Animal rights and animal sacrifice
A righteous man regards the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
MANY MODERNS ARE HIGHLY OFFENDED BY ANIMAL SACRIFICE. Most Christians shudder at its merest thought; some even equate sacrifice with the abomination of desolation that Jesus spoke of being set up in the end-time temple. Surprisingly, even some Jews baulk at the idea, as Pinchas H. Pell tells:
Sacrifices do indeed present an esthetic, sometimes a moral problem to many modern Jews who are unable to envision being spiritually uplifted at the sight of slaughtered animals, spilled blood and burning incense (“The Significance of Sacrifice”, Jerusalem Post International Edition, March 30, 1985).
Many believers in Jesus find it difficult to accept that the God of Israel instituted a system of blood-letting. To them, animals are conscious creatures that should graze peacefully without fear of the priest's knife. They cannot understand how God could countenance worship accompanied by the death of innocent animals.
Most Christians solve the problem by distancing themselves from the Holy One of Israel, and professing commitment to Jesus, naively believing that Jesus held a different opinion. But this solution cannot be sustained; indeed, it creates insuperable theological problems. Jesus Himself was sent by the Holy One of Israel and shared the very nature of Israel's God — He was Israel's God in the flesh. Further, Jesus sanctioned the proper slaughter of animals (Matt. 5:24). He made it clear that God dwelt in the temple made with hands (Matt. 23:21). In declaring the temple a “house of prayer for all nations” He put His seal of approval upon sacrifice (Is. 56:6-7). (Sincere sacrifice, as distinct from ostentatious immolations contrived to paper over a devious heart, is surely the highest form of prayer. Personal prayer is spontaneous, unregulated worship; sacrifice is formalized and regulated worship. Appropriate formality can elevate worship in much the same way that wearing a dazzling white dress enhances a bride's joy. True, Yahweh railed against hollow sacrifice, but He also dubbed the prayer of apostates an “abomination” [Prov. 28:9]!) In sum, Jesus fully upheld the ancient institution.
Above all, as 1 Corinthians 5:7 and the Epistle to the Hebrews show, animal sacrifice shadows Jesus' life-giving crucifixion. Who could possibly despise anything that reminds us of this most significant event in history?
Most people who condemn institutionalized, ritual slaughter eat meat. They fail to spot the glaring inconsistency in their own world view. Anybody who eats meat risks being charged with hypocrisy if he condemns God-ordained animal sacrifice. Which is better — for an animal to be slaughtered in a soulless abattoir to fill bellies or to be slain to the accompaniment of choirs of Levites in the most magnificent structure on earth to the glory of God? Are we for killing an animal to fill our bellies while against killing an animal to honor God and Jesus' sacrifice? Let it not be so.
Those who fear God and have faith in Jesus Christ have no choice but to overhaul their attitude if they find divinely-ordained animal sacrifice abhorrent. God is infinitely perfect and wise. He created animals and therefore knows what is right and what is wrong, what is kind and what is cruel.
Our dog and I
Last night after dinner, my wife and I ventured forth, as we have done many times before, with dog, Molly (I know, that's original), in tow. Our small rural town has little traffic. Whenever we did see a car coming, I would call Molly and she, obedient dog that she was, would scamper to me and I would hold her till the danger had passed. On this occasion, we had barely left home when we spied headlights bearing down rapidly on us. Somehow, my wife and I ended up on opposite sides of the road. When I called Molly, she started coming to me, but then, sensing my wife on the other side of the road, got confused, and did what every decent dog would do under the circumstances — she zigzagged from one side of the road to the other. I knew a disaster was coming. Sure enough, her indecision coincided with the vehicle's motion, the outcome proving fatal for Molly. My wife and I both felt teary. The worst thing was telling our daughter, Penny, Molly's real owner (some of the time, at least).
No doubt about it. A pet can provide companionship for lonely people; it can bring some joy to an otherwise humdrum life. I, too, got a kick out of Molly, and the funny things she did. I enjoyed walking her and observing her doggy ways. Her world was totally foreign to mine; she sniffed everything in her path, gobbling down every revolting object she found, paying no heed to Levitical proscriptions.
What do people find so attractive about dogs? For me, it was the entertainment value of Molly's dogginess that made her of some value to me. Others find their predictable good cheer a tonic. For others, it's their absolute submission. As one savant quipped, “To his dog, every man is a Napoleon, which probably accounts for their continuing popularity”. Psychologists would undoubtedly agree, and aver that many who have an over-charged affection for dogs tend to be prickly characters who are avoided by their fellow man. Their dog, by contrast, would cheerfully accompany them into the torturer's dungeon.
Where does dogness, catness, sheepness or cowness come from? Dogs did not give themselves that set of jaw and manner of tilting their heads that somehow make people want to hug them. They do not decide to jump up and lick you all over with gusto. They can't help themselves, any more than a cat can resist chasing a mouse or rubbing against your leg, or a rat can help but scrounge around rubbish dumps.
If you love cats or dogs or pigs or lizards, be grateful to God who designed them to do strange or funny things and to look, in some cases, as if they are fond of you.
Not all of these animals are used in biblical sacrificial rites. But the point remains — God created all kinds of animals and, although some have value bestowed upon them by human sentimentality, they have no intrinsic value bestowed by God.
Sentimentality and reason
The commitment some people have to animals can be breathtaking:
People can be extremely illogical when it comes to animals. One man recently told me unabashedly that he would have no trouble shooting a man coming for him, but could never shoot an animal.
In 1687, Britons were horrified when it was seriously suggested that dogs be deliberately wounded and taken on board ships to help captains determine their longitude. Someone had supposedly discovered a powder with such healing power that when an article belonging to a sick person was dipped in it that person, be they thousands of miles away, would be cured. But for some unknown reason it would always cause pain in the process. When someone in London dipped the dog's bandage in the powder at midday, the dog's yowling told the captain it was midday in London. Mathematical calculation of the time difference between London and local time, determined by solar means, yielded the longitude — the price paid was a hurting dog.
Those who objected to the method showed no sympathy for the navigators' suffering — the standard method involved their staring for long periods at the sun, as a result of which they all went blind in one eye. Oh that such folly should be.
Some people charge God with malevolence for ordaining the sacrificial system. Stop and think. God created animals! He alone knows what they are really worth and how much, or how little, they may suffer. He is sovereign Lord over all. Faith in Jesus Christ, the creator of all things, should overcome mawkish sentimentality.
Who are we to criticize God for instituting animal sacrifice? He put man on this earth for an unbelievable purpose. He Himself entered flesh in Jesus Christ and tasted death as our atoning lamb or goat — the most incredible event in all history. Instead of shedding tears over mutton and veal we should thank Him for instituting sacrifices that serve to remind us constantly of that event and to enhance our understanding of its significance. What does Scripture tell us about the value of animals?
For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? (1 Cor. 9:9).
Animals are naught but living computers, programmed by their Creator. If God is “not concerned about” animals, it is because He has determined that their lives are of no intrinsic value. 1 Peter 2:12 speaks of “brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed”. The word rendered “brute” means “without reason”. This verse suggests that the well-meaning opinion of many that animals think things through is just plain wrong. And although some specialists in animal behavior believe that animals are self aware, others do not. Even if they are, that fact alone is not sufficient reason to condemn their killing.
Some argue that animals suffer when the razor slashes the throat. But no suffering whatsoever would be involved in slitting an animal's throat with a razor-sharp knife. The nerve that carries impulses to the brain is severed and the instant drop in blood pressure produces immediate blackout. Let us have faith in Him who made animals.
Reason for hope
As it stands right now, Christian theology is contemptuous of one of God's greatest gifts to mankind — a temple where emotionally-impacting worship and the opportunity to be purified in the flesh through sacrifice (Heb. 9:13) can occur. When a temple is built, Christians will have to rethink their position. Without doubt many would wish to visit it. Little do they now realize that they would almost certainly have to participate in ritual washing in order to have uncleanness removed before being permitted to enter.
Though the average Christian might not be aware of it yet, some respected theologians have begun to advance, albeit hesitantly, the shocking truth that divinely-ordained ceremony not only enhanced worship but that it actually produced results. Wenham makes the following staggering declaration:
Sin and uncleanness lead a person from the realm of life into the realm of death. Sacrifice stops this process, indeed reverses it. It gives life to those doomed to die (ed. Beckwith & Selman, p. 82).
He quotes the amazing passage in Genesis 8:21 about events after the great flood:
And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done…”.
He then comments, “Here… Noah's sacrifice is effective for all mankind” (p. 81). And he believes it. Of course, the Old Testament teaches that in order to be effective, sacrifice must be accompanied by a sincere, humble and, when necessary, contrite heart. God is under no obligation to bestow a benefit just because someone presents an offering (Amos 5:22).
Another scholar, Walter Kaiser, seeks to reinvigorate modern Christian thought by promoting a return to a high view of the Old Testament. In his book, “Toward Rediscovering the Old Testament”, Kaiser devotes three pages (133-135) to discussing the question “Were the OT Sacrifices Personally and Objectively Effective?” He argues that although they were not objectively effective in covering sin, sacrifices were subjectively effective. In other words, the sacrifices themselves were not the ultimate grounds of forgiveness, which comes only from Christ's atoning work, but because God had endowed them with authority grounded in Christ's sacrifice, they worked:
… the sinner did receive full relief based on the clear declaration of God's appointed servant… sacrifices done in this manner and with this heart attitude… would receive from God a genuine experience of full forgiveness (p. 134).
Kaiser acknowledges the atoning power conveyed by an act of sacrifice when carried out in strict accordance with the law. What intrinsic value is contained in an animal's life? None.
An animal is only an animal. God created them and has much more right to hold the power of life and death over them than do we who every day kill untold millions to tantalize our taste buds and fill our bellies.
I'd better go bury Molly. I always draw the short straw.
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References and notes
Beckwith, R. T., and Selman, M. J. (eds.) 1995, Sacrifice in the Bible, Paternoster Press, Carlisle
Kaiser, W. C. Jr. 1987, Toward Rediscovering the Old Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids
Dawn to Dusk publications
Other printed material
On the Web
Ashby , G., Sacrifice: Its Nature and Purpose, SCM Press Ltd. , London
Morris, L., The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester
For a balanced Jewish perspective, click here
For a Baptist perspective that interprets the Ezekiel temple prophecies figuratively, see "Temple in Jerusalem with Animal Sacrifices?"
An interesting Jerusalem Post article on Jewish aspirations for a new temple can be found at A Pessah Sacrifice in Jerusalem
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