The Need For a Blood Sacrifice

“Salvation” series (post #6)

In our last post, we looked at the concept of blood atonement. That is the idea of the innocent (sinless) dying by way of the shedding of blood for the guilty (sinful). Adam and Eve were the first people to learn about blood atonement as God killed two of Eden’s animals, quite possibly lambs, in the wake of the couple eating the forbidden fruit. The animals’ skins served as coverings for Adam and Eve’s bodies, while the animals’ shed blood served as coverings for their sins.

Following that event, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24). Presumably, the killing of the animals and the casting out took place on the same day, the day the couple ate the forbidden fruit. The lesson here is that sin, even sin for which you have received atonement, always brings consequences.

Indications are that Adam and Eve settled in a place not far from Eden. Sometime afterward, Eve became pregnant. She gave birth to a son the couple named Cain. Then she bore a second son, and they named him Abel. That’s when things got interesting.

Genesis 4:3-5 says:

And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. (N.K.J.V.)

Now, the question we need to ask is this: How did Cain and Abel even have a clue that they each needed to bring an offering to the Lord? The obvious answer is that Adam and Eve had taught them about blood atonement. Apparently, Adam and Eve continued to periodically offer up sacrificial animals after they were banished from Eden. Then once Cain and Abel came along, the parents passed the practice down to the sons.

Abel, being a keeper of sheep (Genesis 4:2), did as he was instructed and sacrificed of the firstborn of his flock. But Cain, being a farmer (Genesis 4:2), went rogue by bringing an offering of his finest fruits and vegetables. And what was the problem with Cain’s offering? It was the same problem Adam and Eve’s fig leaves had once showcased: no blood. Therefore, God rejected Cain’s offering.

You say, “Oh, c’mon Russell, you are reading too much into the story. God could have rejected Cain’s offering for any number of reasons.” Really? Then how do we explain Cain being classified as an apostate in the Bible’s book of Jude? Remember that an apostate is someone who has fallen away from revealed truth. Think about it, the only way that Cain could have gone apostate is for his parents to have revealed the truth to him about forgiveness of sin only coming through blood atonement.

If you know your Genesis, you know that rather than kill an animal and bring it to God, Cain killed Abel. God cursed him for that, after which Cain left home and made his way to a place called Nod, which was east of Eden. At some point, he took a wife — a woman who had to be one of Adam and Eve’s daughters (Genesis 5:5) — and fathered a son through her. The son’s name was Enoch. Cain then built the world’s first city and named it after his son. Enoch was the beginning of the line of Cain, an ancestral line of spiritually lost people who were all doomed to die in the great flood.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Adam and Eve produced another son. They named him Seth, and through him Adam’s line of saved people continued. That line culminated in Noah. And did Adam and Eve teach Seth not only the concept of blood atonement but also the specifics of how to build an altar, kill and animal, and offer the animal up as a sacrifice? Yes, they did. Let me explain how we know this to be true.

One thing you might not have heard about Noah is that he knew about blood atonement and how to offer up blood sacrifices to God. The proof is found in Genesis 8:20. That verse tells us about the first thing that Noah did once the ark was unloaded in the new world. The verse says:

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and sacrificed on it the animals and birds that had been approved for that purpose. (N.L.T.)

Someone might ask, “But if there were only two of each kind of animal aboard the ark, does that mean that Noah made those sacrificed animals extinct?” No, the explanation is that God had told him before the flood to collect seven (not two) of every type of animal that was “clean” and bring them into the ark (Genesis 7:2). A “clean” animal was a species that was eligible, in God’s eyes, for sacrificing.

The real question, though, is this: Who taught Noah how to build an altar, kill animals, and offer them up as sacrifices to God? Well, it must have been his father, Lamech, who had learned it from his father, Methuselah, who had learned it from his father, etc., etc., etc., all the way back to Seth.

Noah then taught the practice to his three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. How do we know this? We know it because one of Shem’s descendants, Abraham, periodically built altars in his travels (Genesis 12:7; 12:8; 13:3-4; 13:18; 22:9), and on at least one of those altars he sacrificed a ram (Genesis 22:13). Furthermore, Genesis 22:7-8 clearly shows that both Abraham and his son, Isaac, understood perfectly well that a built altar goes hand in hand with a sacrificed animal.

So, while it’s true that Abraham’s father, Terah, worshiped false gods in Ur (Joshua 24:2; Genesis 11:27-30; Acts 7:1-4), the family tree must have contained some remnant of the idea of building altars and offering up animal sacrifices. How else would Abraham, upon his arrival in Canaan from Ur, have known that building an altar was a legitimate act of worship? One thing is for sure: If Abraham ever needed a refresher course on the value that God placed upon the shed blood of animals, he got it when God instructed him to kill a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon as part of the ceremony in which God formally entered Himself into a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21).

It is not surprising, then, that Genesis provides us with accounts of Abraham’s descendants also building altars and, apparently, offering up blood sacrifices upon them. For example, Abraham’s son, Isaac, did so long after Abraham’s death (Genesis 26:25). Isaac’s son, Jacob, did as well (Genesis 31:54; 33:20; 35:1-7; 46:1).

And you’ve heard of Moses, haven’t you? Sure you have. He was another of Abraham’s descendants. But have you heard that Moses understood the doctrine of blood atonement and the value of a blood sacrifice? What most people don’t realize is that Moses’ first request to Pharaoh concerning the Israelites was not that Pharaoh would release them completely from their Egyptian bondage. Instead, the request was that Pharaoh would allow them to journey three days outside of Egypt and offer up sacrifices to God (Exodus 3:18; 5:3).

As we know, Pharaoh refused that request and dug in his heels against Israel’s God, but in the end God won the victory by laying waste to Egypt through ten devastating plagues. The tenth plague was one in which God killed all the firstborns in Egypt in one night. But none of Israel’s firstborns were killed. Why not? It was because God gave the Israelites highly detailed instructions as to how each family was to kill a lamb and smear its blood on the tops and sides of the door frame of their house. God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). This was the beginning of the Jewish holiday known as Passover. Passover is really the celebration of the night that scores of lambs died so that scores of Israelites could live.

Following that first Passover night, Moses ultimately led the Israelites to Mount Sinai. There, God imparted to them His law. And you’d better believe that He built into that law various commands concerning the offering up of blood sacrifices (Leviticus 1:1-17; 3:1-17; 4:1-35; 5:1-13). That explains why the rest of the Old Testament features an assortment of references to the people of Israel atoning for their sins by offering up blood sacrifices to God. In the beginning of the law period, those sacrifices were offered upon the altar at the Tabernacle, the worship complex that God instructed the people to build. Later on, however, when the Temple was built to replace the Tabernacle, the sacrifices were offered upon the Temple’s altar.

And so we see that what started in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve wound its way down through Noah and his sons, and eventually wound its way down through the centuries of the history of Israel. Even more than that, it continued on even into the early days of the New Testament. That’s when Jesus Christ came upon the scene. He would be the one to bring an end to blood sacrifices. He didn’t do away with the doctrinal concept of blood atonement, but He did change how the need for a blood sacrifice would be met. And that’s what we’ll talk about next time. See you then.


This entry was posted in Sacrifice, Salvation, Series: "Salvation", The Old Testament Law and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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