Why Animal Sacrifices?

I have written before about the Old Testament sacrifices. The question we might legitimately pose is why did God ordain this intricate system of animal sacrifices? What purpose did it serve?

Theologically speaking, a sacrifice provided atonement. It allowed the offerer access to God. An animal sacrifice was the only way God revealed in the Old Testament for a person to approach him. Even the burnt offering, a freewill display of personal worship required atonement (Lev 1:4).

From a very practical standpoint, the animal sacrifices provided for the material needs of the priests and Levites. God did not give the priestly tribe of Levi any land as an inheritance during the land allotment; God told them that he would be their inheritance (Num 18:20). He provided for them through the tithe (Num 18:26), but also through the sacrificial system itself. Notice Leviticus 7:7–10.

"The guilt offering is just like the sin offering; there is one law for them. The priest who makes atonement with it shall have it. And the priest who offers any man’s burnt offering shall have for himself the skin of the burnt offering that he has offered. And every grain offering baked in the oven and all that is prepared on a pan or a griddle shall belong to the priest who offers it. And every grain offering, mixed with oil or dry, shall be shared equally among all the sons of Aaron."

Parts of each of the offerings went to the priests, remunerating them physically for their spiritual ministry. In the burnt offering, while all the flesh of the animal was burned up on the altar, the hide went to the offering priest (Lev 7:8). The part of the meal offering that was not offered up (but “waved” or “heaved”) was eaten by the priest (Lev 7:9–10). The priests and Levites shared in the common meal following the peace offering (Deut 12:18). The meat of the sin and guilt offerings went entirely to the priest, along with the additional fifth of the restitution from the guilt offering (Lev 7:7).


Anonymous said…
Thank you for this very concise, logical answer to a question that has bothered me for a long time. I understand now! Thank you!