QB - Animal Sacrifices
In light of the last "But What About," a friend asked:
Why DID God constantly demand animal sacrifices in the OT? He's always asking for burnt offerings around the clock. That never sat well with me. It doesn't make sense. I don't see God wanting me to go out back and kill a bunch of His creatures. Why did He demand it back then?
What a great question!!! It has a logical answer, as well, I promise.
For one, let me start by saying that God loves His Creation. He loves the creepy crawly spider, the gross and slimy eel, and yes, He even loves the sheep, goats and bulls that He demanded Israel hand over day after day, night after night.
Why, then, would He wish them to be slaughtered in such droves in a seemingly barbaric fashion? You don't thoughtlessly slaughter cute, cuddly creatures simply to make yummy-smelling smoke that somehow glorifies God, right?
Right. Sort of.
You see, God never demanded animal slaughter from the Israelites as a people until they got sucked into the social constructs of Egypt. While they were slaving away under Pharoah for 400 years, they picked up some nasty habits from their overlords - chief among them the worship of cattle as gods.
God, having made a covenant with the Israelites that He would be their God and they would be His people, didn't take too kindly to His family suddenly forgetting about Him in lieu of thoughtless beasts. Thus, in order to remind them that these animals were not, in fact, worthy of adoration, God demanded that the Jews prove their loyalty (not to Him, but to themselves) by burning the objects of their idolatry.
Did God WANT to hurt the cattle? Of course not. Did He want to see them slaughtered and burned? No. However, God understood that in order for His wayward family to make a clean break with the unholy practices of the Egyptians, they'd need to rebel against the ingrained customs that had caused them to turn from His Love.
Basically, God was asking a drug addict to flush his stash down the toilet to prove he was really through with meth.
And at first, the Israelites said, "Sure, God, we'll totally do this! No problem!"
They offered the requested sacrifices (which were, unsurprisingly, the same animals most revered by the Egyptians) amidst joy and celebration. Why? Because God had just rescued them from Pharoah. In their joy and feelings of euphoria, they probably thought they could do anything God requested of them at that point.
Unfortunately, their break from Egyptian tradition was short-lived.
While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments from God, the restless Israelites decided they wanted to throw a party. With 400 years of Egyptian partying under their belts, they knew they couldn't have a proper party without erecting a ginormous golden statue of Apis (yes, that's an Egyptian god). So what did these Israelites do? They collected as much gold as they could and crafted it into a big old idol.
And to make matters worse, the Israelites attempted to cover up their sin of idolatry by proclaiming that the Calf of Apis was really just a representation of the God of Israel. Any and all resemblance of this idol to the idol they just swore never to worship again was PURELY coincidental.
And just like you don't buy that, God didn't, either.
So in order to ensure they broke up with idolatry for good, He commanded them to burn (day AND night) the objects of their folly. This sacrifice was not to promote animal cruelty, but to remind the Israelites that animal worship was a rupture to their covenant with God.
And none of the animal was wasted through sacrifice. After the Levites offered the sacrifice in accordance with the Law (which is the slaughter of these animals in as painless a way as possible), the carcass was distributed back for the purpose of utilizing it practically (meat for food, hide for clothing / tents, etc).
So yes, animal sacrifice was demanded by God in the Old Testament. However, it wasn't demanded because God enjoys inflicting pain upon animals. It was demanded because God needed to correct the erroneous idolatry of His children.
7/17/2012 09:45:28 am
It makes sense, but I still find it odd that God would command anyone to kill anything else. It's not the fault of the animals that the jews were worshipping them.
7/17/2012 09:55:02 am
Nope - no animal sacrifices since the destruction of the Temple, I believe. And since the line of the Levites was sorta lost at that point, there was no one to offer the sacrifices properly anyway.
7/18/2012 02:17:49 am
how come you know so much about the jews? did you convert from the jewish religin?
7/18/2012 02:35:58 am
You're getting your own response entry, too. Great question (short answer is no, I was never a Jew, but technically Catholics are "super-Jews." Ha ha ha).
7/18/2012 03:49:08 am
Done, duder. It's all you. I edited your original comment, though. Hope you don't mind. :)
Interestingly, the Jews would have been mainly vegetarian in their diet (as were most around the Mediterranean). Meat was a 'luxury' (I use inverted commas only because I'm vegetarian myself!). For herdsmen, their animals were too precious to eat on a regular basis ... which meant when they offered the to God they were making a huge sacrifice. If it is any consolation, the method of slaughter was quick & relatively painless ... the animals were probably treated far more humanely than in a modern abattoir.
7/17/2012 04:17:30 pm
Truth - on all counts. And kudos on being a veggi-vore, Father! :)
9/15/2012 04:48:39 am
Maybe I misunderstand the question at heart, but I was under the impression that the reason God required animal sacrifices was that without the spilling of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22) (see also Leviticus 17:11). Although the ritual and requirements of animal sacrifice became formalized and are detailed in Mosaic Law after the Hebrews left Egypt, animals were sacrificed very early in the OT (God killed animals to clothe Adam and Eve; i.e. to "cover their sin", Abel, Noah, Abraham and Isaac and so on) as a form of worship and sin offering. It is my understanding that to the ancients, blood is considered the "life" of the animal. The spilling of the life blood of an animal was serious and sacred, and when done as an act of worship, substituted for the blood debt owed to God by person doing the sacrificing (God has a right to take our lives when we sin against Him). Animals were precious to ancient people; they were their wealth and source of food and life, therefore to take the very best animal from their flock and sacrifice it to God as worship and to atone was indeed a "sacrifice" of something valuable. But besides the spilling of blood to atone, there also seems to be an aspect of animal sacrifice that acknowledges God as the provider of all that sustains us, and in gratitude offering back to Him the best of what He has given us to acknowledge His lordship over us. All this being said, there are numerous warnings and admonitions throughout the OT (and even the NT) that empty gestures of sacrifice are not acceptable to God (hence perhaps God not accepting Cain’s offering.) It is the attitude of our heart that is important. This theme of blood to cover the sins of people builds throughout the OT and culminates in the NT in Jesus as the Lamb of God, His sacrifice of Himself and His spilt blood which atones our sins once and for all. If we in modern times see animal sacrifice as unseemly and gross, it may be because we have lost the understanding of how intimately people lived with their domesticated animals and how important they were to them. It is a huge thing to require people to give up an animal for sacrifice. It is not just for butchering or slaughtering or careless waste and brutality. As an aside, I wonder if the modern hyper-sensitivity and repugnance to the slaughter of animals is due to the psychological distance we moderns have put between ourselves and the source of our food.
9/17/2012 02:44:53 am
Two things, Beeb.
9/10/2015 10:53:57 pm
as a jew who converted to catholicism i can say that catholics are the only christian sect that resembles judaism, also animal sacrifice and burnt offerings cannot happen until the temple is rebuilt something that is still prayed for today.
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