Compassion: A fourteen-day Journey – #3

Costly Sacrifices.   


Christian financial stewardship leader Larry Burkett (1939-2003) observes the following about this story: “It’s a sad commentary today that many Christians give into God’s kingdom things they simply don’t want.  God wants the best of what we have–not the leftovers.” But may we take the issue further? Bible and homiletics professor Arthur Van Seters states:

The history of Israel is a history of a people constantly on the move to land or from land. But it is also a history of Yahweh, and Yahweh’s promises, gifts, judgments, and forgiveness. Israel has no identity in the Old Testament without land, either promised or inherited. Land is integral to its understanding of its faith in Yahweh, who is seen as the giver of land. But when the people rule Yahweh’s land by force they destroy Yahweh’s gift and end up losing it. This, I believe, is the basic ingredient for understanding a stewardship view of land. Land is a gift freely given, but it is lost when it is controlled contrary to the will of the giver.

This stewardship view of land seems most clearly to have been accepted and understood as the Israelites settled into the land of Canaan at the beginning. According to the theological history that tells us part of the story, we read of a statement by Yahweh, “The land is mine. You Israel are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23). Yahweh is the giver who remains the owner. Israel is a people who are sojourners and not owners. So we have two elements: Yahweh the Giver shares the land with Yahweh’s people, and these people who have shared Yahweh’s land have to view the land as something to be shared, not only with Yahweh, but with one another. As sojourners they also knew that they only had the use of the land, and not some kind of ownership title to it. They inherit the land in order to use it. So the steward of the land, in the Old Testament sense, is one who uses the land and shares it.

In the period of the new Monarchy the whole land system changed.  Now cities, especially Jerusalem and Samaria, stood over against the countryside. The kings developed vast building projects, and that required forced labor and taxes. When wars were fought, they were fought not by volunteer army but by a paid military. Very soon Israelite society had a two-class system with subdivisions. Five percent were the urban elite, subdivided into a political military elite and a ruling religious/cultural elite. The rest were the very poor, about thirty percent urban and sixty-five percent (who were even poorer) rural.

Araunah was obviously a member of the privileged class, as was Naboth in the contrasting story involving Ahab’s seizure of his vineyard. Both of these stories have to do with justice–or the lack of it–on the part of the ruling elite dealing with the urban elite. While David’s unwillingness to appropriate Araunah’s threshing floor and then turn around and present it to God is a direct lesson here, the king’s treatment of the poor in the land might be a better indicator of his overall stewardship.

1 Chronicles 21:15-30 NKJV

And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it. As he was destroying, the Lord looked and relented of the disaster, and said to the angel who was destroying, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Then David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. So David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces. And David said to God, “Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has sinned and done evil indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, O Lord my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.” Therefore, the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David that David should go and erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. So David went up at the word of Gad, which he had spoken in the name of the Lord . Now Ornan turned and saw the angel; and his four sons who  were with him hid themselves, but Ornan continued threshing wheat. So David came to Ornan, and Ornan looked and saw David. And he went out from the threshing floor, and bowed before David with his face to the ground. Then David said to Ornan, “Grant me the place of this threshing floor, that I may build an altar on it to the Lord . You shall grant it to me at the full price, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.” But Ornan said to David, “Take it to yourself, and let my lord the king do what  is good in his eyes. Look, I also give you the oxen for burnt offerings, the threshing implements for wood, and the wheat for the grain offering; I give it all.” Then King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the Lord , nor offer burnt offerings with that  which costs me nothing.” So David gave Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the place. And David built there an altar to the Lord , and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on the Lord ; and He answered him from heaven by fire on the altar of burnt offering. So the Lord commanded the angel, and he returned his sword to its sheath. At that time, when David saw that the Lord had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there. For the tabernacle of the Lord and the altar of the burnt offering, which Moses had made in the wilderness, were at that time at the high place in Gibeon. But David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord .

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