“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 sacrifices
or the burnt offerings you constantly offer.
But I do not need the bulls from your barns
or 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 doesn’t need us to take care of him. He is not a king dependent upon his subjects to pay their taxes. He is not like the gods of the other nations. In the Babylonian telling of the Great Flood, the lone survivor finally built an alter and sacrificed some animals on it. The narrator of the Babylonian story tells us that the gods swarmed the sacrifice “like flies.” Why? Because they were starving from the lack of sacrifices caused by their foolish choice to send the flood.
But the God of Israel, Yahweh, was not like those gods—the gods that the Israelites kept worshiping. God didn’t need them or their sacrifices. They had missed the whole point of worshiping God. Sacrifice was intended to reflect the relationship between God and the worshipper. Sacrifice was a symbol of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. What was important for the Israelites was not to perform rituals, but instead to live an upright life: to love God and to love their brothers and sisters. True worship was not in the spilled blood of slaughtered animals, but in helping the poor and downtrodden—and in giving thanks to God. God helps us because he loves us, not because we said the magic words or performed the magic rituals.