Why Did God Ask for Animal Sacrifice? – A Rejoinder

In a recent post, “Why Did God Ask for Animal Sacrifice?” Michael Barber wrote: “Ever wonder why God asked the Israelites to sacrifice animals like cattle, sheep and goats? It’s not because God loves the smell of burning meat.”

“Moses explains to Pharaoh why the Israelites must be allowed to go out to the desert to offer their sacrifices to the Lord; their sacrifices would be “abominable” to the Egyptians (Ex. 8:25-27). In other words, Israel was to sacrifice to the Lord the very animals the Egyptians worshipped as gods.”

I am not sure whether I understand Michael correctly. His post seems to say that animal sacrifice was given by God to Israel in order for Israel to learn that these animals were not gods. As Michael wrote: “God wanted Israel to renounce the gods of Egypt and worship Him as the one true God.”

The post leaves the reader with the impression that Israel or the ancestors of Israel did not practice animal sacrifice. This is how Jonathan Erdman, of The Theos Project understood it. He wrote a comment to Michael’s post: “But animal sacrifice is a demand that goes back to early Genesis….so, there are broader issues here, right??? The reason for the requirement of animal sacrifice is certainly greater than the one context of Israel and Egypt, wouldn’t you agree?”

The origins of animal sacrifice are lost in antiquity. As early as the 4th millennium B.C.,
animal sacrifices were offered in Egypt at the temples at Abydos, Thebes, and On. Among the animals sacrificed were oxen, wild goats, geese, and even pigs.

Babylon had centers of worship at Eridu, Nippur, Erech, Ur, and other places that can be dated from the 4th and the 3rd millenniums B.C. Babylonian records give evidence of an elaborate system of worship and sacrifices at these temples. One document says that the animals offered in sacrifice by King Gudea included oxen, sheep, goats, lambs, and birds.

As for animal sacrifice in the Bible, the biblical record is very clear that animal sacrifice goes back to the earliest days of biblical history.

For instance, the garments of skins for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21) were made from animals slain in sacrifice, since animals were not killed for food until after the flood. Abel made an animal sacrifice when he brought the fat portions from the firstborn of his flock (Genesis 4:4).

The burnt offering that Noah offered the Lord included animals and birds (Genesis 8:20). It is possible that Noah’s sacrifice was connected with the establishment of the covenant that God made with Noah (Genesis 9:8-17).

The earliest animal sacrifice that God commanded was the sacrifice God requested of Abraham at the time God established a covenant with him (Genesis 15:9-17). The five animals Abraham offered to God were a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove, and a pigeon. These are the same five animals listed in the laws of sacrifice in the Book of Leviticus.

In response to his own question, “Why Did God Ask for Animal Sacrifice?” Michael wrote: “It’s not because God loves the smell of burning meat.” However, this statement does not reflect the biblical teaching. When Noah offered his sacrifice to the Lord, “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma” of the burning meat and made a promise that he would never again curse the ground because of the actions of human beings (Genesis 8:21).

According to the book of Leviticus, the people of Israel would know their sacrifice was acceptable to God when the burnt offering became an aroma pleasing to God: “It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord (Leviticus 1:9).

In fact, over and over again the people were commanded to present an offering made by fire as an aroma pleasing to the Lord (Numbers 29:36). This expression appears in Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9; 3:5; 4:31; 6:15, 21; 17:6; 23:18 and Numbers 15:3, 7, 10, 13f, 24; 18:17; 28:8, 24, 27; 29:2, 8, 13, 36.

The plagues of Egypt represented a struggle between the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt. These gods were associated with the Nile, with animals and reptiles, and with Pharaoh, who was considered an earthly representative of the gods.

This struggle between the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt is the focus of Michael’s statement. He wrote: “Israel was to sacrifice to the Lord the very animals the Egyptians worshipped as gods.” However, the plagues in Egypt also included frogs, gnats, flies, and locust. None of these animals were used as sacrifices in Israel.

The reason God asked Israel to make animal sacrifices is unknown. There are some similarities between the sacrificial system of Israel and those of Babylon and other nations.

Animal sacrifice was found among many Semitic peoples long before Israel became a nation. Thus, it is possible that the Israelites developed their sacrificial system by using some of the same practices found among other Semitic peoples.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

This entry was posted in Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, Sacrifice and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Why Did God Ask for Animal Sacrifice? – A Rejoinder

  1. Hal says:

    >The priest didn't normally burn the meat, did they? I thought that they burned the fat and ate the meat.I was also wondering about Solomon's sacrfice of 142,000 animals at the dedication of the temple in 2 Chr 7:4-5. Was the whole animal burnt or just the fat, and then the meat eaten by the people/priests?

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  2. Headybrew says:

    >This sick, disgusting practice illustrates how sick and disgusting religion is. And it's clear roots in other religions illustrate that the judeo/christian/islamic god is just another part of long history of mythology.

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  3. John Fields says:

    >This sick, disgusting practice illustrates how sick and disgusting religion is. And it's clear roots in other religions illustrate that the judeo/christian/islamic god is just another part of long history of mythology.Do you prefer those who at the time sacrificed their children alive and had to beat drums loudly enough to drown out their pitiful screams? Or maybe you don't mind atheistic maniacs like Stalin (you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs)? I'll take my religion ANY DAY over yours. And only one of them is the stuff of dreams and myth (hint, it isn't Christianity).

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  4. Richard M. says:

    >Well in Judges 11 Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering in exchange for military victory, so human sacrifice was practiced by a man considered to be righteous in the New Testament up there with David and Solomon.

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  5. softpoet says:

    >But, notice Richard, that Jephthath sacrified her not due to a commandment or request of Hashem, but because he was a man of such integrity that he made the decison to keep his word regardless of the personal cost to himself.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    >in reply to softpoet: so if I made a promise to God that if I win the lottery tonight, I will offer anything that comes through my bedroom door tonight, do I have to right to kill my wife just because I "made the decison to keep his word regardless of the personal cost to himself?"

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  7. Anonymous says:

    >one thing that strikes me everytime i look into such issues is christians pick and choose what they wanna say from the bible. and they will always try to explain things using words like 'symbols', jesus changed all that, etcif you ask them anything, they will respond with : have you read the whole scripture in full? if not, you dont know what you are talking about. they will always nullify all the barbaric and ridiculuous things in the bible by quoting how jesus died for our sins etc (john 3:16). but essentially, the god of the old testament is the god of the new testament. the god of old testament is only 1000 to 3000years earlier than the god of the new testament. can an eternal god change his attitude in such a short time? no. according to the bible, god said "i change not"yet if you read Judges chapter 19 verse 24 to 29, you will see a man allow his wife/concubine (coincidentally labelled as an unfaithful one) to be gang raped throughout the night and left to die on the door step. When he found her in the morning, all he said is 'get up, it is time to go". after realising she is dead from her ordeal, he cut her up limb from limb into 12 pieces and send it to 12 tribes in israel to incite a war. a christian will try to justify that chapter with: god did it because he wanted to stimulate the jews to teach those morally depraved non jewish barbarians a lesson and to draw them to god by going into a war. why then did god not strick on those men who gang raped that poor woman like how he stuck on a husband & wife couple who did not donate all their money to the church and kept some of it themselves (read new testament) i'm a guy and i think the bible is extremely barbaric. And I dont ever think that Judges chapter has ever been discussed on a cherry sunday morning service. i nearly vomitted when i first read that chapter. quite hyprocrites. christians will always try to come up with some answers to justify such things in the bible and wrap everything up with "for god loves us so so much that he sends his only son jesus to earth and die for our despicable sins" the way christians view things:a) if something doesnt make sense in the bible, you must re-read the scripture and realise that god punishes so severely because he loved them so much. if this still doesnt work, you say it is metaphorica/symbolic, dont take the literal meaning of that verse. b) if something does make sense in the bible, you glorify it. and you use it everthing someone ask query (a) and wrap it out with jesus sacrificed himself in such a horrible death FOR YOU!!!!!let me ask you a question, why does god sound so emotional in the bible. he sounds almost human. and definely a narrow minded man.2nd the bible says when we die, we don't go up to heaven or hell immediately. we only go there once judgement day comes when everyone is resurrected and judged according to his deeds in life. those who belived in god goes up to heaven, those who don't go down to hell. if so, why does the new testament claim that moses and elijah appeared in white next to jesus?? shouldn't the prophets remain dead? why is it that the two prophets have ascended to heaven before everyone else???? after some time, you gotta ask yourself…..do i just focus on how jesus saved my poor soul and ignore everything else in the bible? if you even choose to ignore asking yourself this question, clearly, your education has failed you. some kid in an african poor country should have been given that education than having it wasted on you. we can all read the bible in a way that appeals to our own sense of right and wrong, but if we are depending on our own interpreta­tions of morality, why do we need religion at all? amen.

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