August in the Boise area usually means smoke in the valley.
Whether from Idaho fires, or those from Oregon and Washington, it’s not uncommon to have poor air quality and visibility this time of year. In addition to my general distaste for southern Idaho summer heat, I am saddened every year to think of the devastation the fires bring to our forests. I know the fiery heat births new life from the pinecones to regenerate the wooded hillsides, but it still bothers me to see the char-scarred hills.
Yet I learn something beautiful from the smoke and its carnage.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah says,
Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
—Isaiah 40:16 NIV
Stay with me here: the book of Leviticus records the religious sacrifices the Israelites offered to God in repentance and thanksgiving. Day after day, the priests would lay the altar fire with wood cut from the surrounding forest (Leviticus 1:7). The sacrificed animals would rest atop the fire. As they burned, the smoke rising from the altar reached heavenward to please God.
According to Isaiah, there aren’t enough trees in the entire country of Lebanon to stoke the altar fires long enough to match God’s worthiness of receiving the sacrifices. (Shew–that’s a long sentence!) Here’s what He’s saying:
God’s holiness and glory vastly exceed the finite resources housed by Lebanon.
The Old Testament ritual of sacrifice depicts the depth of our sin and need for forgiveness. But, on a deeper level, it reveals the truly incomparable holiness of our God. He is worthy of such praise, worship, and sacrifice that the earth doesn’t hold enough resources to adequately reflect His value.
The smoke—a distant representation of the fires plaguing the western part of our country—reminds me that it’s impossible to praise God too much.