“Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction” (Romans 15.4). There is more to that statement than meets the eye. It is easy to see how the stories of faithful people like Abraham, Noah, and Hezekiah serve to instruct God’s people today. It is even easy to see how the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the Babylonian captivity of Israel, serve to instruct us as well. There are lessons we can still draw from those events that apply to our lives today. But these things do not exhaust Paul’s statement.
In the context, Paul had just quoted from Psalm 69.9, “the reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me” (Romans 15.3), which he had prefaced by saying “even Christ did not please himself, but as it is written.” That is, Paul looked at the words of Psalm 69 and saw a picture of Jesus there. Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the one who bore the reproaches of God. This is just one way in which the Old Testament still serves for “our instruction.”
I’d like to consider, for a moment, another picture from the Old Testament. This one is ultimately about Jesus as well, but it also has everything to do with us. There is a particular feature of the Law of Moses that is often overlooked but which, it seems to me, holds a great lesson for us today.
One example of the feature of which I speak is found in the procedure when a new high priest took his office. After donning the special garments of the high priest, a sacrifice had to be offered. The Law said this about the sacrifice: “You shall take all the fat that covers the entrails and the lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys and the fat that is on them, and offer them up in smoke on the altar” (Exodus 29:13).
We run into a similar requirement when we read about the sacrifice known as a peace offering: “From the sacrifice of the peace offerings he shall present an offering by fire to the Lord, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys. Then Aaron’s sons shall offer it up in smoke on the altar on the burnt offering, which is on the wood that is on the fire; it is an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 3.3-5).
We run into it again in the procedure for the sacrifice that was called a sin offering: “He shall remove from it all the fat of the bull of the sin offering: the fat that covers the entrails, and all the fat which is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, which is on the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys (just as it is removed from the ox of the sacrifice of peace offerings), and the priest is to offer them up in smoke on the altar of burnt offering” (Leviticus 4.8-10).
Did you notice how in each sacrifice, God got the same parts from the animal? In each sacrifice, God got the fat that covered the entrails, the kidneys, and the lobe of the liver. The fact that it is the same for each procedure is not coincidental. It was specifically demanded by God and thus established a pattern for sacrifice.
The precise parts that God got are an interesting collection. Of course, the ancients did not understand the functions of the anatomy of animals (or people) in the way that we do. When a modern doctor considers a human body, he or she sees all kinds of intricate systems for air, blood, nerve impulses, digestion, glands for the production of hormones, etc. We have a sense of what the various internal organs do and some sense of how they do them. But the ancients understood none of these things. When they looked at a body they saw a collection of strange pieces. They did not know what the pieces did or how they worked. But they did know this: a human being, and an animal, is made up of outward parts and inward parts. Furthermore, the dissection of animals revealed that some of the inward parts are buried deep within the body, wrapped in muscles or covered with special membranes. To the ancients, the kidneys were about the most “inward” parts of the human body imaginable. The liver is the largest and heaviest organ (in Hebrew, the word for “liver” is a form of the word for “heavy”) and thus was considered to be significant for this reason (on the assumption that heavier means more important). They considered it to be, in some ways, the source of the body’s life not just physically, but emotionally and other ways as well (English translations often say “heart” or “spirit” where the original Hebrew of the Old Testament says “liver” or “kidneys”). Furthermore, the fat that lined the entrails was considered a sweet substance.
Perhaps you can begin to see the special significance of the kidneys, the liver, and the internal fat for the ancients. These represented the innermost parts of a living creature, the parts where life itself was centered, and the “sweet” parts. And those were the parts that God wanted given to Him. God wanted the inward parts, the “deepest” parts, the parts that represented life.
It is not hard to see the lesson for us. God does not want merely external deeds from us, performed out of ritual with no engagement of the mind or heart. God wants our inner parts, He wants my heart, my mind, and my spirit to be given to Him. It is only when I have given my inner self to God that He is pleased with the sacrifice I make of my life for Him.
“Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction” (Romans 15.4).
This chart summarizes the sacrifices of the Law of Moses: sacrifices chart