I started my ash-pondering in Part 1, planning to link Ash Wednesday with the red heifer and its ashes that I recently read about in Numbers 19 but veered off down another path about the value of traditions and rituals. Although the more I think about it, the less I believe I veered off.
I’m reading through the Bible again and find that the more often I read through books such as Leviticus and Numbers, some of Exodus and Deuteronomy with their repetitive recitation of detail after minute detail, the less tedious it becomes. God obviously told Moses ALL of these details – that to us usually seem redundant, downright weird, and a little OCD to be honest – for a specific reason. The LORD had reasons for every single little detail. We may not KNOW what all the reasons were for each little detail, but He didn’t outline them because He was a micro-manager. He didn’t give details about how the lampstands were to be decorated because He liked pretty little almond buds and thought they’d go well with the rest of His decor. I still don’t know why He gave some of the details He did, but there has to be a reason.
We’ve been discussing this in our Life Group, and one member postulated that perhaps some of the little details were to see if the Israelites would really obey Him and follow all the details. Perhaps. Moses does tell them in Deuteronomy 8:2 “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.”
I’ve also heard that many of the laws (so detailed) were designed for health reasons, such as the regulations for mildew and infectious skin diseases, etc. Again perhaps. Obviously, some were protective in nature. With our medical knowledge now, we understand what the Israelites did not understand at the time.
But perhaps there is another reason that has more to do with “setting the stage” for a more sacred space, a re-alignment of your heart and posture of worship that I wrote about in Part 1. These details, these rituals kept God in their hearts and minds as something..someone…different than they’d ever known or heard of. All the ritual made the worship, the fellowship, the contact extra-ordinary (yes, I meant to use the hyphen). It kept Him in an elevated place in their minds and hopefully their hearts. The Bible tells us that He wanted His people “set apart” from the pagans. But He wanted to be “set apart” also. And still does.
(You’re probably thinking “yeah, I knew that already. How long has she been a Christian?!?” Remember, I’m writing this blog for me – for my “learning to be” so forgive my not-so-ground-shaking writing here.)
I realize there is a downside to ritual and tradition also. It can become tooooooo “ritualized,” thus losing its meaning. As I spoke about in Part 1, finding the balance between the cozy relationship and the fear of the Lord can be hard.
Stay with me here. I’m heading back to the red heifer and its ashes.
When I read Numbers 19, this RED HEIFER AND ITS ASHES totally caught my attention for some reason. It didn’t seem to be an offering. At least not like the others. The red heifer was to be slaughtered and burned outside the camp, its ashes mixed with “water of cleansing” for purification from sin, and specifically cleansing from contamination resulting from touching a dead body.
I was totally intrigued by this red heifer. And even more so, when a few days later, I attended the Ash Wednesday service at our church – my first Ash Wednesday service.
As the pastor spoke about ashes and being washed clean – ashes and water – the wheels in my brain started turning.
“Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”Genesis 3:19
Ashes signify repentance and purification from sin. Sin = death. Water signifies cleansing from sin. Living Water = life.
More ash-pondering to follow. This RED HEIFER and ITS ASHES had many surprises in store for me. Maybe for you. Tomorrow?