Sunday, November 22, 2020


The lesson that took greater than 4000 years to complete is actually summarized in one phrase—
one partial sentence in the New Testament book of Hebrews: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

It seems a simple summary, but it frankly is not very satisfying—at least it is not to me. Why is the shedding of blood necessary? Couldn’t God just forgive and leave it at that?

Perhaps the unsatisfying nature of this lesson is the very reason that it took more than 4000 years to complete. Besides that, I do not think that we, even 2000 years on, have yet learned it sufficiently.

 The Lesson Begins

As you remember from last week, this lesson began with Adam and Eve. When this first man and woman sinned by listening to the serpent and rebelled against the authority of God, the Lord made for them coverings for their bodies, using the hide of an animal. Of course, this required that animal first to be slaughtered. It was probably the first time that these first humans experienced the death of any living creature.

Today we see death nearly every day. It is not only that animals are slaughtered daily so that we can make articles of clothing such as shoes and jackets and so that we can eat, but we might even see death with our own eyes by an animal that was hit by a vehicle on the roadway, or a bird that has flown too hard into our living room window.

Even with death part of our everyday experience, the idea of death being necessary for the purpose of our forgiveness seems in some ways offensive. It is understandable for us to ask why this is essential. God can do all things. Can he not forgive without something being killed?

Of course this leads up to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the One who has been revealed to us as being God’s only son. Why was it necessary for Christ to die for our sins?


Death Come to Creation

If death is offensive to us—we who experience some form of it every day, imagine how traumatic it was for Adam and Eve to see the very first death that they had ever witnessed. The Scripture does not say, but I have the sense that God slaughtered the animal right before their eyes. I believe this, because in every subsequent sacrifice throughout the Old Testament, the sacrifices were not done in a secluded slaughter house so the people would not have to witness the death of the sacrificial lamb or ox. The sacrifices were conducted right on the courtyard of the temple, in plain sight of all present.

It is true that one can become numb to seeing this happen. It is possible that seeing an animal slaughtered is something that can simply become routine so it does not bother you. But in my own personal experience, just because it has become routine does not mean that it will always be so. As I said, I speak from personal experience, so my own thoughts on this may not coincide with your own, but my experience with the death of animals has changed over the years.

As you know, I grew up on a dairy farm. From a very early age, farm life exposes kids to mortality. A newborn calf can die…a little pet kitten gets stepped on by a cow…our dog gets hit by a passing car. There is also butchering time when we would slaughter a cow and cut up the meat so that the family could eat for the year to come.

These were my growing-up years. I will not say it was ever easy to see a pet die or get killed, but it did not bother me to slaughter a cow to be used for meat. Hunting is also a cherished northwoods experience, and in my younger years, never did I feel any compunction for the animal that I had just shot.

But as I got older, something changed within me. I am not the same person as I was thirty or forty years ago. I am not sure why this happened and I am not sure when it happened, but I have become less comfortable with the slaughtering of an animal.

I think that the change in me may have partially come with the last deer that I shot. We had just returned home from living overseas, and we had no food put up for the winter. Fortunately, we returned just before hunting season, so I was eager to get some venison. On one of the first days of the hunt, I sighted a nice big doe. I leveled my sights right in the area of her heart, and pulled the trigger.

She dropped right where I shot her. This was good. No tracking a wounded deer by flashlight through the woods and swamps, and no dragging it long distances to get home. It was, as we say, a clean shot. Very little meat damaged.

But as I walked up to the doe lying on the ground, I could see that she had not been killed instantly by my bullet. She was still hanging onto life and gasping for breath. I had shot her through the lungs. She could get no air. The doe was on her side, and as I stood above her, the eye that faced the sky then looked at me. Her eye had an expression full of pure terror.

She struggled to get to her feet, but she could not manage. I pointed my rifle at her forehead, closed my eyes and pulled the trigger for the second time. I could not bear to see her suffer.

What I did next was something that I had never done before. With the dead deer at my feet, I stooped beside her and, like in the stories that I used to hear about the American Indians when they killed some game, I explained to this deer why I had to shoot her and thanked her for giving her life for my family.

My growing sensitivity to death may have also been heightened a couple of summers after that deer. This was with the butchering on our farm of one of our steers. This time it was not so much I who lamented this death, but it was the other cows. We did the actual slaughtering in an area where the cows rarely go, but a full two weeks after we had cleaned up the site, the cow herd came around, sniffing the ground where the blood had flowed out of the steer. The cows emitted a sound from their mouths that I had never before heard from them. It was loud and it was long. If you can imagine a cow wailing, that is what it was.

Later that day, I poured gasoline on the ground in that spot and lit it on fire. I did not want my cows to smell that site again. It did not seem to help. In fact, for the rest of the year and even through the winter and into the next, whenever they were in that area, they gathered around and continued to wail. Our bull McTavish was without question the one who did the greatest mourning.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we butchered another steer on our farm. We tried to do it in a way that was more isolated from the rest of the herd, but we were not completely successful in keeping it hidden. There was more wailing from McTavish, more lamenting. It made me think of the verse in Romans where it speaks of all creation groaning because of the effects of the sin upon it.

Death is ugly. In some ways, I think it might be beneficial if every person would be involved with butchering the animal that they were preparing for their own food. It makes one come to understand that the taking of a life is not so straightforward and detached as going to the local supermarket and picking out a prepackaged container of hamburger, weighed to the tenth of an ounce and stamped with a barcoded price tag.

It is not my intention to cause you to become emotional over this issue, but only to point out that death is not a part of our existence that we should take lightly. This is true of the death of a person, certainly, but it is also true of any of God’s creatures.

Why then, is death necessary to counteract the effects of sin?


The First Sacrifice

For Adam and Eve, when the animal was slaughtered in order to make coverings for them, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that these first people were in some ways traumatized by the event. For the first time, they witnessed death. This animal, which they may have even known and perhaps which they had even seen running happily and carefree just the day before, now lay on the ground lifeless, its blood flowing all over the ground and its skin being ripped off its carcass.

I don’t want to sanitize what Adam and Eve were experiencing, because as they were traumatized, they must have realized the horrifying and repulsive consequences of their disobedience to the word of the Lord God. It was their sinful actions that had brought death to this animal who was under their care.

It was to be the beginning of a long series of lessons on the consequences of rebelling against the One who had brought life to all.


An Acceptable Sacrifice, and One That Was Not

The next lesson concerning this subject that is recorded for us in the Bible came with the very next generation of people on earth, with two sons of Adam and Eve: Cain and Abel.

Of these two boys we read, “Abel was a keeper of sheep, while Cain was a tiller of the soil. So in the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil as an offering to the LORD, while Abel brought the best portions of the firstborn of his flock” (Genesis 4:2-4a BSB).

Both of these men brought their offerings to the Lord. Each brought what they had gained from their occupations—Cain some of his harvest and Abel the best of his firstborn. I do not know if any significance should be given to the fact that it is stated that Abel brought the “best” of his flock, and Cain merely brought “some” of his produce as if he was simply going through the motions and fulfilling a duty that he thought was expected. The greater significance lies in the nature of the offering.


The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but He had no regard for Cain and his offering. So Cain became very angry, and his countenance fell.

“Why are you angry,” said the LORD to Cain, “and why has your countenance fallen?

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you refuse to do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires you, but you must master it.”


The account that we have of Cain and Abel is very brief, as are all of the accounts of these very early years of our history. In all of these stories, there are of course many more details that are not given to us. The specific teachings that God had given to the first humans as to the purpose and the manner of offering sacrifices are some of those details.

However, it is apparent that both Cain and Abel had previous knowledge of why sacrifices were necessary. They were not doing this thoughtlessly. One of these men, Abel, heeded the word of the Lord. The other, his older brother Cain, did not.

The reasons that God had no regard for Cain’s offering seem to be two. First of all, God told Cain that he would be accepted if he did what was “right.” Certainly this is a very general comment, but from it we can surmise that one’s manner of living is even more important than the outward act of bringing an offering to the Lord.

It is as the prophet Samuel said to King Saul: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to His voice? Behold, obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22 BSB).

The other matter about Cain’s offering was that it was the wrong type of offering. It was an offering of fruit. An acceptable offering was of the type that Abel had brought. One that required the life of an animal.

In our own sentiments, we might think that Cain had brought a better offering, specifically because it did not require a life. But through all of this, God was expanding upon the teaching of what would be required to bring men and women back into a pure and faultless relationship with their Creator. One common element in all of the sacrifices intended for the forgiveness of sins invariably involved the death of an innocent.


The First Blood of Man

What is more, we will see that it was not Cain’s sensibilities to death that he did not bring an acceptable offering. We continue the reading:


Then Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

And the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I do not know!” he answered. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“What have you done?” replied the LORD. “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. (Genesis 4:4b-10 BSB)


Notable in what Cain did was that, in the end, he also made a bloody sacrifice. He sacrificed his own brother—not in regard to what God had instructed nor was it meant as an offering to God. It was an offering that Cain paid to himself—an offering given with the intention of protecting his own pride.


Two Separate Societies

As the history of these early years continues in the book of Genesis, we see that the failure of Cain to follow the instructions of God gave birth to the first line of an entire secular society who had no regard at all for God. Their own inspiration for life came from their own development of their arts and industry.

Pride in their own abilities and strengths is in the words of Lamech, the great-great grandson of Cain: “Listen to my speech, for I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:23 BSB).

This evil line of Cain continued to multiply over the face of the earth, but the righteous line of people did not end with the death of Abel. Adam and Eve had another son after the fratricide of Abel. In the fifth chapter of Genesis we next read these words: “When Adam was 130 years old, he had a son in his own likeness, after his own image; and he named him Seth. And after he had become the father of Seth, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters” (Genesis 4:25; 5:3-4 BSB).


The Most Evil Generation

This same chapter of Genesis continues to briefly introduce these two lines of people, one which followed God and one which increasingly grew away from God. As these two lines are summarized, we arrive to the days of Noah. There is so much about the history of these times that is not recorded for us, but it is obvious that the level of evil in society continually expanded. By the time we get to the sixth chapter of Genesis, we read this summary:


Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was altogether evil all the time. And the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—every man and beast and crawling creature and bird of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.”

The earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and full of violence. And God looked upon the earth and saw that it was corrupt; for all living creatures on the earth had corrupted their ways. (Genesis 6:5-7, 11-12 BSB).


Astounding as it seems, the man Noah was apparently the only man alive who continued to regard the words of the Lord: “Noah was a righteous man,” the account reads. “He was blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).

 The event that followed this dismal assessment of the people of the earth at that time was a great flood, one which brought to an end that evil generation of people. Only Noah and his family survived, along with only one pair (in most cases) of each type animal survived the flood, floating above the flood in a great ark that Noah and his sons constructed.

In the telling of this story, we usually focus on the survival of those who were in the ark, but also greatly significant of course was the death of the rest of that generation of men and women. Death is the inevitable consequence of evil.


The First Post-Apocalyptic Sacrifice

But we will jump ahead in the account to what Noah did after the flood: “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD. And taking from every kind of clean animal and clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Genesis 8:20 BSB).

In the popular telling of the story of Noah and the ark, we always hear of the one pair of each type of animal, but that is actually an oversimplification of the account. The instructions that God actually gave to Noah was as follows: “You are to take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate; a pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate; and seven pairs of every kind of bird of the air, male and female, to preserve their offspring on the face of all the earth” (Genesis 7:2-3 BSB).

This is the first mention in the Bible of this distinction between “clean animals,” and those that are referred to as “unclean.” Although it is not recorded, in the many generations between the time when Abel first offered the firstborn of his flock and the days of Noah, God had obviously given greater teachings of the nature of the practice of sacrifices. These teachings must have spoken of these designations of cleanliness for the types of animals.

Of this offering of the clean animals, we read that “the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma.”

In calling the aroma “pleasing,” we are not to take it in the same sense as when we smell a freshly baked loaf of bread coming out of the oven. What is meant by this was that it was pleasing in the sense that the offering given was acceptable as a sacrifice for the wickedness of the earth of that generation.

God then said in his heart, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from his youth. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall never cease” (Genesis 8:21-22 BSB). 

Sadly however, even though with Noah’s family, it was only the “righteous” line of Seth that had endured, all wickedness and rebellion had not completely disappeared from the earth. Even though God had made the covenant with himself that he would never again send a flood of the same magnitude, he knew that all wickedness did not end with the flood of Noah.

But many things did change in that post-apocalyptic age. They are changes that we are still living with today.

I will speak of some of those changes next week, but what I want you to consider this week is how you will respond to what we have seen God up to this point in history, specifically in the comparison between Cain and Abel.

Perhaps Abel had a more complete sense than we do of why a blood sacrifice was necessary to have a relationship with God, and perhaps not. Maybe like our own understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, there was much about what he was doing that he did not comprehend, but he simply and completely followed the instructions of God.

Or, perhaps like Cain, you disregard what God has said and simply do what seems best to you. Maybe you have set your own standards for your life that make sense to you and expect it to also be acceptable to God.

What Cain did was follow the lie that Satan first initiated with Adam and Eve. Both Cain and Abel had a choice, and each of us have a choice. Consider yours carefully. This is a matter of living that is more important as to how we need to conduct ourselves to survive covid. It is more important that preparing for what could be a worsening economy. 

This is a matter of eternal consequences. This is a choice that will affect you forever.

[1] Fratricide – the act of killing a brother

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