And yet still... there were ritual animal sacrifices.
Sacrificial offerings were practiced by Abraham. Abraham built altars as he
arrived in Canaan. And yet, it is only with Abraham... years after his arrival in
Canaan... that we read of God specifically giving the instruction to sacrifice animals
on an altar.
This had never occurred before.
The circumstances in which this occurred are interesting for us to examine.
God had promised a portion of Canaan to Abraham to "inherit it." However, there was
a little confusion... Abraham had had no children to inherit it to. Sarah was
barren. And so, Abraham talks to God and asks... did you mean... to inherit to a son
of my own... or to my houseman? In those days, if a man died without an heir, the
estate was put into the hands of the master servant... the houseman.
15:5 -- "And God brought him forth abroad, and said,
'Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them': and he
said unto him, 'So shall thy seed be.'
And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. And he
said unto him, 'I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give
thee this land to inherit it.
And he said, 'Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?'
And he said unto him, 'Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of
three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young
pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid
each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and lo, an
horror of great darkness fell upon him.
And he said unto Abram, 'Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a
land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four
hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and
afterward shall they come out with great substance.
And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the
Amorites is not yet full.
And it came to pass, that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a
smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the
same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'Unto thy seed have
I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates;"
Perhaps Abraham was cautious of the exact words that are given... when a
person makes a promise to another. And, he seems to be playing the lawyer...
parsing words to ensure what exactly it was that had been promised to him...
even after God had expressed so beautifully... numbering the stars... that it
would be a line of Abraham's own sons who would inherit the land given to him.
In point of fact, Abraham asked God to make a contract with him... to confirm or to
seal this promise that had been made. He had asked for a guarantee of this promise.
This laying out of animals that have been split in half... is said to be the procedure
that men of that time followed when making contracts with each other.
However... this sacrifice... this contract... did not unfold very well. It became a
nightmare. Abraham was told that his descendents would be enslaved in a
land that was not their own. He was told that his descendents would inherit Canaan,
but it would be a long, long, time before that would happen.
This parsing of words that Abraham had displayed with God... had resulted in
the reality of that parsing. In truth... God had not said when Abraham's
descendents would inherit Canaan. In truth... God had not said that other things
would not happen to his descendents, besides this inheriting of Canaan.
God made a contract with Abram... to seal the words that he had already
spoken to him... but it was not exactly the kind Abram might have desired. One
might also wonder... if this "contract or covenant making" exercise itself wasn't, in fact,
an insult to God and God's word. Would the force of contract be any stronger than
the spoken promise of God? Does God need the force of contract to fulfill what he says?
It seems clear that Abraham is caught between one directive... (such as the rule
that a king would have but one wife... or that the heir must be a child of love)...
and the desperate need to produce an heir.
It surely must have been desperation that caused Abraham to question God in such
a way. If there was not a conflict... Abraham would have set about having children the
same as Jacob had... begetting twelve by multiple wives.
The way that Abraham responded to God's spoken words... were markedly
different when God told Abraham to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him on an
altar. That outrageous request... was followed without doubt or comment.
Abraham had learned... never again to question God.
This "laying out of animals" in the making of contracts... was not, however, the kind of
sacrifice to God that we are looking for as an origin of the seeking of forgiveness of sin...
or the appeasing of God's vengeance... or the worshipping of God. Different thing altogether.
God was not saying...
"When you worship me, kill a lamb on an altar."
Isaac is never said to perform animal sacrifices.
Jacob is never said to perform animal sacrifices.
Joseph is never said to perform animal sacrifices.
Ritual animal sacrifices... ended with Abraham.