87 Sacrifices in Israel Part Two
Updated: Mar 26
We continue on our series as we look more closely at sacrifices in Israel and the five basic types of sacrifice they made. Then next week in the third episode in this series of three we will conclude and look at how God relates to the tradition of sacrificing animals at the temple. We discover that what Christianity has taught for years may in fact not be the case. Join us as we continue on this journey.
Sacrifices in IsraelI grew up believing blood sacrifices were invented by God and desired by God.
This was before I understood that rules for divorce, war, slavery, eating animals, the monarchy and the execution of murderers and rebels were imposed on God by the culture of the time.
You may well ask, “How can creatures impose their will on an omnipotent God?” It is because God is love and love does not demand its own way (1 Corinthians 13). The greatest evidence of God’s love, in this perspective, is that he allowed us to execute his Son (Acts 2:23; 2:36; 3:13-15; 4:10; 5:30; 7:52; 10:39-40; 13:28). Jesus came to earth to love and serve us (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 12:37; 22:27) and to our shame we rejected him in every possible way.
This rejection is not about Jews and Gentiles executing Jesus Christ but the Chosen People, his special friends, rejecting the One who chose them. Peter denying Christ is representative of all disciple down through the ages.
It is helpful to define what is meant by a sacrifice in connection with a god. Here is a standard dictionary definition of sacrifice.
“A sacrifice is the offering of animal, plant, or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage” (Dictionary.com).
Based on this definition we make the following observations for the usage of “sacrifice” in this presentation where the focus is on sacrifices to God or YHWH the god of the Israelites. A sacrifice in the larger context is often used as a synonym for offerings or gifts. It can also be a moral cost as in athletes sacrificing their comfort for training. A mother giving up her sleep to attend to an infant is also the sacrifice of a good nights sleep.
A sacrifice is connected to propitiation, the intent is to change the deity’s mind. Propitiation means changing deity’s mind from hostility to favour. Here is an example. The recorded response to the sacred burnt animal is God received the smoke of the burning sacrifice as a “pleasing odor” (Leviticus 1:13). This was also true for Noah’s sacrifice as we shall see later.
An offering in this paper is connected with homage. It is a symbolic or literal demonstration of appreciation. It is not a sacrifice because no change of the deity’s mind is being attempted.
Early sacrifices made to God
While it is usually assumed that God killed animals to make clothes for Adam and Eve after they sinned this is a guess. God can make animal skins as easily as he can make animals. If you were wondering, the Hebrew does specify the tunics were made of skin.
The next incident which assumes animals were killed is Abel’s offering. The wording is not conclusive. He could have brought cheese and cream which the Hebrew word used allows for.
Noah’s sacrifice. The first definite blood sacrifice that we have any detail about is upon Noah’s exiting the ark. Here is the description. Genesis 8:20-22 NLT Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and there he sacrificed as burnt offerings the animals and birds that had been approved for that purpose (clean animals). 21 And the LORD was pleased with the aroma of the sacrifice and said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood. I will never again destroy all living things. 22 As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.”
Noah’s sacrifice was to persuade God not to send a flood again. This barbeque by Noah was specifically called a sacrifice to imply it was to gain favour with God. This means a sacrifice is what we could crassly call a holy bribe. We know Noah’s sacrifice was effective because God immediately promises he would never send another universal flood.
This account does not include any intimation that God needed a sacrifice or what procedure was to be used.
The next sacrifices recorded are the altars built by Abraham (Genesis 12:8; 13:18). We do not know if God commanded these sacrifices. The first blood sacrifice specified by God is a cultural ratification of the covenant he had made with Abraham. This is a culturally significant ritual to help Abraham believe God’s promises (Genesis 15:9-10). There is no record that Isaac offered sacrifices but Jacob did.
Genesis 31:54 NLT Then Jacob offered a sacrifice to God there on the mountain and invited everyone to a covenant feast. After they had eaten, they spent the night on the mountain. By the time we get to the Exodus and Mount Sinai sacrifices have a procedure and process specified. However, notice that the record says, “When you bring a sacrifice” then follow this pattern (Leviticus 1:1-2). The implication is that the people were wanting to bring sacrifices. We have no indication that sacrifices were required by God.
Blood and Grain Sacrifices in Israel.
Here are the five different major sacrifices and offering which occurred in Israel. There are of course others like Passover, the Red Heifer, and the Scapegoat to name a few.
1. Burnt Offering/Ascending Offering (Atonement implied)
The first offering is the olah, literally, “an offering of ascent,” commonly called the Burnt Offering. The purpose of the Burnt Offering was for general atonement of sin (sacrifice) and expression of devotion to God (Offering). The instructions for the Burnt Offering are given in Lev 1:3-17. The offering could be a bull (1:3), sheep or goat (1:10), or dove or pigeon (1:14). The animal was to be burnt whole overnight (6:8-13). The skin was given to the priest (1:6). The Burnt Offering was likely the earliest type of atonement offering in the Old Testament (Job 1:5, Gen 8:20).
2. Grain Offering (No atonement implied)
The second type of offering in the Old Testament is the minchah, or Grain Offering (Lev 2, Lev 6:14-23). The purpose of the Grain Offering was a voluntary expression of devotion to God, recognizing His goodness and providence. The instructions for the grain offerings are given in Leviticus 2. Generally, it was cooked bread—baked (2:4), grilled (2:5), fried (2:7), roasted, or made into cereal (2:14)—though always seasoned (2:13), unsweetened, and unleavened (2:11). Unlike the whole Burnt Offering, only a portion of the offering was to be burnt (2:9). The remainder went to the priests for their use (2:10).
3. Peace Offering (No atonement implied)
The third offering is the shelem, or Peace Offering (Leviticus 3; 7:11-35). This category, first discussed in Leviticus 3, included Thanksgiving Offerings (Lev 7:12), Freewill Offerings (7:16), and Wave Offerings (7:30). The offering could be cattle (3:1), sheep (3:7), or a goat (3:12). It could be male or female but must be without defect. If it was a Thanksgiving Offering, it could also include a variety of breads (7:12). The purpose of the Peace Offering was to consecrate a meal between two or more parties before God and share that meal together in fellowship of peace and a commitment to each others’ future prosperity. The portions unsuitable for eating, fat and blood, were given to God (7:19-27). Depending on the type of Peace Offering, the breast may have been given to the High Priest (7:31) and the right thigh may be given to the priest officiating the meal (7:32). The rest of the meal was to be eaten within one day by the fellowship of parties (7:16), and the leftovers were to be burnt after two days (7:17). The Passover Lamb was also consumed by the family. When Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, he made a Peace Offering of 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep (1 Kings 8:63).) The animals killed were to feed the people who had come for the inauguration of the temple.
4. Sin/Purification Offering (Atonement implied)•
The fourth offering was called chattath, literally “sin” or “sin offering” (Lev 4:1-5:13; 6:24-30). This offering is sometimes seen as an offering of atonement for unintentional sin (4:2-3, 4:20). Similarly, it is sometimes viewed as guilt offering, removing the consequences for lack of perfection (4:13-14, 4:22-23). As an atonement offering, it contained elements of a Burnt Offering (4:25), yet at the same time had elements of a Peace Offering (4:26). Conversely, some of the “sins” for which one needed atonement were not moral sins but rather matters of ritual impurity (5:1-5). As such, some have proposed the term “Purification Offering” instead of “Sin Offering.” The primary purpose of this offering is not to atone forsins but rather to purify oneself for re-entering the presence of God. The elements of a Purification Offering could be any of the elements of the previous three types of offerings, though unlike the Peace Offering, the meal was not to be shared. It could be female goat or sheep or flour. Eaten by priest. The chief priest, had to bring a bull, whereas ordinary Israelites brought a female goat or lamb. Those who too poor to afford a goat or sheep could offer birds, and an offering of grain flour was acceptable from the very poor.
5. Guilt/Reparation Offering (Atonement between people implied)
The fifth and final offering was the asham, traditionally translated “Guilt Offering” (Lev 5:14-6:7; 7:1-10). Unlike the English word “guilt” this does not refer to a matter of one’s conscience but rather to something one owes on account of a “sin.” Other suggestions for the name of this offering are the “Trespass Offering” or the “Reparation Offering.” The purpose of this offering was to make reparations for one’s sin. As such, this offering had a specific monetary value, and one who owed another on account of a debt due to a “sin” could repay it in silver rather than by sacrificing a ram (5:15). In addition, a 20% fee was assessed and given to the priest who mitigated the debt (5:16). As with the sacrifice of well-being and the sin offering, innards were burned in the altar fire; the animal’s flesh was eaten by the priests (7:6).
The temple was a domestic setting,
the place of God’s presence with the nation. One of the most common terms for the temple was, ”house,” and it had furnishings, such as a lamp and a table. The altar was a cooking surface, a barbecue, so to speak, where the sacrificial animal was “cooked.” William K. Gilders
These five varied sacrificial offerings have one element in common: the burning of some portion in the altar fire to transform the offering into smoke or a “pleasing odor” that God could enjoy.
Sacrifice, like baptism, was not a do-it-yourself activity in Leviticus. Rather, priests were required to bring about the transfer and transformation of the offering. Not only were they expert in the proper procedures, but they also bore the risk of moving into God’s presence.