“‘Look, I am going to rebuke your descendants, and I will spread animal waste over your faces, the waste from your festival sacrifices, and you will be taken away with it. Then you will know that I sent you this decree, so that my covenant with Levi may continue,’ says the Lord of Armies.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We have several different expressions in English to convey that someone has experienced some kind of embarrassment. One is to eat crow. This phrase comes from the fact that if you have to eat crow, you can’t afford to purchase real meat. It is a humbling state of affairs to be that poor. Another expression is to have egg on your face. This one came out of a time when soft-boiled eggs were a common breakfast item. Men with beards would sometimes leave remnants of their eggy breakfast on their face, and without realizing it carry it with them throughout the day. How embarrassing to later discover you’d been wearing evidence of your morning meal so publicly! In His anger here over the empty and cynical worship practices the priests were allowing and even encouraging, God says He is going to leave something on their faces, but it isn’t egg.
We often make the same mistake today that the ancient Israelites made in thinking that God doesn’t really care all that much about our worship. After all, we go to church week after week and–let’s just be honest here–it can get a little stale sometimes. We go because we’re supposed to go, but we don’t always feel it. Our heart isn’t always in it. In fact, sometimes we go for weeks at a time without ever being really engaged. And nothing happens. God doesn’t get us. The church still goes along fine whether we are engaged in the moment or not. The preacher still preaches his sermon and the congregation sits looking forward with almost every eye opened the whole time. God must not really care.
Except that He does.
Like, a lot, a lot.
And occasionally we get passages like this one where God reminds us just how much He cares. He cares so much and gets so fired up about it that Bible translators have to be really careful in their phrasing so they keep the overall language of the published and sold copies of the Bible at a PG level.
Let’s put a bit of realism in these words that might otherwise seem sterile to you. Sacrificing an animal was a messy affair. They didn’t just tie the thing down and set it on fire. First, they slit the animal’s throat. Then, they gutted it. They pulled out all the innards and set them in one pile and began to carve out the good parts to put in another pile. Then the carcass when into a third pile. The good stuff got barbecued and the rest got taken off and thrown in the trash pile.
We bought a fridge one time and a friend loaned himself and his truck and trailer to help me go pick it up. On the way we stopped at a place that processed deer meat to drop off one he had shot the day before to have it butchered. When we got there, I hopped out of the car long enough to help him unload the cooler with the carcass in it. Well, there were two deer carcasses strung up under a shelter being drained of blood. The smell was absolutely, unbearable awful. It took several minutes back in the car before I got it out of my nose.
The sacrificial process would have smelled like that all the time. There would have been guts and gore everywhere. The priests would have been up to their elbows in entrails every single day. It would have been disgusting on a level we have trouble imagining. And to a certain extent, that was the point. The mess was to remind the people of just what their sins really looked like. We don’t see the mess of sin today very often which is why pointing to the cross is so important. For them, they saw it every day. They saw it so much they grew numb to it.
That was the problem.
They had grown so numb to the whole process that they were treating the worship of God just like the pile of animal mess lying next to the altar. Well, in treating the worship of God like it was nothing more than a pile of animal remains, they were saying God wasn’t worth anything more than that as well. Well, we may not have animal remains as a part of our worship today, but when we start treating worship like it doesn’t really matter, we are doing the same thing they were in a different way.
And God doesn’t like it.
So what does God say? I’m going to rub the waste all over your faces and then throw you out with it. Wait, what? Can God say that? I could use the word that more literally translates the Hebrew here simply for shock value, but I think you can guess what it is without that. And we could argue that He’s just saying this for effect and doesn’t really mean it, except that you find Him saying similar kinds of things more often than just this. He really is this upset with the whole state of affairs.
Now, I could keep going on this for a bit, but I’m just going to leave you with the challenge here to reflect on as you prepare to gather in some form or fashion with a group of fellow believers to worship the Lord in a few days’ time. If God takes our worship practices this seriously, shouldn’t we do so as well? Just how seriously do you take worship? How much of yourself do you put into it? Is it a convenience, or something entirely more essential than that? Think carefully about your answers because, as we have seen, God really does care.