Were the Hebrew sacrifices the same as the pagan sacrifices? | Steven Morales

As a teenager, I thought I could make some deals with God. “God,” she would pray, “I’ll sacrifice this if you give me this.” At the time, he believed that saying this was incredibly pious. He thought that holiness meant being willing to sacrifice things, but only on condition of receiving something in return. This is an unbiblical approach to prayer and sacrifice.

Actually, this way of thinking, which many share today, is at the heart of how pagan religions understand sacrifices. People cut themselves, slaughter animals, and engage in terrible acts so that their god will show them favor by giving them something in return. It is a selfish and self-interested transaction, which, incidentally and by definition, defeats the purpose of the sacrifices. The Hebrew sacrifices, on the other hand, were not about God wanting all the best sheep of Israel, but about the sin of the people and their need for atonement.

The word sacrifice is not foreign among Christians. We all know about the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. We all know about the Israelites and how they had to prepare a flawless lamb for the sacrifice; that this lamb represented the Lamb that would come once and for all to die for sin.

But the question remains, were the sacrifices of the Hebrews the same as the sacrifices of the pagan nations around them?

Hebrew vs. pagan

The Hebrew culture was not the only one in the ancient Near East to have a practical, sacrificial system. In reality, many ancient cultures killed animals in an attempt to please their gods. You can even read poems about them. The Egyptians have a hymn dedicated to Osiris; the Babylonians have a hymn entitled “Poem for the Suffering Just”; among the Ugaritic myths is the Myth of Baal and the Sumerians have their royal hymn “The birth of Shulgi in the temple of Nippur”.

However, the similarities between the sacrificial systems in ancient Near Eastern cultures and the sacrifices of the Hebrews are superficial at best. In fact, they couldn’t be more different.

Biblemesh (interactive Bible learning platform) says,

In contrast to the pagan approach, the Hebrew sacrifice represents the seriousness of sin. It was not established to meet God’s needs, for He lacks nothing. Instead, the Lord prescribed animal offerings to deal with man’s heart and his need for forgiveness. Without pious lives to back them up, the sacrifices were repugnant to God. Hence passages like these: “Surely obeying is better than sacrifices, and paying attention than the fat of rams” (); “Because you don’t want a sacrifice, which I would give; you don’t want holocaust The sacrifices of God are the broken spirit; you will not despise a contrite and humiliated heart, O God” (Psalm 51:16-17); “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Jehovah; but the prayer of the upright is his joy ”(Proverbs 15: 8); “For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).

When we address the issue of sacrifices in Scripture, we find that it is incredibly different from sacrifices in other cultures. Even among cultures closer to our time (compared to the groups of the ancient Near East), such as the Mayans. They lived in Guatemala, where there are still traces of their culture and beliefs, and offered sacrifices to the . But this is very different from the sacrifices in the Old Testament. Those were practiced to appease the gods, gain their favor, and did not face the seriousness of sin in their lives.

the ultimate sacrifice

In the Old Testament, Moses established the sacrificial system. The animals, which represented sinners, were sacrificed as an acknowledgment of sin and a need for forgiveness. It implied dependence on God. It implied the need for expiation. Sin had to be dealt with, and sacrifices were God’s way of dealing with it. In the New Testament, we are told in Hebrews 10:4 that “the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins.”

The system is not sufficient for the maximum atonement. A maximum sacrifice is necessary for the maximum atonement. Isaiah 53 gives us a perfect picture of the promise of the Lamb in whom the ultimate atonement takes place. In Christ, the sacrifices end and are no longer necessary.

The Hebrews offered sacrifices not because they were trying to gain something greater, but because they knew their sin must be atoned for.

Let me summarize these thoughts in a few points:

  1. The Hebrew sacrifices were not bribes. They (and you) cannot bribe God because it would imply two false things about Him. First, that God is corrupt or at least corruptible. The second, that we have something with which we can bribe him. There is nothing that does not belong to him and there is nothing that could corrupt him to accept a bribe.
  2. The Hebrew sacrifices revealed the seriousness of sin. The Hebrews offered sacrifices not because they were trying to gain something greater, but because they knew their sin must be atoned for. They knew they were sinners and sacrifices were the way to deal with sin.
  3. The Hebrew sacrifices revealed their need for forgiveness. Where there is sin, there is forgiveness. The sacrifices were not intended to simply display Israel’s sin, but to deal with it! It was necessary to restore the relationship with God.
  4. The Hebrew sacrifices were not to meet God’s needs. Again, they (and you) weren’t offering your best lambs to God because they were your favorite animals and you were putting together a nice collection. God does not need our sacrifices. They are not established for their benefit but for ours. We are the ones who need restoration.
  5. The Hebrew sacrifices revealed their need for confession and repentance. First, recognition of sin; then recognition of the need for forgiveness; then need for confession and repentance; the sacrifices were directly related to the heart of the worshiper and his relationship with God.
  6. The Hebrew sacrifices aimed beyond themselves to a maximum sacrifice and once and for all. This is where the Hebrew sacrifices couldn’t be more different than any other definition. They served a greater purpose. They had a bigger meaning. They provided a picture of Christ’s sacrifice, after which no more would be needed.

Only by putting some sense into the Hebrew meaning of sacrifice, then we can use the word sacrifice appropriately today. The Hebrew sacrifices may have been the form of atonement then, but we have something, or rather, someone much greater to atone for our sins: Christ.

Christ is the death of sacrifices and the birth of faith. Because of his sacrifice, we are no longer required to make sacrifices for our atonement, plus he enables us to sacrifice everything for him because we have nothing to lose when we have Jesus! He paid everything! Yes, the common but uninformed notion has some grain of truth, but it doesn’t carry the full weight of it until Christ appears in the picture. Be careful when defining terms even if they seem commonplace!

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