Why Were Animals Sacrificed?
God takes no pleasure in death.
When sin entered the world, death came right along with it. This was part of the curse of Adam, and all creation is laboring under it. Life was given greater value because death became inevitable.
When Abel brought his offering to the Lord, it was out of done out of a heart of reverence and repentance. Abel took the best he had, the choicest specimens of his flock, and gave them to the Lord—much like we would give a seat of honor at a table to an important invitee, or dress in our finest clothes for a date we are trying to impress. Abel showed the Lord the esteem He deserved. This pleased God.
Abel also recognized his condition as a sinner, and God’s as holy. These are incompatible, like the poles of two magnets that repel one another. Abel wanted to symbolize his own deserved death by placing it on something he greatly valued—his sinless and beloved animals—and cleanse himself from his sin. This also pleased God, because now, the man He created finally comprehended God’s abhorrence to sin—and the exorbitant cost of redemption.
Since Abel’s first sacrifice, however, people began to bring animals to the altar not to please God, but to appease him. Like many acts that stem from religiousness instead of reverence, the system of animal sacrifices became instituted to attempt to win God’s favor. Animal sacrifice lost its meaning, and became simply transactional. This did not please God, as Scriptures repeatedly tells us. “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings” (Psalm 51:16).
Over and over, God shares how He feels about animal sacrifices:
“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.” (Isaiah 1:11)
"Whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person, and whoever offers a lamb is like one who breaks a dog’s neck" (Isaiah 66:2-3).
The prophet then quotes God as saying what does please Him.
"These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word." (Isaiah 66:2)
"Stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." (Isaiah 1:16-17).
It’s easy to see God’s heart in this contrast. Meaningless bloodshed is detestable to Him. Loving one another in obedience to Him—that is the gift He desires.
Perhaps a lamb might have been enough to atone for Abel’s sin. But it would take the Lamb of God to atone for the sins of the world, including yours and mine. For what we have done, we deserve to endure torturous wounds, death, and eternal separation from God. But out of love, Jesus pushed us aside and stepped up to take that ordeal himself. This was the Sacrifice, once and for all, for the sin of all mankind. If we accept this treasured act from Jesus, we would be reconciled to God completely and forever. We would become compatible with Him, like the poles of two magnets that attract one another and hold fast. Nothing could ever break us apart.
"For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. "Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32)
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. (Psalm 51:16)
“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.”
“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”
I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats? (Psalm 50:9-13)
“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.
But whoever sacrifices a bull
is like one who kills a person,
and whoever offers a lamb
is like one who breaks a dog’s neck;
whoever makes a grain offering
is like one who presents pig’s blood,
and whoever burns memorial incense
is like one who worships an idol.
They have chosen their own ways,
and they delight in their abominations. (Isaiah 66:2-3)