THE ancient Israelites took sin far more seriously that many people today do. Consider the impact of carrying out the instructions given for burnt-offering sacrifices (Leviticus 1:3–5):
- The psychological impact. If you were a Hebrew at the time of Moses, you had to do the killing of your animal sacrifice. You had to place your hand on the animal’s head as you slit its throat and felt its life drain away, all the while knowing that the animal was symbolically dying in your place.
- The financial impact. The required sacrifice for the burnt offering was a bull, which was to be among the best of your herd. No doubt you had other animals for food and trade. Still, no rancher likes to lose even one animal, particularly a prize bull. So the sacrifice involved a financial burden, a tangible reminder of the penalty of sin. Even those who could not afford bulls had to make sacrifices in line with their means (Leviticus 1:10, 14; 5:7-8).
- The social impact. As you slaughtered your animal, you were accompanied by other worshipers slaughtering their animals. As you listened to the death cries of cattle, sheep, and birds, you realized that every person around you—your relatives, your neighbors, even your leaders—were sinners who needed God’s forgiveness.
- The spiritual impact. Overall, the sacrificial system reminded you that sin stood between you and God, and that the penalty for sin was death. You were also reminded of God’s mercy, in that He accepted the death of an animal instead of your own death.
In short, regular animal sacrifices made it difficult to regard sin lightly. We do well to remember the ultimate substitutionary sacrifice that the animals’ deaths represented, one far more precious, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ.