David says in Psalm 51:16&17:
16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.
If what David said is true, that God did not really desire sacrifice or delight in burnt offerings in the Old Testament, what was their purpose, what were they all about ?
I think the answer is found as we link verse 16 to 17. Verse 17 says that the sacrifices God really desires and delights in are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.
One might say there were two things about the Old Testament sacrifices that represented larger truths that in time would become apparent, and because of these two parallells God during the Old Testament period accepted animal sacrifices as an offering for sin. The Old Testament sacrifices initially were alive, had life in them and then they were killed and were dead. And it is the life in the animal followed by it’s death that represented the greater truths that were God’s primary focus and concern.
Verse 17 expresses these greater truths as a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart in a person’s life. A broken spirit and contrite heart like the Old Testament sacrifices are both alive and dead. They are alive in that they are an expression of free will and still capable of making a choice, expressing an option, but they are dead in that they are dead to the person’s will or wishes, surrendered instead to God’s will and wishes.
From the very beginning that is what God was after and what He was focused on…the human heart, alive and yet dead, alive to Him but dead to itself. That is what God desires and delights in.
Paul expressed this of himself in this way, in Galatians 2:20:
20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;
Paul was crucified, dead and yet alive, Christ lived in him, through Him.
Hearts and spirits that are alive to God but dead to themselves, that is what God has always been after, they are the sacrifices and burnt offerings of today.