ALL ENTRIES TAKEN FROM THE AUTHOR'S WORK,
WHAT IF GOD...? Thought-Provoking Reflections About God (Michael Caputo)
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WHAT IF GOD HAD NOT ORDAINED SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS ?
To our modern, sanitized, “civilized” minds, the idea of killing thousands of animals as a central part of worshipping God seems to be strange and cruel, especially given the fact that most of the animals to be sacrificed were “gentle” animals such as cows, sheep, goats and doves. Certainly, some may think, there must have been better ways to handle temple worship.
What if God had not ordained animal sacrifices as a central part of worship in ancient Israel? Would anything critical have gone missing?
To understand the reason why God ordained animal sacrifices we must address the following questions. The first question is: Why did God ordain sacrifices? The second one is: What could have been an acceptable alternative?
The answer to the first question is that sacrifices were both a gift to God and a tool for atonement for sins, whether intentional or unintentional (Leviticus 1-7).
The answer to the second question is that if God had not ordained which animals were to be sacrificed Israel could have adopted the ways of the Gentiles and could have sacrificed “unclean” animals such as swine and other scavengers, or they could have gone a step further and adopted the revolting ways of the Canaanites who had turned to child sacrifice. In fact the Bible tells us that on a few occasions the practice did filter into Israel as well (II Kings 21:6, Judges 11: 30-31).
Knowing that sacrificing had the potential of deteriorating, God gave very specific ordinances to regulate it. Therefore, if God had not ordained and regulated sacrificing, Israelites would have, for certain, adopted the ways of the Heathen and would have ultimately sacrificed humans, as some did.
But there is more. If God had not ordained sacrifices, Israel would have been deprived of the great lesson that God was trying to teach Israel that sin costs even if it is done out of ignorance.
Sacrificing a bull must have been quite a financial sacrifice, as was sacrificing goats and lambs. On top of that, Israelites had to travel for days to get to Jerusalem to perform a sacrifice. The travel, and the sacrifice amounted to a loss of much time and money. Thus, the people of Israel learned the lesson that sin is simply not worth it. It also taught them that being careless with God’s laws would also be quite costly: “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the Lord in anything which ought not to be done, and does any of them…then let him offer to the Lord for His sin which He has sinned a young bull without blemish as a sin offering’” (Leviticus 4:2-3). A bull was a costly sacrifice, and people of Israel would not want to incur such a loss too often.
Finally, and most importantly, if God had not ordained sacrifices, Christians would not have been able to fully comprehend the necessity of the sacrifice of Christ. God made it perfectly clear that only the shedding of blood could fulfill the requirements for sin. He ordained that a goat without blemish would be killed yearly, and that its blood be presented to Him: “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil…and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins…”(Leviticus 16: 15-16).
Though very helpful in teaching the seriousness of sin, sacrifices were not enough for cleansing humans of sins; there was a necessity for something greater, something much more powerful. Paul tells us what this something was in the book of Hebrews:
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:11-15).
Paul adds that all that sacrifices pointed to Christ and to the necessity of His intervention:
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins (Hebrew 10: 1-4).
Therefore, the sacrifices ordained by God therefore were neither needless nor cruel. They were meant to keep Israel from following the gruesome customs of the Canaanites, they were intended to chisel in their minds that sin demands a payment and, finally, they were to foreshadow the greatest and all-encompassing sacrifice of all: Jesus Christ.