Humane Religion Magazine
May - June 1996 Issue
The multitude of your sacrifices--what are they to me?...Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight. (Isaiah 1:11, 15, 16)
The prophet Isaiah spoke to his people in the eighth Century B.C. His rejection of animal sacrifice was a reiteration of the biblical message that had been taught since the time of Genesis. It was a message of God's care and concern for the nonhuman beings who were just as much a part of creation as the men and women who populated the earth.
From the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, animals are included in God's plan as surely as the people who were given responsibility for them. These creatures, like their human counterparts, were created to reflect the glory and the goodness of God.
But almost from the beginning, the bible records the abuse which human beings heaped upon each other, and upon the animals with whose care they had been entrusted. The story of the Great Flood which washed away an increasingly violent world, is told in the sixth chapter of Genesis. The Amplified Bible presents a chilling picture. "The earth was depraved and putrid in God's sight, and the land was filled with violence (desecration, infringement, outrage, assault, and lust for power). And God looked upon the world and saw how degenerate, debased and vicious it was; for all humanity had corrupted their way upon the earth and lost their true direction." (Genesis 6:11,12)
Unfortunately, the people who survived the Flood were not a redeemed race of human beings. The bible story of Noah is the story of a man who was relatively righteous in his depraved generation. "Noah was ...blameless among the people of his time."
This relative righteousness is underscored by the fact that the bible reports Noah introduced drunkenness and carnivorism into the post-Flood world. And this was the heritage he bequeathed to his descendants.
The world that emerged from the waters of the Flood was not a world in which the human race emerged cleansed from its violence and degeneration. It was a world that increasingly abused the poor and powerless. And in regard to animals, it did so in the name of God.
Although the bible teaches that both animals and humans are nefesh chaya—living souls— man decided that God would be pleased by the ritual sacrifice of animals; by the slaughter of the living souls who had been given into his care as a sacred trust.
Increasingly, animal sacrifice became a central tenet of Judaism. Until the prophet Isaiah burst onto the scene. He decried this debased form of worship that killed God's creatures in the name of God. And he linked the abuse of humans with this ritual abuse of animals.
The Prophet Isaiah linked the abuse of humans with the ritual abuse of animals.
"I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats...Cease to do evil. Learn to do good; seek justice; reprove the ruthless. Defend the orphan, plead for the widows." (Isaiah 1:11,16,17)
Isaiah's ministry inaugurated the era of the Latter Prophets of Israel. His fellow prophets, Amos, Micah and Jeremiah were equally vocal about the evils of animal sacrifice and its relationship to a just world order.
"I hate and despise your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemn festivals. When you offer me holocausts I reject your oblations, and refuse to look at your sacrifice of fattened cattle....but let justice flow like water and integrity like an unfailing stream." (Amos 5:21,22,24)
And when Amos had completed his prophetic work, Micah took up the call for an end to human and animal abuse.
"With what shall I come before the Lord...Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves?...He has told you, O man what is good....to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:6,8)
Then Jeremiah repeated God's message of displeasure with the abuse of animals; an abuse that was reflected in the treatment of powerless human beings.
"Thus says the Lord of Host, the God of Israel...If you do not oppress the alien, the orphan or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place [the Temple of sacrifice at Jerusalem], then I will let you dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers." (Jeremiah 7:3,6,7)
But no one heeded the Prophets who equated animal and human abuse. Widows, their children, orphans and animals were without recourse in a society that had neither compassion nor justice for the least powerful among them. Jerusalem fell to its enemies and for decades the Jewish people who had lived there were exiled to the land of Babylon.
Like their ancient predecessors, modern men continue to ignore the fact that the bible links their creation and their fate with that of the animals. But the scriptures stand as a constant reminder that the misery and torment men inflict on these creatures is a counterpart of the misery and torment they inflict on each other.
In our Judeo-Christian culture animals are no longer sacrificed on the altars of religion. Most people would consider this unacceptable, if not blasphemous. But although there are few in this day and age who believe their souls will be saved by the slaughter of animals, they have been replaced by those who think their bodies will benefit from the torment of these creatures.
“The violence done to Lebanon shall sweep over you, the havoc done to its beasts shall break your own spirit.”
In the 20th century, those who place their faith in the gods of science accept the ongoing sacrifice of countless animals. And those who perform their atrocities in countless universities, slaughter houses, and corporate development labs, are supported in their actions by a society that has been conditioned to believe that only by the sacrifice of these animals can they be guaranteed health, beauty, clean clothes and white teeth.
But there are modern day prophets who, like the Latter Prophets of Israel, speak out against this violence. They understand that the abuse of any of God's creatures is an affront to their Creator. They also know that the torture and murder of helpless animals cannot be separated from the the abuse and murder of other human beings.
In the late seventh century B.C. the prophecies of Habakkuk emphasized this correlation between the treatment of humans and nonhumans. Cruelty against animals, as well as cruelty against other people, would reap a bitter harvest: “The violence done to Lebanon shall sweep over you; the havoc done to its beasts shall break your own spirit. “ (Hab. 2:17) #