By: William Jackson
As we read through Leviticus we become introduced to animal sacrifices. This strikes many of us as barbaric. We ask ourselves “how can God ask for the blood of innocent animals to compensate for our sins?”. The answer to this question may be more practical than you think.
Firstly, the history of animal sacrificing towards God goes back to the beginning of time. These events are captured in the pages Torah. Every time there is a pivotal milestone with God’s people, there is an animal sacrifice to mark it. Going back to the the first off springs of the first couple’s we have Genesis 4:3-4. Afterwards, we see a sacrifice which commemorated the new post flood word (Genesis 8:20-21). Later on when God makes His legendary Abrahamic covenant to those that are His, we have it codified with the sacrifice of several animals (Genesis 15:7-18). Then, triumphantly, we have a animal sacrifice after the Israelites made their momentous escape from Egypt (Exodus 18:10-12). Interestingly, all of these historical sacrifices appear to honor God and none seem to atone for sin.
Later, in the book of Exodus and throughout Leviticus, we see the formation of a priesthood, approved methods of worshiping and mandates to live by. This marks the beginning of God creating structure for those in pursuit of a relationship with Him. In doing so, we have Leviticus 1 through 7 which gives us the sacrificial system. This brings us to the burning question “Why kill innocent animals for the lack of our own innocence?”. We first need to realize that the majority of the animal sacrifices had nothing to do with deliberate sins 1. Actually, most of the sacrifices would have been for those same things that we prayer for i.e. praising God, to become closer to Him, to express thanks to God, love or gratitude and celebrating the holidays and festivals 2. Only the Christian New Testament seems to infer sacrificing was the only method to cover sin (Hebrews 7:27, 13:11-13, Romans 6:10).
As for the purpose behind animal sacrifices, the answer can be found in the history of civilizations. In antiquity, we have the Agricultural Revolution. This was the wide-scale transition of general human cultures transforming from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement 3. Domestic animal slaughter was necessity then and still is. The major difference between then and now is that most of today’s carnivores have never intentionally killed an animal. Yet, it would have been a common part of one’s lifestyle until just recently (last 200 years). So with or without animals being killed for God, they were still being processed for human consumption. In early times while doing these slaughters, it was common practice to do it towards a god or gods. In Monte d’Accoddi, Sardinia there is one of the earliest known sacred centers in Europe. Here we have evidence of the sacrifice of sheep, cattle and swine as part of ritual sacrifice. This may have been common across Italy about 3000 BC 4.
So with or without the Levitical sacrifice system, Israel was going to kill and eat from their herds. By God facilitating an outlet towards Him, God would have removed the opportunity to sacrifice to foreign gods during the animal slaughter. Remember Israel did have a tendency to worship other gods even though they were directly under God’s’ tutelage (Genesis 31:34, 35:4, Exodus 32, Deuteronomy 4:28). So, like Nehemiah posting guards on Jerusalem’s gates to prevent trading on the Sabbath (Nehemiah 7:3), God put His own controls in place. Additionally, by adding a formality to the occasion of these sacrifices the community of Israel would have taken their worship of the one and only God more seriously. As the Torah tells us 39 times from Genesis 8:21 to Numbers 29:36, these sacrifices were a pleasing aroma to God. As God, imagine your followers going through an elaborate worship just in your name, how could it not be pleasing? In addition, this certainly was not an event of frivolous waist. Even though it was God who was pleased by the worship, it was the people who eat the meat.
There are many possible reasons for the animal sacrifice system prompted in Leviticus. As I established here, my top two educated guesses are that they could have been done to deny pagan worship, while showing a earnest praise towards God. Still, there is much we do not know about Torah. For example, recently we are seeing scientific evidence of the effects of prayer, even to the point that the US government is willing to support research 5. Still other studies prove that clothing has a frequency that affects the body and that pure organic linen has extreme benefit. This might be why God had His priests in linen (Exodus 28:5, 39, 42, Leviticus 6:10). Likewise scientifically mixing wool and linen collapses its capabilities, which is also addressed in Torah (Leviticus 19:19, Deuteronomy 22:11). So, at the end of the day, science is just getting started when it comes to understanding God, and realistically may never get there. Regardless of us defending God’s motives, He had His reasons and we don’t always need to know the “whys”. This is where loyalty comes in (Deuteronomy 10:12, 11:8, 28:1, Proverbs 3:3). Regardless of our understandings, one thing is for certain, we will be going back to animals sacrifices (Isaiah 56:6-7, Jeremiah 33:17-18, Ezekiel 43:18-46:24) in the new Temple (Ezekiel 40 -44).
- Jackson, William J. “True Sacrifice for Intentional Sin.” Center for Tanakh Based Studies. March 03, 2018. Accessed March 24, 2018. https://center-for-tanakh-based-studies.com/2018/03/03/true-sacrifice-for-intentional-sin/.
- Judaism 101: Qorbanot: Sacrifices and Offerings. Accessed February 15, 2018. http://www.jewfaq.org/qorbanot.htm.
- Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth. trans. Peter Bing. Berkeley: University of California. 1983. ISBN 0-520-05875-5.
- Jones O’Day, Sharyn; Van Neer, Wim; Ervynck, Anton (2004). Behaviour Behind Bones: The Zooarchaeology of Ritual, Religion, Status and Identity. Oxbow Books. pp. 35–41. ISBN 1-84217-113-5.
- Dembner, Alice. “The Healing Power of Prayer?” The New York Times. July 28, 2005. Accessed March 25, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/28/health/the-healing-power-of-prayer.html.
- Mincolla, Mark, Ph.D. “Linen Study.” Life-Giving Linen. 2003. Accessed March 25, 2018. http://www.lifegivinglinen.com/linen-study.html.