Sacrifice: A Tradition

“For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalms 50:16-17

“You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” Deuteronomy 12:31

“There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer” Deuteronomy 18:10

Tons of commentary on sacrifice in scripture. It seems the role of it in the simplest form was repentance; a reminder one was wrong, has made himself right in his heart, and symbolizes this in sacrifice. Sacrifice was traditionally an amends for ritual infraction, far less to do with sin.

After Josiah, protests from the prophets about the priests and their totemic practice of sacrifice, the evolving idea of propitiation of sin became more pronounced and took a spiritual nature and meaning. It became reformed into a less gruesome affair, appeasing both the prophet and the priest though neither completely happy as a result.

You have to ask about atonement in light of the Jewish, not Christian, interpretation of sacrifice. It would seem far less likely that Jesus would adopt our modern Christian view (a highly stylized sacrificial system foreign to Judaism entirely), than it would be to suggest the death on the cross has no formulaic meaning in reconciling people to God. And given Jesus’ teachings, entailing entirely to repentance, doing the good we already know to do, and being transformed in participation with this practice, we can’t genuinely see Calvin’s popular theory, or Anselm’s either, as more consistent historically or thematically than we can with Abelard’s.

“The Lord says, ‘Why do you continue giving me all these sacrifices? I have had enough of your sacrifices of rams and the fat from well-fed animals. I don’t want the blood of those bulls, sheep, and goats. When you people come to meet with me, you trample everything in my yard. Who told you to do this?
‘Don’t keep bringing me those worthless sacrifices. I hate the incense you give me. I cannot stand your festivals for the New Moon, the Sabbath, and other special meeting days. I hate the evil you do during those holy times together. I hate your monthly meetings and councils. They have become like heavy weights to me, and I am tired of carrying them.
‘When you raise your arms to pray to me, I will refuse to look at you. You will say more and more prayers, but I will refuse to listen because your hands are covered with blood.
‘Wash yourselves and make yourselves clean. Stop doing the evil things I see you do. Stop doing wrong. Learn to do good. Treat people fairly. Punish those who hurt others. Speak up for the widows and orphans. Argue their cases for them in court.
‘I, the Lord, am the one speaking to you. Come, let’s discuss this. Even if your sins are as dark as red dye, that stain can be removed and you will be as pure as wool that is as white as snow.” Isaiah 1:11-20

Do we repeat appeasement and call the spade a spade? Penal substitution, or satisfaction; which the Old Testament and Christ himself suggests is repentance and transformation? Are these ideas not grotesque in themselves for what they make of man and God; things detestable to God?

In these Old Testament Jewish comments on sacrifice and in their reiteration in Jesus’ teachings, it is the nature of man to do the good, sin to not do it, and atonement to turn back into the practice of the good. It is in the doing of it, man finds himself and God and is transformed.

The good is satisfying and in it, there is no judgment. While there are none who are good but God, says Jesus in response to being called good, he reminds we already know what to do and invites us to do it alongside him.

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