by Maurice Hamel
"I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats." - Isaiah 1:11
Why did God curse the creation, when it was mankind that failed to obey him? If man sinned, shouldn't it be man that is punished for his own failings and the rest of the creation spared? There are those who feel that an all-powerful good God could not possibly exist because of the way that innocent creatures are forced to suffer.
In our perception of reality, we must be careful to not ignore what the Bible clearly teaches. The curse was placed on the creation reducing our natural resources, to point us back toward God. When you think about it, in this context the curse on creation makes sense. The creation suffers before our eyes in the life and death struggle of nature's "balance" to show us the scars our behavior has caused in bringing the curse upon the land.
There is a penalty that we must pay for our willful rebellion against our Creator's authority. The Law, which God gave to Moses, specified that animal sacrifices could be used to defer the punishment for our disobedience until a permanent solution was made available. Today, most people look back upon the animal sacrifices, which God required of Old Testament Israel, as brutal and primitive. How could someone possibly justify killing an innocent animal to appease an angry deity? That makes no sense to modern sensibilities. God is envisioned as a loving Father who is kind and nurturing to all his creatures. Certainly God does not take pleasure in seeing his creatures die?
Why would God require them to do something so repulsive? We look at this as cruel, bloody and barbaric, yet we do the same to get meat from our grocery stores, only we keep ourselves detached from it. Many people have no exposure to where their food comes from. The chicken that we buy prepackaged in a supermarket is recognizable as food, but we have isolated ourselves from the fact that our food was once a living creature. That idea makes us uncomfortable. Dealing with death should make us uneasy. It is a reminder of the cost of our rebellion has had upon ourselves and upon the creation that was placed under our care. It is no mistake that we are saddened to see a sparrow fall or to see a predator make a kill. Nature was not supposed to be that way. People are wired so that this makes us uncomfortable, but that was intentional to remind us that this is a fallen world. Something has to pay the penalty for our continuing to break God's rules. We are being reminded that our rebelliousness has a cost.
If, as some assume, man has been a meat-eater from the beginning, why this squeamishness? To make some sense of this, consider that Genesis 1:29-30 tells us at one time all creatures were nourished simply by eating plants. So why are we no longer like that? First, there was the fall of man and the subsequent curse which introduced decay into the world. Later nature's lushness was further diminished when the judgment of the Flood brought significant changes to the earth's climate. As part of God's disciplining us, he has been progressively removing more and more of the creation's original bounty. Today many creatures, including man, have been reduced to eating other creatures as food in order to sustain life.
What are the implication of this fact? If the death of creatures at the hands of man was not part of what God had intended, why would a destructive act be required as part of worship? Why would God have required that Adam's son Abel perform animal sacrifices from his flocks and later require the temple sacrifices as part of the Israel's religion? Isn't killing part of the creation something that God would oppose, rather than require? Today, and no doubt even then, the death of innocent creatures is repugnant to us.
What is the purpose of all these animal sacrifices which were required in the Old Testament? Scripture makes it clear that prior to the coming of the Messiah, the death of an animal was an important part of man's mending his broken relationship with God. A price had to be paid for our disobedience. This was apparent from the moment the creation was cursed. There was a cost when God provided clothing for Adam and Eve to replace their own attempt to cover their guilt with fig leaves. An innocent animal from among the creatures in the Garden had to die to provide the garments of skin.
But the Bible does not teach that an animal sacrifice can make a lasting peace with God. It cannot change the fact that our hearts continue to challenge God's requirements of us. It was a foreshadowing of the solution that God himself would be providing. In describing Israel's insincere ceremonial worship, God said in Isaiah 1:11, "I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats." The purpose of the sacrifices was to cause us to see the impact of our own wickedness. David reminds us in Psalm 51:17, "the sacrifices of ... a broken and contrite heart ... you will not despise."
The death of the animal was not the goal. The humbling of the rebel was. To God, causing his rebellious children to feel remorse was worth the cost of shedding the blood of some of his creatures. God is using these things to warn us, quite graphically, that our ignoring his requirements will not be taken lightly.
For a time God allowed the blood of the temple sacrifice to cover over the guilt of our rebellion. It pointed to the death of the Messiah which was still in the future. The animal that was sacrificed in the temple or the animal that is now meat on our table is paying the short-term cost to sustain us. Every time we take nourishment, or see the survival of the fittest struggle in nature, we see the scars upon Eden that are the consequences of our rebellion. The hesitation we have in seeing animals killed for our food points to Christ.
©2001 Maurice Hamel
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