Why Did God Prescribe Animal sacrifices?
This past weekend, we were gathered together with friends from church. One of them has devoted herself to animals. She goes into the woods to feed the stray cats living there. Some might think her devotion to the animals is extreme but that is her heart and she follows it.
We were watching the Movie “Abraham” starring Richard Harris and Barbara Hershey. We came to a scene where Abraham teaches Ishmael to sacrifice a goat. During the scene, our friend could not watch. It terrified her. She asked us to tell her when the scene was over as she closed her eyes and turned her head.
We live in a time when we are very far removed from the butchering of animals. Most of us don’t like to think about it. We don’t want to know how the meat arrived at the grocery store. We don’t want to hear about the methods used to kill or butcher the animals.
We’ve made buying meat so sanitary, we won’t touch the package that has a little blood on it. An interesting exercise would be to go through the sirloin or the strip steaks to count the number of packages and then determine how many cows were killed.
In ancient times, many worshipped animals and held them in the highest esteem. People lived with their animals. They were very important to their owners both economically and relationally. When the animals were killed, their value, financial and spiritual, was understood.
So when Cain gave an inadequate sacrifice, the point was he did not give anything of value. When Abel gave his sacrifice, he gave the life of his most valued.
In the Bible, there are different types of sacrifices. All of them required something valuable. The sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin required the life of an animal. For the first Passover, the animal was required to be without blemish (perfect and therefore most valuable) and to stay in the home with the family from the 10th to the 14th of the month.
Imagine having a cute, perfect little lamb living with you. Even if you aren’t an animal lover, how can you not fall in love with a cute little lamb?
Then you have to slit its throat.
This should disgust us. This is the point. When God appointed the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, he did it so the people would be sickened.
When Adam first sinned, God performed the first sacrifice in order to cover Adam and Eve. God loved His creation and valued it. So much so, He called it “very good” (meaning “perfect”) when He was done. Yet He sacrificed an animal so that Adam would see how disgusting his sin was. Imagine Adam’s horror when he encountered death for the first time.
Why would God want us to be horrified by a sacrifice in order to have our sins forgiven? Because that is how He feels by our sin. He wants us to be able to relate. As disgusting as we feel when we have to take a knife to slit the throat of an animal, that is how He feels when we lie, steal and covet.
Imagine how hard-hearted a society must be to care so little about the death of these animals. That is what happened to Israel when centuries later, God said He did not care for their sacrifices. They were simply going through the motions. God wanted them to sacrifice in a way that would remind them of the ugliness of their sins. Instead, the death of the animals no longer affected them. They had become callous to both the sacrifice and their sins.
When Jesus was sacrificed for our sins, people had a choice: To recognize the cost of sin or to ignore it. Because His sacrifice was acceptable to God, we no longer need to do animal sacrifices. Yet the concept of the animal sacrifice is still valid. Sin is still as gross and disgusting as it has always been. When we don’t see the repulsiveness of Christ’s sacrifice, we are like the people of Israel. We have taken for granted His life and are callous to how ugly our sin is.
If you can’t watch the sacrifice of the ram in the movie “Abraham” or the sacrifice of Jesus in the “Passion of the Christ,” you recognize how gross and repulsive the sacrifice is. That is how ugly our sin is to God. That is what God sees when we sin.
Today, most of us don’t want to have anything to do with the killing of an animal. It’s too nasty for us. The question is whether we are at all affected by how nasty our sinful actions are to God?
We are called to sacrifice our most valuable possessions. What is that to you? Would you sacrifice it? What are your thoughts about animal sacrifice? Did this help you to see the ugliness of your own sin? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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