There are times in the Bible when a person can miss the blessing of something because they don’t understand the purpose or point of God’s command. This is especially true when it comes to understanding why God had people do certain things in regards to their sin.
Many Christians today take for granted what God was trying to teach his people under the Old Testament. Some look at the Old Testament as old, and unworthy of study or care; but if a person misses why God had his people do certain things under the Old Covenant, they’ll never come to a fuller appreciation of what God has accomplished for us under the New Covenant of today! And there are very few places where this is more true than when it comes to the animal sacrifices found from Genesis to Malachi and right on into the gospels we read.
Let’s think about why God required what he required under the Old Testament, and how it can better help us understand the sacrifice that Jesus made on behalf of humanity when he established the New Covenant.
So the first question is, “Why did God have animals sacrificed?” If we’re not required to sacrifice them anymore, why were they ever sacrificed to begin with??? If God was going to send Jesus all along, then why didn’t he have people just say they were sorry and then forgive them when Jesus died? Why did God have people do something when it seems like it was useless in dealing with sin? Did God even care whether or not someone sacrificed an animal? If He did, then why did he say he didn’t sometimes? These are some of the issues and questions a person can have when they read about these things in the Old Testament and New Testament.
So did God really ask for, require and even command animal sacrifices? Contrary to what some try to teach, he sure did! When Adam and Eve sinned and they made fig-leaf bikinis, and God said that wouldn’t do, what did He give them? He gave them clothes to wear! Now, you don’t have to be a tanner to know that you can’t get an animal-hide outfit to wear without the animal losing its life. Right from the get go with sin, a sacrifice was made. From the garden, to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses and all throughout the history of the children of Israel you will find God requiring the sacrifice of animals for sin. There’s even a book called Leviticus that deals with the intricacies of how to properly deal with the sacrificing of burnt offerings, peace offerings, guilt offerings and sin offerings that God commanded.
But if God required the sacrifice of animals then why did he at times say he didn’t want them??? I mean there are multiple places in the Old Testament where God plainly says, “NO!!!” Read them for yourselves:
- “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats.” Isaiah 1:11
- “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6 (quoted by Jesus in Matthew 9:13, 12:7)
- “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.” Psalm 51:16
As if that’s not enough, the New Testament says this about sacrificing animals as well:
- “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.” Hebrews 10:3-4
If this is true then what was the whole point of it all? The point has to do with the context that all these verses are given in. There was, and still is, a big lesson about sin and the human heart behind all that sacrificing that God called for! The majority of the time, God’s people in the past, like His people of today, were missing the whole point of worship, sacrifice and sin.
When blood gets spilt – God takes notice! He noticed Abel’s blood (Genesis 4:10). He warns all men to take notice (Genesis 9:6). Judgment was pronounced upon the scribes and Pharisees because of bloodshed (Matthew 23:34-35). Even when an animal dies, God takes notice (Matthew 10:29b). When an animal was killed or sacrificed, God commanded that the utmost respect be shown toward the blood (Leviticus 17).
Why does God take notice of every drop of blood that gets spilt? Because life is in the blood: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul’” (Leviticus 17:11). God called for the blood sacrifice of animals because He was teaching His people about the cost of sin.
But what does the cost of sin have to do with the shedding of blood? How do you get from something that a person does to an animal dying for it?
When a person sacrificed an animal they were meant to see that blood. They were meant to see the blood and realize the cost of their actions. They were supposed to realize what it meant to have blood on their hands. Because of something selfish they did, something died! The blood was meant to teach their heart about the cost of their sin.
God has always been after the heart of men and women. If you go back and look at the context of the quoted verses that say God was tired of sacrifices, or that He didn’t desire them, you’ll find that the whole point was about how the sacrifice for sin without the remorse for sin was USELESS! At times God’s people got into habit of thinking that they were buying off God with the animals instead of recognizing the lesson that God was teaching them with the animals. The lesson was that sin kills! Every time! The lesson was about recognizing the power of God’s grace through the blood! The lesson was about getting to the heart of the matter.
But if the blood of bulls and goats wouldn’t remove sin (and it wouldn’t or else they wouldn’t have had to offer them over and over again) then why do it to begin with???
The whole time God was leading His people through the types and shadows from the words of His prophets toward the culminating sacrifice. God was getting them ready to see the blood that was going to be shed for the remission of their sins, our sins, and every sin ever committed. Every drop of blood ever split from a bird, bull, calf, cow, goat, sheep, or lamb was only a substitute until the blood of the Son of God was given for sins.
- “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” Romans 5:9
- “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19
- “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:19-22
- “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” Hebrews 10:26-29
The whole reason God was revealing a shadow of grace in the Old Testament is so people would recognize the Body of grace when the New Testament came. What did Jesus say the cup represented while instituting the Lord’s Supper? He said, “This is my blood of the New Testament/Covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
When someone sins, something must die; something has died, and something must die for the sinner to live!!! This has nothing do with some sort of guilt trip. It has everything to do with a dose of spiritual reality (John 1:29).
The reason so many people missed Jesus is because they weren’t looking for Him. They weren’t looking for the grace of God (John 1:17). The people didn’t mind God asking for a cow or a lamb every once in a while, but when Jesus came on the scene, He came preaching about more than sacrificing an animal. He came preaching about sacrificing our heart! He preached about faith, and love, and justice, and mercy, and humility, and devotion, and the necessity of a broken spirit.
Jesus’ preaching didn’t require anything new! It had always been God’s desire to have our heart: “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17).
Why did God have people sacrifice animals if it would never remove sin? Because God wanted His people to realize the cost of sin; because He was preparing the hearts of his people for the when the solution to sin revealed Himself.
If we miss the purpose of the blood shed for sins in the past, then we won’t comprehend the purpose of the blood of Jesus when it comes to our sins today. When we understand the shadows, we can place our confidence in the substance, and trust the power that’s only found in the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:1-31).