Does God Still Desire Sacrifice?


Sacrifice is a very old idea in worship.  We might even  say that there is no true worship without it.  We see the rite of sacrifice demonstrated in the beginning of the Bible with  the sons  of Adam.  The practice was clearly approved by God.   Later in  the  Bible we see that Noah offered sacrifices,  and  so  did Abraham,  Isaac  and  Jacob.  Job and his  friends  also  offered sacrifices.  The concept of sacrifice was later a part of the Law given to Moses, and various types of sacrifices are detailed  for us in the early chapters of Leviticus.  Certainly, our fathers had one thing in common.  They all built altars to  God and they all
made sacrifices.

Replica of an ancient altar at Tel Sheva in Israel

For  the  most  part, sacrifices required shedding the blood of lambs, of goats, of calves, etc. The shedding of blood speaks of  a very big problem in man’s approach or access to God.   This is illustrated by Cain’s offering of the fruit of the field.  His offering  did  not suffice and he was not accepted by  God.   His brother  Abel, on the other hand, offered a blood  sacrifice  and was accepted.  The Bible tells us that he offered in faith  (Heb.11:4).  He was, no doubt, looking forward to a future Messiah and a  future sacrifice that would solve the sin problem  once  for all.

In biblical times both the Tabernacle and the Temple  taught much concerning this subject. Inside these beautiful  structures, communion with the true God was possible. The arrangement of both of  these  structures was a picture of spiritual  progress.   One came into the outer court, then into the inner court and  finally into the Holy of Holies where God dwelt.  Only the chosen  priest could enter there, and not without blood.

It is significant that as one entered the outer court he was confronted immediately with an altar.  This altar blocked the way into  the  presence of God, which could  be  experienced  within. Although  in ancient times animals of many types were  offered  on this altar, it was clearly necessary for a better offering to  be made.   The mere fact that animal sacrifices had to  be  repeated raised questions as to their efficacy ( Heb. 10:1-4).

As  Christians we believe that Jesus, the God-man, was  that perfect  sacrifice who was offered once for all for the  sins  of all mankind (Heb. 10:14; Isa. 53:10). We believe that Psalm 40:6-8 speaks of this offering in these words: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, `Here I am, I have come– it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to  do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.'”   

One of the important Hebrew words for offering has the  root ka-rav.   The  root  word  also means  “to  come  near”  or  “to approach.”   Quite literally we cannot come near to  God  without sacrifice.  Even the word for the offering itself, kar-ban, is a derivative of this root.  With the whole idea of sacrifice as the approach  to God so deeply ingrained in the Bible, it is  amazing  we could have almost lost this concept in our modern world.

We  try to approach God in many ways.  We often try to  make ourselves presentable to him by our finery or by our long prayers or other means.  We try to “clean ourselves up” to approach  him.  We  forget that in God’s order of things, the altar  comes  first and the laver for washing comes second.  We do not wash up before meeting  God.  First there must be the blood sacrifice, and  then God  washes  us through regeneration and through his  Word  (Tit. 3:5;  Eph.  5:26).  It is clear that we cannot really  make  this blood  sacrifice.   It was made for us long ago in the  death  of Jesus.


What are some other things involved in sacrifice?  One  very important  principle  is that God must be  first  in  everything.  Several  offerings  of Israel illustrate this fact, such  as  the offerings of the first-born and the first-fruit.  The best had  to be  given to God, even before the Israelite farmer could  have  a taste.   The  first  pressing of the olives had to  go  to  God’s temple  for the menorah.  When fruit trees were planted, one  had to wait three years before harvesting the fruit, and then in  the fourth year all the fruit had to be given to God (Lev. 19:23-25). It  was  God’s  way of teaching his people  patience  and  faith. Also, imagine  waiting in anticipation for the cow to have a  calf  and then realizing that this precious firstborn had to be offered  to God as a burnt offering.

The  religion  of the Old Testament was  a  costly  religion. King  David once said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord  my  God burnt  offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24).  Today  in our  giving we strain to reach the tithe or 10 percent.   Old  Testament religion  started at this point.  After the tithe there  was  the Sabbatical Year.  When one lived in an agricultural society  and didn’t farm  his land one year out of  every  seven,  that  is effectively  another  14.2 percent  offered up to God.   This  does  not consider that on the Sabbatical, all Hebrew slaves were freed and all debts to fellow Hebrews were canceled (Deut.  15:1,12).   If one  did  not harvest the corners of his fields or  go  back  for second pickings, so that the poor could glean (Lev. 19:9),  there is possibly another 5-10 percent.  For those who kept the Sabbath, that lost day of production could amount to
another 14.2 percent.

Then there was the year of Jubilee every 50 years.  At  that time all property reverted back to its original family  ownership and  all  Hebrew servants were set free.  That  might  amount  to another  2-10  percent,  depending  upon  how  wealthy  a  family happened  to be.  Of course, we are already getting up  into  the area of 50-60 percent of total income offered to God.  All  this  does  not count the offerings.   There  were  the offerings  of  the  first-born  and  first-fruits that  we  have mentioned.   Plus, all males were required to go up to  Jerusalem three  times  each year (Ex. 23:17), and they were  forbidden  to appear  before the Lord empty (Deut. 16:16).  They had  to  bring animals  from their flocks each time.  Then there were the  whole offerings,  cereal offerings, drink offerings,  peace  offerings, sin  offerings,  and trespass offerings (Lev.  1-5).   All  these offerings  could easily total up to another 5-10 percent of  a  family’s income.

It  immediately becomes apparent that sacrifice  brings  out real  faith.  Unlike the heathen all around them, the  Israelites had to live by faith.  They were constantly selecting their  best animals, even choice breeding stock  to offer to God, while the heathen were hoarding  theirs and  attempting to increase their flocks.  Strangely in the  end, it  was  the Hebrews whose flocks increased until they  were  the envy  of all their neighbors.  Perhaps this helps  us  understand why  early  Christians were selling farms and houses  and  giving 100 percent of the proceeds to the apostles.  They did not expect to  be penniless   and   homeless  because  God   had   also   commanded hospitality.   They  knew that God would supply all  their  needs according to his riches in glory through Christ (Phil. 4:19).


The concept of sacrifice has not passed away.  Real religion still demands it.  In response to the all important sacrifice  of  Christ, which was made once for all for our salvation, there are some  sacrifices  we  can  make.  There is our  sacrifice of thanksgiving  (Psa.  116:17).  Then there are the  sacrifices  of prayer  and  praise  (Heb.  13:15;  Psa.  50:23).  There  is  the sacrifice of our gifts (Phil 4:18); and the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart (Psa. 51:17). Finally, there is the concept of  the  whole  life  offered up to God as  seen  in  Romans  12:1-2: “Therefore,  I  urge you, brothers, in view of  God’s  mercy,  to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this  is your spiritual act of worship.” If we want to know  how meaningful our religion is, we should count up what it is costing  us, and that will be a good indicator.

When religion gets stale, the lack of sacrifice is often the problem.  There are times when we need to just recklessly  offer something to God – something that is really precious to us.

Years ago, I remember an instance when my wife and I  needed God  to do some big things for us.  We were trusting God  for  a change in our geographic location and for the sale of a  house,  but nothing was happening.  I remember at that time we were  counting heavily  upon  my  wife’s teaching salary to  meet  many  of  our monthly  bills.  We especially needed it  for groceries for us and our three  children.  As I remember, things were very tight at the time. As we pondered the  problem, my wife suddenly suggested that we needed to  offer her whole months salary to God.  I shuddered – actually I think I almost fainted – but I knew she was right.  We made that  awesome sacrifice  and  later  to our delight, we found  that  the  house quickly  sold  and  the move was made.   Miraculously,  we  never missed the money, and neither did we miss a meal.

We  must be careful never to give with the selfish  idea  of  receiving,  but when we sacrifice, we do in a sense trust God  to replace  what  is given, in his own time and in his  own  way  of course.   Somehow, when we give to God we are able  to  strangely retain what is given and have the increase and the blessing  too.  It’s amazing!   Martin Luther once said “I have held many  things in  my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have  placed in  God’s hands, that I still possess.”  The author  of  Proverbs says  something  very similar: “One man gives freely, yet  gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty” (Prov.11:24).

Like our fathers of old we need to get into the practice  of  building altars everywhere we go and offering our precious things upon  them.  Abraham did this regularly. It is our altars that break  open the  heavens for us, for our children, and for others around  us.  I  personally feel that it was the result of Abraham’s  sacrifice in Genesis 12:8, that Jacob was able to see heaven opened in  Genesis 28:10-15.   Both events occurred at exactly the same  spot,  with only time separating them.

In  Leviticus  6:9,12, and 13, we  see that  the  fire  must never be allowed to go out on God’s altar.  His altar is never to be  without sacrifice.  Let us keep the fires kindled.   It  will bring us a warmer, more blessed relationship with the Creator.

– Jim Gerrish


This updated article presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem.