posted on Aug, 21 2015 @ 05:02 PM
As was normal in the culture of the time, the custom of ancient Israel was to make offerings to their God in the form of animal sacrifice.
Their God honoured their intentions by accepting and regulating the offerings.
But he also made it clear, on many occasions, that he would rather have something different.
Thus the basic principle which underlies the laws of Deuteronomy is that keeping the laws is the most important thing they can do;
“And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them
when you sit in your house”- Deuteronomy ch6 vv6-7.
The knowledge of these laws is the key to life; “that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone but that man lives by everything
that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord”- Deuteronomy ch8 v3
Even in Leviticus, where most of the regulations about sacrifice are laid out, we find the warning that their good relationship with God will really
depend upon their keeping of the other laws;
“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them…”- Leviticus ch26 v3
When Saul was gathering the army to fight the Philistines, he was told to wait for Samuel to arrive at Gilgal. When Samuel was late, and the people
were threatening to disperse, Saul decided that battle was imminent and it was necessary to “entreat the favour of the Lord” by making a burnt
offering and giving peace offerings.
So Samuel rebuked him because “you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you”.
The story makes it clear, incidentally, that Saul’s disobedience lay in his failure to wait, because that was the instruction he had been given.
Saul was in trouble again a couple of chapters later, when Samuel commissioned him to destroy the Amelekites, not just the people themselves but all
their animal property.
In the event, Saul allowed the people to preserve the sheep and oxen, offering the excuse that they had been spared “to offer to the Lord your
This earned him the classic rebuke;
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to hearken than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel ch15 v22
We are told in Proverbs that
“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice”- Proverbs ch21 v3
This comes to the same thing, because righteousness and justice are part of the commands of the Lord.
Therefore Hosea says
“I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”- Hosea ch6 v6
Amos elaborates on the point, with passionate sarcasm;
“Come to Bethel and transgress; to Gilgal and multiply transgression;
Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days;
Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
For so you love to do, O people of Israel…
I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them…
But let justice roll down like rivers, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”- Amos ch4 vv4-5 and ch5 vv21-24.
Similarly the teachings of Isaiah almost begin with the Lord’s complaint;
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats.” – Isaiah ch1 v11
The Lord’s real objection to these sacrifices and to all the “appointed feasts” is that they are being combined with iniquity and injustice;
“Your hands are full of blood” (v15)
Yet the situation has not improved by the time we reach the end of the book;
“He who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man;
He who sacrifices a lamb, like him who breaks a dog’s neck;
He who presents a cereal offering, like him who offers swine’s blood;
He who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like him who blesses an idol.”
Why? Because “they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations”.
-Isaiah ch66 v3
One way of interpreting this relentless criticism is that the prophets are campaigning to modify an Israelite religion based originally on
Yet Jeremiah would disagree.
“For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and
sacrifices. But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in the way that I command
you, that it may be well with you.’”- Jeremiah ch7 vv22-23
I think the prophet may have a point, and he may be offering a more accurate version of the history of Israel’s religion.
In the modern analysis of the way the Old Testament was put together, the codes of law in Exodus are thought to be among the earlier elements.
The very act of publishing laws implies the importance of the principle that the laws should be obeyed.
Whereas the elaborate ritual code of Leviticus is now thought to have attained its final form as late as the time of the Exile in Babylon.
I would suggest, then, that a “Sinai” religion based upon the commands of God about righteousness and justice was originally grafted onto a local
culture based upon sacrifice.
That in the course of time, the “sacrifice” element of this combination increased its dominance, as a professional priesthood developed, and as
they became settled in permanent Temples.
And that the teaching of the prophets was protesting against this modification and trying to shift the balance of Israel’s religion back to its
original form; that is, with a greater emphasis on the keeping of the commandments.
So we should understand that obedience is better than sacrifice.
Or we might put it another way, and call obedience a kind of sacrifice which is better than animal sacrifice.
That would be because it is a form of self-offering, which is closer to what God really wants, while the offerings of animals, cereals, oil, or
wine, are only symbols of that self-offering.
Obedience is also an act of faith, in that the roots of our disobedience and self-will lie in our distrust.
Thus the essence of obedience is that it’s a way of offering ourselves to God in trust.
The best presentation of this obedience is the well-known figure in Psalm 40;
“Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire;
But thou hast given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering thou hast not required.
Then I said, ‘Lo, I come;
In the roll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do thy will, O my God;
Thy law is within my heart.’” (vv6-7)
Of course these words are quoted in Hebrews (ch10 vv5-10) with reference to Jesus, who is understood in Christian teaching to represent the most
perfect self-offering of them all.