may show us favor.” (Mal. 1:9) Only by living up to Jehovah’s requirements could they regain divine approval.
18. How might Christians become guilty of a failure like that of the Israelites in the time of Malachi?
18 Today we must make sure that we are benefiting from the instructive examples written in the Holy Scriptures. (Rom. 15:4) We cannot afford to put on a pretense of making generous gifts, as did Ananias and Sapphira, while actually pursuing our selfish interests. (Acts 5:1-11) It would not be appropriate to use our energies, assets and abilities to such an extent for our own pleasures that practically nothing is left for rendering material and spiritual aid to others. This would be like saying to Jehovah: ‘Here I am giving you what is left over.’ Would that not be insulting? Could we really expect him to view such token service with favor? How clear it is that our whole way of life, our day-to-day living, our attitudes and motives, are tied in with our offerings to Jehovah! We must maintain purity in all respects.
19. What can help us to determine whether we are giving our best?
19 As with the Israelites, so with us, may ‘the gift of each one’s hand be in proportion to the blessing of Jehovah.’ (Deut. 16:17) Let us appreciatively count the blessings that our heavenly Father has conferred on us, overlooking none of them. Then we can determine individually whether we are rendering to Jehovah in proportion to his gifts to us. How wonderful it is that he knows our capabilities and yet does not specifically spell out for each one of us what we must render to him! He permits us to express our appreciation from the heart. And do we not want to give him what he deserves, namely, our very best? Anything less than that would not be good enough. Our best, then, let us give to him who has given us all we possess!
[Pictures on page 25]
OIL (spirit of Jehovah)
INCENSE (acceptable prayers)
BURNT OFFERING (completeness of devotion)
UNFERMENTED CAKES (life course of purity)