(1) Many books, one story (2) Exhibit #15: The plan of redemption 
(3) The problem of sin (4) Animal sacrifice in the Old Testament 
(5) Jesus, the Lamb of God  (6) Summary and conclusions

4. Unity: The Plan of Redemption (4)

Animal Sacrifice in the Old Testament

God’s Love Allows the Price to be Paid by a Substitute

Fortunately, God loves His creation and decided to help pay this price even though it was undeserved, this is called grace (God gives us what we don’t deserve – life). He showed His mercy (God doesn’t give us what we do deserve – death) We deserved God’s justice but we received God’s mercy. How was His mercy shown? – by blood.

The Bible could be said to drip blood if you squeezed it. The Bible is bloody due to the problem and price of sin. God, in His love and His mercy, allowed the price of life to be paid through an innocent stand-in. This was the purpose of animal sacrifice instituted in the Old Testament. God showed His mercy by allowing the animal to pay the price of death owed by the sinner.

God made provision (or atonement) for the judicial price of sin to be paid by an animal. This is described in Leviticus 17:11 (emphasis added): ”For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.”  The life of the animal atones for (literally “covers”) or cleanses the sins of the sinner. In this manner the sinner “died” representatively or through the animal as a substitute. What was the result? The removal of sin. For example, in Leviticus 16:30 this result was described as taking place on the Day of Atonement (the yearly sacrifice of animals): “for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD (emphasis added).”

Why an animal? The animal was innocent of sin, thereby qualifying it to be a substitute for the guilty sinner. An animal was innocent of sin, however, because it was amoral, it couldn’t sin. If an animal could have sinned it would have been liable for its own sin! Sinlessness was required for it to provide a representative or substitute death for the sinner.  

Animal Sacrifice in the Old Testament

As illustrated in above figure  it was as if the sins from the sinner were somehow transported over to the innocent lamb. We say figuratively because the lamb did not have a spirit that could sin and consequently could not actually or literally bear sin. This figure of an animal bearing sin is given in the instructions about the scapegoat (see Leviticus 16:21). The lamb was then sacrificed on the altar. When the lamb died, it died representatively, or as a substitute for the sinner. In this manner the sinner is actually viewed as having died. And as a result, the sins of the sinner are removed. This results in sanctification (being made holy – “clean from sins”). And as a result of being made holy, the relationship with a holy God can now be restored (reconciliation).

The Bible first animal sacrifice was in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve commit the first sin in Genesis 3:1-8 their “eyes were opened.” They were now aware of their sin, realized they were naked and made clothes from fig leaves. Then they hid from God. They knew they had broken His law and what the penalty was! Then in Genesis 3:21 we read a curious statement: “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Apparently one or more animals were killed to make their garments. The actual death of some animals occur and Adam and Eve continue to live! Although this account was not written to explain the plan of redemption, it is consistent with taking life to pay for sin through the substitutionary death of the animal(s). The foundational elements of the plan of redemption are present on the occasion of the first sin in the Garden of Eden.

This is the great objective of God’s incredible plan of redemption – the removal of sin so that the relationship with a holy God can be restored. By removing sin, the sinner is made holy (sanctified). As a result of being made holy, the penalty or price of death is paid and removed (justification), we are declared righteous, and our spiritual relationship with a holy God is restored (reconciliation).

Not a Work or Superstition

God is not a God of anger and blood lust. He does not need blood to appease a superstitious appetite. Rather, blood atonement demonstrates to mankind the importance of His holiness and the seriousness of sin. Blood (which represents life) is the only thing that will pay the price for, take care of, or atone for sin (Hebrews 9:22) – not good works, good beliefs, good morals, or good intentions!

One of the more important observations we can make about animal sacrifice is that it derived its power from the faith of the believers. The animal had to be killed—one could not just believe in animal sacrifice or treat it superstitiously (Hebrews 9:22). When the animal was sacrificed nothing had been done to actually deserve the removal of sin. Killing the animal was the means of accepting the gift of the removal of sin by the promise of God that sin would be removed by this act of faith. Killing the animal was the means of accepting God’s gift of reconciliation.

Animal Sacrifice in the Old Testament

Once the importance of the role of animal sacrifice (blood atonement) is properly understood then we readily see it reflected throughout all of the Old Testament era – from the Garden of Eden through the period of the patriarchs to the Mosaic law.

Shortly after the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden and the subsequent deaths of the animals, we move immediately to the story of Cain and Abel. The entire story of Cain and Abel revolves around sacrificial practice. In Genesis 4:1-5 we read how both Abel and Cain made a sacrifice to the Lord, but Cain’s sacrifice was rejected. Ever wondered why that was? Hebrews 11:4 tells us why: “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain.” Simply put, Abel did what God had instructed him to do and Cain did not. To do something “by faith” means to do it by the instruction of God (Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”) Cain did not sacrifice an animal (like Abel) but fruits from the soil. That is not what the Lord had instructed. That again is consistent with the plan of redemption that only sacrifice from life = blood can suffice. Notice that there is not one word in Genesis specifically describing the installation or requirements of the sacrificial system.

The early books of the Old Testament are mainly history books. They deal with animal sacrifice from the point of view of a sacrificial system that is understood and reflected as historical fact. In other words, these books present the practice of animal sacrifice as something that the reader already completely understood. They weren’t written to explain the sacrificial system.

During the patriarchal period we see Job offering animal sacrifices for the sins of his family (see Job 1:5). Later we see the famous testing of Abraham where God asks Abraham to offer his son of promise, Isaac (see Genesis 22:1-13). When Abraham has passed the test, God rescues Isaac and replaces him with a ram.[3]

However, the Mosaic Law provides us with a detailed description of the requirements for animal sacrifice, explicitly mentioning the requirements for a perfect, spotless and unblemished animal (Leviticus 22:21-27). Only male animals would be acceptable (Leviticus 22:19). Notice also that the Lord claimed the firstborn of every womb. Exodus 34:19-20: “The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock…Redeem all your firstborn sons.” In Numbers 3:40-51 we even see a description of how God allowed the Levites to redeem the other firstborn sons of Israel .

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