The Bowels as Sacrifice, a Pauline Perspective
Updated: Mar 17, 2020
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service, Romans 12:1.
We will look at the bowels as a part of the body that needs to be a sacrifice. As we saw in a previous post, the bowels had a part in Levitical offerings. We looked specifically at the kidneys which become important when a sacrifice is a peace offering or a sin for the consecration of a priest, the sin of a priest, or the sin of the whole congregation which would include the priests.
We also saw the kidneys from a Hebrew perspective in that a Hebrew speaking person would see the word "kidney" as being the same for both the actual organ inside of a person or animal and the reins of that person or animal. In other words, just as an English speaking person can say "heart" and mean either the actual muscle inside the chest or they can mean the inner core of a person, the Hebrew speaking person when saying "kidney" can mean either the organ or the part of a person that guides them. We retain some of that thinking when we say such things as "a gut feeling".
Just how then would the Apostle Paul have seen the need for Christians to present their bodies a living sacrifice and have utilized his understanding as a Hebrew speaking person when it comes to the kidneys or other bowels? We have that answer in Colossians 3:12-14, Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
Just as the priest was to pile the bowels of a sacrifice in order upon the piece offering or the a sin offering that included himself or another priest, we are told to put these 5 bowels and to put charity upon the whole pile.
To compare the use of bowels in a sacrifice to Paul's admonition in Colossians 3:12-14 we can line up the bowels of the peace offering.
1. Bowels of mercies
3. Humbleness of mind
6. Charity which is the bond of perfectness.
Correspondingly, the sacrifice of Leviticus demands that 6 specific things be placed in order upon the sacrifice.
1. Fat that covereth the inwards
2. Fat that is upon the inwards
3. Kidney #1
4. Kidney #2
5. The fat that is on them
6. The caul above the liver
Before we make a stretch and begin assigning numbers 1-5 in each list to their corresponding numbers in the other list, consider the uniqueness of Charity and of the caul above the liver. As any hunter or good farmer would know, the bowels of an animal are encased in a membrane which the King James Bible calls the caul. Without that caul each bowel could still operate but the animal would be unable to move. Its bowels would become entangled and slip out of place.
Charity performs the same function within a body of people. Charity as outlined in 1st Corinthians 13 is personal character that if practiced will keep the waves of emotion from destroying the body of people wherein it is exercised. I’m sure that you have seen churches get out of hand through the misguided emotions of some. Mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness and longsuffering are all wonderful attributes in any gathering of people, but as any experienced pastor knows when a church begins to turn on itself with contention, those bowels begin to get tangled. When action is needed, someone wants to be longsuffering. When judgment is needed, someone wants to profess a false humility and decline to judge.
In crisis all of the bowels of an organization seem to entangle themselves. The emotions get out of hand. To listen to any given person would be to hear a specific bowel emphasized as being all important in the specific crisis, but to the neutral observer they appear to be working against each other. No resolution can be had without seriously hurting the body. A wise pastor will fight to keep the precepts of 1st Corinthians 13 :4-7 operating. It is the bond of perfectness. It is that caul above the liver that keeps the bowels from entangling and getting out of place. All of the bowels placed in order, along with the caul in its place ensures the peace of God.
Let’s also consider the uniqueness of numbers 3 and 4 in each list. Numbers 1-5 in the Pauline list are bowels or emotions which project outward for interaction with others. They are intended as needed when people interact. Humbleness of mind and meekness are inward cleansing for the person exercising them. They correspond to the kidneys. They keep the person pure. The poison of pride is filtered out in any transaction wherein the person stays humble in his own mind, and wherein he behaves like Moses (meek) when under personal attack. He allows God to defend him.
(If I had been Moses when Miriam and Aaron attacked as in Numbers 12, the Lord would never had defended me. I probably would have screamed at them that, “I was the one to whom God gave the tablets”. “It was me to whom God spoke from the burning bush”. Moses was more meek than any man upon the face of the earth, vs 3. He let God defend him. Likewise he did the same in Numbers 16. His enemies would have been far better off if he had defended himself.)
So numbers 3 and 4 in each list correspond in that they are inwardly cleansing. We know that filtering out poisons is a chief function of the kidneys. The fat is there for the interactions. Without the fat that covers the kidneys and other bowels, an animal would have to stay away from contact with other animals. They would bruise easily and cease to function. It is mercy, kindness and longsuffering that keep any person from being easily bruised in their interactions with others.
As for the kidneys in Leviticus 4, they are unique to either the peace offering or a sin offering including a Priest. This corresponds to a priest's consecration in Exodus 29:13 and 22. Again, Paul explains this when he reaffirms certain principals to the Jews of his age and when he takes the Gentiles by the hand to teach them the precepts of the law.
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins, Hebrews 5:1-3. The key to the priest’s consecration is compassion. David who judged as God would judge, condemned a man to death because he had no pity. And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity, 2nd Samuel 12:5,6.