The Beginning of the Sacrificial System

“Heavenly angels more fully opened to our first parents the plan that had been devised for their salvation. Adam and his companion were assured that notwithstanding their great sin, they were not to be abandoned to the control of Satan. The Son of God had offered to atone, with His own life, for their transgression. A period of probation would be granted them, and through repentance and faith in Christ they might again become the children of God.

“The sacrifice demanded by their transgression revealed to Adam and Eve the sacred character of the law of God; and they saw, as they had never seen before, the guilt of sin and its dire results.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 66.

“To Adam, the offering of the first sacrifice was a most painful ceremony. His hand must be raised to take life, which only God could give. It was the first time he had ever witnessed death, and he knew that had he been obedient to God, there would have been no death of man or beast. As he slew the innocent victim, he trembled at the thought that his sin must shed the blood of the spotless Lamb of God. This scene gave him a deeper and more vivid sense of the greatness of his transgression, which nothing but the death of God’s dear Son could expiate. And he marveled at the infinite goodness that would give such a ransom to save the guilty.” Ibid., 68.

In time, Eve gave birth to two sons. Adam and Eve named the first son Cain and the second son Abel. As these two sons grew up, Adam and Eve faithfully instructed them in the great plan of redemption. When matured in age, the time came for them to build their own altars and offer their own sacrifices for their sin. The Bible record says,

“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought … fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master’ ” (Genesis 4:2–7, literal translation).

“These brothers were tested, as Adam had been tested before them, to prove whether they would believe and obey the word of God. They were acquainted with the provision made for the salvation of man, and understood the system of offerings which God had ordained. They knew that in these offerings they were to express faith in the Saviour whom the offerings typified, and at the same time to acknowledge their total dependence on Him for pardon; and they knew that by thus conforming to the divine plan for their redemption, they were giving proof of their obedience to the will of God. Without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin; and they were to show their faith in the blood of Christ as the promised atonement by offering the firstlings of the flock in sacrifice.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 71.

“Cain came before God with murmuring and infidelity in his heart in regard to the promised sacrifice and the necessity of the sacrificial offerings. His gift expressed no penitence for sin. He felt, as many now feel, that it would be an acknowledgment of weakness to follow the exact plan marked out by God, of trusting his salvation wholly to the atonement of the promised Saviour. He chose the course of self-dependence. He would come in his own merits. He would not bring the lamb, and mingle its blood with his offering, but would present his fruits, the products of his labor. He presented his offering as a favor done to God, through which he expected to secure the divine approval. Cain obeyed in building an altar, obeyed in bringing a sacrifice; but he rendered only a partial obedience. The essential part, the recognition of the need of a Redeemer, was left out.” Ibid., 72.

“ ‘By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain’ (Hebrews 11:4). Abel grasped the great principles of redemption. He saw himself a sinner, and he saw sin and its penalty, death, standing between his soul and communion with God. He brought the slain victim, the sacrificed life, thus acknowledging the claims of the law that had been transgressed. Through the shed blood he looked to the future sacrifice, Christ dying on the cross of Calvary; and trusting in the atonement that was there to be made, he had the witness that he was righteous, and his offering accepted.” Ibid.

“Abel chose faith and obedience; Cain, unbelief and rebellion. Here the whole matter rested.

“Cain and Abel represent two classes that will exist in the world till the close of time.” Ibid.

Altars were built, and sacrifices were offered by all the faithful patriarchal families to the time of the flood. Adam instructed Enoch in the purpose of these sacrifices. Enoch taught his son Methuselah, who lived 600 years with Noah, concerning the purpose of the sacrifices. But the majority of the people rebelled against God.

“The period of their probation was about to expire. Noah had faithfully followed the instructions which he had received from God. The ark was finished in every part as the Lord had directed, and was stored with food for man and beast. …

“God commanded Noah, ‘Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation’ (Genesis 7:1). Noah’s warnings had been rejected by the world, but his influence and example resulted in blessings to his family. As a reward for his faithfulness and integrity, God saved all the members of his family with him.” Ibid., 98.

So God sent a flood upon the earth and destroyed mankind except for Noah and his family.

“Noah and his family anxiously waited for the decrease of the waters, for they longed to go forth again upon the earth. …

“At last an angel descended from heaven, opened the massive door, and bade the patriarch and his household go forth upon the earth and take with them every living thing. In the joy of their release Noah did not forget Him by whose gracious care they had been preserved. His first act after leaving the ark was to build an altar and offer from every kind of clean beast and fowl a sacrifice, thus manifesting his gratitude to God for deliverance and his faith in Christ, the great sacrifice.” Ibid., 105, 106.

In Genesis, we read that “Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.” “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.” “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth’ ” (Genesis 8:18, 20; 9:1).

Abraham, who was born only eight years after Noah died, learned of the meaning of the sacrifices from Noah’s son, Shem. Thus through the sacrificial system, the faith of the patriarchs in Jesus as the Lamb of God was preserved from generation to generation.

“It was to impress Abraham’s mind with the reality of the gospel, as well as to test his faith, that God commanded him to slay his son. The agony which he endured during the dark days of that fearful trial was permitted that he might understand from his own experience something of the greatness of the sacrifice made by the infinite God for man’s redemption. No other test could have caused Abraham such torture of soul as did the offering of his son. God gave His Son to a death of agony and shame. The angels who witnessed the humiliation and soul anguish of the Son of God were not permitted to interpose, as in the case of Isaac. There was no voice to cry, ‘It is enough.’ To save the fallen race, the King of glory yielded up His life. What stronger proof can be given of the infinite compassion and love of God? ‘He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things’ (Romans 8:32)?” Patriarchs and Prophets, 154.

“It had been difficult even for the angels to grasp the mystery of redemption—to comprehend that the Commander of heaven, the Son of God, must die for guilty man. When the command was given to Abraham to offer up his son, the interest of all heavenly beings was enlisted. With intense earnestness they watched each step in the fulfillment of this command. When to Isaac’s question, ‘Where is the lamb for a burnt offering’ (Genesis 22:7)? Abraham made answer, ‘God will provide Himself a lamb’ (verse 8); and when the father’s hand was stayed as he was about to slay his son, and the ram which God had provided was offered in the place of Isaac—then light was shed upon the mystery of redemption, and even the angels understood more clearly the wonderful provision that God had made for man’s salvation (1 Peter 1:12).” Ibid., 155.

Excerpts from High Priest & Coming King, by Maurice Hoppe, pages 21–25.