This Sunday at White Fields I taught 1 Samuel 2 and the story of Hophni and Phineas, the priests who were doing shameful things in the Tabernacle. (Click here for audio of that sermon: “Messed-Up Ministry”). There was a detail of that story that at first seems a bit odd and obscure, but is worth serious consideration.
In 1 Samuel 2:15-17 we read about how the Law required that the fat be burned off the meat before it was eaten. The law about this is found in the Book of Leviticus – and as I mentioned on Sunday, the reason for this is because at that time, the fat of the meat was considered the best, most luxurious part. But God required that when a sacrifice was made as an act of worship, the fat be burned, which would create a lot of smoke and it would be a “fragrant offering” unto the Lord. Any of you who like the smell of bacon cooking know what I’m talking about. Those of you who are vegans, well, you can eat your tofu bacon and pretend you know what I’m talking about!
But the idea that the fat belonged to the Lord represented a fundamental belief that we should give the best to God. Many people are in the habit of doing just the opposite – keeping the best for themselves, and giving the rest (the left-overs) to God. Rather than making their offering check the first check they write every month, they wait until the end of the month to see if they have anything left over. God asks that we give him the best, not the rest.
But there’s something else worth taking note of here: when the people in those days gave the fat of the meat to the Lord, they thought they were really giving up a lot – they were really “sacrificing” something, in obedience to God. They were giving up luxury and “the good life”. However, what we now know is that fat kills. At our last men’s prayer breakfast, one man brought a creation called the “bacon explosion” made of various lard extracts which I am convinced reduced my life span by 2 months per bite!
But here’s the point: by telling them to sacrifice the fat on the altar, not only was God teaching them an important values lesson, but he was also sparing them from something which was bad for them, even though they couldn’t possibly know that yet! It would only be thousands of years later that people would realize that God wasn’t only asking them to give something up, he was actually protecting them – even though they didn’t understand it yet, much like all of us parents do with our children.
God is good and all his ordinances – the things he tells you to do and what he tells you to steer clear of – each and every one flows out of his love and care for you.