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Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 2]

Continuing an examination of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, starting with what they were not, and moving to what they were. In my last post I tried to establish that, first and foremost, the sacrifices of the Old Testament were far from God’s ideal. I am quite confident that if there had been a way to accomplish the necessary purposes of the sacrifices without involving suffering or death, God would most certainly have ordered it.

So let’s carry on with what the sacrifices WERE NOT:

2. Sacrifice did not ‘feed’ God or give him pleasure

This is in direct contrast to the understanding of the nations in their pagan sacrifices:
“Everywhere in the Mediterranean world, sacrifice was at the center of cult. Its ostensible purpose was to feed the gods or the dead.”
— Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide
The God of Israel makes it clear this is not his purpose at all. Far from it:
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?”
The thought of God “consuming” or “eating” animal sacrifices in a literal sense is not only distasteful but neo-blasphemous. Those who love animals rightly recoil from the notion of a God who loves gore, bloodshed and meaningless suffering. While the God we worship has often made accommodation for man’s weakness and failure, he himself is far above such things.

Furthermore David rightly intuited that the ritual — the act of sacrifice itself — gave no pleasure to his God:
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit …”
It is not wild speculation to suggest that the “sacrifices” religious people make today are no more pleasing to God than these, in and of themselves. Which leads to ...

3. Sacrifice was of no value absent the right attitude and actions

What pleased God about a sacrifice was something else entirely: When a sacrifice was offered with the proper attitude toward God rather than in an empty, repetitive way, it put the believing Jew in the right frame of mind to be led by Jehovah in his life and to receive his blessing and actually recognize it for what it was:
“He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honours me and to him who orders his way aright, I shall show the salvation of God.”
On the other hand, sacrifices from those who were willing to observe the form of religion without its substance were an absolute offence to God; they provided no value to the ‘worshipper’ other than the pious impression he (perhaps) created on his neighbours, and actually put him in danger of judgement rather than earning God’s favour.
“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations — I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.”
In addition to the proper attitude, the proper actions needed to accompany sacrifice. Isaiah’s declaration of God’s mind on these matters continues, and it is extremely practical:
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”
Of course it goes without saying that worshippers with the right attitude, in all likelihood, regularly demonstrate their devotion to God through their actions.

Next: More things the sacrifices WERE NOT

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