from Humane Religion

Animal Sacrifice

Many Orthodox Jews and Fundamentalist Christians actively support the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Christians who agitate for this restoration do so because they believe it is God's will that sacrificial religion be restored. They see the resumption of Temple worship as a sure sign of the Second Coming of Christ.

And those Jewish people who are anxious to see the resumption of Temple worship believe that ever since the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, almost two thousand years ago, God has been awaiting the resumption of animal sacrifice.

Both Christians and Jews avoid the reality of what actually constitutes "Temple worship" by referring to it euphemistically. One Christian writer, typical of others, writes "The [Jewish] people will once again participate in the glories of temple worship...a deep and satisfying spiritual life will be the portion of the nation in that day." (Ryrie, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. Emphasis added)

Another Christian spokesman declares that "Some way, somehow, the Temple will be rebuilt [because] prophecy foretells the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple and the reinstitution of sacrifices prescribed in the Law of Moses." (Rosen/Massie, OVERTURE TO ARMAGEDDON)

And among Jewish people, there are prescribed prayers for the restoration of sacrificial worship. "Lord Our God, look with favor on Thy people Israel their prayer. Restore worship to Thy Temple in Zion and with loving grace accept Israel's offering and prayer." The Traditional Prayer Book for Sabbath and Festivals

When consecrating a house, this theme is repeated. "Even as we have been permitted to consecrate this house, so grant that we may together witness the dedication of thy great and holy temple in Jerusalem." The Authorised Daily Prayer Book: Revised Edition.

In our own day, we have never been faced with the realities of sacrificial religion. To modern minds, phrases like the "holy of holies" and the "altar of the Lord" conjure up some sort of ancient, godly society in which priestly men served the Lord in His sanctuary. But the Temple was actually a slaughterhouse, and the linen vestments of the priests were stained red with the blood of their victims. And terms like the "altar of the Lord," obscure the fact that what is being talked about is the killing and butchering of helpless victims, in the name of God.

Now, almost two thousand years after this bloody worship was ended by the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, there are large numbers of Jews and Christians who are working and praying for its restoration. Those who are committed to this cause have no compunction about the massive slaughter of animals that would take place in the name of God. But neither do they have any compunction about a massive slaughter of human beings. They believe this, too, is part of God's unfolding plan.

Fundamentalists interpret the scriptures to mean that the horrible suffering of Armageddon, described in the book of Revelation, is God's will. And like the death of sacrificial animals, they believe these deaths are to be welcomed, rather than avoided. Such people believe that cruelty and violence are the means God will use to introduce His reign of compassion and peace into the world.

They believe that God is as brutal as men, but because they also believe they will be protected from the horrors to come, they look forward to this apocalyptic reign of terror.

"Armageddon is a reality, a terrible reality [but] it sets the stage for the introduction of the king, the Lord Jesus, in power and in great glory....You know why I'm not worried? I ain't gonna be here." Jerry Falwell

"[Armageddon} can happen at any time...Pieces of flesh began to fall from their bones. Their eyeballs began to rot in their sockets. Their internal organs slowly began to turn to mush, and they fell, gushing blood, one after another. Bodies of the dead and dying were piled all over the hills and valleys surrounding Jerusalem." Pat Robertson

"Armageddon is coming. They can sign all the peace treaties they want [in the mideast].They don't do any good. There are dark days coming. My Lord, I'm happy about it. He [Jesus] is coming again...I don't' care who it troubles. It thrills my soul. " Jimmy Swaggert.

Such testimonials to a God of brutality and violence help us to understand how Christians and Jews who are working through political means to insure that Temple sacrifices are resumed, can be so uncaring about animal beings: they are just as uncaring about human beings.

These religious extremists should take a lesson from the past. In the time of Jesus, there was also much intrigue going on among those Jews who were agitating for a violent takeover of Jerusalem. They were convinced that if they mounted an offensive against the Roman occupiers, God would give them victory and restore Jerusalem to their rule.

In the first century A.D. the Sicarii and the Zealots began an increasingly violent terrorist campaign. Under the leadership of men like Simon Bar Gioras and John of Gisala, an extremist religious movement demanded that the land be purged of foreigners.Whether Roman, Greek, or Syrian, they had to be driven out of Jerusalem. But as terrorist attacks grew in number, the more moderate Jews who spoke out against the violence were murdered. In one attack that the Zealots mounted against their fellow Jews, 8,500 people died.

Ultimately, the religious extremists were in command. But in spite of their claim that the Lord was leading them, and that killing all those who stood in their way was the will of God, they were horribly defeated. By 70.A.d. the Temple completed by Herod had been destroyed and, subsequently, the Jewish people lost their homeland. It was the second time this had happened.

Centuries earlier, in 587 B.C. animal sacrifices were ended by the destruction of the magnificent Temple built by King Solomon. It was razed to the ground by the Babylonian army. The people had been repeatedly warned that this would happen.

The great Prophets of Israel had spoken out against the sacrificial cult, but they had been ignored. Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, and Jeremiah warned of dire consequences the people would bring upon themselves unless they repented of their sins. God wanted mercy, compassion and social justice, not the slaughter of men and beasts. "When you offer me holocausts, I reject your oblations and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle...but let justice flow like water and integrity like an unfailing stream."(Amos 5:21,22,24 JB)

But the "official" prophets said things were just fine--that God was well pleased with His people and with sacrificial worship. They were proved wrong when Jerusalem fell and the survivors were marched off to live in what came to be called the Babylonian Exile.

After fifty years, the Jewish people were allowed to return to their homeland. And by 516 B.C. they had reconstructed the sacrificial altar. It was dedicated by a massive slaughter of animals.

The altar was set up on its old site...and on it they offered holocaust to Yahweh, holocaust morning and addition to the perpetual holocaust...New Moon feasts and all the solemnities sacred to Yahweh. (Ezra 3:3-5)

This resumption of sacrifices, as reported in the Bible, is almost a word-for-word refutation of the Prophet Isaiah's oracle against such worship. "What are your endless sacrifices to me, says Yahweh. I am sick of holocausts of rams...the blood of bulls and goats revolts me...the smoke of them fills me with disgust...Your New Moons and your pilgrimages I hate with all my soul...your hands are covered with blood, wash, make yourselves clean." (Isaiah 1:11, 13-16 JB)

Once the cult of animal sacrifice was restored, there is no further biblical denouncement of it until the ministry of Jesus. And the message he proclaimed, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" (Matt. 9:13) was not new; he was repeating the message Hosea had given, centuries earlier (Hosea 6:6). Neither was his stand against the violence human beings inflicted on each other, as well as on the animals. The prophet Micah had denounced the abuse of both human and animal beings.

"Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with wickedness....yet they lean upon the Lord and say, is not the Lord with us? No disaster will come upon us. Therefore, because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets." Micah 3:9-12.

Like Micah, Jesus prophesied against violence: "All who draw the sword will die by the sword." (Matthew 26:56) And like the prophet, he also foretold the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. "Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to the buildings. Do you see all these, he asked? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Matthew 24:1,2)

Jesus foretold this event the day after he had disrupted the sale of animals for slaughter at the Jerusalem Temple.(Mark 11:15-18) Obviously, the people of his own time knew what he was trying to do, because the next day Christ commended one of the teachers of the Law for his understanding. This scribe said that what God wanted was the love of one's neighbor and of Himself--not the burning bodies of slain animals. And "when Jesus saw that he had spoken wisely, he said to him 'You are not far from the kingdom of God.'" (Mark 12:32-34)

But just as it was in the time of the great prophets, so it was in the time of Jesus: animal sacrifices continued until the Temple was destroyed. And this time, the Jewish exile lasted two thousand years.

Now, once again, the Jewish people have been restored to a homeland. And once again religious extremists--Christians and Jews--make the same claim: take up the sword, drive out the foreigners and God will restore Jerusalem to the chosen people. Then, Temple sacrifices can be resumed. These extremists believe that this bloodbath of human and nonhuman beings is a necessary prelude to the appearance of Messiah. For Christians it would be the Second Coming and for Jews, the first.

These are the same promises that were made by the false prophets of the past. Instead of victory, they brought destruction and desolation to their people. Like those ruthless men, these modern zealots claim that violence and brutality are the means God will use to usher in the peaceable kingdom.

But the Bible exposes this claim for the lie that it is. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap."(Gal. 6:7) The mutilation and slaughter of countless humans and animals will not bring about a Godly reign. As in the past, it will again bring about a reign of terror which will end in destruction, not in a millennial world.

People of faith--both Jewish and Christian--must repudiate the teachings of those among us who would use God as a justification for human brutality. As long as men are allowed to claim the Lord's blessing on the slaughter of any creature, no one will ever be safe from the violence that they inflict on others, in the name of God.

This article was reprinted from the July/Aug 1998 issue of Humane Religion. Copyright 1998 by Viatoris Ministries

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