When many of us read scripture, we see the many sacrifices made by God’s people and we assume that this was because required this of them. But the Bible does not say this. In fact, it says quite the opposite. For example, in Psalms 51:17:
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. [NIV]
and in Hosea 6:6:
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
The book of Hebrews goes on to critique the sacrificial system. It argues that it never even worked, and had absolutely no power to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4 & 11).
Jeremiah 6:20 also speaks against sacrifices:
What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.
When I led your ancestors out of Egypt, it was not burnt offerings and sacrifices I wanted from them.
Isaiah 1:11-13 had even more to say about the Lord’s attitude towards sacrifices:
“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
So why did God’s chosen people offer sacrifices to him?
The purpose of sacrifices in the Old Testament was to pacify man, not God.
While God himself did not want them, they helped to reduce the bloodlust of man. Whenever man committed sin, making a sacrifice seemed to bring a sense of peace or closure. It was as if some retribution had been made for the sin. This made it less likely to boil over into even more violence and hatred.
The blood of an animal was seen as having the ability to “cleanse” something or someone of sin. Sin, in Old Testament times, was often seen in much the same way as we view germs nowadays. So it was customary to take the blood of a sacrificed animal and use it to cover, or cleanse, something from the effects of sin.
But why did God’s chosen people fall into so much sin, which required them to sacrifice so much? Didn’t God say he wanted to make them into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation?
We’ll see the answers to these questions and more in Part 5!