I recently boarded a flight that was overbooked by at least ten passengers. It’s become much more commonplace for airlines to do this, booking passengers close to or over capacity on a flight, but on this particular occasion, even the boarding attendants knew they had a massive problem. From the concerned looks on their faces to the announcements that evolved rapidly from informing, to offering, to begging—we all knew something was wrong.
The airline offered the passengers free rebooking, and then free rebooking plus flight vouchers, and finally, free same-day rebooking plus flight vouchers plus a sizable gift card. With that last push, they finally obtained enough volunteers to step off the flight.
Now imagine this scenario: instead of offering and delivering all of those nice incentives, the airline simply gave the bumped passengers a twenty dollar gift card to the pretzel stand in the airport. Can you picture the rioting that would’ve ensued? Not only would the displaced passengers have been furious, but many other travelers and onlookers would have thrown themselves into the revolt. That’s because we’ve all been created with a universal, ingrained sense of justice that knows wrongs need to be made wholly right.
Today’s reading in Exodus deals with furnishing the courtyard. This is the place where offerings are made to the Lord. This is the place where the transaction by which God’s people will be made right begins. But these sacrifices are not impersonal transactions. They are matters of the heart. I think this is what David is recognizing when he cries out: “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; you are not pleased with a burnt offering” (Psalm 51:16). Clearly, the wrongs committed by the Israelites, or later by David, were on a completely different level than an airline fumbling some reservations—not to mention that our spiritual well-being isn’t a customer service transaction.
However, David knew in his heart what the writer of Hebrews also declared to be true: the sacrificial system could not permanently repair the repeated and egregious offenses of humanity against God and His holy nature. This was not necessarily because the law was faulty, but because humanity was unable to abide within its boundaries.
This is something that David, in the pit of his sin, had the wisdom to recognize many years after the Exodus and many years before the coming of Christ. On the heels of his adulterous and murderous actions, David realized what the book of Hebrews confirms: God wants our hearts! That’s why David cried out in despair: “The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.
You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God” (v.17). More than our things, more than our words, more than our self-berating or self-pity, what God desires and requires is our hearts. The work of Jesus on the cross has ensured that the rest will flow out from there.
If you know you’ve been trying to hand out IOUs and 1-ounce bags of honey roasted peanuts for too long, maybe it’s time you consider the alternative: surrendering your heart to Jesus. It’s costly, scary, and sometimes a painful process. But we know from David, and time and time again from Scripture, that it’s the only way to thrive in a deep relationship with the God who created you and desires to be closely connected to you.