“Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High…” (ESV – Read the chapter)
One of the mistakes the people of Israel were making all the time was thinking that God was like the gods of the various nations around them. They were guilty of a confusion of categories. And, we shouldn’t be so terribly surprised by this. All the gods ever invented by people have been basically the same. Sure there have been differences in detail and form, but they have always been a reflection of the people who made them and people are people. But God is different.
Sacrifices were a big part of the worship practices of all of the nations surrounding Israel. They were a big part of the worship of the people of Israel too. The book of Leviticus lays out all of the rules about when, what, why, and how the people were to bring sacrifices to the Lord in painstaking detail.
For so many of the ancient peoples, though, making sacrifices was done to feed the gods. The people were there for the gods’ pleasure and provision. The gods did not really care about them. The relationship was more contractual. The people provided for the gods what they didn’t have and the gods provided for the people what they didn’t have. As long as each side did their part, the relationship worked fine.
With Yahweh, though, things were different. He didn’t need something from the people of Israel (He still doesn’t need anything from us). They were to bring sacrifices, not because they were giving Him something that wasn’t already His (they weren’t), but as either an act of confession and repentance in which the sacrifice was understood to be taking their punishment for sins, or else as a gesture of trust and thanksgiving in which they were expressing their confidence in His willingness and ability to provide for them even without this thing they otherwise needed to survive.
The truth was that God didn’t need anything from them at all. They weren’t giving Him anything He didn’t already have. The sacrifices—all of their worship—was a means to the end of a relationship with Him. As long as they properly reflected that relationship things were on the right track. It was when they became checklist items and the people started treating God like their relationship with Him was contractual that things got off track.
In our own worship practices, we are still not giving God anything He doesn’t already have. The one thing in fact that He does not have us the one thing He didn’t have from the people of Israel: our hearts. That’s what He desires above all else. All the worship practices we have are intended to facilitate our giving ourselves to Him wholly and without reservation. If we’re not doing that then we are wasting everybody’s time.