Who Really Kills the Sacrifice?

I was talking with someone about the sacrificial system yesterday, and the person I was talking with asked me why God wants to kill animals in order to forgive sin. I explained that sin can only be washed clean with blood and that blood has to come from an animal that was acceptable for sacrifice, without blemish (perfectly formed and innocent of sin.)

Hebrews 9:22  In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Afterwards, I began to think about this a little more. In the Torah God tell us to kill an innocent animal as a sacrifice to absolve our sin, but is it then God who is having the animal killed? If the removal of sin can only be accomplished by the death of an innocent animal, then isn’t it really the sinner who is the cause of the animal’s death?

God tells us that blood is the way we cleanse ourselves of sin, but does it have to follow that it is God’s fault the animal has to die? Does God really want to have the animal killed?

That doesn’t seem to be so when you consider all the biblical admonitions to be kind and compassionate to animals:

Proverbs 12:10– A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.

Deuteronomy 25:4You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.

Luke 14:5– And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?

Judaism places great stress on proper treatment of animals. Unnecessary cruelty to animals is strictly forbidden, and in many cases, animals are accorded the same sensitivity as human beings. Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals.  The Talmud specifically states that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals:  “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said ‘Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.'” Likewise Rebekah was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals; when Abraham’s servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well.

The Torah and the Talmud have many other specifications regarding the importance of caring for animals, and there are punishments for failure to do so. This leaves us to again question, with all this concern for proper and compassionate love of animals, why does God require that we kill them to remove the sin that we performed?

I don’t know; but I have an idea… wouldn’t you agree that we all seem to have a natural desire to care for and love animals? I believe that God did more than just tell us to care for the animals, I believe He gave us an innate desire to love them! To prove this, let me ask you if you own or have ever owned a pet?  Do you know people who have? I will bet that the vast majority either have had their own pet or know many people who have pets. We are created in the image of God, and I think part of that includes the love of all His creations. That is why I believe sacrifice of an innocent is necessary- it is designed to strike us to our very marrow with the horror of sin!

In other words, God isn’t really the one killing an animal- when we sin we are the reason an innocent animal has to be slaughtered! 

Our sin is the cause of the animal’s death- if we hadn’t sinned, the animal would have lived.

The lesson in this regulation for us is that sin isn’t something that affects just us, but it affects all around us. Your sin is like having a big pile of garbage in your back yard: even though the garbage is only in your yard, the stench of it permeates the entire neighborhood. Our sin isn’t just on us, but it affects those around us, especially our loved ones.

God loves all the creatures He created and doesn’t want to see any of them killed needlessly. Killing an animal to cleanse us of a sin we committed is a needless killing: yes, we need the blood to be forgiven of  our sin, but it is still a needless death because the animal did nothing to deserve being killed.

So, if someone should ever ask you why God wants to have animals killed, I would suggest you answer the same way I will from now on: it isn’t that God wants to have animals killed, it is because we are sinners that animals have to suffer. God doesn’t require the death of animals, sin does!

Let’s not be confused about something: the forgiveness we receive is spiritual, and will not stop us from suffering the consequences of the sin we committed while we are still in this world.

Finally, let’s take this one step further: because it is our fault animals had to die to remove our sins, then when Yeshua (Jesus) died to remove our sins, who really killed Him? Was it the Romans? The Jews? God, Himself, who could have saved Yeshua from death? The answer to the question, “Who really killed Yeshua?” is- I DID! YOU DID! WE ALL DID! Yeshua died because sin existed in all of us and we needed an innocent life to be sacrificed so that we wouldn’t have to suffer the eternal (spiritual) consequences of our sins. Yeshua, the Messiah, was the only innocent that could do that: then, now, and continually until all things have come to pass and we are living in the Olam Haba (World to Come) together.

Sin is more horrible than we want to realize. It causes innocent lives to be lost, and it is, in my opinion, a cowardly act because when we sin we know that some poor innocent will suffer on our behalf, just so that we can escape the fate we really deserve.

To sin is to commit murder- remember that the next time you feel tempted to do something you know you shouldn’t.

Parashah Vayikra (He Called) Leviticus 1 – 5

This Shabbat Torah reading begins with the 3rd book of the Torah, Vayikra, or Leviticus.

God tells Moses the rules and procedures for presenting offerings before the Lord. He goes through each type of offering, which animals or substitutes are allowed, and which type of sin the offering is intended to absolve us from.

The 5 main offering are:

  1. Burnt Offering – represents total commitment where the entire animal is used
  2. Grain Offering – this offering can be either grain (never with any leavening) or first fruits. There is a memorial portion that is sacrificed, the rest going to the Cohen. All grain offerings must also include salt.
  3. Peace Offering – This offering is also a thanksgiving offering, and although not stated in this parashah, we are told that the entire animal is not burned and that the parts allowed to be eaten shall be eaten there, in the presence of the Lord (Chapter 22); we are also reminded here that the fat and the blood are the Lord’s and we are never to eat them.
  4. Sin Offering – when someone sins unintentionally and then is made aware of it or realizes it, they must make this offering. This is covered for the entire community, leaders, commoners, and even allows for the poor by allowing lesser items of value to be offered if someone cannot afford the animal from the flock or herd.
  5. Guilt Offering – this seems, at this juncture, to be the same as the sin offering, assuming that the sin was unintentional. As we get further into this chapter we realize that the guilt offering is more for unintentional sins and the sin offering is for sins that were more from volition and forethought than accidental.

These are pretty much cut-and-dried chapters. What I find interesting is that God assumes that the sins we are making restitution for are unintentional. You would think He knew better, right? He sees our heart and knows our thoughts, desires and wants. He just has to understand that we do, often, sin on purpose. Yet, in His forgiving, compassionate way He instructs Moses and the people about restitution for sin by stating that when you sin unintentionally. I can understand one reason why God might take this approach: He’s God! Who would ever expect anyone to purposefully try to piss Him off? Especially after seeing and hearing Him at Mt. Sinai, in all His glory, majesty and awe! Really- who would want to mess with God by sinning on purpose?

I guess the answer to that is: everyone. I mean, that’s what happened, right? Just about everyone sinned; Moses (at Mirabah), Aaron (the golden calf), Miriam (with Aaron, again, in Numbers 12), Dathan, Abiram, Aaron’s oldest sons, the guy who picked up sticks on Shabbat, the people who gathered extra Manna….everyone!

Later on we get more details about the sacrificial system. I think it helps to understand these different sacrifices so that we can better understand the Bible. For instance, when we sacrificed the lamb for Passover it was, by definition, a peace/thanksgiving offering, not a sin offering. Yet, although Yeshua’s sacrificial death was a sin offering, He is called the Pesach Lamb. The Pesach (Passover) lamb was not a sin offering, so why do we call Jesus’s death a peace offering when it was a sin offering?

Good question. I think it might simply be an association without understanding- He died on Passover and the lamb was killed on Passover, ergo: Pesach lamb.

On the other hand, it might be from a deeper understanding of what He did and what it allowed to happen. He died for our sins: clearly, that is a sin sacrifice. However, with His death the parochet (curtain) in the Temple was torn, top to bottom, representing that the separation between God and people was removed. When two beings are separated, then they are allowed to come together, doesn’t that promote peaceful relations?  Isn’t that something we should be thankful for?

Yeshua’s death was more than a sin sacrifice, it was a total sacrifice, a combination of all the offerings in one. His entire body was given up (burnt offering), He was without leaven and His blood was the salt of the covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31 (grain), He was a lamb without blemish (peace) and although sinless, he took on all the sins, known and unknown, of all the people, everywhere and for all time (sin and guilt.)

Understanding the (seemingly) minute details of the sacrificial system help us to understand the broader impact of Yeshua’s sacrifice.

Some things in the Bible seem minute, unimportant and even obsessively recorded, yet there is always purpose in what God has told us. Faithful reading of every word in the Word is worthy of your time and energy- you never know what the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) will reveal to you.