While ours is the responsibility rightly to handle the Word of God in preparation and exposition,
yet it remains the Spirit’s sword, and not ours.
— Sinclair B. Ferguson
I’m not very good at delegating. There, I’ve said it. My secret’s out. I work hard at doing it, but it’s tough. It would be much simpler just to (in the words of every three-year-old) “do it myself”. Difficulty with delegating isn’t a virtue for a pastor—in fact, my role is to equip others to be live as responsible citizens in God’s kingdom on earth. Taking all the responsibility on me does a disservice to other gifted people.
That said, I’m working on it. Every time I pick up the phone to ask someone for help, I’m working on it. Every time I free someone to do a task and let the work turn out differently from how I pictured, I move in the right direction.
Israel’s priests had the opposite problem. They became too proficient at delegating, and gave away something that was their God-entrusted responsibility.
. . .
The Levites were chosen by God to care for the things of the Temple, and to offer sacrifices. Apparently, they got bored of their job. As Israel’s religious culture slipped increasingly towards paganism, the Levites must have felt unduly bound by their devotion to one god. They wanted more freedom, so they appointed foreigners (uncircumcised in heart and body) to do their work for them.
The problem was, the foreigners didn’t understand the uniqueness of Yahweh—so they treated him like all the other deities they were familiar with. You can see this in the derisive tone of Ezekiel:
O house of Israel, let there be an end to all your abominations in admitting foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning my temple when you offer me food, the fat and the blood. (vv. 6-7, NRSV, emphasis mine)
The foreigners believed that Yahweh needed to eat, just like their other gods. So they offered him the choice parts of the sacrifices and called it food. But Yahweh didn’t need their “food”. In fact, all through the Torah, this understanding of sacrifices-as-food was repudiated. It was to be a gift—a sacrifice. The uncircumcised of heart and flesh didn’t see the difference.
. . .
Everyone knows what circumcision of flesh meant. That was the physical mark that sealed an Israelite man into God’s covenant community. But God wanted more. He demanded that his people be circumcised in their hearts as well as their bodies. This heart-circumcision is described in Deuteronomy in a couple different ways:
- “The LORD set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer” (Deuteronomy 10:15-16, NRSV). Heart circumcision is something the individual performed out of gratitude for God’s grace in choosing him to be his child.
- The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6, NRSV) Heart circumcision is also something that Yahweh can do to create his covenant community (30:6).
There’s a paradox here: we are to do what only God can do. Yet isn’t that the same paradox we find in the New Testament?
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [I do it!]; for it is God who is at work in you [Oh, he does it!], enabling you. (Philippians 2:12-13, NRSV)
. . .
There are some things in life we can never delegate: the responsibility to work out our salvation (as God works in us); the commission to make disciples; the injunction to worship; the twofold command to love God and neighbour. God has placed the Spirit of his Son inside us, enabling us to do what only he can do. His destiny is ours to fulfill.
. . .
Empowering God, remind me to live this life in your strength—not my weakness. Challenge me again to live responsibly before you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.