The first animal sacrifice recorded in Moses’ time was at The Passover. Each Israelite family was required to kill a lamb and put its blood on the doorframe; to save the firstborn of the family from death:
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” (See Exodus 12:12-13, 23)
If an Israelite family didn’t offer this sacrifice, death was the result (Exodus 12:30).
There isn’t a dedicated passage in the Old Testament that describes what would happen to those who didn’t offer an animal sacrifice. However, by looking at the outcome for people who did offer sacrifices under the Old Covenant we can try and make some deductions about those who didn’t.
In the process of offering an animal sacrifice (Leviticus 4:31, 35):
- A pleasing aroma to the LORD was created.
- Atonement is made, by the priest, for the person offering.
- There is forgiveness of sin.
The sacrifices are described as gifts to God (Leviticus 1:10) – we tend to give gifts to those we love and respect. If someone didn’t offer a sacrifice this might indicate a negative feeling or attitude towards God. We could also deduce that they would not please God, atonement would not be made and their sin wouldn’t be forgiven. It is important to note that the animal sacrifices were carried out for the benefit of the person making the offering — not God (see Psalm 50:7-15).
In the New Testament book of Hebrews we are told about the link between forgiveness and the blood of sacrificed animals under the Old Covenant:
“…under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22)
The writer goes on to explain that the law was a “shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1) — so the blood of the animal sacrifices was a shadow of the blood of Jesus. A contrast is made between the inefficiency of animal sacrifices and the complete sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ:
“…the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, [can never] make perfect those who draw near…For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Taken from Hebrews 10:1-4)
Through Jesus we can be made perfect and our sin and our sinful nature can be taken away from us completely (See Hebrews 9:11-10:10)
The passage in Hebrews also highlights that under the Old Covenant the physical blood of animals wasn’t God’s only requirement to forgive. The external act of sacrificing an animal was to have meaning for the participant. An animal sacrifice without faith, obedience and love would not be pleasing to God:
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6
“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.” 1 Samuel 15:22
The Bible encourages followers of Christ to show love and obedience to God and make sacrifices in their lives:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship…” Taken from Romans 12:1-2 (Also see Psalm 50:14-15, Hebrews 13:15)
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