Mercy not Sacrifice – Biblical Quotes

Biblical Quotes:

‘Mercy not Sacrifice’

 

In light of René Girard’s anthropology (“Mimetic Theory”), we might propose that the entire biblical journey can be characterized as a movement away from both ritual blood sacrifice — and the accompanying ‘sacrificial logic’ that gets embedded into all human cultures, even after the ritualized forms of sacrifice are replaced in ‘rule of law’ cultures.

Genesis 22:1-14: The story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac can be read as a first crucial moment in the movement away from sacrifice. Abraham hears the voice of the conventional sacrificial god (elohim) commanding him to sacrifice Isaac. At the crucial moment, the angel of Yahweh stops him and provides a ram as a substitute. This begins the movement away from ritual human sacrifice. For more on this reading, see Proper 8A.

The Hebrew Prophets Challenge Ritual Blood Sacrifice

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation– I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. — Isaiah 1:11-17

For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.” — Jer. 7:22-23

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. — Hosea 6:6

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. — Amos 5:21-24

Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? — Micah 6:1-4, 6-8

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” — Psalm 40:6-8

The New Testament Critique of Sacrifice

Matthew’s Jesus twice quotes Hosea 6:6:

[Jesus said,] “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” — Matthew 9:13

[Jesus said,] “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” — Matthew 12:7

John portrays Jesus as the Lamb of God who brings the sin of sacrifice to an end by exposing it:

The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” — John 1:29

Then John places the logic of sacrifice into the mouth of Caiaphas:

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. — John 11:49-52 (Caiaphas thinks that sacrifice of one is needed to gather their nation in protection from their enemies; God uses that sacrifice to begin gathering all “the dispersed children of God.”)

The Letter to the Hebrews makes a major theme out of the movement away from sacrifice, portraying Jesus’ self-sacrifice as a sacrifice to end all sacrifice. For example:

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. — Hebrews 9:22-26

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