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Blood Sacrifice: Why Is Sacrifice Important to God?

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Today’s guest post comes to us courtesy of Pastor T.E. Hanna, you can learn more about him in the author bio at the end of this article.

One of the most common criticisms leveled against Christianity is the argument that this “God of love” is, in reality, a violent, bloodthirsty deity with an unhealthy appetite for blood sacrifice. After all, what sort of God connects forgiveness with the slaughter of innocent animals? Were blood sacrifice in vogue today, we certainly would be guilty of any number of animal rights violations, not to mention that modern psychology identifies the killing of animals to be an early marker for sociopathy. When seen from our modern vantage point, the blood sacrifice of the Old Testament is an understandable issue.

Definition of Sacrifice

In fact, the first seven chapters of Leviticus are replete with the laws concerning various forms of animal sacrifice. These are:

  • Burnt offerings, whereby the animal is sacrificed, drained of blood, and then completely consumed by fire.
  • Grain offerings (sometimes referred to as meat offerings in the KJV, as the Old English definition of ‘meat’ often referred simply to food), whereby grain or other foods from the field are presented and consumed by fire.
  • Peace offerings, whereby an animal is sacrificed, cleaned, cooked on the altar, and eaten as a shared meal. This is most typically a lamb.
  • Sin and guilt offerings, whereby a priest offers a blood sacrifice on behalf of the sin of another, the offering is then cleaned, cooked, and eaten by the priesthood.

The very fact that the opening seven chapters of Leviticus detail specifically how these are to be done belies the significance which blood sacrifice had to ancient Israelite worship. It still leaves the question unanswered, however… why does God demand blood sacrifice?

Animal Sacrifice

To get to the heart of this, we have to backtrack. The birth of monotheism was with Abraham*, as God revealed Himself and made covenant. It was this covenant which eventually brought forth Israel. In the ancient world, however, covenant was signified through sacrifice. An animal would be killed, its lifeblood drained, and the carcass cut in half. The two individuals making the pact would then walk, together, between the two halves of the slain animal, which signified the gravity of the vow they had made. The implication was that, should either of them violate the covenant, may the one in violation fall victim to the same fate which befell the slain beast before them. Covenant was a big deal.

So it was that, when God made covenant with Abraham, He did it in the only manner which Abraham understood – through sacrifice. This is important, because it reveals an aspect of God that is central to Christian theology: God meets us where we are, and leads us forward. Sacrifice, from this point forward, was centered around the covenant which God made with Abraham. Burnt offerings and grain offerings were offerings of livelihood, offering up to God that which we rely on, reminding us that our hope is found in God alone. Sin and guilt offerings were offerings of covenant restoration, offered on behalf of the priesthood, restoring those who had violated the covenant back into relationship with God. Peace offerings were similar, but directed at the community. The sacrificed animal would be cooked and the meal shared, that relationship with one another may be restored.

Of course, God was very clear to set limits on sacrifice, and would eventually deal with the practice itself. When Abraham was sent to offer up Isaac, his son, this was a matter of establishing proper boundaries for sacrifice. There, in Canaan, it was common practice to sacrifice the first-born child to one of the pagan gods, in the hope of slaking the deity’s wrath and preserving the lives of future children in a time where infant mortality was abysmally high. God, through Abraham’s obedience, changed this practice for His followers. Sacrifice was limited to animals that were sources of food, not children. By the Exodus, in fact, sacrifice was explicitly linked to food offerings, as the lamb slain at Passover was to be eaten as part of the ritual. In time, however, even the covenant meaning which was the basis for blood sacrifice became lost, and animal sacrifice was reduced to a ritual. Thus, by Hosea, we hear the lament of the Lord, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” (Hosea 6:6-7)

The End of Blood Sacrifice

So it was that Jesus ended sacrifice for all time. The covenant with Abraham was that God would make him the father of many nations, and that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The fulfillment of that covenant was met in His son, Jesus. The quintessential blood sacrifice under the Old Covenant was represented in the Passover lamb. This lamb would be brought forth three days prior to Passover, and observed for three days to make sure it was without blemish or defect. On the third day, Passover Eve, the lamb would be sacrificed, drained of blood, cooked, and eaten with bitter herbs. Through this, it was remembered how the blood of the lamb protected the children from death in Egypt, and set them free from their slavery.

Jesus entered Jerusalem three days prior to Passover. For three days He was tested by Caiaphas, Annas, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the teachers of the law, and finally Pontius Pilate… who declared that he found nothing wrong with Jesus. On Passover Eve, the Lamb of God was sacrificed on a cross, so that by His blood the angel of death may not claim us and we are set free from our slavery to sin. Jesus became the perfect sin offering.

The night He was betrayed, He broke bread, announcing it to be His body, broken for us. He took wine, and, giving thanks, offered it to us as His blood of the New Covenant. Through Eucharist, we partake of Jesus as the perfect peace offering.

The only offering remaining was the burnt offering and the grain offering – the offering of livelihood, freely given to remind us that our provision is found in God alone. This we still practice, but it is instead found in the offering of our livelihood delivered into a little wooden plate passed around on Sunday morning. Our livelihood has changed; so the offering has changed to match.

Blood sacrifice was necessary because it reflects a God who meets us where we are at and leads us from there. Blood sacrifice is complete, perfectly fulfilled, as the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice, offered Himself once for all. God still meets us where we are at. Hopefully, we still follow as He leads us home.

*Some scholars argue that monotheism began with Zoroastrianism in the Persian Empire, not with Judaism. These arguments are dependent on a late-date hypothesis pertaining to the penning of the Torah. There is significant grounding for an early-date authorship, however, which dates the penning of the opening books of Scripture to the Exodus or shortly thereafter. If we accept the early date, then Judaism preceded Zoroastrianism by nearly 600 years, and the birth of Zoroastrianism can be traced to the period of Israel’s captivity in Persia. During their captivity, Israel would certainly have exerted significant influence on the cultural philosophy out of which Zoroastrianism was born.

Author Bio:

T.E. Hanna is currently completing his final year as a Masters of Divinity student at Asbury Theological Seminary. In addition to his studies, he serves the church in two roles: as Senior Pastor with one church, and as Director of Student Ministries with another. Follow his blog at OfDustAndKings.com or connect with him on Google+.

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Author: πίστις

A prodigal for many years, I eventually found my way back to Jesus through several difficult trials. I write with the hope that I can bless others who have struggled as I have. I seek through Christ to present the truth, and lead others to the cross of Calvary. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There is no other. In 2014 Greg Holt founded The Olive Branch Report, a premier Christian news service. Please visit Greg Holt on the web: Inspirational Christian Blogs, & The Olive Branch Report

12 thoughts on “Blood Sacrifice: Why Is Sacrifice Important to God?

  1. Just wanted to point out, and I know you know this, where you said: There, in Canaan, it was common practice to sacrifice the first-born child to one of the pagan gods, in the hope of slaking the deity’s wrath and preserving the lives of future children in a time where infant mortality was abysmally high. God, through Abraham’s obedience, changed this practice for His followers.

    In the part where it says God, through Abraham’s obedience, changed “THIS” practice for HIS followers….

    I just wanted to clarify that the terrible practice of child sacrifice was only performed among the pagan’s..as you originally said “pagan” gods. But this was not a practice performed by God’s people in which God would need to change among HIS followers. He was showing, that unlike the ‘false pagan’ gods being worshiped by the disobedient, He did not require such a thing as the ‘children’ being sacrificed, and never had.

    Exodus 22:29-30 is one that many get confused on. “You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.”

    Here, God is talking about dedication of the child for service to God, and with the cattle and sheep, dedication to God as a sacrifice in death. We can see this in the account of Samuel. The mother gives Samuel as a sacrifice to God for allowing her to finally conceive. So she took the child to the Levite Preist and left him there…whereas Samuel grew up among the Preists, serving God.

    Jeremiah 19:5, “They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I commanded not, nor spoke it, neither came it into my mind:”

    Another interesting concept is that God required obedience…sacrifice was a result of sin. David wrote, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire…burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.” (Psalm 40:6) And in another place he said, “You desire not sacrifice…You delight not in burnt offering.” (Psalm 51:16) The Lord repeatedly gives the same message: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? says the Lord. I am full of the burnt offering of rams and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lams, or of he-goats.” (Isaiah 1:11) With even stronger words, He says, “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them.” (Amos 5:21; Jeremiah 6:20; 14:21) He even states that sacrifice did not come about by His command: “For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them…concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: but this thing I commanded them, saying, Obey my voice.” (Jeremiah 7:21) Clearly, sacrifice is not a penalty demanded by God, but obedience.

    All so very interesting, Gomer! God bless you, and what a well-written and amazing article! I have written what I have here simply to clarify and to add to what you’ver written, in all respect. You’ve done an awesome job!

    • Lyn my friend,

      Re-read this part, you took what was said a little out of context! I can see where you got the thought you did, but he (T.H. Hanna) spelled out that when Abraham went to sacrifice his son, God used that as a way of setting boundries on what acceptable sacrifice was. Human sacrifice in the same region was mentioned but that was in reference to the pagans that did this with their deity, not God’s people. The words are mildly misleading at first, but the meaning was to be sure that God’s people did not emulate this horrid practice. I cinfess I did not see this at first until you pointed it out, I guess because I took the whole passage as one lump sum and the passage in question had said that the common practice of child sacrifice was to the PAGAN gods. (sorry could not underline!)

      Of course, God was very clear to set limits on sacrifice, and would eventually deal with the practice itself. When Abraham was sent to offer up Isaac, his son, this was a matter of establishing proper boundaries for sacrifice. There, in Canaan, it was common practice to sacrifice the first-born child to one of the pagan gods, in the hope of slaking the deity’s wrath and preserving the lives of future children in a time where infant mortality was abysmally high. God, through Abraham’s obedience, changed this practice for His followers. Sacrifice was limited to animals that were sources of food, not children.

      This was a great article I agree, but I did not write it! As shown at the end of the article it was written by T.E. Hanna.

      • LOL! NO! I knew what you meant silly! I was pointing that out in case others might be misled or confused by the statement! Arrrgh! ha ha!

      • See the first sentence of my first comment on this: “Just wanted to point out, and I know you know this”

        and…in the final part….

        “All so very interesting, Gomer! God bless you, and what a well-written and amazing article! I have written what I have here simply to clarify and to add to what you’ver written, in all respect. You’ve done an awesome job!”

        So now who’s doing the misunderstanding here..huh? Huh? LOL!

        ;-P

      • Yes Ma’am. Silly me… :) :)

  2. Yeah yeah..kudos to T.E. Hanna then….and you did a wonderful, awesome job posting it!

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