Hebrews cleverly dissects the practice to reveal that it is ultimately preparation for the gift of Jesus. He is the once-for-all-time sacrifice that draws us back to God. I get that.
But why start it in the first place? Was it to fit in with current cultural practices in other early civilizations? Did we (humans) do it and then include it in the Law to legitimise and syncretise the practice into Jewish lore (and law)? Did God think it was a good idea, or was it like Israel having a king, a human preoccupation given into by a God trying to win the hearts of his people? *ALERT - ideas in this paragraph are highly speculative*
I think I have recoiled at the idea, as slightly unpleasant and another thing about God that is 'beyond my ken'.
Then I read this article by Jean, and remembered that just because I don't know or understand, yet, doesn't mean there isn't an answer.
And I read Psalm 50.
O my people, listen as I speak.Here are my charges against you, O Israel:I am God, your God!I have no complaint about your sacrificesor the burnt offerings you constantly offer.But I do not need the bulls from your barnsor the goats from your pens.For all the animals of the forest are mine,and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.I know every bird on the mountains,and all the animals of the field are mine.If I were hungry, I would not tell you,for all the world is mine and everything in it.Do I eat the meat of bulls?Do I drink the blood of goats?Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,and keep the vows you made to the Most High.Then call on me when you are in trouble,and I will rescue you,and you will give me glory.Psalm 50:7-15.
God 'has no complaint about sacrifice'. People doing it are fulfilling his commands. But God does not need the physical gift (v9), in fact it is his already (v10).
The physical sacrifice is for the people. It is an outward expression of the thankfulness God wants in their hearts. In fact without the thankfulness, the acknowledging of God's endless giving to us, the sacrifices are worthless. Thankfulness makes sacrifice beautiful and holy. Thankfulness directs glory to God.
I understand a little more of God's desire for his people. He wants us to have hearts that give thankfulness in everything, thankfulness that hurts us because it takes from what we have, to acknowledge who owns all. Thankfulness that hurts means gratitude for things I find uncomfortable, for life being what I need rather than being what I desire. Gratitude for life that refines me, for dying with Christ.
But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.If you keep to my path,I will reveal to you the salvation of God.Psalm 50:23
Thanks be to God for his word, that brings refreshment, wrestling and direction. Glory to him.