Meaning of Devotion

The Hebrew word that is often translated as “devoted” is “cherem”.

When an Israelite commits a sin that is punishable by death, he or she is said to be “cherem”, or “devoted to destruction”.

This is what you shall do; every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction. Judges 21:11

God told the priests and Levites that the tithe is “cherem”, devoted. And it belongs to them.

Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. Num 18:14

Cherem, in the context of war, refers to the spoils of war which must be destroyed by fire.

And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy (cherem) them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: Deuteronomy 7:2

These are “accursed things” and anyone found to be in possession of them are cursed as well (Josh 6:18). And both must be destroyed with fire.

In Leviticus 27:28, an instruction was given by God to the Israelites not to sell or redeem any devoted thing. This includes the things – animals or land – that the Israelite intends to offer to the Lord. They are devoted, cherem, and are “most holy to the Lord”. Anyone who tries to “ransom” the devoted thing – that is, to sell it or withhold it for future profit – shall be put to death (verse 29). A classic example of this would be Ananias and Sapphire who, after they had pledged the proceeds from the sale of their land, withheld a portion of it for themselves. They paid dearly with their lives.

This gives meaning to the phrase “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). Who is a cheerful giver? One who does not vacillate on his decision on what he will give to God. Paul teaches us to make up our minds on what we wish to give, and give it; “not reluctantly or under compulsion”.

We should also not be like Saul who “spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them” (1 Sam 15:9). Only that which was “despised and worthless they devoted to destruction”.

You might have already noticed that all devoted things usually end up destroyed by fire. This was probably what Paul had in mind when he exhorted the Christians in Rome … and us today … to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12:1).

Paul, being a Hebrew and a Pharisee, understood the sacrificial system of the Law. He understood that of the five sacrifices prescribed in the book of Leviticus – the burnt offering, the freewill offering, the grain offering, the sin and guilt offering – the first three were to maintain man’s relationship with God, while the last two were for the repairing of man’s relationship with God.

Take the burnt offering, for example. It was not for the atonement of sin. It was rather a way for the Israelite to show his devotion to God. The animal, “a male without blemish” (Lev 1:3), is chosen from among his herd. It is brought to the entrance of the tent (the tabernacle) where both worshipper and his offering is accepted by the Lord. The animal is then cut up and placed on the altar where it is burned up. The Hebrew word for this offering is olah, which literally means “rising up”. It refers to the smoke that results from the burning of the animals and rises up heaven-ward. It (the smoke) becomes a “sweet aroma to the Lord” (verse 9).

Today, God does not require an animal sacrifice from us. In the place of an animal, God calls us to offer ourselves to Him. We must become the devoted thing, the acceptable and holy sacrifice. We must be the one that is cut up and burned on the altar. And we must not descend from the altar until we have been totally and absolutely consumed, and nothing is left but ashes. This is, Paul concludes, our “spiritual worship”.

Most of the time our worship is physical (singing songs, raising hands, kneeling down, or dancing) and, at best emotional (feeling good and close to God). True worship, and the kind of worshippers God seeks for are those who worship “in spirit and in truth”. Spiritual worshippers, in other words. The goal of worship is not so much to draw near to God but to be consumed (by the fire of the altar) till we are nothing (ashes).

In Hebrew, devotion is a verb, not a noun. In this sense, we do not “do” our devotion; we ARE the devotion. God does not want or need your time, He needs you. God does not want or need your money, He needs you. God does not want or need your talent, He needs you. And when He has you, He has all of these.

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