1 Samuel 15:22
ESV - 22 And Samuel said, "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 listen than the fat of rams.
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Although (as indicated by 1 Samuel 15:22) sacrifices by themselves are not a preferable substitute for obedience to God in His eyes, it was precisely because no one (since the original fall of humanity into sin in Genesis 3) had been capable of perfect obedience to God's commandments that God instituted the requirements for animal sacrifice found in the Old Testament. Only the shedding of blood was a sufficient satisfaction of the guilt incurred by humanity because of its sin (that is, its disobedience). This was first demonstrated by God's acceptance of Abel's sacrifice of a lamb (which involved the shedding of its blood, indicating an understanding on Abel's part of this principle), and His rejection of Cain's offering of crops (which did not involve the shedding of blood). These ongoing animal sacrifices were all a temporary foreshadowing of the full and final sacrifice for sin that God Himself would make by becoming a true human (while also remaining fully God) in the person of Jesus, who lived a sinless life, and then died an undeserved death (which involved the shedding of His innocent blood) to pay the full penalty on behalf of all those who would place their faith in His sacrifice (instead of in their own imperfect obedience) to have their sins forgiven and to gain eternal life in God's presence, rather than being eternally separated from Him. The final redemption achieved by Christ meant that animal sacrifices would never again be needed for the forgiveness of sin.
The first animal sacrifice happened on the same day that Adam and Eve sinned. God had only given them one prohibition – do not eat from tree of the knowledge of good and evil – or you will surely die. They ate, their eyes opened and they hid because they were ashamed of their nakedness. When God confronted them, they admitted to their sin and he proceeded to kill an animal to provide skins (garments) to cover their naked bodies. Death had entered God’s world for the first time. An animal was killed by God, its creator. But God had said that Adam and Eve would die, and they did in several ways. Their died spiritually when their eternal life connection with God was severed and their sinful human nature took control. Their intimate fellowship with God died when they were banished from the garden of Eden. They also died physically over 900 years later. Death is a horrendous thing. God never intended it for his creation. We were supposed to live intimately with God forever in the paradise he created. But humans chose to rebel against God. But God had a rescue plan for us. The first part of that plan was to give the Israelites, his chosen people, the Ten Commandments, to show them how to live a righteous and holy life. He also enacted the animal sacrificial system as means for his people to receive the forgiveness of their sins, so their fellowship with God would be restored, and they too, by faith, would participate in the resurrection from the dead. Every time the proper animal was slain on the altar of the Lord, its blood would be splashed on the altar. As Heb 9:22 says, without the shedding of blood (ie without death) there can be no forgiveness of sins. This act, done in faith by Israelite community, would result in their sins being forgiven. But this forgiveness was only temporary and the guilt would return. As Heb 10:1-4 says, the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins permanently. Therefore a better sacrifice was required. Then Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth as a human being. He lived a perfect sinless life to fulfil all the requirements of the law. Then he sacrificed his body on the cross and shed his blood as the perfect Lamb of God. As Heb 10:5-18 says, this one sacrificial act provided the forgiveness of sins of the whole world. But only for those people who chose to believe in this gospel message. Each person must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and saviour of the world. Each person, by faith, must accept Jesus as their personal saviour for their own sins to be forgiven. The Israelites killed an innocent animal and shed its blood on the altar to have their sins forgiven. These sacrifices were ghastly and grisly affairs. I believe God intended this sacrificial system to remind the Israelites (and us because we read their story) how horrendous and horrific our sin is in God’s eyes. Now the image we have before us as Christians is even more shocking. There is God himself, in the person of his son Jesus, hanging on the cross. Suffering insults, mocking, torture, crucifixion and finally DEATH, Jesus paid the penalty our sins deserved, so we could be forgiven. Why did God do this? See John 3:16 – its all about love. The book of Hebrews does a beautiful job of explaining and describing this saving work of Jesus on our behalf. It explains that all these animal sacrifices foreshadowed the good things to come in Jesus. These sacrifices pointed forward to the cross where the perfect Lamb of God was sacrificed. Then Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a simple meal points us back to his broken body and shed blood upon the cross. Both systems are important reminders of the horror of our sinful condition. God wants us to deal ruthlessly with our sin, so it doesn’t control us. God wants us to battle against the temptations that befall us, so sin doesn’t spoil our new spiritual life. God wants us to try our best to live a holy and righteous life, so we will honour and glorify him for this amazing salvation.
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