I’ve recently prepared a presentation with a brother about sacrifice in the bible. We haven’t delivered it yet so it could all be heretical, but here are some things we looked at.
The first sacrifice was could be in Genesis 3:21, where God gets animal skins for the now sinful Adam and Eve and covers them, as their own coverings were not sufficient. I argue God got these skins from a sacrificed animal (though some say that is not so), and shows that sacrifice covers out sin. We need someone/thing to take the consequences of sin, and that means death, but God in his mercy chooses to accept the life of an animal to cover sin.
The second (or first if you don’t think the first is a sacrifice), is that of Cain and Able’s sacrifices in Genesis 4:3-4. Cain sacrifices some food/plants from the ground, but Able gives his best, his firstlings. Cains offering isn’t pleasing. Able sacrificed something precious, something he had nurtured and had great value. It is suggested that Cain’s offering was simply whatever he had spare, and came at no cost to him. In the same way, we should give God our best!
Sacrifices are also used to mark occasions, or the start of something new, like in Genesis 15 where God promises land to Abraham’s descendants. It marks a new Era, a new birth, a new agreement or way of life. In the same way, through Jesus’ death we are made anew, entering a new covenant and true forgiveness.
In Leviticus sacrifice becomes heavily systematized. There are sacrifices not just for sin, praise or covenant as before, but for fellowship (the peace offering), for when you have caused offence intentionally/unintentionally (the guilt and trespass offering) and even for praising God through work (the meal offering). All were optional, except for the sin offering (though you could still make a sin offering if you wanted).
People today don’t really know why all the specifics are there (such as, in which way an animal should be cut or burnt) but scholars think that people at the time would have understood the significance of each detail. People have theories, and I have some myself which I will briefly summarise.
- The animal had to be blemish free because that’s how God wants his people to be, the animal represents the person. They need to be clean.
- The animal was often a male. In farming the males are more valuable (you may have 1 bull and 50 cows). This shows the people are sacrificing something valuable, and dear to them.
- The animals are skinned which brings us back to Adam and Eve having their sin covered.
There is a lot more symbolism one could draw from the texts, I am certain that ever detail has a deep and important meaning. People are also unsure as to why the blood was sprinkled on the altar. We know that blood is the ‘lifeblood’ and considered very important (Leviticus 17:11), but why is it sprinkles so? Here are some ideas
- The blood somehow purify’s a person/the altar (I didn’t understand this point so if you can explain it to me better please do).
- To show blood has been spilt for the sins committed.
- To show a sacrifice has been made, and as with Abraham, this marks a change in the relationship/attitude/believer.
The Real Purpose of Sacrifice
God doesn’t delight in the sacrifice (Hosea 6:6 and Psalm 51:16-17), but rather in what it represents. The idea isn’t that ‘sin is fine so long as you make a sacrifice’, but rather ‘sin is costly, and a high price must be paid for it’. God wants hearts to be changed, for people to realise the effect their sin has, and turn away from it. Look at these verses from Leviticus (5:5-6)
- when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.
God wants people to be aware of their sin, of the fact that they are guilty, and to know that something needs to be done about it. Hebrews 10 tells us that if these sacrifices could remove sin they wouldn’t need to be done again and again. Instead, I argue, these sacrifices merely covered sins (sins individually) where as Jesus’ sacrifice removed sin (as in, the very essence of sin).
We no longer need to cover our sin, because when we feel that guilt, that conviction, and we turn to Jesus, our sin is removed completely. When we want to praise, we do so through our attitude and good works, by knowing how to live a Godly way. As Romans 12:1-2 say, we are to live as sacrifices (as Jesus), which we do by not being worldly, but by knowing God’s will and doing it. The point of sacrifice is to show the seriousness of sin, and make us turn to Him. Now because we have turned, we do not need to make more and more sacrifices, but live in awareness of our freedom from sin. We can openly praise God through everything we do.
Before people could not enter the Holy of Holies, the place where God’s pure concentrated presence was. They still had sin in them, so they would just show that their sin was atoned for. Now however, God makes his dwelling, his pure concentrated presence, in us, because our sin is removed, not just covered.
I hope this is food for thought. If you are interested I can get you a reference list Lots of love; God bless you and keep you always.