In Lev 1–4 God commanded that sacrifices (burnt offerings, grain offerings, fellowship offerings, and sin offerings) be offered to Him. Why? What’s He need animals and grain for?
“Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills… If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine" (Psalm 50:10, 12)
The whole earth is God’s. So it’s not from a need that God commands His people to sacrifice.
Perhaps sacrifices are a test of obedience? This is closer to God’s intent for the sacrificial system of Israel, but it falls short of a full answer because,
“To obey is better than sacrifice…” (1 Samuel 15:22)
So, sacrifice isn’t obedience on its own. There must be something that goes with sacrifice to make it true obedience. What is that? What takes a sacrifice from superficial to significant? From perfunctory to profound? From mechanical to meaningful? From despised by God (Amos 5:21) to delightful to God (Ps 51:19)?
“I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)
Steadfast love for God makes sacrifice significant. Knowing and noticing God makes offerings nonfiction.
But God does desire sacrifice, right? After all, He sets up the sacrificial system in Leviticus. God has revealed doesn’t desire sacrifices per se. He desires sacrifices to be a means of showing esteem for His supreme excellence. At the heart of true worship—including the Israelite sacrifices—is a heart whose foremost affection is God. Celebration makes sacrifice significant.
Is that true of sin offerings too? Are they really a celebration? Yes. Sin offerings confess the gravity of transgressing God. Why is sin against God such a grave offense? Because of God’s greatness! A sin-offering is a serious celebration of the greatness of God because 1) they show that God is so great that offending His majesty is punishable by death 2) and that knowing God is so valuable that costly sacrifice is worth it to mend their relationship.
Nathan Colestock is an alumni of Emmaus Bible College and current MDIV student at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He also enjoys serving on staff at Meadow Creek Church in Andover, MN pastoring youth and families. He is the lucky husband of Maddie and a father to his two adorable daughters.