Scriptural Gem for October 2016

In Deuteronomy 27:5-6 we read: '... And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones; you shall not use an iron tool on them. You shall build with whole stones the altar of the Lord your God, and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God.' 

In Joshua 8:31 we read: 'Now Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: "An altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool.  And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings."

The word 'whole' used in both readings above is the Hebrew word 'Shalem' which means 'complete, perfect, whole'.  Imagine for a moment the type of altar that we would conceive to build for the Lord. In our idea of perfection we would likely plan lovely straight edges and squared-off corners - everything aligned with precision. Upon completion of this work we would stand back, admire our handiwork and declare: "That is perfect!" 

However, in both our readings above, God's command is clear - they were to use 'whole' stones untouched by human tools. Think of stones in their natural state;  they are rough, irregular and imperfect to the human eye.  Again, we are reminded that God's thoughts are not our thoughts nor is man's notion of perfection His understanding of perfection.  The same principle applies to our Christianity.  We are careful to attend the 'right' church, hold to the 'right' doctrine (complete with 5 points), strive for a perfect attendance and tithing record and present a meticulously sculpted Christian exterior to the world... There is a name for that - Religion - a 'manufactured' Christian life which has no life in it at all. Most disastrously, the inevitable outcome of such a self-fashioned Christianity is the rejection of the Perfect, Precious Stone. (Psalm 118:22)

Our God is He whose strength is perfected in weakness. He commands that we, fully acknowledging our weakness and imperfections, come to Him to be made whole, to receive true Christian Life, His Life. In that, our Saviour is glorified and true perfection is revealed.