Several years ago I went deer hunting with my in-laws for the first time. Up to that point, I could count the number of times I fired a gun/went shooting on one hand, and the idea of sitting in a tree stand for hours without talking to someone sounded like torture. Praise the Lord for cell phones and wireless ear buds, which have kept me company in those tree stands. And now, after five years of hunting and my first kill, I can count the number of times I’ve fired a gun on two hands! Progress.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to take down a doe on the second day of deer season. It was a small doe, but I wasn’t complaining, and it only took two shots for me to get it, one more than is usually necessary. As you can tell by now, I’m not exactly what you would call a natural when it comes to deer hunting, and I’m convinced the process once a deer is down is also not natural, and is quite disgusting. When my father-in-law gifted me with a buck knife the previous Christmas, I felt great. I felt like I had arrived. I was a real hunter. I was a man! And then, when I had to use that knife to field dress my little doe, I no longer cared about any of that.
(And don’t you just love how hunters make this process of gutting a deer sound so pleasant by calling it “field dressing”. I mean, the gloves for this process go all the way up to your shoulders, for goodness sake. That tells you everything you need to know about how messy it is. Field Dressing. That sounds like something you’d put on your plate at Thanksgiving right next to some turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy! Not exactly what I was about to experience. Nevertheless, back to our story.)
I was about a half-mile away from the house when I took down Bambi, so I walked over to the poor thing, observed a moment of silence in her honor, and then I got started. I knew it was best not to wait to gut a deer, as you don’t want the meat to spoil, but I wasn’t exactly sure the best way to do this. I had seen a video or two on YouTube, and my father-in-law graciously let me practice on his 8-point buck the previous year. However, in the 364 days since that slaughter, I tried, quite successfully I might add, to erase those memories from my brain.
With what little I did remember from those moments, I started cutting open the underside of the deer. I knew it would take some precision cutting, as well as reaching way up into the cavity to get this right, but for some reason in that moment I just started wailing with my knife, hoping to magically make all the right cuts at all the right spots, and that somehow all of the organs would just fall out. Instead, I began noticing a really foul smell, and then I saw little pieces of corn seeping out of the cavity. Apparently, I did quite a number on that deer’s stomach, and shockingly I hadn’t really touched anything else in there that mattered.
When my father-in-law arrived and looked at my handiwork, he made a face I still remember to this day. It was a combination of surprise and disappointment, and I’m sure he had thoughts of disowning me as his son-in-law. But in a moment of grace, he began walking me through what to do next, and he did so with great encouragement. We finally finished the process to his satisfaction, and then we started dragging the deer back to the barn where we completed the task of harvesting the meat and disposing of the carcass. Why am I sharing this story with you?
It’s definitely not to gross you out or to cause that meal you just ate to come back up, and if that happened, I truly apologize. The reason for remembering and sharing this story is because of what we read in the first five chapters in Leviticus. If you’re not familiar with what’s going on at this point in the history of Israel, hang in there because you’re not alone. Most people, including myself, aren’t very well versed regarding these matters, but don’t let that stop you from grabbing some popcorn and checking it out. Here are the cliff notes.
Moses and the Israelites had just completed the task of building the Tabernacle and everything in it, and God was pleased with their work. Although they had already blown it earlier by creating and worshiping a golden calf, and by complaining against Moses and Aaron about not having any food to eat or water to drink, in this endeavor they got it right. So next, God begins to give Moses several ordinances, or laws, that the Israelites were to follow when bringing an offering to the newly constructed Tabernacle. The first three offerings were to be offered in recognition of God’s provision in their lives, and the last two were to be an atonement for sin.
Now, as we look at these, it’s good for us to remember the origins and meaning of the sacrificial system, which started in the Garden of Eden. After Adam & Eve sinned, it says, “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) The “skins” God used to clothe them came from the sacrifice of an animal, hence foreshadowing the sacrificial system God would institute to atone for sins. This word atonement means “to make amends or reparations”. One might also say it is to “cover over” one’s transgressions, in this case, Adam & Eve, who were now sinners and aware of their nakedness as a result. It’s an accurately tragic picture of the costliness of sin. An innocent animal had to die in order to cover over the sin of Adam & Eve, as well as their expulsion from God’s presence and from the good life in the Garden. Instead of enjoying relationship with God and the bounty of His creation, they would now have to work for their food, struggle in their relationships, and everything became more difficult and more painful.
As I read through the process for sacrificing an animal at the altar, it reminded me of field dressing and harvesting the meat from that deer, and it left me with a few thoughts that might be helpful for us today:
- Sin is, has always been and always will be, costly. In the Old Testament days, atonement for sin cost a portion of a person’s wealth, as they were required to sacrifice the best of their herd or flock. It hurt, and it made an impact on the family. Today, because of the final sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, we don’t have to give from our wealth to atone for our sin. However, sin is just as costly. It costs us in the pain we cause others and ourselves, it costs us in the loss of trust and fellowship with others that takes time to repair, and sometimes sin causes so much destruction that it does cost material wealth or even life itself. We should never allow ourselves to believe that our sin, no matter how big or small, doesn’t cost anything and won’t affect us or others. Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
- Everyone breathing is a work in progress. If we are alive today, God is still working to make us more like His Son, Jesus Christ. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Hebrews 10:14 because it speaks to the truth of the past, the present and the future. It says, “For by one sacrifice He has perfected forever those who are being made holy.” Jesus paid for our sins (past), God views our legal status before Him as perfect and blameless forever (future), but He’s still working on us be more like Jesus (present). We all have a long way to go, so let’s participate in the process and let God work in our lives to make us more like Jesus as we prepare for eternity with God in Heaven.
- We need to be honest about our sin. Let us all ask God to reveal the sin in our lives, and let’s not try to sweep it under the rug. I am so gifted at making excuses or seeking to justify my sin, and that does no one any good. Instead, let’s confess our sins to those we’ve hurt, as well as to those trustworthy who can help us learn from and grow from our sins. It will cause pain for us and for those we’ve hurt, there’s no getting around that, but it’s also the formula God has installed for us to become more like Jesus. In James 5:16 it says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” We need to create a habit of confessing our sins to one another, praying for one another and doing so especially to righteous people who will pray for us and help us grow. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand just how depraved we are as human beings. Sometimes it’s challenging to comprehend the full impact sin has on the human condition. We live in a world in which we are taught and in which we have a desire to appear normal, without fault, blameless. But we’re not, and that’s okay. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with one another, and let’s use today to do our part in letting God do His amazing work of sanctification in our lives.