The portion from Leviticus this week appears on the surface to teach of the ancient sacrifices in the Temple. But, more fundamentally, through these practices, it teaches people of faith that God calls us at all times to “draw near.”
The beauty of its companion in Isaiah is that the prophetic language helps us see how we actually do so in times when a physical Temple no longer stands.
We will look closely at what this nearness entails in a moment. But, before we do, let’s first understand better what the Bible teaches generally about this idea of drawing near.
We can draw near to God at any time we feel especially called. The text suggests this is so, whether we’re rich or poor.
We get the sense, too, that we should draw near to God often, at least daily, if not more frequently.
When we draw near, we are instructed to bring some sort of “offering,” and the offering should be fresh and authentic.
Our text also calls us to draw near in special times when we work to create harmony in our community. We are to celebrate such wellbeing and peace with both God and our fellows.
When we do wrong by our fellows or God, we are called to make it right and then draw near to God to acknowledge repair and restoration. This may be when we err intentionally or unintentionally, and notably when we carry guilt or shame with our wrongdoing.
In Isaiah, we find the prophet speaking to people who had been exiled to Babylon. Obviously they were no longer capable of bringing sacrifices to the Temple.
God acknowledges this reality: “You brought Me no sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored Me with your sacrifices. I did not burden you with grain-offerings, nor weary you by demanding incense.”
But – and this is crucial – God did continue to expect the people to draw near with certain offerings – then, now, and forever.
Here is the tip in the text: God says, “The people I formed for Myself, to recount my praise. Yet you have not called upon Me, O Jacob.”
In other words, whether in Babylon or modern day America, people of faith are called to praise and draw near God, even in the absence of the Temple and the requirements from ancient days to bring specified sacrifices.
How might that be?
We get a good answer when God proclaims what is NOT wanted: “Instead (of sacrifices), you have burdened Me with your sins, and wearied Me with your sins.” “Help Me,” God says, “remember…your merits.”
Could it be that reminding God of these merits is the equivalent in post-Temple times of bringing offerings to draw near? And, if so, what are these merits that God wants to be reminded of?
We know the answer to that question. As Micah teaches, it is by living in a way in which we do justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
As to the offerings we bring to remind the Divine of our merits, the psalmist in Psalm 86 guides us beautifully. “The soul of Your servant is made glad because to You, my Upholder, I lift it up.” In other words, our offerings are pleasing when we lift up from our souls prayer and praise of God, as well as living in God’s ways.
Turning to God, drawing near to the Divine presence, we find there that “kindness and truth will meet, and righteousness and peace will kiss.” (Psalm 85). And God will pour “the Divine spirit” and “blessing” upon us and our descendants.