What’s with the Old Testament?

What’s with the Old Testament?

Here are 4 verses from the Bible in chronological order. What’s going on here – does God want sacrifice (human or animal) or not?

Gen 22:2 Then God said, “Take your son , your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Exo 29:18 Then burn the entire ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing aroma, an offering made to the Lord by fire.

Psa 51:16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

Mat 9:13 [Jesus said] But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

First, a story (after Brad Jersak): I drew a picture of my father in heaven with my crayons. I gave it to him. He hugged me, told me he loved it and put it on his fridge.

My sister also drew a picture of our father in heaven with crayons. She gave it to him. He hugged her, told her he loved it and put it on his fridge.

My sister’s picture wasn’t as good as mine. I wanted my father to tell her what was wrong with her picture and get her to draw it again. But he didn’t. He just smiled at both of us and encouraged us to keep drawing.  But he told us not to poke each other in the eye with our crayons.

When I turned 18, I was embarrassed about my crayon drawing, but my Dad loved it for some reason and insisted on keeping it on the fridge.

So back to the question: what’s going on in those Bible verses – does God want sacrifice (human or animal) or not?  I reckon it’s like people were trying to draw pictures of God with crayons.  The fact they were (and we today are) drawing a picture of their Dad for him is more important than how good or terrible the picture itself is.

As God worked with the people of Israel, drawing them out of the cultures and nations of the world around them, they slowly began to think differently so that they the rest of the world would then start to think differently too: Gen 12:1-3 “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you … and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abraham and his descendants went from thinking they needed to make human sacrifices to appease God (like everyone else did with their gods); to thinking that to get God’s favour they should use animals as substitutes for humans; to beginning to see that God doesn’t need appeasing at all; to understanding that God’s mercy has always been a free-will gift and not something we were buying from him.  And as his children he wants us to be with others like he is with us.

This is still a message that is counter to the culture of the world, where somebody has to be made to pay for everything.  The infuriating, messy and ugly journey of the people of God is a journey that individuals and societies still have to make today.  So the Old Testament is like the church saying to the world: “When I was younger, I used to really struggle with the same things you’re struggling with too.”