Who needs sacrifices?

October 2, 2007 at 6:01 pm 9 comments

As a follow up to my last post (Why blood?), I’m wondering: Does God require sacrifices because he needs them, or because we need them?Consider Isaiah 1:11-14:

What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?”
Says the LORD.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle;
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.
“When you come to appear before Me,
Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?
“Bring your worthless offerings no longer,
Incense is an abomination to Me
New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies–
I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
“I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,
They have become a burden to Me;
I am weary of bearing them.

The point of Isaiah 1 is that sacrifices and offerings are worthless when offered by an unrighteous and unholy people. What God actually desires is just and righteous living, not sacrifices. Blood itself apparently does nothing, and God actually goes so far as to say he “take[s] no pleasure” in it.

Psalm 51:16-19 repeats this same idea—that the sacrifices God truly desires are those of the human heart:

For You do not delight in sacrifice,
otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
By Your favor do good to Zion;
Build the walls of Jerusalem.
Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices,
In burnt offering and whole burnt offering
Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar. (cf. 1 Sam. 15:22, Jer. 6:20, Amos 5:20-22, Mal. 1:10)

The same theme of Isaiah is present here: God neither needs nor wants literal sacrifices. What he desires is a broken spirit and contrite heart.

And this makes sense. Honestly, what use would God have for sacrifices? Blood doesn’t do him any good. It does not objectively erase or reverse the effects of sin, nor does it compensate God for the loss we’ve caused him.

(Nor, strictly speaking, does substitutionary blood automatically make it “just” for God to forgive—after all, punishing an innocent and letting the guilty go free is quite the opposite of justice.)

Consequently, it is hard to imagine why God might need blood.

Which begs the question: If God neither needs nor wants literal sacrifices, why did he require them? If he doesn’t need them, could it be that he required them because we–somehow, for some reason–needed them?

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Why blood? Blood: Is the purpose objective or subjective?

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rick Beckman  |  October 2, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    Isn’t it said that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins?

    Reply
  • 2. doclucio  |  October 3, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    Perhaps I shall respond in length later on. Suffice it to say I believe your question needs to encompass the reality of the sacrificial system: God has reminded the Israelites at times to keep their heart pure (and not trust in the sacrifices to appease God) but we should remember that God is also the one who planned out the elaborate system for a reason. Why?

    Before I answer your question, you need to answer mine 🙂

    Reply
  • 3. Kathy  |  October 3, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    Interesting. I looked up remission in Hebrews 9:22 in my Strong’s. One of the words was release. Could it be us that needs to “release” sin instead of God releasing something? The dictionary says “archaic, consign again to a previous state.” Could it be that God is trying to take us back to our previous (before sin) state of mind through the symbolism of the sacrifices.

    I rather like the picture of a God who is creative like a passionate Lover in winning me my heart.

    Reply
  • 4. Stephen  |  October 6, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    I’m not sure your suggestion does justice to the teaching of scripture as a whole. But like you, I am troubled by the notion that an innocent victim can somehow satisfy God’s justice.

    So let me follow your idea along the path it opens up in my mind. The sacrifices undoubtedly functioned as a teaching instrument. (1) Sin leads to death. (2) Sin is costly (since a perfect specimen from the herd or the flock presumably had considerable monetary value). (3) Sin results in an estrangement from God that doesn’t just vanish spontaneously; drastic action is necessary to make reconciliation possible.

    All of these things are true on the spiritual level, and the sacrifice dramatizes them on the physical level. But over time the real point of the exercise was lost — the spiritual element of the transaction (the broken and contrite heart). Hence the texts you quote.

    I certainly think all of that makes good sense. Whether it adequately accounts for the New Testament word hilasterion (“propitiation” or “expiation”) remains doubtful, in my view.

    Liberal scholars try to avoid that problem by rendering hilasterion “mercy seat”. I’ll let you dig into that argument on your own; it never struck me as satisfactory somehow.

    Reply
  • 5. Jamie  |  October 9, 2007 at 12:14 am

    Rick: Isn’t it said that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins?

    Yes. What I’m attempting to get at is why there is no remission without blood.

    DocLucio: [W]e should remember that God is also the one who planned out the elaborate system for a reason. Why?

    See latest post. 😉 I wholeheartedly agree that God had a reason for giving the elaborate sacrificial system, but I suspect it was largely for subjective, not objective reasons.

    Kathy: Could it be us that needs to “release” sin instead of God releasing something?

    Possibly, but I’m not well-versed enough in the Greek grammar to actually know. This is an interesting idea at least.

    Stephen: I’m not sure your suggestion does justice to the teaching of scripture as a whole.

    Well, that makes two of us! I’m simply looking for biblical hints to help solve the paradoxes I’m working through in my own mind. But I realize I’m not being systematic in these posts, and I sure wouldn’t deny that there’s more to the story than what I’ve presented in this post.

    The sacrifices undoubtedly functioned as a teaching instrument.

    I totally agree with you; in fact I think that is probably one of the most underestimated purposes of the sacrificial system.

    As for the occasional propitiatory language in the NT, I don’t know if my suggestions adequately account for those references either. I’m still working on that, and I don’t mind admitting my own uncertainty. For the moment, though, I think the idea of sacrifices as a teaching tool is very significant, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

    Reply
  • 6. doclucio  |  October 9, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    Jamie: If God neither needs nor wants literal sacrifices, why did he require them? If he doesn’t need them, could it be that he required them because we–somehow, for some reason–needed them?

    I think it goes without saying that God didn’t need them. He doesn’t need anything we bring. I think the Jews as well as Christians understand the type/antitype system pointing forward to the Messiah. They were meant for us to be reminded of the work of the Savior-to-come.

    Who proposes that the system was for objective reasons?

    Reply
  • 7. Jamie  |  October 9, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    DocLucio: You’re right, no one thinks that God needed the animal sacrifices, and everyone agrees that they were meant for us to be reminded of the work of the messiah.

    In that sense, no one proposes that the system was for objective reasons.

    However, there is major debate over whether Christ’s sacrifice was needed for objective reasons. What I’m wondering is why God should need Christ’s death any more than he needs animal sacrifices.

    I know the OT passages I quoted were speaking of the emptiness of the animal sacrificial system, but couldn’t Christ’s sacrifice be said to be similarly empty, in some sense? If God takes no pleasure in the blood of bulls and goats, does he suddenly take pleasure in the blood of Christ? Is human sacrifice suddenly pleasing to him, when animal sacrifice was not? I doubt it.

    I think the point of these passages is that God doesn’t need a sacrifice, period–regardless of whether it is a sacrifice of an animal or a sacrifice of a God-man. The fact that it’s the blood of Christ vs. the blood of a lamb makes no great difference: blood is blood. What he wants is not blood, but a contrite heart. No?

    Reply
  • 8. doclucio  |  October 10, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    So you’re suggesting that Jesus’ contrite heart was all that was needed?

    Personally, I see it as two-fold. First, Christ had to live a perfect life as the second Adam. He had to prove that God’s Law was not unjust. But that wasn’t enough; that just proved that we were even more guilty. So the second thing was the death (and rez) on the cross.

    I think we can rationalize it from our human ethics however we choose, but there are numerous times in the Bible that God holds generations guilty for the sin of one man (i.e., when David numbered Israel or even in the ten commandments). So clearly God knows how sin works. That’s totally not fair according to our justice system…but God knows the heart and He knows how sin works.

    But if we need an answer, maybe it lies in Christ as the second Adam? It’s as if we got a second stab at Eden and he succeeded. But that, too, raises questions. The difference is I’m content not understanding it all…But thanks for making me think!

    Reply
  • 9. Jamie  |  October 11, 2007 at 9:46 am

    DocLucio: No, I’m not suggesting that Jesus’ contrite heart was all that was needed. I’m suggesting our contrite hearts are what is needed. Blood is not what God is after.

    He had to prove that God’s Law was not unjust.

    I think that’s a possibility, but let me press that a little further: 1) Who would argue that God’s law is not just? 2) How does Christ’s perfect life prove that the law is just? Christ’s life proves that God’s commands can be kept, but does it prove that they are just?

    But if we need an answer, maybe it lies in Christ as the second Adam? It’s as if we got a second stab at Eden and he succeeded.

    Stephen is very interested in Adam Christology and Adam soteriology, and he recently wrote two posts making an argument very similar to yours: Adam soteriology and Adam soteriology: a refinement.

    I think these arguments are good. But my basic question is why Christ’s recapitulation of Adam’s life should save us. So Christ lived a perfect life. I’m not being cavalier, here, but how does that solve the sin problem? How is that salvific?

    The difference is I’m content not understanding it all…But thanks for making me think!

    Some of my questions probably won’t get answered in this lifetime, and that’s ok with me. But I suspect there is a richness in the cross that I don’t fully grasp yet, and I want a better understanding of it. Thanks for your input–iron sharpens iron. 🙂

    Reply

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Profile

profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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