|Image by Greg Montani, from Pixabay.com|
As his first act upon exiting the Ark, the great patriarch, Noah, builds an altar and offers a burnt offering on it from those he worked so hard to save. Why?
20Then Noah built an altar to the LORD. Taking from every kind of clean animal and clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21When the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, He said in His heart, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from his youth. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done.
22As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
shall never cease.”
Genesis 8:20-22 (Berean Study Bible)
The concept of animal sacrifice is so very foreign to us today, because it simply "is not done". In fact, the idea of harming animals (except for food) is deeply frowned upon in our modern "1st World" society.
It was different in the Old Testament. Animal sacrifice was instituted by God Himself, was central to Old Testament worship and was a multi-dimensional act. It was right and appropriate that Noah acted as he did, upon leaving the Ark.
The Ark itself symbolizes Jesus Christ, in Whom we find rescue and shelter from God's judgment. In the Old Testament, though, Messiah Jesus had not yet appeared. His all-encompassing sacrifice had not been made. His blood had not atoned for all the sins of those who believe in Him. So, the sacrificial system was in play.
It began with Abel, who pleased God by bringing the second animal sacrifice. "Wait," you exclaim, "what was the first?" The first was made by God, in the Garden of Eden, when He sacrificed the life of an animal to make animal skin coverings for the nakedness of Adam and Eve. While those skins covered their nakedness, they could not cover their sin.
Offering food to "gods" has happened since the days of the ancients, and still persists to this day. Walk into some Buddhist businesses (nail salons come to mind) and you will frequently see fresh fruit offerings at a shrine, for example. In India, where via Hinduism literally hundreds of gods are worshipped, shrines and altars are more plentiful than Starbucks and McDonalds outlets in America.
(The photo at the head of this post is one example.)
There were a couple of differences between pagan animal sacrifices and those made by the Israelites, the people of Yahweh God.1
First, the animal sacrifice was to be burnt (Exodus 29:18), as opposed to being offered as "food for the gods" in other religions. Jewish tabernacles or temples contained no man-made idol to which food was given. Burning the animal's flesh was entirely unique to the Jewish faith.
Second, the Jews were very deliberate in how they treated the blood of the animal, based on the instructions given to them by Yahweh God. Leviticus 17:11-14 tells us (as the old hymn goes) "there is power in the blood". The blood is the essence of physical and spiritual life. Accordingly, long after Noah, when God set up the Levitical priesthood through Moses and Aaron, sacrificial blood took center stage. It was considered the highest crime to eat or drink it, as well as to shed "innocent blood".
The design of animal sacrifice was two-fold:2
- The forfeiture of the life of the animal represents the forfeiture of the life of the sinful human to God's divine justice.
- The fire of the burnt offering represents that the sinner is deserving of the fires of eternal death an damnation.
To study the meanings behind all of the O.T. sacrificial offerings, see Leviticus 7.
As the Ark was a "type", a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, so was the burnt offering. Today, as Jesus has made the ultimate, final, eternal sacrifice for our sins, we no longer must offer animal sacrifices on altars of stone. What God requires from us who walk in the faith that flows from His Holy Spirit is continual sacrifice on the altars of our hearts, the sacrifice of self-denial, humility and obedience. With such a faith-based walk, our God and Savior is honored and glorified.
He was pleased with the burnt offering given by Noah, and in response promised to never again destroy the Earth by cataclysmic flood. This promise is named by theologians as The Noahic Covenant. The one-of-a-kind, sacrificial death, burial and resurrection of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords grieved His heart deeply, but it pleased Him even more than all the burnt offerings of history combined; it pleased Him forever. Jesus, The Last Sacrifice, "sealed the deal".
It is no accident Jesus Christ is pictured as a slain Lamb in Revelation 5.
8When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song:
“Worthy are You to take the scroll and open its seals,
because You were slain,
and by Your blood You purchased for God
those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
10You have made them into a kingdom,
priests to serve our God,
and they will reignb upon the earth.”
Revelation 5:8-10 (Berean Study Bible)