Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sin and Sacrifice: Part 2

God instituted sacrifice as a means of grace from the very beginning (explored in Part 1). In it he shows that he is good and forgiving (Ps 86:5), merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ps 103:8). It appears that atonement comes through sacrifice (Heb 9:22), and God desires a renewed relationship through its practice.

In the course of history, it doesn't take long for people to take this institution and twist it for their own selfish purposes. Without exploring each instance here, we can see how the evil that necessitated sacrifice became infected with evil:
  1. Cain presumed upon God's blessing (Gen 4:5-7)
  2. Pagan nations substituted with their own depraved rituals (Lev 20:2)
  3. All peoples eventually treat sacrifice superstitiously (1 Kings 18:26)
  4. God's covenant people devolved into syncretism (Eze 8:6, Hos 6:6)
It's tragically common to take a gift from God and treat it with contempt. All this corruption stems from disconnecting the ritual from its Giver. There are varying degrees of separation, but the further removed from the Source, the more perverted the practices.

1 Samuel 15 gives an account of Saul trying to manipulate God and his prophet Samuel through the sacrificial system. Saul was only interested in his own greed and glory, and pretended that his disobedience was meant to bless God. Samuel is not fooled and exclaims:
“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.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV)
Saul disobeyed God's direct command, and when he was caught, he tried to shift blame, cover his tracks, and justify himself (1 Sam 15:15, 1 Sam 15:20-21, 1 Sam 15:24-25, 1 Sam 15:30). God's message was that Saul should not have disobeyed in the first place; God would not forgive Saul's premeditated sin simply because he performed a ritual. Saul may have even sinned with the intention that he could seek forgiveness at a later time. To Saul, God is Aladdin's genie and the sacrifice of burnt offerings is his lamp.

This would not be the last time Israel used the burnt offering as license to sin. Until the exile, it become more commonplace to trust in God's rituals (Hos 6:6) rather than God himself despite warnings from David and Solomon:
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar. (Psalm 51:16-19 ESV)
To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3 ESV)
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;
how much more when he brings it with evil intent. (Proverbs 21:27 ESV)
Finally, despite the exile, Israel's hardness of heart never changed. Jesus chastises the religious leaders of his day for exactly the same heart: Matthew 9:13, Matthew 12:7. But in him we find our hope, our perfect sacrifice, and that will be the subject of tomorrow's post.
How do we presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience?

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