Why does God hate sacrifices when he commanded them in the first place?
If you’ve spent time in the prophets of your Old Testament, chances are you’ve encountered several — dozens, even — examples of God confronting his people with his own disdain for burnt offerings and sacrifices. Many of the prophets say in their own way that the blood of bulls or birds will only make the frustration of YHWH, the God of Israel, continue. As a modern Christian pastor who is simultaneously grateful to not be required to cut open animals and certain I will never have to, I always “amen” these passages with a kind of quickness and certainty. “Yes,” I say to myself as I read them, “we don’t need sacrifices! We just need to know God loves us.” You know the passages to which I’m referring? Like this:
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But then I have a second, much more bothersome thought: didn’t God command his people to do sacrifices in the first place? It’s clear the only reason the Hebrew people ever went through the hassle of bloodying up the altars was because God specifically asked them to do such things. They were just doing precisely what God asked them to do — and isn’t this to be commendable in the eyes of God? If this is true, why would God change his mind about something he already asked Israel to do?
At first glance, this can seem petty: God commands his people to make sacrifices, but then reprimands them for not sacrificing in the manner he prefers, or at the time he desires. Like a bad parent, God seems to be asking his kids to clean their rooms only to nit pick their methods and motives—or their choice of when they cleaned. After all, didn’t they obey? Isn’t that what he wanted in the first place…