God never ordered or required animal sacrifice.
The scripture passage from the prophet Isaiah 1:10-20 has a number of interesting concepts presented in those few verses.
Isaiah is the first of the major prophets.
I say major, because the prophetic books of the OT are divided into two groups known as major and minor.
Major and minor have nothing to do with the quality of their prophecies, but rather the length of the prophecy.
Isaiah is the longest of the prophets with 66 chapters.
We are familiar with much of Isaiah’s prophecies because he made numerous predictions concerning the messiah whom we know to be Jesus.
However, in this section there is no prophecy about Jesus.
But there are some interesting things we should take note of for our understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
The first note of significance is that Isaiah speaks to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
I was under the impression that these two cities were destroyed back in the days of Abraham, which was 1300 years before Isaiah prophesied.
Those two cities were never rebuilt. Some scholars believe they are buried beneath the Dead Sea, but archeologists have yet to uncover them.
This is one of those places where trying to take the Bible literally would be a grave mistake, because Sodom and Gomorrah were not in existence at the time.
He could not possibly be prophesying against those who no longer were alive.
So, what is Isaiah saying here?
We’ve all done this at one time or another—using a derogatory slur when referring to someone with whom we were unhappy.
That is what Isaiah did here by calling Israel Sodom. They had become a disgusting people and he likened them to the cities that had been destroyed due to their repulsive behavior.
The main thing to notice in this entire passage though is what he says about sacrifice, which makes up the heart of the passage from vss. 11-14
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
On the surface it appears that God does not want these sacrifices; but we must read the context of the passage to get the full intent.
God is not pleased with sacrifices offered by those who do not really have an ongoing relationship with Him.
We see that plainly in v. 13
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
One or the other, He says. Quit playing the hypocrite.
Either live properly or don’t bother trying to fulfill your religion.
Didn’t Jesus say much the same thing as He concluded the Sermon on the Mount?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
They had done many supposedly religious things, but Jesus called those things sin, because they were not in relationship with Him.
What we can learn at this point is that without an ongoing living relationship with the Lord, any and all of our religious behavior is worthless.
Going to church, reading the Bible, giving to the poor, even our prayers in no way help secure a place in heaven if we do not know the Lord.
However, there is something more about sacrifices that Isaiah didn’t mention in this passage or anywhere else in his prophecy.
Sacrifices of the burnt flesh of bulls and goats was not what the Lord required.
Those were things that Moses set out as a part of worship for the Jews when they left Egypt, but they were only symbolic of what God really wanted.
For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt,
I did not speak to your fathers
or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.
That is probably shocking to many who hear this for the first time.
Didn’t we read in Exodus and Leviticus about all the thing the Jews were supposed to do in their worship of God.
Yes. We did.
However there is a point that we have been oblivious to over the years.
“If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision,
so that the law of Moses may not be broken,
are you angry with me because on the Sabbath
I made a man’s whole body well?”
Jesus called it the law of Moses, not God’s law.
The phrase “Law of Moses” is used 22 times in the Bible. Eight of those are in the NT, used by Luke, Jesus, Paul and the writer of Hebrews.
It was the law of Moses, not the law of God.
This is important to understand in our consideration of what the Lord desires in the way of sacrifice.
In fact, Jesus said that it was important for us to understand.
Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus said this to the Pharisees after they had criticized Jesus to His disciples for eating with tax collectors and sinners.
We know that the Pharisees prided themselves on their absolute strict obedience to the letter of the law.
Jesus destroys this concept with one simple statement by saying they did not understand what the law of Moses meant.
Long before Jesus came, there was already an understanding developing among God’s people about true sacrifice.
In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
This is King David speaking, a man after God’s own heart.
He had gained an understanding of what all the physical stuff of their religion was about.
He realized that God was after much more than burnt animal flesh.
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.
And then we find Hosea saying
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
I do not know how it could be made any plainer for us.
These passages say it rather clearly that God was and is not interested in any kind of animal sacrifice.
There are plenty more verses which say this same thing.
I will just give a couple more from the NT
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
And to love him with all the heart
and with all the understanding
and with all the strength,
and to love one’s neighbor as oneself,
is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
All these tell us is what God does NOT want.
They do not give us much of a clue as to what we are to do instead.
We are not left to our own devices in this area, however, for there are places where we are told the kind of sacrifice God does want.
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God,
the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Praise is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God.
Many people will say something to the effect that “If it doesn’t hurt, then it is not a sacrifice.”
That is purely western thinking coming from an incorrect understanding taught by those trying to get into your money bag.
They will tell you to give until it hurts.
That is not a sacrifice that God desires, and we can see that plainly here in this verse.
A sacrifice is simply something you offer to God.
That’s all. That’s it.
And the writer of Hebrews tells us here that the fruit of our lips giving praise to God is a sacrifice, an offering with which God is pleased.
There are two other places in the NT where we are told what kind of sacrifice pleases God.
Each of them are different, but neither involve killing an animal or digging deep into your bank account.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and acceptable to God,
which is your spiritual worship.
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,
for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Finally, there is a famous verse from one of the prophets which sums it all up with a directive that anyone can understand.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
This is all the Lord requires of us.
Anything else is man-made dogma amounting to less than a hill of beans.
The two great commandments are still the only thing we need to understand— love God and love your neighbor.
When we have these perfected, there is nothing more that can be done.
If you have not yet arrived at perfection in the realm of love, then make that your practice this week.
Go show love to someone. Anyone. Someone you know. Someone you don’t like. Someone you don’t know.
Ask the Lord for an opportunity to put love into practice.