February 03, 2015

The Stench on Holiness

In his book, "Til We Have Faces", C.S. Lewis uses one of the most captivating phrases I have ever come across:

"The stench of holiness."

I want to briefly explain why this phrase has been gnawing at me for over a year.  I grew up in church and I've owned a Bible since I was a very small child. I've read the Bible quite a bit over the last 18 or 19 years; even that intimidating section at the front which we refer to as the Torah (though I spend less time there than I ought). However, the problem one has when reading any part of the Bible, but especially parts discussing the sacrificial system of the Israelites and other nations, is that I am a 21st Century American. That is to say, there is a rather wide culture gap between my world and theirs. And what this phrase from Lewis did was awaken my senses to the reality of their world.

How easy is it to read over and over about the blood of sacrifices being poured out on the altar, of cows and sheep and pigeons being slaughtered frequently? Really easy. How often had I thought about the feel, the sight, or the smell of God's prescribed worship in the Old Testament? Never.

Consider just the first chapter of Leviticus:


The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.
The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron's sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. “If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, he shall bring a male without blemish, and he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. And he shall cut it into pieces, with its head and its fat, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar, but the entrails and the legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer all of it and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. “If his offering to the LORD is a burnt offering of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or pigeons. And the priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head and burn it on the altar. Its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He shall remove its crop with its contents and cast it beside the altar on the east side, in the place for ashes. He shall tear it open by its wings, but shall not sever it completely. And the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.(Leviticus 1 ESV)

Kill the beast. Cut it to pieces. Splatter the blood on the side of the altar. Tear the bird by its wings. Drain the blood down the side of the altar.

Feel the warm blood dripping down your hands. Listen to the bellowing of the cows, the noise of the sheep and the birds. Smell the burning of flesh and hair on the altar. The demands of God's holiness, namely, that our sin must be paid for by blood, carry a stench about them. The stench, of course, is not intrinsic to holiness itself. God was holy in His eternal nature long before sin ever came into being. But when we sin, God ordains that the payment must be in blood. Over the course of the Israelite nation there were thousands, if not millions, of animals slaughtered to atone for the sins of the people. However, these served only as a temporary appeasement of God's wrath. Ultimately, the blood of bulls and goats can't take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). We needed a more perfect sacrifice, someone who could drink the full cup of God's wrath. Someone whose shed blood not only could cover my sin temporarily, but remove it from my account permanently. That's Jesus (Hebrews 9:12).

The only way for the holiness of God to move from being a stench in our nostrils, a reminder of our coming day to burn, is if we have placed our trust in Christ. If my sin is on Him, I can love the beauty of holiness, rather than fear it's consequences.

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com