Sacrifice and joy

Now that Christmas is done and things have quieted just a bit, I’m coming back to my word study of joy and hoping to catch up. And as I do so, I find myself back in the book of Deuteronomy, where I pick up again in chapter 27, where Moses commanded the Israelites in versus 6-7, “You shall build the altar of the Lord your God of uncut stones, and you shall offer on it burnt offerings to the Lord your God; and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and eat there, and rejoice before the Lord your God” (NASB).

The progression of these two verses is striking. See, these burnt offerings were supposed to be animals from my own flock which I take to the altar and sacrifice to God. And the fellowship offerings are to be taken from my own stock of grain, and while I get to eat part of them, I still have to sacrifice them at the altar. Which could be seventy miles or more away from home. And there wasn’t a single Israelite that had a car, let alone a helicopter or something else. Did you notice the common theme there? Sacrifice burnt offerings. Sacrifice fellowship offerings. Sacrifice time. Sacrifice travel. Sacrifice. Sacrifice. Sacrifice. Sacrifice. And then, out of nowhere, “rejoice before the Lord your God.”

Rejoice? Are you nuts? I just sacrificed a cow, a pile of wheat, more than two weeks of salary, two weeks of walking, and who knows what else, and now I’m supposed to rejoice?


In fact, I would submit that there are two facets of the relationship between sacrifice and joy which are hinted here. The first is that joy is an integral part of godly sacrifice. If it weren’t true, then Moses would have stopped after “peace offerings.” Maybe he would have included “and eat there.” What does this mean? Well, it’s really very simple: so often, I sacrifice things for God. Whether it be my tithe, my time, my you-name-it, I sacrifice over and over and over again. But do I rejoice as I’m doing it? Moses told the Israelites to rejoice as they sacrifice their burnt and fellowship offerings because that would indicate that you want to be there, in the presence of God, fostering a relationship with Him. Joy is an integral part of godly sacrifice.

And the second facet of the relationship between sacrifice and joy is that sacrifice can and should fuel joy. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but here’s what I’m thinking. The word “and” in English can be more than a simple conjunction. It can imply a causal connection. For instance, consider this statement: “The bomb destroyed the bridge’s eastern support, and the deck collapsed.” In the NASB, we have a series of and’s which seem to have a similar relationship. Build the altar, and [then] offer burnt offerings, and [then] sacrifice peace offerings, and [then] rejoice.

Think about it. When was the last time that you really sacrificed something for God? And how did you feel as a result? I know that I’ve felt scared, frustrated, and even a bit resentful every now and then, giving God a lecture about how He really needed to take care of this or that without me having to give up my stuff. But I also know that, shortly after I was obedient to sacrifice, there was often a powerful release of joy when God did something amazing. Our God is amazing. And He can and will take our sacrifice and turn it into praise.

If you don’t believe me, consider the words of James in James 1:2: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Hebrews 10:34: “You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property.” And of course, Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” Each of these things would seem to be some sort of sacrifice – of comfort, freedom and property, and safety – and yet each was directly tied to joy and/or blessing.

So, suffering and joy go hand-in-hand (as long as the suffering is in obedience). Weird, huh?


2 Responses to “Sacrifice and joy”

  1. 1 Keith January 19, 2011 at 1:49 am

    Guilty here, too. I can name countless times when I’ve sacrificed because I had to, and then felt entitled to something special from God. A quid pro quo, rather than an act of worship and joy.

    And feeling entitled (to something from God) is a dangerous, corrosive thing that can leach its way into other parts of our faith walk. I’ve had this happen to me before: after a while, you just feel…entitled. Like God owes you something. And there goes the joy, right out the window.

    Thanks for sharing this. It made me think.

  1. 1 Back to it: Obedience or joy? « Jeremy R. Geerdes Trackback on March 10, 2011 at 9:48 pm

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