Half way between Plainview and Olton, Texas, on Highway 70, there is a wide spot in the road appropriately named Halfway. A very short distance north of there is a small yellow house on the East side of the road. My family lived right next door in a little white house while the yellow house was being built. I was a small child then. I remember standing in the front yard each afternoon with my mother waiting for the school bus to bring my older brother home. A couple of hours before the bus was due to arrive, my mother and I could be found lying on the bed together. I was a rambunctious little kid, and she would teach me about God and the Bible. This would calm me down in preparation for our afternoon nap. I was not much for napping, but I loved those stories. Many an afternoon, I drifted off dreaming of the day the wolf would lie down with the lamb.
We had a German Shepherd dog back then. I do not recall its name, but I do recall it was a big fluffy dog who did not mind a hug from a small child now and then. One day that dog got underneath the car of a carpenter who was working on that yellow house next door. Quitting time came and the carpenter got in his car to go home. He did not know the dog was underneath the car, and the dog could not get out in time. The dog was badly injured with a broken back among other things. I remember watching as the dog tried to walk, but its back half would not work. My Dad and Mom discussed the situation, and then Dad got his shotgun while Mom brought me and my brother in the house. I did not know what was going on, but I saw a different look in my Dad's eyes that day. I do not recall ever seeing that look before and only a handful of times since. It was quite a while before I realized what had happened. Back then, I just noticed our dog was not around anymore. My parents tried to explain what death was, but I simply could not comprehend it at the time. That is the innocence of childhood.
Most people probably remember the first time they were introduced to death. It seems to be something that sticks with us because that is the day we lose a major portion of our innocence. Innocence is our natural state. Mankind was not designed to know death. Death is something we learn. Think back now to your first experience with death. Think of your innocence before that time. Embrace that innocence for a moment. Put your mind back in that place for a moment as we play out a scenario.
You and I are in our innocent place, but we do know right from wrong. We have a few sheep we take care of. The babies were born a few months prior, and they are adorable. We each have our favorite little lamb which we love, and it loves us back. We play with the lambs, and they suckle on our fingers. We pet them, hug them, and love them. We love these sheep and raise them only for their wool. We are vegetarians. The thought of eating meat is as foreign as death. It is simply not something we would ever contemplate. One day, while walking in our innocence, we are tempted, and we do something wrong. The bad thing we do is so bad it could have cost us our lives. Our Father comes to us and confronts us. We are ashamed, and we want to make this bad thing we did go away. But how do we do that? What is done is done. We cannot erase our bad deed. Our Father wants us to remember to never do this bad thing again. So, He sets out to teach us in a way we will never forget. He asks us what we love the most. We both reply "You Father." He then asks us what we value the most other than Him and our family. We both reply "our favorite lamb." Now our Father tells us he wants to teach us a lesson, so we will remember to never do this bad thing again. He tells us to take our favorite little lamb to the priest, this little lamb which is perfect in our eyes. He tells us to hold the lamb in front of the priest, put one hand on the lamb's head, and with the other hand kill our little lamb. We love our little lamb, but we love our Father more. So, we take our little lamb, and we do as we are instructed. We stand to the side of the lamb, and we look into the eye that is facing us. We place our hand on the lamb's head. Through the blur of tears, we continually stare into the eye of this little unsuspecting lamb. We cut its throat. Our little lamb staggers. The warm blood gushes down our hand and arm, and we feel the life go out of our beloved little lamb. The little lamb's eye hazes over in an instant, and it goes limp. Its knees buckle, and it collapses. Our favorite little lamb is forever gone. We then begin cutting our little lamb into pieces and handing the pieces to the priest. The hurt wells up inside of us, and the tears fall from our own eyes as we remember this little lamb suckling on our finger. We recall how we once played together. We remember running our fingers through its soft wool. The memory of this horror will be forever vivid in our, no longer innocent, minds. The next time we are tempted to do that bad thing, We WILL NOT do it.
This is a graphic example which may take us to a place we do not want to go. However, this is the ideology behind the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. People were not supposed to eat meat before the great flood. They were vegetarians or maybe even vegan (See Genesis 1:29). God did not instruct man to eat meat until after the flood (See Gen 9:1 - Gen 9:3). The sacrifices were designed to be so dreaded people simply would not sin because they would not want to kill the animal. Our love for our Father, God, was supposed to be such that we would kill this precious thing, which meant so much to us, in order to demonstrate to Him we were truly ashamed of our bad actions. The sacrifice was designed to demonstrate that we love Him and His ways more than the most precious things of this earth. The sacrifice was designed as a way for us to show Him we understand His commandments were put in place to keep us on the path to His heavenly kingdom. The sacrifice was designed to keep us far away from eternal death. It was designed to keep us from ever wanting to commit sin again. This is the disciplinary aspect of the sacrificial system. There are four other aspects of the sacrificial system. These are love, practicality, symbolism, and prophesy. Each of these aspects will be addressed here.
We will not delve into all of the details of the actual sacrifices. Those who are interested in doing so can find the details in Leviticus. Here are some facts concerning the sacrificial system:
1. The person who committed the sin requiring the sacrifice was the one who was required to kill and dismember the animal to be sacrificed in most cases. The priest then took the parts to perform the ceremony.
2. Not all sacrifices were animals.
3. A "meat" offering was not what we call meat today. A "meat" offering was a tribute or a gift to God. It was usually unleavened bread made of fine flour, and oil. This was a way to show love to God and did not require the shedding of blood.
Here is the Strong's definition for the word "meat" as used in the meat offering.
From an unused root meaning to apportion, that is, bestow; a donation; euphemistically tribute; specifically a sacrificial offering (usually bloodless and voluntary): - gift, oblation, (meat) offering, present, sacrifice.
4. Animals to be sacrificed were normally males which were less than one year old (see Exodus 12:5).
The love aspect of the sacrificial system is partially demonstrated in the meat offering described in number three above. We will see an extension of the love aspect later on.
Number four above demonstrates the purely practical aspect of the sacrificial system. Male animals are a mixed blessing in an agrarian society. Males are good for breeding, but only one male is needed to service many females. Excess males then become a problem because they will interbreed with their own mothers, offspring, and siblings. Therefore, males need to be switched between herds even if there is only one male per herd. But there are more males born every birthing cycle, and they are capable of reproducing at very young ages. For example, buckling goats are capable of reproducing at three months of age. What do shepherds do with the excess males? They can be sold for food. Shepherds who eat meat can also eat some of the males themselves. Normally this is done when the animal is fairly young. Even today, IRS documentation on goats states "Buck kids raised for meat are castrated early and fed out for 6 to 8 months."
That article can be read at the following link. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/farmers-atg-chapter-seven-general-livestock
The meat from adult rams and bucks will have poor flavor and can also be tough, especially if butchered near or during the rut. Culling the males while they are young and keeping the females is desirable for the shepherd because this allows the herd to continually grow without the risk of inbreeding. Therefore, from a purely practical standpoint, the sacrificial system supports good herd management by providing another use for these males while encouraging the shepherds to keep the females.
Many people find reading the book of Leviticus drudgery. So, we will only examine one verse here.
Lev 2:13 And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.
This verse makes an important point. The person offering a meat offering or gift to God would make the offering with salt. The salt had a purpose as we read in the above verse. The seasoning or salt added flavor to the offering. This verse tells us the offering to God should also be consistent with the flavor of, or the spirit of, God's covenant. The offering should be consistent with the covenant of God. In other words, one should not bring an offering to God if there was sin in that person's heart. A person should not bring an offering to God in preparation for a future transgression or sin. This would not be in the flavor or spirit of His covenant. Of course, we no longer offer up sacrifices, but the message is still pertinent. We must come to God with a pure heart. Our heart is not in the right place if we come to God asking forgiveness for a sin we are planning on committing in the future.
Mankind did not respond appropriately to the sacrificial system. Mankind simply became accustomed to offering sacrifices rather than staying far from sin. Mankind completely missed the point of the sacrificial system. The Bible tells us many times God took no delight in sacrifice in lieu of obedience.
Isa 1:11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
Here God tells us he was tired of all the sacrificing. He goes on to say He will not even hear the prayers of those who sacrifice instead of being obedient.
Isa 1:15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Isa 1:16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Isa 1:17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Isa 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isa 1:19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
Isaiah 1:18 above uses the colors of scarlet, red, and crimson to symbolize blood and death. These colors, and the symbolism, go hand-in-hand with the premise of the sacrificial system. The premise is those guilty of sin deserve death, but they are spared and cleansed by a sacrificial lamb. We are specifically told these sacrifices never had the power to take away sins.
Heb 10:4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
The sacrifices were a shadow of things to come.
Heb 10:1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
This means the sacrifices pointed to something that was coming in the future. The sacrifices were symbolic and prophetic. If we turn again to Isaiah 1:18, we see the terms "white as snow" and "as wool" used to describe the taking away of sins. This is symbolic of Christ who is often portrayed as a lamb in the Bible. Again, this ties in with the sacrificial system where an innocent lamb was substituted for the guilt of a person. A verse which correlates well with these scriptures is John 1:29. In this verse, John the Baptist tells us Jesus is the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the whole world. Much of the Old Testament pointed to Christ.
Heb 10:7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
The symbolism of the sacrificial system pointed to Christ in every aspect. For instance, there was a veil in the temple which separated the sanctuary, with the table of showbread and the candlestick, from the Holiest area of the temple which contained the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat (see Heb 9:2 - 9:5). Even this veil was symbolic of Christ as we see in this next verse.
Heb 10:20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
There were happenings at the time of the crucifixion of Christ which showed the need for the symbolic sacrifices was coming to an end. These happenings took place at the precise moment in which the prophetic symbolism was fulfilled. Here we see an example as the veil in the temple was torn in two at the precise moment Christ died on the cross.
Luk 23:45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. Luk 23:46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
We see in these next verses Christ laid down His life to take away the sacrificial system and establish the law.
Heb 10:8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Heb 10:9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. Heb 10:10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
This is where our hope comes from. This is the good news. Christ has substituted himself for our guilt. The symbolism of the sacrificial system has come to fruition in Christ. This demonstrates the prophetic and symbolic aspects of the sacrificial system. The entire point of the sacrificial system is to show us Christ will forgive our sins if we simply follow Him and live righteously. God will forgive us. All we need to do is turn away from wickedness and start following Him. God does not want sacrifices and blood. God wants our obedience.
Jer 7:21 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. Jer 7:22 For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: Jer 7:23 But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.
God speaks through the above verses to tell us the point of the sacrificial system was not so God could receive sacrifices. The point was, and still is, we should obey His voice. We should do everything He has told us to do, and we should not do those things He has instructed us to not do. Why should we obey God? This is an important point for us to remember, and it was expressed in that last verse: Jeremiah 7:23. We should obey God so that it may be well with us. We should obey God for our own well-being. Everything He told us to do is for our own good. He told us to rest on the seventh day because that rest is good for us. He told us to refrain from eating certain things because those things are bad for us.
God never needed, nor wanted, anyone to kill and sacrifice an animal for Him. Look at these verses:
Psa 50:8 I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me. Psa 50:9 I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds. Psa 50:10 For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. Psa 50:11 I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. Psa 50:12 If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Psa 50:13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Psa 50:14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: Psa 50:15 And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.
The above verses make clear that God takes no delight in the death of the animals He provided for us. If He wanted the animals, He would have taken them. The sacrificing of an animal was supposed to be a dreaded thing. It was supposed to give us an idea of how it would feel to God if He were to kill one of us. We are His children. He does not want to destroy us. We were meant to have everlasting life. We are also meant to be obedient to Him. A parent takes no pleasure in disciplining a child. The parent disciplines the child for the benefit of the child. The same principle applies to the sacrificial system. God took no pleasure in it. God put it in place for the benefit of His children. His children became accustomed to the killing though. His children sacrificed in lieu of being obedient. God then sent a greater sacrifice. A sacrifice which should be more important to us than any animal. A sacrifice so important to us we would surely be obedient. He sent His Son. He sent a part of Himself to atone for our sins. Our sin is covered by His sacrifice when we transgress His law which was put in place for our benefit. The flip side of that sentiment is we are a little more responsible for His death on that cross every time we sin. Our part in His suffering is increased every time we are disobedient to Him.
Now let us go back again to our innocent place, that time before we were acquainted with death. We are in our field playing with our lambs, and we are tempted do something wrong. Our Father calls to us and takes us to the place where Christ is being crucified. He tells us He knows we have done wrong, but Christ Jesus is paying the price for our transgression. We look upon Christ Jesus as he hangs there with a crown of thorns stuck into his scalp. His body is bruised and bleeding. He is in great torment because you and I did something wrong. He is in this great torment through no fault of His own, but because of what we did. How does this make you feel? This is the reality of the situation. We are responsible for His pain and suffering. He took our place. It is through His stripes we are healed of our transgressions. Perhaps this is why He told us "If ye love me, keep my commandments" in John 14:15. This is the extension of the love aspect of the sacrificial system. We must not be like all of those generations who sacrificed in lieu of obedience. They continued to sin and then made sacrifices to atone for their sin. However, this practice was unacceptable to God as we have seen. We must not willfully sin thinking Christ has already paid the price for that sin. We must not claim grace in lieu of obedience. These next verses make this abundantly clear.
Heb 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, Heb 10:27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. Heb 10:28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Heb 10:29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
Therefore, let us be obedient. Let us keep all of His commandments.
1Jn 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.