Blood Sacrifice Under Moses

Sacrifice does not mean the rejection of the evil for the sake of the good,
but of the good for the sake of the evil. -Ayn Rand

After the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt, they found themselves confronted by the most barbaric brand of slavery ever devised when Moses conceived of child sacrifice as a way of commemorating the Passover. Just as when God tested Abraham, there can be no greater test of submission then to ask parents to give up their children to be immolated. It is hard to imagine a crime more despicable than infanticide.

29At midnight the LORD smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle. (Ex. 12:29)

But before we deflect the blame onto Moses, let us not forget that Moses believed he was acting on instructions from God. If monotheism is the mode of belief, then this is the same god embodied in Christ. It is the same god when Christians say abortion violates God's law.

It would be misleading to argue that the only incidences of child sacrifice were Mosaic. Later passages reveal that the Hebrews sacrificed their children to other gods as well-they weren't monotheistic. (See Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel) So it is fair to say that child sacrifice was a common practice in ancient Israel. It just goes to show the power of faith.

There is a reason for why fire was the chosen medium for sacrifice. As explained in Elements of Creation, fire was one of four basic elements of creation. Its heat and light was like the sun, so they associated fire with God's life giving spiritual force; air was his spirit. We could surmise that when the smoke disappeared into the atmosphere, they believed it was the soul of the victim entering into the netherworld.

Child sacrifice

The below passages need some clarification. The following terms mean the same whether applied to animals or humans. 1) To consecrate a person or thing means to make it holy, but to consecrate to God means to make a sacrificial offering. The phrase, "devoted to destruction for the Lord" has the same meaning. 2) Logically, what is God's is not yours. So when the body dies, its soul returns to God's world. 3) The term "redeem" defines compensation as a form of quid pro quo. To redeem to God does not mean to set free or exempt, it means to give to God what he gave to you, i.e. life.

The sequence shows a gradual retreat from child sacrifice. Exodus treats human and animal sacrifice equally. In Leviticus sacrifice was reduced to the Levites. Numbers redefines "redeem" as a tax with only clean firstborn animals being sacrificed. Deuteronomy specifies tithing.

1. God told Moses to sacrifice the first born of humans and animals to him.

1The Lord said to Moses:
2Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine. (Gen. 13:1-2)

The association of humans with animals makes it clear that these firstborn humans are not being baptized or inducted into the priesthood.

2. To commemorate their liberation from Egypt, Moses told the people to remember this day. -This was the motive behind the sacrificial killings.

3And Moses said to the people, "Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place; no leavened bread shall be eaten. (Gen. 13:3)

3. Set apart to the Lord, the firstborn of livestock and your firstborn sons for redemption. When your child asks, what does it mean? You tell them it was because of Pharaoh's stubbornness, God killed the firstborn in Egypt. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord my firstborn son for redemption.

12you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your livestock that are males shall be the Lord's.
13But every firstborn donkey you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. Every firstborn male among your children you shall redeem.
14When in the future your child asks you, 'What does this mean?' you shall answer, 'By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.
15When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from human firstborn to the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD every male that first opens the womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem. (Ex. 13:12-15)

To redeem to God means to transfer ownership to him. Since god is not a real person, it does not imply consecration into the priesthood, especially with animals involved. It means they were sent off to God's world by fire.

As a reminder, God hardened Pharaoh's heart so he would have a chance to demonstrate his power.

1Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, (Ex. 10:1)

4. You shall give your firstborn sons to me, God. You shall do the same with your oxen and sheep. On the eight day, you shall give it to me.

29You shall not delay to make offerings from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me.
30You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall remain with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me. (Ex. 22:29-30)

5. All firstborn are mine. You shall redeem your firstborn sons.

19All that first opens the womb is mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep.
20The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. No one shall appear before me empty-handed. (Ex. 34:19-20)

6. Human beings who have been devoted to destruction for the Lord cannot be exchanged for something else. They shall be put to death.

28Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the LORD, be it human or animal, or inherited landholding, may be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the LORD.
29No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death.(Lev. 27:28-29)

7. I have taken the Levites instead of every firstborn male. On the day I slew the firstborn in Egypt I consecrated my own of the first-born in Israel. Both man and beast shall be mine, for I am the Lord.

11And the LORD said to Moses,
12"Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every first-born that opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine,
13for all the first-born are mine; on the day that I slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the first-born in Israel, both of man and of beast; they shall be mine: I am the LORD." (Num. 3:11-13)

By the time of Numbers, sacrifice was reduced to first born Levites and livestock. Keep in mind that when you consecrate a living being to God, that's a euphemism for sacrifice. It doesn't mean ordain into the priesthood. Beasts were not ordained.

8. Accept the firstborn of Levites and their livestock; they shall be mine. As the price of redemption for the people, they shall pay a sum of money for each of their firstborn to the priests.

44Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
45Accept the Levites as substitutes for all the firstborn among the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites as substitutes for their livestock; and the Levites shall be mine. I am the LORD.
46As the price of redemption of the two hundred seventy-three of the firstborn of the Israelites, over and above the number of the Levites,
47you shall accept five shekels apiece, reckoning by the shekel of the sanctuary, a shekel of twenty gerahs.
48Give to Aaron and his sons the money by which the excess number of them is redeemed. (Num. 3:44-48)

Child sacrifice has been confined to Levite firstborn and their livestock firstborn. Redemption for the rest was defined in terms of money. The Levites were the priestly tribe.

9. You shall separate the Levites from the other Israelites, for they are mine. They will be cleansed and presented as an elevation offering. In place of firstborn Israelites, I will take Levites in their place to make atonement for them so there will be no plague among them.

14Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the other Israelites, and the Levites shall be mine.
15Thereafter the Levites may go in to do service at the tent of meeting, once you have cleansed them and presented them as an elevation offering.
16For they are unreservedly given to me from among the Israelites; I have taken them for myself, in place of all that open the womb, the firstborn of all the Israelites.
17For all the firstborn among the Israelites are mine, both human and animal. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself,
18but I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn among the Israelites.
19Moreover, I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the Israelites, to do the service for the Israelites at the tent of meeting, and to make atonement for the Israelites, in order that there may be no plague among the Israelites for coming too close to the sanctuary. (Num. 8:14-19)

The retreat from Israelite child sacrifice has been narrowed down to the Levites. In biblespeak, an elevation offering implies they will be lifted up into heaven by fire.

10. The firstborn of humans and animals which are offered to God are yours. Firstborn humans and unclean animals shall be redeemed for a monetary price. Firstborn cows, sheep and goats shall not be redeemed, for they are holy. Instead they will be sacrificed on the altar by fire.

15The first issue of the womb of all creatures, human and animal, which is offered to the LORD, shall be yours; but the firstborn of human beings you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem.
16Their redemption price, reckoned from one month of age, you shall fix at five shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary (that is, twenty gerahs).
17But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall dash their blood on the altar, and shall turn their fat into smoke as an offering by fire for a pleasing odor to the LORD; (Num. 18:15-17)

Redemption was redefined as a tax on firstborn. Sacrifice was limited to clean firstborn livestock.

11. You shall pay a tithe on whatever you eat and the firstling of your livestock.

23And before the LORD your God, in the place which he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstlings of your herd and flock; that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. (Deut. 14:23)

19"All the firstling males that are born of your herd and flock you shall consecrate to the LORD your God; you shall do no work with the firstling of your herd, nor shear the firstling of your flock. (Deut. 15:19)

The biblical sequence of these passages shows a progression from ritualized murder to tithing.


As sick as it may seem to us now, sacrificing your children was done to placate God. Eating them was imposed as a matter of punishment. It could be seen as a way of returning them back into the body of their parents. For sure it symbolized God's rejection.

You shall eat the flesh of your sons and daughters.

27"And if in spite of this you will not hearken to me, but walk contrary to me,
28then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and chastise you myself sevenfold for your sins.
29You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. (Lev. 26:27-29)

You shall eat the offspring of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord has given you. The father shall eat the children and the mother shall eat the afterbirth.

53And you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the LORD your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you.
4The man who is the most tender and delicately bred among you will grudge food to his brother, to the wife of his bosom, and to the last of the children who remain to him;
55so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing left him, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns.
56The most tender and delicately bred woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot upon the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will grudge to the husband of her bosom, to her son and to her daughter,
57her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because she will eat them secretly, for want of all things, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns. (Deut. 28:53:57)

Animal Sacrifice

Animal sacrifice is not on the same immoral plane with child sacrifice and cannibalism, but it presents insight into Christian theology. Animal sacrifices were performed as a means of atonement for sin.

Credit for the biggest animal bonfire goes to Noah. After he landed, he cremated every clean animal on the ark. Try to imagine the sight and the sounds of screaming animals as Noah throws them into the fire as if they were logs of wood. Now if he did in fact cremate every clean animal, every Jew since would have had to eat unclean food.

Noah took every clean animal and clean bird and burnt them on the altar. God was pleased by the odor and promised never to curse the ground because of man. Nor will he ever again destroy every living creature as he has done.

20Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
21And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. (Gen. 8:20-21)

The most significant animal sacrifice was the Passover Lamb: Moses told the Israelites to take a one year old male lamb without blemish. On the night of Passover, they were to kill the lamb and spread its blood on their front door. The blood was a signal to spare them when the destroyer angel passed through.

5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats;
6and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening.
7Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. (Ex. 12:5-7)

The most significant human sacrifice was patterned after the most significant animal sacrifice. In the priestly mind, words are things. So by attaching a label to something, it becomes the thing defined by the label. By attaching a lamb label the Jesus character, the priests had a way of perceiving Jesus as an equivalent to the Passover Lamb: He was a first born, innocent, one year old male, who shed his blood on the Passover. (See Gospel Zodiac) For that, his death prevented the death of others. Priests don't think in terms of causality; they think in terms of patterns and symbols.

29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

Another idea that found its way into Christianity is the "scapegoat." On the Day of Atonement the High Priest would prepare a goat and send it into the wilderness to take away the sins of the people.

20"And when he has made an end of atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat;
21and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.
22The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness.
29"And it shall be a statute to you for ever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you;
30for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the LORD. (Lev. 16:20-22, 29-30)

Leviticus 4 prescribes the procedures for sin offerings. The below passages should make you wonder what kind of a nutty god would impose a gory ritual like this? Leviticus is larded with it.

1And the LORD said to Moses,
2"Say to the people of Israel, If any one sins unwittingly in any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and does any one of them, (Lev. 4: 1-2)

The anointed priest who sins shall find a bull without blemish and lay his hand on its head before killing it in front of the tent of meeting.

3if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then let him offer for the sin which he has committed a young bull without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering.
4He shall bring the bull to the door of the tent of meeting before the LORD, and lay his hand on the head of the bull, and kill the bull before the LORD. (Lev. 4: 3-4)

The same priest shall bring the bull inside the tent. He shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times in front of the veil of the sanctuary.

5And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it to the tent of meeting;
6and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the LORD in front of the veil of the sanctuary. (Lev. 4: 5-6)

He shall put some of the blood on the horns of fragrant incense. The rest he will pour into the base of the altar of burnt offering.

7And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD which is in the tent of meeting, and the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the door of the tent of meeting. (Lev. 4: 7)

He shall take the fat around and inside the entrails, the kidney with its fat, the liver and kidneys, and burn them upon the altar of burnt offering.

8And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall take from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails,
9and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver which he shall take away with the kidneys
10(just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings), and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of burnt offering. (Lev. 4: 8-10)

He shall carry the skin, head, legs, entrails, dung and all the rest outside the camp and burn them over a fire of wood.

11But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung,
12the whole bull he shall carry forth outside the camp to a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and shall burn it on a fire of wood; where the ashes are poured out it shall be burned. (Lev. 4: 11-12)


The tension between the Hebrew priests and the polytheistic beliefs of the people carried to time of the Babylonian Exile, 586 BCE. Polytheism was the norm in those days, so it was not unusual for the people to worship Yahweh and other gods. When Israel was conquered by its larger neighbors, the prophets blamed the people for worshipping other gods.

Looking at their logic from the opposite direction, it means that Yahweh punished his people by allying with the other gods. It could also mean that the other gods were more powerful than Yahweh. The fanatical prophets couldn't imagine finding fault with their God.

Prohibitions against sacrificing to Yahweh are noticeably absent. The following passages prohibit sacrifice only because they represent allegiance to foreign gods. The Hebrew priests saw this as a violation of the First Commandment-you shall have no other gods before me.

Whoever sacrifices to any other God must be destroyed.

20Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed. (Ex. 22:20)

You shall not profane the name of your God by sacrificing your offspring to Molech. -Molech is believed to be either the name of a god or of a cult practicing child sacrifice.

21You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. (Lev. 18:21)

Whoever gives his children to Molech shall be stoned to death for defiling God's sanctuary and profaning his name.

1The LORD said to Moses,
2"Say to the people of Israel, Any man of the people of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, who gives any of his children to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones.
3I myself will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name. (Lev. 20:1-3)

Whoever should ignore them when they sacrifice to Molech, they and their family shall be exiled. -Exile precluded social support. It meant certain death.

4And if the people of the land should ever close their eyes to them, when they give of their offspring to Molech, and do not put them to death,
5I myself will set my face against them and against their family, and will cut them off from among their people, them and all who follow them in prostituting themselves to Molech. (Lev. 20:4-5)

Do not be ensnared by the nations you conquer. Yahweh hates for what they have done for their gods, even burning their children in fire.

30take heed that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods?-that I also may do likewise.'
31You shall not do so to the LORD your God; for every abominable thing which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.
32You must diligently observe everything that I command you; do not add to it or take anything from it. (Deut. 12:30-32)

Your God will drive out whoever follows the abominable practices of other nations by burning their children as an offering.

9"When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.
10There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering.
12For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD; and because of these abominable practices the LORD your God is driving them out before you. (Deut. 18:9-10, 12)

Final thought

Whether it's the sacrificing innocent children to fire or the sacrificing one innocent man on the cross, it's based on the same immoral principle.