Swords to Plowshares

Promoting a faith-based love for all creation.

If God does not delight in animal sacrifices, then why does it say that God was pleased by the aroma of burnt offerings?

This is a common misreading. What the scripture says is that God smelled the pleasing aroma and that the pleasing aromas were offered to God. Nowhere does it say God found the aromas pleasing.

“The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done”” (Genesis 8:21). In Leviticus 1:9, Leviticus 2:2, Leviticus 23:18, and elsewhere it speaks of burnt offerings and their pleasing aromas being offered to God. I can see how someone would misunderstand these passages as saying God was pleased by the aromas, but if we consider a related passage in Ezekiel, it becomes clear that this is a misunderstanding.

Ezekiel 6:13 says: “And you shall know that I am the LORD, when their slain lie among their idols around their altars, on every high hill, on all the mountaintops, under every green tree, and under every leafy oak, wherever they offered pleasing aroma to all their idols.”

In this passage people are making sacrifices and offering the pleasing aromas to the idols they worship. If we are to understand this passage as suggesting that the idols are pleased by the aromas, this would conflict with what David says about idols in Psalm 115:4-6, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.” If idols cannot smell (or see or hear or think or act or do anything), then how are the idols to determine that the aromas as pleasing? Simply put, they can’t. This idea of idols being inert and unaware is repeated in Habakkuk 2:18 and 1 Corinthians 12:2.

So why then are the aromas described as pleasing if not pleasing to the recipient of the offering? To answer this question, let us consider the description of the fruit from the tree God told Adam and Eve not to eat from: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). It was clearly not pleasing to God that they disobeyed God and ate from the tree they were instructed not to eat from, just as it was not pleasing to God that Noah deviated from God’s instructions and built an altar and began burning animals on it. Yet in both instances the object that allures humans away from God’s instructions is described as pleasing to the senses.

Unlike the interpretation that the recipient of the offering is pleased by the aromas, this reading of “pleasing aroma” as pleasing to the senses does not lead to a contradiction when considering the passage in Ezekiel about pleasing aromas being offered to idols. It also makes a lot more sense in the context of a theme throughout the New Testament of pitting the desires of the flesh against the will of the spirit (Galatians 5:17). As Paul puts it, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5). The pleasing aroma is pleasing to the flesh. What is pleasing to God is for us “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).

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