If you’ve never read Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Eliot, please do. It’s a great book, especially for all my single ladies out there! Yes, so, it is about Jim & Elisabeth Eliot’s correspondence/courtship (labels don’t work so well in their day, which I adore!). They both felt called to be single. And for many, many years they had to learn how to patiently wait for God to reveal to each of them His plan, step by step, even though their feelings wanted just to know what God was up to with them. But they waited patiently.
One evening, Jim took Elisabeth out to just sit and talk about this waiting stuff. And Jim told her what he had read that morning in his quiet time–about Abraham & Isaac. Abraham was willing to offer up the life of that which was most precious to him: his son. And Jim said to Elisabeth, “So I put you on the altar.”
A few minutes in silence, he followed up his statement, this time with a question, “And what’s to be done with the ashes?”
This question has deeply resonated within me for the past few weeks since I read it for the first time. It reentered my mind upon reading 1 Kings 13 the other morning. Actually, I played quiet-time-catch-up for a few days, so I really read it around 1 o’clock in the morning. Good thing God never slumbers and that He kept my mind awake that late night..
The Kingdom of God’s people is now split, with Judah in the South and Israel in the North. The King of the North, Jeroboam, has gone a tad bit crazy. In order to keep the people unified under him, he institutes a new religion, involving two golden calves (see chapter 12 for all of this). He himself is about to offer sacrifices at Bethel to one of these “new” gods. But before he can, a man of God has come up from Judah to speak to him.
This man tells Jeroboam of a future King who will tear down these idols–Josiah (he’s my favorite). And to prove it, he says that even now this altar will be torn down and its ashes poured out (which does happen, along with Jeroboam’s hand getting shriveled up). But did you catch that? About the ashes. They are going to be poured out.
To be “poured out” is a phrase used by Paul quite a lot in his letters. It’s simply talking about him being used like a vessel by God, to pour the Gospel out to all peoples.
But the altar must be torn down. The altar is nothing. The altar here in 1 Kings was not created for God but for an idol, a worthless idol. The altar was never meant to be the end. It was the means to the end. After an animal was sacrificed, its blood was then taken to the holiest place–poured out in the very dwelling place of God–the Ark of the Covenant. This was especially true on the Day of Atonement (see Lev. 16). The blood would be sprinkled over the Mercy Seat–the very dwelling of God. The altar was the place of death, of payment; the pouring out then, as the place of forgiveness, of grace.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of service.” Romans 12:1.
We are called to die to self, yes, to be sacrificed upon the altar’s we’ve built up not for God but for us. But we are not called to remain dead, no! Just as Jesus was raised, so we too are raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4)! In His rising we will rise, to carry His name, above every name! We are called to rise, to be living sacrifices. Our ashes, in Christ, are worth much more than the ashes that Jeroboam’s altars had created. God has made our ashes new and clean, by the blood of His Son. But we are still to be poured out. For we are called to go, to love, to preach, to give, to spend ourselves out, just as He did, to make His name famous.
If you’ve ever been around a campfire, with hot ashes swirling around, you know that ashes affect everything. They get all over you. And they’re very hard to shake. Days later, that outfit still smells like it. Are our lives like that? Effecting everything for the glory of God alone?
Just ask yourself some questions. Have I been placed on the altar? Have I crucified the flesh and its desires (Galatians 5:24)? And what’s to be done with the ashes?