I think it’s hard for us to relate to the Israelites and what was going on in the wilderness. We don’t live out in the desert, exposed to the harsh elements, wondering where our next meal is coming from. We live very cultivated lives in sanitized conditions. You have a computer connected to the internet — that’s how you’re reading this blog right now!
For a lot of people I know, it’s hard to understand the whole idea of the sanctuary system. Why would God ask His people to kill animals? In today’s world, we have organizations dedicated to stopping cruelty and violence to animals. Something like the Old Testament sanctuary system would not be okay in modern society.
In recent days, we’ve explored some of the why questions of the sanctuary system, and today, finally, we get a first glimpse at the results from the perspective of the Israelites: "Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown." (vs 22-24)
Regardless of what we may think about the sacrifices offered in the sanctuary system, it’s clear that the Israelites responded to the whole exercise with unrestrained joy. Why did they do that? Was it watching animals be killed? Was it seeing Aaron and his sons sprinkle the blood of the animals around the place? Was it watching the fire come out from the Lord’s presence and burn up the offering — maybe like a really cool pyrotechnics trick? Or was it the reality of being in the presence of a God whom you believed you were totally right with?
Imagine what it was like to have practiced animal sacrifice and different worship rituals for years in Egypt — and to never have actually been confronted with the presence of said god. None of those false gods was ever going to show up! But the true God of Israel was different. He devised a system by which the Israelites would know that they were forgiven and that everything was right with them and God. And once they engaged in worship, God showed up. And it made the Israelites so giddy, they fell facedown.
God longs to be with us. As our Creator, to be in our presence is His desire. And when He breaks into our time and space and we see His glory and feel His presence, we know joy.