BLOOD SACRIFICE, FROM ABRAHAM TO CHRIST
Throughout history, there have been accounts of rulers who thought nothing of requiring their subjects to kill themselves upon a mere whim. The opium-sated mogul, Shah Jahan, is a prime example. This despot once ordered fifteen men to step one-by-one into a tiger’s cage without weapons. The purpose of this capricious deed was simply to demonstrate the awesome strength of the savage cat as an entertainment for his courtiers. Another ruler of this kind was Crœsus, king of Lydia, who was reputed to have proved the servility of his troops to a foreign envoy by commanding one of them to step over the edge of a cliff. And then there was the megalomanic Hassan ibn Sabbah, leader of the cult of the Assassins, who repeatedly sent his slavish daggermen on suicide missions against whomever he wished to eliminate. Across the waters, in ancient Central America, the story was recorded in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya peoples, of a revolt against the human sacrifice that went on in their temples. The “righteous” heroes of the story were those who helped to stifle this revolt and continue pious rite of feeding the gods with human gore. Still more examples of such distasteful behavior are, sadly, very numerous in the annals of monarchy.
Little wonder then that the religionists of antiquity, who were the subjects of capricious rulers such as these, ascribed this same measure of sanguinary cruelty to their deities, whom they envisioned as glorified potentates. It followed quite naturally that this defective reasoning was bound to generate many grave social errors, such as divinely-directed holy war, genocide, enslavement, and even human sacrifice. With regard to the slaughter of human victims, however, this odious practice was usually mitigated by the offering of animal substitutes. Even so, the basic premise of divine bloodlust was still taken for granted and perpetuated down through mankind’s history.
Suicide, slaughter, and sacrifice were so naturally repugnant, however, that it was necessary to carefully educate the masses into a willingness to pay this ultimate price “for God and country.” Yet, so successful has been this practice of public brainwashing, that even into modern times a morbid affinity for martyrdom has prevailed in all quarters of the world. Witness the example of the kamikaze pilot. Also, for pure fanatical madness there is no better specimen of misguided zeal than the suicidal Muslim who deems it the ultimate act of piety to “lay down his life in the path of Allah.” Indeed, the Orient seems to have been the best of all breeding grounds for a philosophy of the divinely-directed death wish. For the Hindu, an occasion for instant glory is still afforded by casting his body beneath the wheels of the Juggernaut idol’s wagon or, in the case of his widow, the voluntary immolation of herself upon his funeral pyre.
And so, it has come about that, since it is a product of the Orient, there is this same taint of divine bloodlust even in the Bible. The old patriarch Abraham is highly lauded in the scriptural account of his life, because of his willingness to butcher his beloved son as an act of worship. In fact, so acceptable was the shedding of blood as a pious deed that, even despite the express objections of their more enlightened spokesmen, the altars of Israel remained continually coated with gore. For the common man, influenced by priestly promptings, the Deity’s craving for blood was a simple fact of life. But for the far-sighted prophets of God this concept was an abomination:
Sacrifice and offering You do not desire, but You have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. Psalm 40:6
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer Me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them. And the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Amos 5:21-22
With what shall I come before Yahweh and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Micah 6:6-7
“What are your endless sacrifices to Me?” says Yahweh. “I am sick of holocausts of rams and the fat of calves. The blood of bulls and goats revolts Me. When you come to present yourselves before Me, who asked you to trample over My courts? Bring me your worthless offerings no more, the smoke of them fills Me with disgust...When you stretch out your hands I turn My eyes away. You may multiply your prayers, but I shall not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash, make yourselves clean!” Isaiah 1:11-16
Some immolate an ox, some slaughter a man, some sacrifice a lamb, some strangle a dog. Some offer oblations of pig’s blood, some burn memorial incense, some conscrate idols. Since they deliberately follow their own ways and their souls delight in their abominations, I in My turn will select hardships for them and bring them what they dread. Isaiah 66:3
Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this, “Add your holocausts to your sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves. For when I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I said nothing to them nor gave them any orders about holocausts and sacrifice. These were My orders: ‘Listen to My voice, and then I will be your God, and you will be My people.’”
...because they had not followed My ordinances...I even gave them laws that were not good and observances by which they could not live, and I polluted them with their own offerings, making them sacrifice all their firstborn, which was to punish them, so that they would learn that I am Yahweh.
What an amazing set of Scriptures these are, obviously presenting an ideal far in advance of their times. And what an impact they might have had on the entire history of religion, if they had been truly heeded and not just written down in sacred scrolls. Certainly if the will of the prophets had prevailed, the reeking altars of Israel would have been straightway overthrown. That these messages were not heeded, however, is a telling indication of the invincible power of priestcraft over the masses. Even to this day, the pure worship of God “in spirit and in truth” makes a poor showing against the primitive pull of cultic ritualism.
It is evident that the prophets concluded long ago what is still not evident to most of mankind, namely, that a compassionate Deity would never derive any pleasure from pain and bloodletting. That the Creator of life should actually enjoy the death agonies of His creatures is a contradiction in terms. Such pleasure as this would only be found in the heart of some ruthless Oriental ruler who could relish the sight of a mound of human heads. And such a ruler, the prophets concluded, could hardly call himself righteous.
Thus it should be apparent that from the very mouths of the prophets, the akedah (the “binding,” Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son, Isaac), which has been extolled as the finest of all examples of saintly devotion, should really be perceived as a calumnous blight upon the Bible. For it stands on a par with the account of the sacrifice of the maiden Iphigenia in Homer’s Illiad, which is commonly recognized as a savage episode repugnant to civilized tastes. And just because a thing is presented in Holy Writ should not make it immune to the judgments of common decency. In fact, when everything is considered, this incident in the life of the patriarch may be perceived as a morbid tale about an old man’s obsession with the ritual murder being practiced by his heathen neighbors. And it should then be obvious that the presence of this story in the Bible only sullies the reputation of pure religion. In justification of this position the following observations are offered for consideration.
When Abraham came into Canaan, he was simply following a Voice. His religion consisted in being faithful to the Voice. He had no priest, no temple, no scripture, no cult. He was one man snatched out of paganism by the ideal of a new, unknown God.
With all that, still Abraham was not ignorant of religious trappings and rites. His Mesopotamian homeland had a highly developed religious system that stretched back to the dawn of history. Also, the land of Canaan from which the new Voice beckoned had its established religion as well. The most popular god of the Canaanites was the storm god Baal, but the chief god of the pantheon was the venerable El, the Creator. From the account of this activities, it appears that Abraham decided in favor of El as being the One whose Voice he was following.
He made friends with the natives and did homage at the various shrines of El: El Elyon at Salem, El Olam at Beersheba, El Berith at Shechem, and El Bethel at Bethel. Abraham, himself, came to understand that his own personal Deity was to be called El Shaddai. (Note: Elyon means “Most High,” Olam is “Everlasting,” Berith is “Covenant,” Bethel is “House of El,” and Shaddai is “Mountains” or “Breasts.”)
In accepting the chief deity of the Canaanites as his own exclusive God, Abraham was forced to consider the other aspects of that religion as well. Consequently, he chose to receive the natives’ common practices of circumcision, sacrifices, tithes, and the veneration of groves and holy places. But all evidence points to his opposition to their polytheism and their fertility rites. As to human sacrifice, he remained undecided.
Ceremonial infanticide was a vital part of the Canaanite religion. And evidence for this is still to be seen in burial grounds where urns full of babies’ bones and ashes are interred. The strain of making a decision on this important matter probably had a very traumatic impact on the old man. He passed through a period of doubt that besets all believers at one time or another. Like others since his day, he began to wonder if he had done enough for God. Was circumcision enough? Was worship and ritual enough? Was faith enough? In looking about him, Abraham saw that with his neighbors it was not, since they even gave their children as sacrifices to their gods. If El demanded the firstborn sons of His Canaanite followers, why should Abraham be exempt?
Now, Abraham was, by this time, an old sheikh with only one legal heir, his beloved son, Isaac. And painfully the decision was made to give that son. Accordingly, he and Isaac ascended Mount Moriah, a hill just outside of Salem, a city ruled by his friend, Melchizedek. Probably Melchizedek, the priest-king, was a party to the ritual slaying, since the site was already a bamah, a “high place,” dedicated to the worship of El Elyon. After the prescribed binding of the boy, to keep him from recoiling or resisting and thus botching the holy rite, the ceremony proceeded right up to the climactic act of shedding the victim’s blood.
But then, what stayed the hand of Abraham? The Bible says God Himself spoke through His alter ego “Angel.” But did He actually speak through Melchizedek, through Isaac, or in the wakened conscience of Abraham, himself? Did the old sheikh perhaps discover the ram caught in the nearby thicket and suddenly perceive that God had provided an alternate sacrificial victim?
It is helpful to consider this story from another angle, one that came from a Greek legend about the origin of the sign of Aries, the Ram, in the Zodiac. The Greek tale involved a young man, Phrixus, whose aunt accused him of rape when he rejected her sexual advances. As a result of this charge, Phrixus was doomed to be sacrificed to Zeus. However, as his weeping father was about to cut the lad’s throat, Hercules, who was passing by, snatched the knife from the old man and told him that Zeus abhorred human sacrifice. At the same time, the gods sent a golden ram to rescue the boy. Phrixus climbed on the back of the magical ram, and it flew away with him to safety. Later, the ram with golden fleece became the group of stars that are called Aries in the Zodiac. (Similarities to the Bible story are obvious, and it is likely that the Canaanite Phœnicians heard the Abraham tale and passed it on to the Greeks.)
As to Abraham’s state of mind, one would think that, since he had failed in his original intention, he might have retained a feeling of guilt or disfavor with God. But instead, he felt that he had met the test. He was persuaded that his God would henceforth be satisfied with the offering of an animal in place of the human firstborn. And this practice was to carry over into the Mosaic system’s custom of “buying back” (redeeming) the first male offspring with a lamb.
Yahweh said to Moses, “Consecrate to Me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is Mine...And when Yahweh brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to Yahweh all that first opens the womb. All the firstlings of your cattle that are males shall be Yahweh’s. Every firstling of an ass you shall buy back with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall buy back. Exodus 13:1,11-13
So, from a modern perspective one comes around to the question, “Did God actually demand the sacrifice of Isaac or was this just a delusion of Abraham’s mind?” Now as an initial attempt at resolving this riddle, one should consider the New Testament’s conclusion that temptations do not come from God. Instead, a person is led astray by his own desires and ignorance.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil and He tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. James 1:13-14
In rebuttal, some will argue that even Jesus Himself was led into the wilderness temptation by the Spirit and that He would later recommend that His disciples pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” One possible response to this line of reasoning is to plead a rare disparity in the Greek language. In that tongue, the concepts of “proove,” “try,” “test,” and “tempt” are all one word, peirazo. In the Epistle of James, chapter 1, the word is used in all three senses: “temptation” in verses 2 and 12, “trying” in verse 3, “tried” in verse 12, and “tempted” in verses 13 and 14 (quoted above).
So, it is entirely logical to back away from the statement in Genesis 22:1 that God “tempted” Abraham (KJV) to the idea of God’s “testing” Abraham (RSV). This rationale will satisfy many, but other more perceptive moralists will still persist, “Would a good God demand an evil act of a man to try him?” Such a trial would seem to come more logically from Satan. (This is, in fact, the message of the Book of Job, wherein the hero made just such a mistake in attributing his affliction to God, when all the time it was Satan’s secret doing.)
To examine the premise yet further, in Bible times before the concept of a chief demon was firmly established, the Prince of Darkness went by various names. In Jesus’ day the people called the head of evil spirits “the Lord of Flies” (Beelzebub), “Worthless One” (Belial), “Destroyer” (Heb. Abaddon or Gk. Apollyon), “Slanderer” (Diabolos), and “Adversary” (Satan). For the author of the apocryphal Book of Jubilees, however, he was “Hatred” (Mastema), and it was this malevolent angel who was responsible for inciting the testing of Abraham’s faith:
And it came to pass...there were voices in heaven regarding Abraham, that he was faithful in all that He (God) told him, and that he loved the Lord, and that in every affliction he was faithful. And the prince Mastema came and said before God, “Behold, Abraham loves Isaac his son, and he delights in him above all things else. Bid him offer him as a burnt offering on the altar, and Thou wilt see if he will do this command...” Jubilees 17:15
Thus, with the Book of Jubilees the same hypothesis is advanced as that in the Book of Job, namely, that evil acts which appear to be God’s doing are really the work of the Devil. (A similar theme if found in the twelfth century writing Sepher Ha Yashar, except that the Devil goes under the name of Samael, “Desolation of God,” ref. Hebrew Myths by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai.) Likewise, in a radical departure from the original account of David’s temptation by God to take a census, a later author of the Book of Chronicles shifted the blame to Satan.
Again the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and He incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah...But David’s heart smote him after he had numbered the people. And David said to Yahweh, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done.” 2 Samuel 24:1,10
Satan stood up against Israel and incited David to number Israel...But God was displeased with this thing, and He smote Israel. And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing.” 1 Chronicles 21:1,7,8
Evidently the post-exilic Jews, who had become acquainted with the Persian concept of supernatural dualism, felt it their duty to rectify the old misconceptions about the Source of evil. An elaboration on the late association of the Source of evil to an Evil One rather than to Yahweh was given by William Foxwell Albright in his book, From The Stone Age To Christianity.
The Book of Jubilees is not only interesting because it shows that the canonic form of our Pentateuch can hardly be earlier than about 300 B.C. and was presumably fixed by the scholars of the “Great Synagogue;” it also illustrates the advance of Jewish theological ideas at the beginning of the Greek period, before Hellenism had begun to make any inroads into Jewish thought. The author of the book repeatedly eliminates or refines passages and concepts which he considers too crude...In the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, the tempter becomes the head of the evil spirits (Mastema = Satan), whereas in the original, God Himself is represented as testing Abraham.
By applying the scripturally-sanctioned rationale of David’s census to the case at hand, it becomes apparent that it was not God who put the doubt in the patriarch’s mind that he was not fully justified apart from offering his son. And furthermore, had Abraham plunged the knife into Isaac’s throat, it would have been a triumph for Satan. Undoubtedly then, Abraham’s abortive attempt at infanticide came from a delusion in his own mind.
Now, after all this has been said, one must still confront the literal text of Scripture. It plainly says, “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’” Against such straightforward language ascribing an evil act to the Deity there is surely no defense by the Bible literalist. But fortunately for the one who is not bound to “the letter of the law,” there is recourse to a method of exegesis known as “Christocentric interpretation,” which affirms that the Bible must be explained in the light of the life and teachings of Jesus. Seen from this Christ-centered perspective, the word of truth can be rightly divided such that one may declare with confidence that the God revealed in Christ would never be such a monster as is indicated in the questionable passage. Otherwise, He would have had to change His nature in stepping over from the Old Testament to the New. He would have had to be a childish Tyrant in the Genesis era, Who was able to mature into the wise Father character in the Gospel age. (According to the principle of Progressive Revelation, this was exactly the case - from man’s viewpoint.) But since this runs directly counter to the basic doctrine that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the Scripture in Genesis 22:1 is indefensibly wrong, a reprehensible relic of the dark ages of religion. It represents the belief of the writer.
In fact, God’s workings in history have all been subject to some contemporary historian’s interpretation. The Bible is thus seen to be a human account, a human record of God’s intervention in human affairs. The reporter takes a historical event (such as Abraham’s attempt at slaying his son) and supplies the divine element or moral from his own concept of the nature of God. Thus may be seen in all the pages of bloody Israelite conquest, the assumption of God’s sanction, nay, even God’s express command to slaughter innocent people. Amazingly enough, such questionable activity does not seem to bother most church-goers, who rationalize a blanket acceptance of whatever the Bible says. For the earnest seeker of truth, however, accepting an infallible Bible, as though it were a paper Pope, is too high a price if it means the loss of Jesus’ higher revelation of a God of justice and righteousness, mercy and love.
The account of the akedah shows that among the ancient Hebrews such an act of God was acceptable, for in their theology He was the author of both good and evil. Before the existence of Satan was known, a prophet could only postulate the sentiments of an almighty Tyrant: “I am Yahweh, unrivalled. I form the light and create the dark. I make good fortune and create calamity. It is I, Yahweh, Who do all this” (Isaiah 45:7 TJB), According to the Hebrews’ Scriptures, their Deity was an openly capricious Overlord, always threatening doom and then either causing it or repenting of His evil intent.
Now, further, as an extension of this defective theology, many Christians still see no harm in the dogma that God would prearrange a human sacrifice to Himself by sending His Son into the arena of this earth to die at the hands of cruel mankind. Many so-called “theories of the Cross” or “theories of Atonement” have been concocted to prove that Jesus was consigned to death as a sacrificial victim, or as God’s blood-payment to Satan in exchange for the souls of men, or as a feudal satisfaction of God’s offended honor. It is high time, however, that religion be done with such repugnant slander of the good name of the divine Benefactor.
How different would be the complexion of biblical religion had Abraham but shown the courage to shout a defiant No! in the face of his bloody Divinity and then to have seen that merciless Tyrant topple from his throne - thus making room for the loving heavenly Father before another two thousand years must pass. And how unfortunate that the Cross must still be viewed as a blood sacrifice simply because the Jews would not listen to their prophets’ denunciations of that whole system of ghoulish bloodlust.
How sad that the Cross must still be regarded as a completion of the hateful deed that Abraham had attempted to inflict on his own precious son. In his book, Studies In Paul’s Technique And Theology, Anthony T. Hanson observed that the akedah, the “binding” of Isaac, “as an inspiration for the vicarious death of Christ is almost entirely absent from the New Testament. There is just an echo of it in Romans 8:32, but it is not used as a theological argument at all. When the akedah is referred to in a typological context by the author of Hebrews, it represents the resurrection of Christ, and not his atoning death.”
The idea that God should afflict His Son carries still another serious misconception, namely, that the divine Spirit could have had a “son” in the physical sense of the word. To the serious thinker, it becomes ultimately apparent that the phrase “Son of God” is an unfortunate concept, which is only valid in the same symbolic way that a sinner is called a “child of the devil” or a “son of perdition.” And the better view of the Incarnation is to equate it with theophany - the type of revelation in which God Himself has, on a few occasions, taken on human semblance in order to communicate directly with human beings. (The Bible’s record of theophanic appearances show that as a “Man” God wrestled with Jacob, ate with Abraham, spoke to Moses from the burning bush, appeared to Isaiah in the Temple, and manifested His fiery Throne to Ezekiel.)
Of course, this idea of a literal “Son of God” is not at all troublesome to Mormons, who teach that one of the Gods, the Ruler of this particular universe, left heaven with one of his wives, Eve, and came down with the specific purpose of carnal reproduction to populate this globe. Only by equating “Jehovah” with “Adam,” however, is such a spurious doctrine defensible. For Mormons, Jesus was a separate God, the physical offspring of sexual relations between Adam-Jehovah and Mary. And unfortunately, this is the same conclusion that non-Christians such as Muslims have reached regarding the concept of the Trinity, which appears to them as a triad of gods.
The biographies of Jesus indicate that He did not care for the title “Son of God” and did not use the term Himself. Instead, as Emmanuel (“God With Us”) He identified Himself by the declaration “I and My Father are One.” Furthermore, under profound conviction, Thomas acclaimed Him as “Lord and God.” And so, the correct view is that this “Son of God” was really God Himself, all of God that could be contained in the human frame.
Now to stop at this point of reasoning is to find oneself in the monarchianist position, which is an oversimplified view of one God in three sequential aspects. And so, further reflection on the problem is needed. One factor requiring consideration is that Jesus, although He was God-on-Earth, must have looked at His mission from a human perspective - as opposed to the divine perspective of God-in-Heaven. This is what the early Church meant when it spoke of “Persons” in the Godhead. Thus, it follows that the Incarnation must be viewed from two standpoints. From the standpoint of God, the Divine Spirit was so identified with Jesus that He underwent the torments of Calvary Himself. God felt death in His own being. From the standpoint of Jesus, however, it was a case of free will commitment to self-sacrifice. From boyhood He had set about “His Father’s business.” No doubt, early perceptions of God’s will matured in the mind of Jesus, as He grew, to the point of full realization of the concept of the Suffering Servant. Also, the episode of the Wilderness Temptation clarified the high messianic role that He was to follow. Thus, from this perspective as well, God did not send Jesus to the Cross. Jesus of His own free will set His face toward martyrdom. And evidently He did this through His awareness of the purpose of God to save the world and inaugurate the messianic age by means of the voluntary instrument of a suffering Messiah.
Now here again the Abraham-Isaac typology breaks down. Unlike Isaac, Jesus did not go ignorant to His death, for He actually took the initiative in going to the altar Himself. Therfore, to be truly a type of the Crucifixion, the Akedah must be retold as follows:
Abraham desired to establish a new world order of righteousness. But he knew it would take a supreme exhibition of selfless love to set the high example for the new generation to follow. As Isaac grew into manhood, he discovered this purpose, and he loved his father so deeply that he was willing to set about any difficult task his father might conceive. After some struggle with the problem, Isaac realized that his own death was the avenue by which Abraham could achieve his aims. So, Isaac set his face toward Mount Moriah. While dreading to die, yet somehow he knew that he would live again. When Abraham accepted his son’s offer of vicarious suffering for mankind, he underwent the same agony of spirit that his son was experiencing. The sacrifice, involving selfless love by both parties, was at length performed, and Isaac died. But then the victim was gloriously restored to life and reunited with his father. (It may be noted here that this was the idea used by C. S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia story, wherein the messianic lion, Aslan, voluntarily gave his life and had it restored again.)
One idea that must be understood here is the fact that Jesus was not simply a “sacrificial lamb,” unconscious of what was going on as His blood was being spilled out. He knew the cost of saving mankind and deliberately paid the full price. Also, one must bear in mind that although God foreknew the Cross, He did not predetermine that it must happen. Such a violent event as this was, in fact, as inevitable as would be the death of any defenseless person who dared to enter a madhouse of psychotic killers.
Thus to continue the original argument, God did not sentence His “Son” to a bloody doom. This would not have been compatible with His righteous nature. Instead, through a perfect alignment of wills in the Godhead, He undertook the dangerous mission of mercy Himself, and the fact that it all ended in bloodshed does not then make of it a human sacrifice. Certainly the Cross was not something desired by God, as primitive peoples supposed that the gods hungered for the scent of burning flesh.
In the final analysis the matter becomes a question of theodicy (whether or not God is good). And such a question, if fully investigated, must always be decided in favor of the perpetual righteousness of the Christian Deity. Having made this judgment then, the doctrine of the Trinity is only capable of one explanation, i.e., that “Sonship” does not involve some lesser deity fated to be a sacrificial lamb but does, in fact, involve the very essence of Godhead (“Emmanuel”) on a mission climaxing in martyrdom.
Unfortunately, when the Trinity is seen as a tripartate personhood of Deity, there is the temptation to slip into tri-theism (polytheism). But when the Incarnation is rightly understood, then there is no conflict at all with the monotheistic ideal, neither with the Shema (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is a Unity”) nor the Shahada (“There is no God but God”). And what a different view of Deity this exalted concept affords, namely, that instead of a bloodthirsty Despot, our God is the very Embodiment of courage, commitment, and unselfish service.
Also, there is a great difference between casually throwing away one’s life and the more enlightened way of consciously selecting the road to martyrdom in behalf of a cherished truth or cause. Such is the example set by our God. And in this light, the Incarnation, seen as God’s ultimate act of love for humanity, is, consequently, the cornerstone of the greatest of all the world’s religions. Here in the Incarnation is the best possible lesson for mankind in selfless, cross-bearing devotion. And here in a historical event is the truest revelation of the very nature of God Himself. For although there have been many prophets, priests, and saints to elevate the minds of men, there has only been one Supreme Revelation which is the watershed of history, and from which point time is rightly reckoned as either before or after the advent of Emmanuel.
Richard L. Atkins
THE GRADUAL REJECTION OF HUMAN SACRIFICE IN SCRIPTURE
Near Eastern cultures in Bible times practiced human sacrifice, and the victims usually included infants, slaves, and prisoners of war. Also, when an important man died, his wife and slaves often were slain and buried with him. That the Hebrew tribes were influenced to mimic there practices can be easily seen in their holy literature, but these same scriptures show a pattern of gradual repulsion toward human sacrifice that finally resulted in total repudiation of the savage custom. At that final stage of enlightenment, human sacrifice was viewed as an affront to the same Deity who had initially treated it with indifference. The following scriptures show how the principle of Progressive Revelation applies:
Exodus 34:19: All firstborn sons are owed to God.
Exodus 11:5, 12:29: All the firstborn sons of Egypt are killed by God.
Exodus 22:28-30: God requires sacrifice of firstborn on the eighth day.
Leviticus 27:28-29: A vow of human sacrifice must be fulfilled.
Judges 11:30-31: Jephthah sacrifices his daughter to God.
Judges 11:39: Human sacrifice is said to be an accepted “custom in Israel.”
2 Kings 3:26-27: Mesha the Moabite king sacrifices his son.
2 Kings 16:3: Ahaz of Israel sacrifices his children.
2 Kings 21:6: Manasseh of Judah sacrifices his children.
Psalm 106:37-38: Human sacrifice to idols.
Isaiah 57:4-5: Human sacrifice to idols.
Isaiah 66:3: Occasional human sacrifice.
1 Samuel 14:43-46: King Saul attempts to sacrifice his son.
Genesis 22:2ff: Abraham attempts to sacrifice his son.
Micah 6:7: Sacrifice of firstborn is questioned.
Genesis 17:12: God allows a substitute sacrifice of the foreskin.
Exodus 34:19-20: God allows the substitute sacrifice of animals.
Leviticus 12:6: God allows the substitute sacrifice of animals.
Leviticus 18:21: Sacrifice of children forbidden.
Leviticus 20:2: Sacrifice of children forbidden.
Deuteronomy 12:31: Sacrifice of children forbidden.
Ezekiel 20:24-26: The commandment to sacrifice given as a punishment.
Jeremiah 7:31: The commandment of human sacrifice is repudiated.
Jeremaiah 7:22: All sacrifice is repudiated.
Richard L. Atkins