"Does God really get hungry and have
to eat food?"
this question in the inbox:
Can you help me? My husband ran across something on the web that has bothered him, and I thought I would ask you.
He read something that basically said/implied that the God of the Bible could actually starve to death if He didn’t get his food from the Israelites (or something like that). And that this God-has-to-eat-to-survive idea was basically taken over from the Sumerians -- without the Israelites even thinking about it or questioning the absurdity of the idea.
Here's the passage that bothered him the most:
"God declares in the Holy Bible that his priests will daily prepare his food and drink for his consumption. The feeding of God begins at Mount Sinai with the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood. As is quite clear from the prophet Ezekiel God is to be fed by his priests for all of eternity upon the return from Exile. Why does God "need" to consume food and drink? This question is never asked in the Bible. The purpose of food and drink is to sustain mortal life. Mortals will die if they have nothing to eat and drink, but a God presented as being immortal shouldn't "need" food and drink daily to survive. The answer to this "mystery" is surprising: Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia and in this region it was believed in myths that the god had made man to care for their city-gardens in the Edin of Sumer and present them daily in sacrifices at temples the harvested food for the gods to dine upon. But wait a minute you say, aren't the gods immortal? They shouldn't need to eat in order to stay alive, should they? Wrong! The early myths have the gods possessing bodies of flesh, they can be killed and wind up after death in Edin-the Underworld. While alive in the Edin of Sumer, they need to eat to keep their fleshly bodies alive. Hence the reason they created their gardens of Edin and placed in them fruit trees, vegetables, and grain for bread. Later, tiring of the work in caring for their gardens they create man. Man will care for their gardens and raise animals to be slaughtered and fed to the gods like fowl, sheep, and cattle. The Hebrews never question "why" their God, Yahweh-Elohim, had to be fed a meal twice a day, they just accepted the Mesopotamian (Sumerian) not that one of man's duties was to feed the gods. Christians understand that after their deaths the resurrected righteous will dwell with God in Eden and eat and drink once again. According to Christian belief the resurrected righteous will be given eternal life, they will be immortal like God. If they are immortal why should they need to eat and drink? This makes no sense and is but another example of religious nonsense! The Christian notion that after death, man will eat and drink once again is not a new concept. The Mesopotamians understood that after death the dead, good and evil, who dwelt in Edin-the-Underworld would continue to eat and drink (eat clay and drink muddy water in the underworld). Ezekiel describes in great detail the feeding of God in the post Exilic Messianic Age at the Temple (Ez 37:21-26; 44:7, 15)."
How would you answer this? Particularly the question, "Why does God 'need' to consume food and drink?"
Thanks for your question, friend. I will have to confine myself to the part of the question about 'God', though.
[The data on angels and post-mortem humans simply indicates that they can enjoy food if they want to, but that they do not have to for sustenance--but that is a different set of data and is much more 'speculative' than the biblical/historical data we have to work with on the Gastric-God part of the question.]
Before I dive into the examination of the 'food' passages in the Hebrew bible, let me make a couple of quick points about the alleged Sumerian borrowing/background suggested by the quote.
First of all, let me point out that the idea of the Hebrews 'borrowing from' the Sumerian/Babylonian creation stories is examined in detail in my earlier series ("Is Genesis merely a rip-off of other ANE lit?", at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/gilgymess.html ). I go through every single piece of extant ANE cosmogonic literature and come up with the same conclusions of majority scholarship--that there is "little similarity within the cosmological materials" (Walton, AILCC:229).
Second, the Hebrew creation accounts have a very, very different view of the purpose of the creation of humanity. Never once does it ascribe our creation as for the purpose of the 'maintenance of the gods'.
For the Sumerian sources, Kramer's description of the difference is still accurate (Sumerian Mythology, p69, 72f):
"Among the oldest known conceptions of the creation of man are those of the Hebrews and the Babylonians; the former is narrated in the book of Genesis, the latter forms part of the Babylonian "Epic of Creation." According to the Biblical story, or at least according to one of its versions, man was fashioned from clay for the purpose of ruling over all the animals. In the Babylonian myth, man was made of the blood of one of the more troublesome of the gods who was killed for that purpose; he was created primarily in order to serve the gods and free them from the need of working for their bread. According to our Sumerian poem, which antedates both the Hebrew and the Babylonian versions by more than a millennium, man was fashioned of clay as in the Biblical version. The purpose for which he was created, however, was to free the gods from laboring for their sustenance, as in the Babylonian version.
"In addition to the creation poem outlined above, a detailed description of the purpose for which mankind was created is given in the introduction to the myth '' Cattle and Grain"; it runs as follows. After the Anunnaki, the heaven-gods, had been born, but before the creation of Lahar, the cattle-god, and Ashnan, the grain-goddess, there existed neither cattle nor grain. The gods therefore "knew not" the eating of bread nor the dressing of garments. The cattle-god Lahar and the grain-goddess Ashnan were then created in the creation chamber of heaven, but still the gods remained unsated. It was then that man '' was given breath," for the sake of the welfare of the sheepfolds and "good things" of the gods.
from the "Cattle and Grain" piece:
This picture is obviously different from most of the other ANE accounts, I might add. Many of the (mostly later) accounts portray the gods as already experiencing food, clothing, bread, etc. before the creation of humanity. It portrays the lower gods as complaining about how hard they worked to feed the upper gods--hence the creation of humanity to do the 'heavy lifting'. But this is different from the above early Sumerian account, in which the gods had not even known 'real meals'. They ate like animals (with their mouth like sheep), drank like animals (from the ditch), and wore no clothing (the dressing of garments). But even in this account, humanity was created for the 'maintenance of the gods'. And hence, the distinction Kramer makes still holds: the purpose of the creation of humanity in the Hebrew bible is different from that in the Sumerian and Babylonian stories.
Walton [HI:AILCC:29f] can state the matter broadly--in context of both Sumerian and other Mesopotamian literatures:
"Purpose of humanity. The cuneiform literature [TN: the extra-biblical ANE literature] everywhere agrees that people were created to do the work the gods were tired of doing and to provide for the gods' needs… It was assumed that the gods needed people. It is from this philosophy that the Mesopotamian person derived his dignity and found his metaphysical worth. "In the last resort, man was lord of all: the proper functioning of the universe itself depended upon man's maintaining agriculture, supporting the temples, and providing the gods with their sustenance (sacrifices)." So while Israelites viewed man as created to rule, Mesopotamians viewed him as created to serve. The only hint of a service element in the Genesis narrative is the instruction to Adam to care for the garden.
"The fact that the Israelites viewed man as the centerpiece of creation afforded him a certain dignity, undergirded by the fact that he was created in the image of God. In contrast, Mesopotamians did not see man as created with dignity. Human beings achieved their dignity by the function they served. In Israelite thought, the created world was man-centered. This was not the case in Mesopotamian thinking. … Humanity was an unplanned afterthought, created for the sake of convenience. This is contrary to the biblical viewpoint in every way."
So, we should remember going into our study that--in contrast to the ANE worldview-- there is no biblical evidence whatsoever that humanity was created to feed an always-famished God too tired to prepare His own meals…
With that as background, let's look at the 'food' and 'food-related' passages in the Hebrew Bible and see how closely they compare with the ANE beliefs.
First, let's look at the food-of-God passages to see if they actually say that God either needs the food, or eats the food (like pagan deities were thought to).
Here is the complete list of verses mentioning 'food/bread' in relation to gifts, offerings, and sacrifices:
Exodus 29:23 and one cake of bread and one cake of bread mixed with oil and one wafer from the basket of unleavened bread which is set before the Lord;
Exodus 40:23 He set the arrangement of bread in order on it before the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
Leviticus 3:11 ‘Then the priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar as food, an offering by fire to the Lord.
Leviticus 21:6 ‘They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they present the offerings by fire to the Lord, the food of their God; so they shall be holy.
Leviticus 21:8 ‘You shall consecrate him, therefore, for he offers the food of your God; he shall be holy to you; for I the Lord, who sanctifies you, am holy.
Leviticus 21:17 “Speak to Aaron, saying, ‘No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God.
Leviticus 21:21 ‘No man among the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a defect is to come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a defect, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God.
Leviticus 21:22 ‘He may eat the food of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy,
Leviticus 22:25 nor shall you accept any such from the hand of a foreigner for offering as the food of your God; for their corruption is in them, they have a defect, they shall not be accepted for you.’ ”
Leviticus 23:18 ‘Along with the bread you shall present seven one year old male lambs without defect, and a bull of the herd and two rams; they are to be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord.
Leviticus 23:20 ‘The priest shall then wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering with two lambs before the Lord; they are to be holy to the Lord for the priest.
Leviticus 24:7 “You shall put pure frankincense on each row that it may be a memorial portion for the bread, even an offering by fire to the Lord.
Numbers 28.2 Command the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at their appointed time.’
Numbers 28:24 ‘After this manner you shall present daily, for seven days, the food of the offering by fire, of a soothing aroma to the Lord; it shall be presented with its drink offering in addition to the continual burnt offering.
Ezekiel 16:19 “Also My bread which I gave you, fine flour, oil and honey with which I fed you, you would offer before them (tn: pagan deities) for a soothing aroma; so it happened,” declares the Lord God.
Ezekiel 44:7 when you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in My sanctuary to profane it, even My house, when you offered My food, the fat and the blood; for they made My covenant void—this in addition to all your abominations
Hosea 9:4 They will not pour out drink offerings of wine to the Lord, Their sacrifices will not please Him. Their bread will be like mourners’ bread; All who eat of it will be defiled, For their bread will be for themselves alone; It will not enter the house of the Lord.
Malachi 1:7 “You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’
Malachi 1:12 “But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’
Malachi 3:10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
We will look at some of these passages in more detail below but we can make some obvious observations now:
So, at first blush, the assertion that God 'needs' or 'eats' food (as a carryover from the ANE background doesn’t hold up--the biblical data is silent on that (in these passages).
Next, we should note that the Hebrew Bible never actually uses the word 'eat' (Akal) with God as the subject (except in the satirical/polemical passages we look at below, and in the exceptional theophany-case of the Angel of the Lord in Genesis 18)--whereas the ANE gods (both high and low) were said to actually hunger and eat:
From Akkadian/Mesopotamian sources (Atrahasis):
From Hittite sources (The Wrath of Telipinu):
The mountains dried up. The trees dried up, so that buds do not come forth. The pastures dried up. The springs dried up. Famine appeared in the land. Humans and gods perish from hunger. The great Sun-god prepared a feast and invited the Thousand Gods. They ate but were not sated; they drank but were not satisfied. (A i 16´-20´)
From Hittite-Hurrian sources (ESTABLISHING A NEW TEMPLE FOR THE GODDESS OF THE NIGHT)
They offer the ritual of blood with a kid. Afterward, they offer the ritual of praise with a lamb. Afterward the lamb is burned for the ambašši– (ritual). Afterward, with (the help of) a table man, they bring for the deity all the stews, one warm bread of ½ ŠATI, one loaf (made of) GÚG, one sweet bread of one handful, one jug of beer, one pitcher of wine and give to the deity to eat.
Ugaritic sources (The Balu myth, I 19-29)
In contrast, the only time 'eat' (akal) is used of God (out of 788 occurrences in the Hebrew bible) is in Ex 33.3 where God threatened to 'consume' the people of Israel for their stubborn sin!
Next, the passages which indicate the opposite: that God neither needs nor eats food:
Scholars consistently point out that this differs dramatically from the beliefs of the non-Israelites, and forms a theme throughout the bible about the symbolic or ritual nature--instead of literal--of the sacrifices:
"50:8–15. ideology of sacrifice. A proper understanding of the purpose of sacrifice is outlined in this psalm. This is intended to serve as a contrasting ideology to the sacrificial practices of Israel’s neighbors. Two points are emphasized here. First, God does not need to be sustained with food like the gods of Mesopotamia and Egypt (as in the Gilgamesh flood epic, where the gods flock like starving flies to Utnapishtim’s sacrifice). Second, and perhaps more important, is that the Israelites have an obligation to God to make “thank offerings” as a sign of their acknowledgment of the covenant” (Mic 6:8). [ZIBBCOT, in loc]
"Do I eat? (50:13). Among Israel’s neighbors, part of the concept of an offering was that it fed the gods. Mesopotamian and Egyptian hymns credit the chief god with providing agricultural produce as meals for other gods. In Mesopotamian myth, humans were created to bear the labor of tending orchards and fields that provide food for offerings. So priests were largely occupied with the “care and feeding of the gods.” … One of the best illustrations of this is the Mesopotamian flood story recounted in the Epic of Gilgamesh. During the flood, when no humans were on land to make offerings, the gods became hungry. Consequently, after the flood waters receded and the Mesopotamian “Noah” built an altar for sacrifices, “the gods did smell the savour, the gods did smell the savour sweet, the gods gathered like flies around the man making the sacrifice.” … A Hittite prayer (ca. 1300 B.C.) invites the goddess to draw near, being enticed by the fresh aroma of the sacrifice: “Let the sweet odor … summon you. Return to your temple!… be pacified [i.e., satisfied] and listen.” Among the Canaanites, Baal is the one who “fattens gods and men”; that is, he provides fertility for crops and livestock that become offerings. In the Ugaritic royal stories Kirta and Aqhat, the sacrifices of the king to the gods are called “food.” … The Old Testament also suggests that sacrifices and drink offerings are food for God (Lev. 3:11, 16; Num. 28:2; Judg. 9:13). However, unlike the Mesopotamian texts noted above, Psalm 50 categorically denies that God needs these sacrifices for his survival. Rather, sacrifices were symbolic meals that allowed worshipers the opportunity to give something to God and enhance fellowship, as well as provide a means of atonement. This emphasis is evident in 50:14, which commands the sacrifice of thank offerings as a fulfillment of vows." [ZIBBCOT, in loc.]
"The essence of the divine speech concerns the meaning and purpose of sacrifices, and it was vital that the people have the meaning clear in their minds before the actual sacrifices were offered later in the day. God did not need sacrifices; the people did need them. God possessed already all the animals of the world, birds and beasts, domestic and wild (vv 10–11). He had no pressing need for an extra steer or a couple of billy goats, as if he were running short of provisions (v 13)! From one perspective, the language is comical, for it presupposes a rather weak and hungry God, waiting desperately for the next sacrifice to fill his belly, but the power of the language comes from its nature as caricature. To think of sacrifices as something that God literally required was precisely to reduce God to this absurdly hungry deity; yet a superficial and formal offering of sacrifices, based on obedience to stipulations and nothing else, was tantamount to such a view of God. The essence of the whole sacrificial system was to be found in “thanksgiving” and the fulfillment of “vows” (v 14); for at root, the covenant community did not exist for the temple, but the temple and its cult existed only as an avenue through which the worship and thanksgiving of the covenant people could be directed to God. Covenant was a relationship with God; thanksgiving to God could be expressed through the sacrificial cult, thereby enriching the relationship. And when the relationship with God was healthy, then the people in turn could confidently call upon God in times of distress and experience his deliverance and salvation (v 15). " [WBC, in loc]
"The charge God lays against them is not concerned with sacrifice as such (v. 8; for sacrifice and burnt offering, see 40:6) but with the attitude which lies behind the people’s bringing of sacrifices. They seem to think that God needs their sacrifices, that if he did not get his daily allotment of “bulls” and “goats” (v. 9) he would suffer from malnutrition. What nonsense! With irony and not a little amusement, God points out that he has his own well-stocked larder to draw from. The wild animals in the forests, the cattle who roam the hills in their thousands (cf. REB), all the birds in the air (here the NRSV follows the early versions, reading “air” or heavens for “mountains”), the teeming life in the fields—all belong to me, says God. In any case, if I were hungry, do you think I would tell you? We are reminded of Deut. 32:37–38, which contains a satirical attack upon the gods of other nations “who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their libations” and were powerless. In the sacrificial ritual of Israel, either the whole sacrifice or the choice parts of it were offered to God on the altar. Some of the language used to describe this—for example, “food offered to the LORD” (Lev. 3:11)—could lead to misunderstanding. This very psalm is evidence that such misunderstanding happened. Over against this, the psalm stresses one vital point which, in its broadest terms, we may put as follows: God does not need our worship, but we need to worship God. God would still be God if we offered him nothing, but we would not be truly human if we did not make an offering. Sacrifice should have been food for thought, not food for God. That is why the essence of true worship is spelled out in terms of a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” and the paying of “vows” (v. 14). Both “thanksgiving” and “vows” are recognized sacrifices (cf. 22:25), but such sacrifices are meaningless unless they are the expression of inner thanksgiving for the way God has enriched life and of the vows or promises made to God which must be kept. " [Davidson, R., M.A. (1998). The vitality of worship : A commentary on the book of Psalms (164–165). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Edinburgh: W.B. Eerdmans; Handsel Press.]
And then there is a whole string of passages which indicate that God does not even want 'non-symbolic' sacrifices--that He is obviously not interested in the 'food' per se (which would have the same 'caloric value' whether the worshipper was sincere or not, righteous or not), but in the attitude of the one who brings the offering/sacrifice.
"This was the kind of religion to which Isaiah and the other prophets objected. Of what use to God were sacrifices and festivals, sabbaths and blood, if they were not accompanied by the kind of devotion that manifested itself in lives lived according to his holiness? Such sacrifices were not pleasing to God; they were an abomination (v. 13). He was not happy they had come into his courts; he wished they would leave (v. 12). He did not find their endless worship services a pleasure; rather, they were a terrible burden (v. 14). The repetition of terms throughout the passage contributes to the general atmosphere. The reader (or listener) gets the impression of an endless round of activities all repeated continuously to no effect. The weariness of God becomes palpable. [NICOT, in loc
"The multitude of zebâchim, i.e., animal sacrifices, had no worth at all to Him. As the whole worship is summed up here in one single act, zebâchim appears to denote the shelamim, peace-offerings (or better still, communion offerings), with which a meal was associated, after the style of a sacrificial festival, and Jehovah gave the worshipper a share in the sacrifice offered. It is better, however, to take zebachim as the general name for all the bleeding sacrifices, which are then subdivided into ’oloth and cheleb, as consisting partly of whole offerings, or offerings the whole of which was placed upon the altar, though in separate pieces, and entirely consumed, and partly of those sacrifices in which only the fat was consumed upon the altar, namely the sin-offerings, trespass-offerings, and pre-eminently the shelâmim offerings. Of the sacrificial animals mentioned, the bullocks (pârim) and fed beasts (meri’im, fattened calves) are species of oxen (bakar); and the lambs (cebâshim) and he-goats (atturim, young he-goats, as distinguished from se’ir, the old long-haired he-goat, the animal used as a sin-offering), together with the ram (ayil, the customary whole offering of the high priest, of the tribe prince, and of the nation generally on all the high feast days), were species of the flock. The blood of these sacrificial animals—such, for example, as the young oxen, sheep, and he-goats—was thrown all around the altar in the case of the whole offering, the peace-offering, and the trespass-offering; in that of the sin-offering it was smeared upon the horns of the altar, poured out at the foot of the altar, and in some instances sprinkled upon the walls of the altar, or against the vessels of the inner sanctuary. Of such offerings as these Jehovah was weary, and He wanted no more (the two perfects denote that which long has been and still is: Ges. § 126, 3); in fact, He never had desired anything of the kind. [KD, in loc]
"Sacrifices … offerings (1:11). Creation traditions in Egypt and Mesopotamia portrayed humanity as servants or cattle of the gods. Specifically, they were to provide food for the gods, relieving them of having to look after themselves. The means for doing so was sacrifice, at times identified as “food for the gods.” Official Yahwism denied this function to Israel’s sacrificial system, rarely describing the altar as God’s “table,” since he did not eat. A “table” was common in Mesopotamian ritual practice, as when King Rimush “established as regular offerings per day for the table of Shamash.” Popular Israelite religion frequently forgot that God was not actually fed through sacrifice and sought to manipulate him through such offerings. It is this misuse of ritual that Isaiah and Amos condemn. [ZIBBCOT, in loc]
"burnt offerings. Burnt offerings usually accompany petition. Many in the ancient world viewed sacrifice as providing food for the gods. If one had a special request to set before the gods, it was judged proper protocol to provide a meal. In Israel even though the burnt offerings were associated with petitions, the “meal for the gods” mentality had been theoretically discarded. As Isaiah and other prophets demonstrate, however, the revised view had not taken hold very firmly and there were frequent lapses into the popular syncretism. The problem with the “feeding the gods” mentality was that it presupposed that God had needs that worshipers could meet and therefore procure his favor. [OT:BBCALL, in loc]
"(11) This verse makes three assertions: for all their plenitude, these sacrifices mean nothing to the Lord (what are they to me?); add nothing (I have more than enough) and do nothing (I have no pleasure in the blood). Blood was the core effectiveness of the sacrificial system (see e.g. Lv. 17:11) but here it failed to touch the heart of God. Says the LORD is in the imperfect tense and has the sense of 'keeps saying'. It is a matter so important to the Lord that he would drive it home by reiteration. Fattened animals were those reared specially for sacrifice and were the most expensive of beasts. The verb hopes (I have no pleasure) occurs in 53:10 (NIV 'it was the LORD'S will'). Before Isaiah is finished he will have revealed a sacrifice in which the Lord does delight. But how can the Lord so persistently reject their sacrifices? Verses 12-15 supply the answer. (12) If Isaiah were denying that the sacrifices as such lacked divine authorization he would not here describe the temple as my courts. The Lord claims the house of sacrifice as his while at the same time rejecting the current sacrifices as something for which he never asked ( 'sought'). The divine purpose in the sacrificial system is for his people to appear before me (cf. Ex. 23:17; 34:23) or, with altered vowels, 'to see my face' (cf. the same alternatives in Ex. 23:15; 34:20; Dt. 16:16; 31:11). Both ideas are biblical and express the wonder of worship. All had, however, been reduced to a trampling of my courts, which may be a reference to the abundant animals brought for sacrifice or to the mere physical attendance of those who brought them. This was all there was to it - the noise of feet on a pavement. A religion of rite and formalism has no divine authorization. (13) It is strong language to describe their temple worship as meaningless, detestable and unbearable! The accusation is not now of formalism (as in verse 12) but of religious commitment devoid of ethical resolve. Your evil assemblies is lit. 'iniquity and obligatory assembly' in Skinner's memorable description it is the 'unholy alliance' of religious duty and personal iniquity. Cf. Jeremiah's accusation that they had made the Lord's house a robbers' den (Je. 7:11) - a place to which they went as robbers and from which they came as robbers, a place of security without a moral intention to reform. Meaningless offerings is 'a gift of nothing'. The inclusion of the Sabbath shows that Isaiah is condemning not the thing itself - how could he dismiss the Sabbath as lacking divine authority? - but its misuse (see his own commentary in chapter 58). Assemblies is from a root meaning 'to restrain' and hence contains the idea of an imposed obligation. (14) My soul hates is equivalent to "hate with all my heart'. Become implies that once the festivals were no burden and is a further indication that Isaiah is challenging current abuse not the validity of the sacrificial system as such. Hence he decries your festivals - the festivals as you practise them. They had replaced the principle of conformity to the will of God with the principle of practising what was acceptable and helpful to themselves (cf. Am. 4:4-5)." [Moyer, IVP, in loc]
(1) If God needed to eat, this passage wouldn’t make much sense--It says that the material-only sacrifices were of 'no use' to God;
(2) If some of the common Israelites believed God 'ate food', then this passage shows that God disagreed with them ;
(3) The fact that God did not want 'material food' if it was not accompanied by moral goodness and proper hearts indicates that 'caloric intake' was not a big issue to God (and therefore not a real 'need' at all).
Commentators note that Israel had consistently/physically made sacrifices to the Lord, but that they never 'reached Him' because of the anti-Yahweh hearts of those who offered them:
"23–24 Using typical terms from the sacrificial system (cf. Jer. 6:20), the author proceeds to say that it was not really these things that the people of Israel had brought to God, but their moral and ethical iniquities. If they are weary of the pointless rituals, how much more is God. What this all speaks to is the symbolic nature of ritual in the OT. Without question God had commanded all these rituals, and had commanded them in some detail, with specific punishments for the failure to perform them. But the rituals themselves were not what God wanted, and thus he could say here and elsewhere that he had not commanded them (Amos 5:25–26; Jer. 7:22). What he really wanted was a people with whom he could have fellowship because their characters reflected his own. The rituals were useful representations of lives surrendered to him, and likewise they could represent the nature of what God had done and would do through his Son to make such fellowship possible, but the symbols themselves had no effectual force. There is no indication that the other peoples of the ancient Near East ever made such a distinction. This is not to say that they could not, but rather that they did not. Of what use was a ritual that did not, in and of itself, produce the desired result? The very purpose of ritual in the history of religion has been to appease the gods and satisfy any claims they may have on us so that we may use the power of the gods to pursue our own goals. To suggest that there is a hard-and-fast boundary between the symbol and that which it represents is to place God beyond the realm of our manipulation, and this is a profoundly distasteful result for a proud human heart bent on achieving security independent of all else. … The parallelism of the two verses reinforces the power of the conclusion of v. 24. Each of the verses begins with two negative clauses asserting what the people have not done. Several writers (e.g., Young) have commented on the excessive language of the second negative phrase in v. 24. The people most assuredly had drenched the altars of God with the fat, the most desirable part, of their sacrifices (cf., e.g., 2 Chr. 7:5), but God asserts that none of it had touched him. The second bicolon in each verse uses the same verb forms in the same order, but with two exceptions: the subjects and objects are exactly reversed; and whereas v. 23 has negations, v. 24 has affirmations. The point is this: God had not enslaved and wearied his people with arduous ritual. But they have enslaved and wearied God with their sins and iniquities. Anyone who blurred the distinction between symbol and reality would have difficulty with this statement. [NICOT, in loc]
"The only remaining possibility seems to be that they did indeed sacrifice but their sacrifices were rendered ineffectual through their sins (e.g. Whybray 1975:91, Westermann 1969, 130–31). Adding plausibility to this option is the play on the verb ʿbd (Hiphil) in 23b and 24b: “I did not burden you (also: make you serve liturgically) with the cereal offering”; “you burdened me (also: offered service to me—suffix as indirect object) with your sins”; in other words: you served me up your sins instead of sacrifice; your sins got through to me, but your sacrifices did not. This theme of inauthentic sacrifice is also well attested in prophetic writings (e.g. Isa 1:10–17), shading off at times into a questioning of the practice as such (e.g. Jer 7:21–26; Amos 5:25). [Blenkinsopp, J. (2008). Isaiah 40-55: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (231). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]
"The Egyptians forced the people into slavery, but the Lord's purpose was to bring them to liberty (Ex. 20:2, 'out of the house of slaves'). It was for this reason he gave them his law, moral and cultic, so that by obedience they might enjoy freedom (Ps. 119:45). But in l:10ff. Isaiah complains that the people had used the means of liberty to bring themselves into a new, cultic bondage, a religion of incessant observance. By making ritual the exclusive content of religion they had actually excluded themselves from the benefits the sacrifices were intended to bring. Ritual divorced from moral and spiritual commitment neither satisfies God nor blesses his people. Indeed to the contrary, for they were acting as if their ritual was a technique for manipulating blessing, putting the Lord at their beck and call. Thus they made a slave of him! … The Lord called his people into his fellowship and this involved hearing and obeying his word (Ex. 19:5), but they chose another way (30:9-11). To walk with the Holy One was too costly, and they settled for the softer and more exciting option of religious fervour. But in the intention of God the sacrificial system was meant to meet the needs of people as they discovered their inability to live up to the law and their constant need for forgiveness and restoration. Thus the sacrifices were designed for relief, delight and home-coming to God. By opting for a mere ritual and evacuating the sacrifices of their power they remained in their sin and as such were a constant weariness to the Holy One. Thus Isaiah's message in these verses is the same as in l:10ff. There was much religious fervour but no religious reality. At the point where they might have expected to please God they wearied him (24; 1:14); where they most zealously assumed themselves to be right they were proving only that they were still in their sin." [OT:TPI, in loc]
(1) The sacrifices were symbolic, not material per se;
(2) All of their material sacrifices never even 'reached up' to God, since they were offered without a proper heart--"Caloric value notwithstanding";
(3) If some Israelites believed it was about 'buying God off' by the 'maintenance of the gods', they were wrong--the food 'drove God away' instead of what they expected.
I Samuel 15:22:
Commentators rightly point out that this passage is not a repudiation of God's earlier instructions to offer sacrifices, but rather that the sacrifices were not really about the physical part of the ritual:
"By saying this, Samuel did not reject sacrifices as worthless; he did not say that God took no pleasure in burnt-offerings and slain-offerings, but simply compared sacrifice with obedience to the command of God, and pronounced the latter of greater worth than the former. “It was as much as to say that the sum and substance of divine worship consisted in obedience, with which it should always begin, and that sacrifices were, so to speak, simple appendices, the force and worth of which were not so great as of obedience to the precepts of God” (Calvin). But it necessarily follows that sacrifices without obedience to the commandments of God are utterly worthless; in fact, are displeasing to God, as Ps. 50:8ff., Isa. 1:11ff., 66:3, Jer. 6:20, and all the prophets, distinctly affirm. [KD, in loc]
"As in the other prophetic passages, Samuel is not here denying the total system of sacrificial offerings itself. The prophets indeed attacked the abuses of the sacrificial system (see Isa. 1:11–15; 66:3; Jer. 7:21–22; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21–22; Mic. 6:6–8), but as 1 Sam. 2:29 says, “sacrifice and offering” are commanded by the Lord. In the present occasion, Saul was specifically commanded to perform the “ban” against the Amalekites, the enemy of the Lord. No sacrifice, whatever the best it may be, can substitute for obedience to this command as God’s anointed king. [NICOT, in loc]
"Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings …? The rhetorical question is a polemic for “obedience to the LORD’s command”—meaning here, fulfillment of the divine proscription. The language derives from prophetic rhetoric. Thus the same term ḥefetz (delight) is used in other prophetic polemics against sacrifice, but for other reasons. Thus Hosea says on behalf of God, “For I desire [ḥafatzti] goodness, not sacrifice; obedience to God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6). Also privileging morality over the cult, Isaiah contends, “ ‘What need have I of all your sacrifices?’ says the LORD.… ‘I have no delight [ḥafatzti] in lambs and he-goats’ ” (Isa. 1:11; see vv. 16–17 for the moral charge). [Fishbane, M. A. (2002). Haftarot. The JPS Bible commentary (347–348). Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.]
"Samuel’s response in vv 22–23 is couched in Hebrew poetry (was it once preserved independently of the narrative?). The opening question in v 22a specifies the accusation: what Yahweh wanted was obedience to his voice, not burnt offerings and communion sacrifices. Obedience is said to be better than sacrifice in such prophetic texts as Isa 1:10–11, 13; Jer 7:21–26; Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21–24; and Mic 6:6–8; cf. Ps 50:9; 51:18 [EVV. 16]; and Mark 12:28–34. The fat around the entrails and kidneys and the fat tail of sheep were burned up, even in the communion sacrifice. All fat belonged to Yahweh (Lev 3:16–17; 7:23–25), but all such ritual observance is inferior to hearkening." [WBC]
"Verse 22a asks a rhetorical question that is then answered in v.22b. The seriousness of disobedience is underscored in v.23a, and devastating application is made to Saul’s situation in v.23b. The vocabulary of v.22 reverberates throughout Isaiah 1:11: “The LORD” takes no “pleasure” (same Heb. root as “delight” in v.22) in “sacrifices” or “burnt offerings,” in “rams” or the “fat” of other animals. On the other hand, mutual “delight” between God and his children can be expected when the righteous among them meditate on his law (Ps 1:2) and heed his words as mediated through his prophets. [EBC, in loc]
(1) God cannot 'eat' obedience, but He would rather have that than have 'material food';
(2) Disobedience--even when accompanied by calories-for-God -- is a serious crime (like true witchcraft was).
Commentators note that this is a classical statement of how meaningless 'bare food' was for God--that the 'care and feeding of the gods' motif had no place in God's expectations or in His 'theology':
"God’s burning anger was directed mostly against Israel’s religious hypocrisy. He hated, He despised (the repetition indicates vehemence and passion) their religious feasts—the three pilgrimage festivals of Unleavened Bread, Harvest (Weeks), and Ingathering (Tabernacles) which were celebrated annually at the sanctuary (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:18-24; Lev. 23; Deut. 16:1-17). He could not stand (lit., “smell”) the offerings of their assemblies. Though they continually brought Him burnt offerings (Lev. 1) and grain offerings (Lev. 2), He would not accept them as legitimate sacrifices. Though they brought choice fellowship offerings (Lev. 3), He would have no regard for or awareness of them. He loathed every part of their religious worship (see comments on Amos 4:4-5). [BKC, in loc]
"The shock felt by the people when Amos so vehemently attacked their comforting eschatology was immediately followed by another shock. The prophet turned to their worship and in words of burning eloquence proclaimed Yahweh’s hatred of their religious observances. Amos used the same word (śānēʾ, “hate”) earlier to describe the attitude Israel should have toward evil (v.15). He applied that word here to the very things they thought pleased the Lord. The routine observance of the Levitical ritual was empty because the people lacked the love, concern, and humble obedience to God that marks sincere profession of faith. Their religion was a mockery of true religion. Every aspect of their ritual was an act of disobedience because it ignored the heart of the law—love for God and concern for others. 22–23 The people may, Amos said, continue to bring sacrifices, but the Lord would not accept them (v.22). The “burnt offering” (ʿōlāh) is the offering that was entirely consumed. The “grain offering” (minḥāh) was any offering given as a gift to the Lord. However, sometimes the term specifies only the grain offering. The “fellowship offering” (šelem) was offered in part to the Lord and the rest shared with the offerer, his family, and his friends. Even their songs were a source of revulsion to the Lord. God says they were to be put away from him (mēʿālay, v.23). [EBC]
"The observance of the feast culminated in the sacrifices. God did not like the feasts, because He had no pleasure in the sacrifices. In v. 23a the two kinds of sacrifice, ’ōlâh and minchâh, are divided between the protasis and apodosis, which gives rise to a certain incongruity. The sentences, if written fully, would read thus: When ye offer me burnt-offerings and meat-offerings, I have no pleasure in your burnt-offerings and meat-offerings. To these two kinds the shelem, the health-offering or peace-offering, is added as a third class in v. 22b. 'fattened things', generally mentioned along with bâqâr as one particular species, for fattened calves (see Isa. 1:11). [KD]
"Whereas v 21 mentions the feast aspect of the Northern cult, v 22 specifically mentions the sacrifices. The traditional triad of burnt offerings (עלות, cf. Lev 1), grain offerings (מנחות, cf. Lev 2) and the communion meal (שלם, cf. Lev 3) are all now objectionable. God’s refusal to “accept” (רצה) sacrifices any longer reflects also the language of Leviticus in regard to proper/improper offerings (Lev 19:5–7). [v23] Yahweh has already rejected the cult’s feasts and its sacrifices. Here he rejects even its praise. Vocal and instrumental music were integral to worship in OT time (Ps 150; Ezra 2:65; 1 Chr 15:16–24; 2 Chr 5:13; 23:13; Isa 5:12; Dan 3:5–15). But now Israel’s God will neither look at (נבט, hiphil, v 22) or listen to (שמע) his people’s worship (cf. Deut. 31:17, 18; 32:20).  Israel’s God requires regular, consistent keeping of the covenant. Sacrifices and other elements of worship (vv 22, 23) constituted occasional, intermittent righteousness and were rejected because they were not complemented by proper living in general. A society truly in harmony with Yahweh’s will must practice justice (משפט) and righteousness (צדקה; on this standard combination, cf. 5:7; 6:12) routinely: always and everywhere. It is in the nature of a covenant that it cannot be kept merely now and again. For example, no one can say, “I keep my marriage covenant; I commit adultery only every few days and the rest of the time am completely faithful to my spouse.” Likewise the Israelite’s implicit argument was ludicrous: “I keep Yahweh’s covenant. I misuse and abuse others only some of the time and otherwise faithfully worship Yahweh.” Canaanite cultic religion allowed people to be personally immoral and unethical; they could still be right with the gods if they merely supported the cult enthusiastically. Yahweh’s covenant denied his people any such option (cf. Matt 7:21–23). Justice and righteousness cannot stop and start like a wilderness wadi that flows with water only during the rainy seasons and otherwise is just a dry stream bed. They must instead continue night and day, all year, like the נחל איתן (lit., “strong stream”) that never goes dry." [WBC]
(1) Similar to the above, God would not accept 'bare food' offerings--it just wasn’t about that;
(2) God would not even 'look' at them--very odd if He were dependent on them.
This is a famous verse quoted by Jesus in the Gospels, and tries to focus the hearers on the true core of what the entire sacrificial/ritual laws of the OT was about--the knowledge of God and how we relate to Him:
"The reason why God was obliged to punish in this manner is given in the following verses. V. 6. “For I take pleasure in love, and not in sacrifices; and in the knowledge of God more than in burnt-offerings. …” Chesed is love to one’s neighbour, manifesting itself in righteousness, love which has its roots in the knowledge of God, and therefore is connected with “the knowledge of God” here as in Hos. 4:1. For the thought itself, compare the remarks on the similar declaration made by the prophet Samuel in 1 Sam. 15:22; and for parallels as to the fact, see Isa. 1:11–17, Mic. 6:8, Ps. 40:7–9, and Ps. 50:8ff., in all which passages it is not sacrifices in themselves, but simply the heartless sacrifices with which the wicked fancied they could cover their sins, that are here rejected as displeasing to God, and as abominations in His eyes. [KD]
"Yahweh’s words here amount to a rejection of the cult itself (curse type 2; cf. Lev 26:31) because it had become so unbalanced. The tendency to settle for a mechanistic, ritual-dependent religion of “motions” rather than of godly actions must again and again be attacked: compare Amos 5:21–24; Isa 1:12–17; Micah 6:6–8; Ps 51:16–17; Matt 9:13; 12:7 (cf. Hos 4:8, 13; 8:13). Declaring the sacrificial system meritless except as an adjunct to the “weightier matters of the law” was in effect the suzerain’s declaration to his vassal how the covenant was to be kept, and what its essential—as opposed to peripheral—demands were. [WBC]
"The prophet sounded a note given also by the other eighth-century prophets (cf. Isa 1:11–17; Amos 5:21–24; Mic 6:6–8): God desires true faith rather than empty sacrifice (cf. Matt 9:13; 12:7). This was not a denial of sacrifice as such but only of improper, faithless sacrifice. God had commanded the people to sacrifice, but the ceremony had to be marked by a proper attitude of heart; otherwise it was meaningless and worthless (cf. 5:6). The word for “mercy” is again ḥeseḏ (cf. v.4). The importance of “knowing God” is stressed as it had been in v.3. [EBC]
(1) The 'caloric value' of a sacrifice was not the issue--God wanted spiritual things instead;
(2) Sacrifices were supposed to be an expression of faith, not an empty ritual;
(3) All the prophets have made the same point, that the 'flesh' or 'substance' of the sacrifice had zero value and would not even be 'looked at' by God, without it being an extension of a worshipper's heart/spirit.
"If vv 6–8 are related to vv 1–5, they supply Israel’s response to the implied charge against her. She had displeased Yahweh but she claims ignorance. She asks God what he wants. What must she bring with her when she comes into his presence that will make her acceptable? This question represents one of the two basic ideas about religion. How can a man approach God? One answer is: with sacrifice, things, good works. The other answer is reflected in v 8. God requires not some external gifts from his worshiper, but a humble communicant who loves to serve God and practice justice toward his fellow-man. … The questions about sacrifice are comprehensive. Burnt offerings represented total dedication. Calves a year old represented the most desirable kind of sacrificial animal. Thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil represented lavish sacrifice. One’s first-born represents one’s most valuable possession. … The implied answer to all of these questions is that none of these things is required. Then what about the whole sacrificial system and cultic worship? Sacrifices were required in the Mosaic law (Lev 1–6). Is there no need for sacrifice? Yes, there is. What Micah was speaking about, and Isaiah (1:11–17), and Amos (5:21–24), and the Psalmist (40:6–8; 50:7–11; 51:16–17), was not that sacrifice was wrong, but in and of itself without a proper relationship to God and neighbor, sacrifice is useless. God has told man what he seeks from him. He has told him what is good: “To practice justice”; “to love devotion”; and “to walk humbly (wisely) with one’s God.” So when we come before God we must remember that it is not so much what is in our hands but what is in our hearts that finds expression in our conduct that is important. [WBC]
"Just what is acceptable to Yahweh? The worshipper is so eager to do his will, but he thinks he does not yet know it. He turns from quality of offering to quantity. Can it be that God requires hecatombs from Israel? These were mammoth offerings such as Solomon and other kings sometimes made, doubtless at state expense. Or would God like libations of gallons and gallons of oil? Oil was the ceremonial accompaniment of a number of offerings, obviously in relatively small quantities, but here its amount is rhetorically exaggerated. The series of hypothetical questions rises to a hysterical and ghastly crescendo in the ultimate offer of child sacrifice. Neighboring nations practiced the sacrifice of the firstborn, but in Israel an animal victim was substituted as a means of redemption. However, the pagan practice did creep in along with the worship of other gods. A god especially associated with child sacrifice was Molech, who was given a sanctuary called Topheth, “burning place,” somewhere on the southern side of Jerusalem, where the grisly rite was performed. Undoubtedly it was to this god that both Ahaz and Manasseh sacrificed their sons. It is hardly warranted to conclude that the practice was widespread at the time of the present composition, any more than that of offering rivers of oil by the ten thousand. Rather, as Wellhausen perceived, it is cited hypothetically as the logical climax of sacrifice, the acme of religious zeal, to be prepared to give one’s dearest possession to God. Here the purpose of this sacrifice is explicitly stated to be for sin and rebellion. If the worshipper has offended, he knows that atonement must be made for his sin; but how weighty are God’s demands? He yearns to find out. This part of the poem is obviously an extreme representation of an attitude prevalent in the prophet’s day, since the same enthusiasm for sacrifice is attested in Isaiah’s criticisms in Isa. 1:10–17." [NICOT]
Note that a 'hungry God' would have probably jumped at the opportunity to get "thousands of rams" or 'ten thousand rivers of oil"…
This messianic passage is referred to in the New Testament as applying to Jesus, but for our purposes here we need only to note that God's interest was not in the material sacrifices, but in how His people responded to Him and interacted with Him in the ritual process. Sacrifices were a 'good thing' when offered with 'open ears' and with a 'delight to do the will of God'--they were an expression of the spiritual needs of the worshipper and NOT some 'gastric needs' of God!
"The essential message of these verses, God’s preference for obedience over animal sacrifice, corresponds to what we find frequently in prophetic teaching (e.g., Amos 5:21–24; Mic. 6:6–8; Jer. 7:21–28; cf. 1 Sam. 15:22) and in other Psalms (cf. Psalms 50, 51). It would be a mistake to read such passages as a denial of the value or importance of the sacrificial cult. The different types of sacrifice were expressions of different spiritual needs. The “sacrifice” (zebaḥ) involved an animal offering and took the form of a shared meal, uniting God, the priests, and the worshippers in a sacramental relationship. The “offering” (minḥâ) was a gift, often of cereal, which could express gratitude for favors received or simply be a recognition of the worshippers’ status before God. The “burnt offering” (ʿōlâ), the sacrifice which went up (ʿālâ) to God as the whole of the animal was burnt on the altar, was an expression of the worshippers’ self-offering to God. The “sin offering” (ḥaṭṭāʾt) was designed to neutralize any accidental or unintentional offenses against God. The detailed regulations for the different kinds of sacrifice are found in Leviticus 1–7. … Worship in Israel, as in the ancient world in general, always involved such sacrifices. They were a God-given means of grace, but, as these verses insist, they were valueless unless they went hand in hand with an inner dedication to God which expresses itself in joyful obedience. If the worshipper lacked such obedience, the sacrifices were a meaningless charade. For precisely the same reason, Isaiah passes a similar verdict on prayer (Isa. 1:15). [Davidson, R., M.A. (1998). The vitality of worship : A commentary on the book of Psalms (134). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Edinburgh: W.B. Eerdmans; Handsel Press.]
"The connection of the thoughts is clear: great and manifold are the proofs of Thy loving-kindness, how am I to render thanks to Thee for them? To this question he first of all gives a negative answer: God delights not in outward sacrifices. The sacrifices are named in a twofold way: (a) according to the material of which they consist, viz., זֶבַח, the animal sacrifice, and מִנְחָה, the meal or meat offering (including the נֶסֶךְ, the wine or drink offering, which is the inalienable accessory of the accompanying mincha); (b) according to their purpose, in accordance with which they bring about either the turning towards one of the good pleasure of God, as more especially in the case of the עֹולָה, or, as more especially in the case of the חַטָּאת (in this passage חֲטָאָה), the turning away of the divine displeasure. The fact of the זֶבַח and עֹולָה standing first, has, moreover, its special reason in the fact that זֶבַח specially designates the shelamîm offerings, and to the province of these latter belongs the thank-offering proper, viz., the tôda-shelamîm offering; and that עֹולָה as the sacrifice of adoration (προσευχή), which is also always a general thanksgiving (εὐχαριστία), is most natural, side by side with the shalemim, to him who gives thanks. When it is said of God, that He does not delight in and desire such non-personal sacrifices, there is as little intention as in Jer. 7:22 (cf. Amos 5:21ff.) of saying that the sacrificial Tôra is not of divine origin, but that the true, essential will of God is not directed to such sacrifices. [KD]
(1) All of the sacrifice/offering types are mentioned as being merely 'peripheral' here;
(2) By themselves, they were not required or desired -- which would not be the case with a food-needing God.
So, whatever we make of the phrases 'food of God', the biblical witness is clear:
God doesn’t need the physical parts/aspects of ANY of the types of sacrifices/offerings;
God doesn't eat or drink the physical parts of the sacrifices/offerings;
God doesn’t even LIKE the act of hypocritical Israelites bringing the physical parts of the sacrifice/offerings in ritual.
We should also note--to put this in even sharper relief--that the biblical witness is both aware that other gods 'eat and drink' (in pagan and some popular Israelite thought at the time) and sometimes even makes fun of them for it--using satire and foreign terminology in describing this.
"food and drink of the gods. A common view of sacrifices in the ancient Near East was that they served as food and drink for the gods, who needed their sustenance (see comments on Lev 1:2). This view was rejected in the ideal Israelite worldview (see Ps 50:7–15), though many Israelites would have probably accepted the concept. This text is mocking the idea that gods who have needs would be adequate for deliverance." [BBCOT]
"37–38 The reference to “the rock” is ironic, as it is in v 31 above—these false gods are nothing in comparison with YHWH, the true “Rock.” The question “Who ate?” is sarcastic. The false gods are presented as eating and drinking the offerings, but they are powerless to “be a shelter over you.” [WBC]
"We are reminded of Deut. 32:37–38, which contains a satirical attack upon the gods of other nations “who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their libations” and were powerless." [Davidson, at Ps 50]
"Moreover, you took your sons and daughters whom you had borne to Me and sacrificed them to idols to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter? You slaughtered My children and offered them up to idols by causing them to pass through the fire. "
"Third, the children she had borne to Yahweh she sacrificed to the images. The list of cultic offenses intentionally climaxes here. Although this segment is linked to the foregoing by the verb wattiqĕḥî, “And you took,” it is set off by the signatory formula and by the introduction of a new subject. Vv. 6–14 had not mentioned children. Their introduction here is not surprising, however, since ancient Israelites, like their neighbors, viewed children as God’s greatest gifts, in whom one was actually thought to live on, and the absence of which was perceived as a curse from God. As expected, therefore, this union of Yahweh and Jerusalem also produced offspring. But Jerusalem’s children were special because they were not only received as gifts from Yahweh but also borne for him. However, instead of presenting her children to Yahweh, her husband, this woman presented them as food to the pagan images that she had made! The expression leʾĕkōl (lit. “for eating”) portrays the children as idols’ diet, along with the fine flour, oil, and honey mentioned in v. 19. The language is reminiscent of Jer. 3:24: “The shameful thing [= Baal] has devoured (ʾākal) all for which our ancestors had labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters” (NRSV). … Three expressions describe Jerusalem’s treatment of her children. The first, zābaḥ, “to slaughter,” is the primary biblical term for sacrifice. However, unlike extra-Israelite rituals, which viewed sacrifices as meals for the gods, the zebaḥ became essentially a sacrificial festival celebrated before Yahweh, the divine host. The present text obviously has the pagan view of sacrifice in mind. The second, šāḥaṭ, is used occasionally for profane butchering of animals for food, but it usually refers to sacrificial slaughter. The third, nātan bĕhaʿăbîr lāhem, reflects extreme literary economy by conflating two idioms for sacrifice: nātan mizzarʿô lammōlek, “to devote his offspring to Molech,” and haʿăbîr, an abbreviation for haʿăbîr ʾet-bĕnô wĕʾet-bittô bāʾēš lammōlek, “to pass one’s son and his daughter through the fire to Molech.” “To pass someone/something through the fire” means to submerge it completely in flames, causing it to be consumed. While many questions concerning the cult of Molech remain, what seems clear is that Molech was a designation for the god of the underworld and that his cult was taken over by paganized Israelites from the Canaanites. [NICOT]
This, of course, is addressed to a pagan, Baal-ist city, so it uses the categories of its audience. Jotham -- as son of Gideon--might have been more theologically correct than the Shechemites, but that wouldn’t matter to our point one way or another: the bible recognizes that 'regular gods' are thought to eat and drink. In spite of this knowledge, the bible never actually ascribes this of Yahweh (and indeed repudiates it often--as we have seen).
"You shall say to the rebellious ones, to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Enough of all your abominations, O house of Israel, when you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in My sanctuary to profane it, even My house, when you offered My food, the fat and the blood; for they made My covenant void—this in addition to all your abominations. And you have not kept charge of My holy things yourselves, but you have set foreigners to keep charge of My sanctuary.”
"According to v. 8, the role of the foreigners is defined as šāmar mišmeret qodāšāy, which, as we have seen, is cultic terminology for performing guard duty. This duty involved primarily guarding the gates of the temple, but it may have extended to assisting the laity with their sacrifices, a responsibility that Num. 18:1–7 assigns to the Levites. This possibility accords with v. 7, which suggests that the foreigners were inside the temple, engaged in the sacrificial rituals. The reference to sacrifices as food (leḥem) for Yahweh comes disturbingly close to the pagan notion that offerings represented the victuals by which the appetites of the gods were satisfied. Although orthodox Yahwists rejected a literal understanding of the notion, they apparently had no problem with using it as a figure of speech. But in the crass form of Ezekiel’s statement one should probably recognize deliberate cultural coloring, since that is how these foreigners and paganized Israelites perceived the blood and fat of the sacrificial victims (cf. v. 16) presented (hiqrîb) to a deity. While the guilt for encroachment of the sanctuary by ritually ineligible persons rested with the Levites, Ezekiel indicts the nation for failure to maintain the sanctity of the temple. The people could neither excuse themselves nor treat the Levites as scapegoats for their own offense. [NICOT]
"Micah in particular parodies these ineffectual offerings and notes that all God requires of Israel is “to act justly and love mercy” (Mic 6:8). [ZIBBCOT, in loc]
So, the bible COULD HAVE 'gone along with the crowd' and said that God 'ate and drank', but it did not--and even made fun of the belief.
Now, before we explore the actual use of the word 'food' or 'bread' when used of some of the sacrifices, let's make sure we understand that current scholarship sees significant differences between Israel's view of sacrifices and other Mesopotamian views. [We should also note that Ugaritic/Canaanite beliefs differed some from Mesopotamian and from Israelite beliefs too, and these will be noted below.]
We have already seen the Mesopotamian conceptual background:
"Like their human counterparts, the gods had regular needs for food, drink, bathing, clothing, sex, and admiration. Ritual texts from the ancient Near East prescribed how these needs were met." [OT:ATSHB, 149)
And although there will necessarily be similarities in form (i.e. how many ways can you actually MAKE a symbolic gift from your possessions to an unseen, heavenly, anti-iconic God?!), the differences in content and function will be determinative (like in alleged cases of literary 'borrowing'--cf http://www.christian-thinktank.com/copycat.html on methodology of parallel-hunting; and the same applied to OT/ANE lit in http://www.christian-thinktank.com/gilgy00.html ).
Here are some statements reflecting on the similarities and differences--note that the differences are mostly about the 'content' and 'function' (i.e. that it was not about eating/drinking).
"As food (Lev 3:11). Offerings presented to the Lord at the outer altar are called the “food” of God (Lev. 21:8; Num. 28:2, etc.). Non-Israelite peoples also offered food, but they regarded their deities as needing to consume it (see comment on Lev. 1:9). As part of the daily care and feeding of the gods, Egyptians, Hittites, and Babylonians regularly placed various kinds of food and drink on tables or stands before idols in their temples. A. L. Oppenheim describes the way Mesopotamian deities consumed their food: "Food was placed in front of the image, which was apparently assumed to consume it by merely looking at it, and beverages were poured out before it for the same purpose. A variant of this pattern consisted of presenting the offered food with a solemn ritual gesture, passing it in a swinging motion before the staring eyes of the image." In Hittite cults, consumption of bread offered to a deity could be symbolized by breaking it. In Egypt, care of gods included not only feeding them, but also washing and clothing their idols and even providing them with makeup paint. … To complicate matters, many ancient Near Easterners believed that dead people continued to live on in divine form. This meant that they were required to provide food and drink for these powerful and potentially dangerous spirits, lest they return from the grave hungry, thirsty, and angry. …Much Mesopotamian religion was animistic in character, and particularly as far as ordinary people were concerned, religion was probably more about placating the spirits and demons rather than the major gods who had temples and images of their own. … By contrast with the highly anthropomorphic rituals of other peoples, the Israelites were to limit similarity between the Lord and his people. While he accepted food to affirm that he dwelt among them, he did not need its nourishment (Ps. 50:12–13). Therefore, the food was burned up so that he only received the smoke. … Lambert reminds us that in Sumerian and Babylonian literature, “the human race was created solely to serve the gods by providing their food and drink. The whole matter is conceived anthropomorphically. ‘Sacrifice’ is a misnomer applied to this conceptual world” (“Donations of Food and Drink,” 198). [ZIBBCOT, Lev 3.11]
"Lev 3:11. on the altar as food Hebrew leḥem not only means “bread” but is a more general word for food. In Leviticus 21:6 and Numbers 28:2, the sacrifices are referred to as leḥem, because they are offered to God in the same way as food is served to humans. In most ancient societies it was believed that gods required food for their sustenance and relied on sacrifices for energy and strength. Rituals for feeding the statues of gods are known from Egypt and Mesopotamia. … The Torah codes, while preserving the idiom common to ancient religions, understand the process somewhat differently. God desires the sacrifices of His worshipers not because He requires sustenance but because He desires their devotion and their fellowship. [Levine, B. A. (1989). Leviticus. The JPS Torah commentary (17). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.]
50:8–15. ideology of sacrifice. A proper understanding of the purpose of sacrifice is outlined in this psalm. This is intended to serve as a contrasting ideology to the sacrificial practices of Israel’s neighbors. [BBCOT, Ps 50]
“The cult, and this was only logical, was therefore necessarily anthropomorphic, as well: if the gods had created human beings, as was taught in Atrahasis, it was, from the gods’ point of view, out of necessity, out of the need for material goods that humans alone were able to produce and present to them. Through their industry, their technology, and their work, humans not only met their own needs but, above all, out of natural vocation and by virtue of the will of their creators and masters, functioned as servants and providers for the gods. From such a perspective, religious behavior focused on what fundamental duty of ‘maintaining’ the gods: of providing them with all the goods and services, and luxury, that were indispensable to them; not, of course, to keep the alive—were they not by nature immortal?—but to guarantee them, like the subjects their king, an existence that was not only bearable but opulent and pleasant, as befitted the masters of the universe. … It goes without saying that on religious occasions the beneficiaries of such maintenance were represented by their statues, their images, which ensured their actual presence in the temple. … The area in which we can perhaps best grasp this religious notion which is so far from our own, is that of the feeding of the gods, a primary necessity, daily and perpetual, concerning which we are fortunately rather well informed, as much as concerns the specific food as its preparation and consumption. A good number of ‘technical’ terms evoking acts of the daily cult imply a reference to food and to its provision…”’ [OT:RIAM, p126]
“Regarding the actual ceremonial of the meals that constituted the heart of the liturgy, we have almost no accounts. No doubt, in serving the gods, the food was presented to the images of the recipient gods on platters placed within their reach, in the temple cella, on those rich portable platters that at time took the place of our dining tables (the Mesopotamian concept of sacrifice/offering hardly admitted an ‘altar’ strictly speaking, on which one would have only ‘immolated’ the victims; we know, with some certainty, of almost no such immolations) and in the richest and most precious serving dishes that could be found. [OT:RIAM, 130; Note: Some of Israel's offerings were completely burned up, unlike Mesopotamia--Yahweh didn’t really NEED the flesh. But the cult at Ugarit in Palestine did have a 'burnt offering', somewhat like Israel but unlike Mesopotamia--see below.]
“Several allusions suggest that the gods were ‘washed’ periodically and ritually, that baths were given to (statues and images of) the gods, and that this gesture, through a concern for purification, cleanliness, and good health, which was shared among the great as well as the less great of the world, was in a realm different from that of the feeding in the ‘service to the gods’.. we are much better informed about the gods’ clothing, above all about their collections of outfits. Similar to lists of food, we have lists of clothing… Clothing and jewelry, could be locked up, preserved, and inventoried together… The ‘maintenance of the gods’ as concerned festive clothing and precious jewelry was thus in no way inferior to the pomp and ceremony surrounding their food offerings. “ [OT:RIAM, 132,133; Note: this is so alien to OT thought, which could have no images of God to begin with.]
“The main concern in Mesopotamian sacrificial practice was undoubtedly the care, and especially the feeding, of divine images. This view of sacrifice was fundamentally influenced by the idea that deities were represented by man-made images, and led to a much great concern with the image’s own mundane needs than with the person and requirements of the deity as such. As a result, sacrifice in Mesopotamia was a rather more down to earth affair in comparison with the concepts of sacrifice repeatedly advocated by the OT writers… According to this text the gods were given four meals a day, differentiated in size rather than by the variety of their menu. Two were in the morning and two in the afternoon or evening. Interestingly, the term used for these was naptanu, which in fact was also a word for an ordinary meal. This seems to indicate that the worshippers did not distinguish between a meal offered as a sacrifice to a deity and one which they ate themselves. … The nature of sacrifice in Mesopotamia was determined by contemporary concepts of divinity. Because the gods were thought to possess human as well as divine qualities, sacrifice had a much more domestic flavor than it does in the OT.” [STB: 90,95]
"Since the Mesopotamian gods were believed to require food and drink for their livelihood, humans, as commonly stated in Sumerian and Akkadian literature, were created to produce food and drink for the gods. W. G. Lambert states that the Sumerians and Babylonians did not have the practice of sacrifice like the Hebrews, and so he translates the following lines from the Enuma Elish to bring to light the text's reference to the responsibility of humans to provide food and drink for the gods: "Provisioning is the need of the shrines of the gods" (IV, 11); "Henceforth you will be the provisioner of our shrines" (V, 115). William Hallo notes that statistical data show that the amount of food brought into the cult equals the amount distributed to the king, the temple personnel, and certain worshippers. So, even though the cultic system arranged for the food and drink offered in the cult to be consumed by humans, the religious outlook maintained that the deities consumed these provisions. Within the context of Mesopotamian religious practices in which the food offered to the gods was not burnt, the anthropomorphic conception of the gods seems to have been taken more literally than was the case in the Homeric and Israelite sacrificial practices. Even if the Lord and Zeus are understood to delight in the odor of the sacrificial offerings, it is quite a different matter, as Walter Burkert has noted, to smell cooking food than to eat it." [Piety and Politics: The Dynamics of Royal Authority in Homeric Greece, Biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. Dale Launderville, Eerdmans:2003. (p. 140)]
For completeness, we should note that the actual physical temple layout in the various rituals militates against understanding the sacrifices as being 'feeding God'. In Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Ugaritic/Canaanite ritual, the process of feeding is not duplicated in the Hebrew process.
So, in Mesopotamia and Canaan, the deities are represented by their statues. The food is laid out directly in front of the statues who consume the food by 'looking at it' apparently. In Egyptian ritual (the Egyptian gods were 'high maintenance' too!), the gods who were locked up at night were brought out for service during the day and meals presented directly to them:
"In an Egyptian temple the service went on ceaselessly from dawn to dusk to ensure that the spirit of the god be content to swell in the cult image hidden away in the interior and not abandon it. At dawn the officiating priest approached the tabernacle that contained the awesome statue. It had been closed and sealed as part of the evening ceremonies of the day before; he broke the clay seals and, amid incantations and prescribed prayers and clouds of incense, drew forth the sacred image--probably of wood lavishly adorned with gold--and then did for it what the palace valets did for the pharaoh: he bathed and perfumed it, dressed it in clothes and jewelry, garlanded it with fresh flowers, and, replacing it in its shrine, offered it food and drink. All day long the ceremony went on, a continuum of music, dance, and hymns. At dusk the priest shut the door, resealed it, and backed out of the room, simultaneously sweeping away with a broom the traces of his footprints." [HI:ELAE:93]
In the Hebrew tabernacle (and later the Temple), Yahweh's presence was inside the Most Holy Place, an inner sanctum in which only the High Priest was allowed to go once a year on the Day of Atonement with blood from a single sacrificial animal. The ark of the covenant (inside the Most Holy Place) was never supposed to leave the inner sanctuary, and no offerings, sacrifices, or gifts were to be brought inside to it. This is in complete distinction from icon/statue-based pagan rituals.
Ok, so it seems obvious that God didn’t need to eat, didn’t actually eat the OT sacrifices, and disagreed with the theologies that affirmed the opposite (i.e. ANE and pagan-Jewish). So, why was the word 'food' or 'bread' even mentioned, if that were the case? Granted, it is very rarely used in this way--with the normal words for 'sacrifice', 'offering', and 'gifts' being used--but we should at least see how scholarship has understood this terminology.
There are two main approaches taken to understanding the use of 'lehem' (bread, food) in biblical ritual contexts: (1) it is a linguistic fossil, archaic idiom -- which by that time had no 'caloric' semantic content; and/or (2) it is an obviously symbolic reference to God's involvement in a 'shared meal'.
(1) Most commentators understand it to be an 'archaic form' or 'linguistic fossil'. Under this perspective, it is not really meaning 'food' at all--it is just a technical term or idiom (like 'pleasing aroma' was in the ritual context--passages mentioned below for comparison):
"food (leḥem). For this usage, see Jer 11:19; Dan 5:1 (Rashi). In the Semitic languages leḥem refers to the food of the country. In Arabic it means “flesh”; in seashore areas it can mean “fish”; in Judg 13:16 it refers to a kid; in 1 Sam 14:24–25, honey; and on the altar it stands for God’s food (Snaith 1967). Clearly it harks back to earliest times, when sacrifices were intended to feed the gods (Deut 32:38; Isa 43:24; Ps 50:13). But Scripture rejects this notion (e.g., Ps 50:12–13), and in the cultic texts this term can be characterized as a linguistic fossil (21:6, 8, 17, 22; 22:25; 23:17; etc.). [Milgrom, J. (2008). Leviticus 1-16: A new translation with introduction and commentary (213). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]
"11 לחם, which specifically means “bread,” is often used for “food” in general. Originally it meant “meat”; this fact suggests that its use with sacrifices is archaic (Noordtzij, 51). [Hartley, J. E. (2002). Vol. 4: Word Biblical Commentary : Leviticus. Word Biblical Commentary (40–41). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]
"I. The term rêaḥ nîḥōaḥ is found in connection with the burnt offering (Exod 29:18, 41; Lev 1:9, 13, 17; 8:21, 28; 23:18; Num 28:6, 8, 27; 29:2, 8, 13, 26), the offering of well-being (Exod 29:25; Lev 3:5, 16; 17:6; Num 15:3; 18:17), the cereal offering (Lev 2:2, 9, 12; 6:8, 14; 23:13) and the libation (Num 15:7, 10, 13, 14; 28:24; 29:6) but is absent from the contexts dealing with the reparation offering and is found only in connection with the purification offering (see the NOTE on 4:31). The clear picture that emerges from this distribution is that, like its companion term ʾiššeh (see the NOTE above), it must connote something pleasurable to the deity. Contrariwise, a rendering like “appeasing, placating, soothing,” favored by many commentators and translators, should be avoided. To be sure, such a meaning for the term may be present in passages like Gen 8:21 and Lev 26:31 (with the verb hērîaḥ ‘smell’). And a case for it can be based on the root nwḥ, which in the hiphʿil can mean “appease” (e.g., Ezek 5:13), as well as on its Akk. cognate nuḫḫu, which similarly denotes “appease,” especially in connection with the gods (CAD nâḫu A 4a, b). Further support might be sought from the Greek world: if Apollo “receives the aroma of lambs or goats, he may be willing to ward off the plague from us” (Iliad 1.66–67; cf. 1.316; 9.497–500). Yet, the rarity of this term in Israel’s expiatory sacrifices can only signify that even if it had this meaning originally, it lost it in the cultic terminology of P. Maimonides was correct in his comment on the purification offering, “Its burning could not offer a rêaḥ nîḥôaḥ to the Lord, but the contrary, I mean there was detestable and abhorrent smoke” (Guide 3.46.67–68). Hence the LXX rendering “sweet savor” and the rabbinic explanation naḥat rûaḥ ‘pleasure’ (Sipre Num 143; see Tgs.) are right on target. Nonetheless, it is significant that Ezekiel (and later literature) avoids this term as well as the anthropomorphic verb hērîaḥ in describing the legitimate cult (Ezek 6:6; 45:21–24; 46:6–7; 46:13–15), whereas the corresponding P/H passages contain it (Lev 26:31–32; Num 28:16–24; Num 28:11–13; Num 28:3–6, respectively). Its occurrence in Ezekiel is confined to idolatrous worship (Ezek 6:1; 16:17–19; 20:28), except for Ezek 20:41, which bears a figurative meaning (Hurvitz 1982: 53–58), another indication of the preexilic provenience of P (see the Introduction, §B). For a fuller discussion of this term see Gray (1925: 77–81). [Milgrom, J. (2008). Leviticus 1-16: A new translation with introduction and commentary (162–163). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]
"the offerings of food due Me Literally, “My offering, My food.” The probable original meaning of Hebrew leḥem is “food,” as in Judges 13:16, 1 Samuel 14:24, and 1 Kings 5:2. In Arabic it became “flesh” and in Hebrew “bread.” … These terms are linguistic fossils deriving from a time when it was believed that gods ate and drank (Deut. 32:38; Judg. 9:13), a belief ridiculed in the Bible (Ps. 50:7–15). [Milgrom, J. (1990). Numbers. The JPS Torah commentary (238). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.]
"11. on the altar as food Hebrew leḥem not only means “bread” but is a more general word for food. In Leviticus 21:6 and Numbers 28:2, the sacrifices are referred to as leḥem, because they are offered to God in the same way as food is served to humans. In most ancient societies it was believed that gods required food for their sustenance and relied on sacrifices for energy and strength. Rituals for feeding the statues of gods are known from Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Torah codes, while preserving the idiom common to ancient religions, understand the process somewhat differently. God desires the sacrifices of His worshipers not because He requires sustenance but because He desires their devotion and their fellowship. [Levine, B. A. (1989). Leviticus. The JPS Torah commentary (17). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.]
"נִיחוֹחַ (nîḥôaḥ, “pleasing”) basically means “rest.” The point is that the sacrifice gives an aroma of tranquility by bringing peace between God and the worshiper. The word is used forty-three times in the OT and only in this phrase. This is, of course, an anthropomorphic expression picturing the aroma of the sacrifice (not necessarily pleasant) as being smelled by God in acceptance of the offering. Incidentally, the alleged P document, which used this phrase most frequently, is supposed to minimize anthropomorphisms. It is altogether possible that this was a stock phrase of the language and had no more reference to God’s smelling than our common phrase “the sun went under a cloud” has reference to the position of clouds and the sun. [EBC, Lev 1.9]
"The priest now burns (הקטיר) the entire animal on the altar. Since this is a whole offering, the text specifically says that the priest burns את־הכל, “all.” The term הקטיר is literally “turn to smoke.” The whole offering is identified as אשׁה ריח־ניחוח ליהוה, “a gift for a soothing aroma to Yahweh.” אשׁה refers to those parts of a sacrifice that are given to God, either willingly or in response to a duty. Closely joined to אשׁה, “a gift,” is the phrase ריח ניחוח, “a soothing aroma,” or “sweet smelling fragrance” (de Boer, VTSup 23  40), for the latter phrase expresses the intent of this gift. The pleasant, soothing odor of the sacrifice that ascends toward heaven pleases God. While this metaphor is anthropomorphic, it is no more so than numerous other phrases in the OT, such as “the hand of God.” Contemporary Western culture tends to overlook the powerful role the sense of smell plays in human life. Smell arouses one’s memory and reaches very deeply into a person’s emotions (B. Gibbons, “The Intimate Sense of Smell,” National Geographic 170  324–28, 337). It is an especially strong contributing factor to a pleasant experience, or it may stir up strong disgust. This metaphor of “a soothing aroma” is very appropriate, for the sacrifice is offered in order to move God to remember with mercy the one who makes the sacrifice. Usually a whole offering was presented not to cool God’s wrath but to seek his goodwill before his wrath might be kindled. Furthermore, this metaphor serves well to say that God himself must accept each offering in order for it to be efficacious without in any way indicating that God is dependent on these offerings for sustenance. De Boer (VTSup 23  47) thinks that ריח ניחוח is a technical term indicating “that the divinity accepts the sacrifice.” [WBC, Lev 1.9]
(2) Since the term is actually only used of the single 'shared communion' sacrifice (shelamin), some have thought it to be a symbolic term for God's 'portion' of the shared communal meal with His offerer(s). Under this understanding, the term has a metaphorical reference to a shared meal, without implying actual 'food' or 'eating'. [Like we might set a place setting out for God at a family ritual meal -- like Thanksgiving in the USA--without actually putting turkey and dressing on the plate.] It is called 'food' (even though it is actually smoke) because it represents God's presence in the celebration part of the offering, and God can call it 'My food' because it is the part of the sacrifice that is His 'possession' (i.e. not shared with others… 'mine and not yours').
"The Peace Offering. The distinctiveness of the peace offering is evident in the final stage of the sacrificial ritual. Since it was not an atoning sacrifice, it could be eaten by the offerer as well as the priest. Whereas the distinctiveness of the burnt offering lies in the complete burning of the animal, the purification offering in the blood manipulation, and the reparation offering in the additional reparation, the peace offering is unique in the way in which the parts of the sacrifice are distributed…The usual translation as ‘peace’ or ‘communion’ or ‘fellowship’ offering suggests the communion or fellowship that exists amongst participants in a meal. The fat which is burnt can even be called ‘food’ for God (Lv. 3.11; cf 21.6)…. [STB, p30]
"11 לחם, which specifically means “bread,” is often used for “food” in general. … Its use may be to emphasize that Yahweh himself shares with the sacrificer and his clan in the meal made out of the offering of well-being. This interpretation may explain why in the legislation of sacrifices (chaps. 1–7) לחם, “bread,” is used only with the offering of well-being, since this is the only sacrifice that belongs essentially to the layman to be used for a festive meal. [WBC, Lev 3.11[
"The peace offering closed with a meal. The priests were assigned certain parts of the animal (the breast and the right thigh according to Lev. 7:31–33), and the worshipper and his friends consumed the rest. Though this ritual is passed over in this chapter, it was for the majority of people the most popular part of the service. Much has been made of this meal by scholars, though the Bible tones down its significance. It certainly was not a meal in which God ate some of the food, even if sometimes this idea was mistakenly held by some ancient Israelites. Such a crass view of God is attacked in Ps. 50, a psalm which may well have been used at the peace offering (see v. 14)…Rather it was a meal in which God’s presence was recognized as especially near, and this made it a particularly joyful occasion (cf. Deut. 12:7). Eating meat was a luxury in ancient Israel. All meat came from animals given by the worshipper to God, and now partly given back to the worshipper by God. This symbolized the way God gave back to the worshipper his life to go on enjoying. [NICOT, Lev 3.11]
3:11. burned “as food.” The language here again shows that the sacrificial terms used in Israel were influenced by non-Israelite notions of sacrifice. It is clear from passages such as Psalm 50:12–13 that the Israelites were not to consider sacrifices as food needed by God. Since the terminology is used only in this particular offering, perhaps it represents God’s inclusion in the communal meal more than the meeting of any need for nourishment. [BBCOT, Lev 3.11]
"Within the context of Mesopotamian religious practices in which the food offered to the gods was not burnt, the anthropomorphic conception of the gods seems to have been taken more literally than was the case in the Homeric and Israelite sacrificial practices. Even if the Lord and Zeus are understood to delight in the odor of the sacrificial offerings, it is quite a different matter, as Walter Burkert has noted, to smell cooking food than to eat it." [Piety and Politics: The Dynamics of Royal Authority in Homeric Greece, Biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. Dale Launderville, Eerdmans:2003. (p. 140)]
There would be no more be physical/caloric implications to this, than there would be in verses like "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps 34.8), "I (God) will accept you (Israel) as a pleasing aroma" (Ezek 20.41), "I (Jesus) have food to eat that you know not of" (John 4.32), or "I (Jesus) am the bread of life" (John 6.35)
In either case, there is no real 'eating' or 'needing food' or 'hunger' or related gastric functions, as in the case of Mesopotamian religion.
Ok, let's try to summarize our findings:
From other articles on the ThinkTank, we noted that general borrowing from Mesopotamia was almost non-existent in the cosmological literature.
The purpose for the creation of humanity in Mesopotamian literature (to relieve the tired gods from having to make their own food) was different from the purpose of human creation in the Bible.
The Bible never claims that God eats, even though the Mesopotamian sources do.
The Bible never claims that God needs to eat, even though the Mesopotamian sources do.
The Bible claims, instead, that God does not eat or drink.
The Bible claims that God does not get hungry.
The Bible claims that God actually dislikes/detests many otherwise 'delicious' physical offerings.
Some pagan-ish Israelites seemed to believe that God did eat and tried to use this to manipulate God--and the Bible condemned their theology and their practice.
The sacrifices were more symbolic and ritualized, than literal, ordinary meals for a god.
God prefers intangible offerings (e.g. 'thanksgiving' and 'praise') over 'bare calories'.
Sacrifices were 'accepted' by God, not 'eaten by God' or 'consumed by God'.
Even though some of the offerings 'ascended' to God in smoke, that didn’t mean that God 'ate the smoke'!
The various sacrifices were about different spiritual needs of the people--not about God's desire for a varied diet.
The bible is very much aware that pagan thought believed in food-needing gods, and used satire and explicit statements to mock and/or condemn such beliefs.
There almost HAS to be SOME similarities in form between various versions of sacrifice, since there are only so many ways to symbolize an act of homage or communion, but this doesn’t mean the content, function, and theology are also similar.
Mesopotamia did not even have the 'burnt offering' or 'altar' that the Hebrews did.
The other non-food needs of the Mesopotamian gods (e.g. clothes, bathing, sex, makeup, jewelry) are completely without parallel in Hebrew OT thought--suggesting that the whole 'material-needing god' theology was absent (including the 'need for' food).
Unlike Mesopotamian (and Egyptian) rituals, the sacrifices were never actually 'put in front of God for consumption'--none of the 'food'-termed sacrifices were allowed inside God's inner sanctum (the Most Holy Place, the "Holy of Holies" as it was known in earlier times).
The use of the actual word for 'food' in the Biblical text is thought by scholars to either be an archaic/idiomatic term, or a symbolic one for communicating the notion of communal meal with the worshipper.
So, at least with regards to Mesopotamia/Sumerian, there is no evidence to support the claims that the biblical God was 'like them' in needing to eat, and there is plenty of evidence to support the claim that Yahweh was 'unlike them' in this regard.
PUSHBACK: "Wow, Glenn, you really got off easy on THIS one! Lucky for you, the guy did not know much about ANE history or he would have used the Canaanite/Ugaritic context instead of the Mesopotamian one! Had he used the Ugaritic materials instead, he could have clobbered you with the clear parallels in sacrificial terminology: zhb (sacrifice), slmm (peace offerings), srp (burnt-offering)! These were all used in a 'god maintenance' theology at Ugarit, so you would have had a much harder time trying to find true distinctives! "
I am glad you brought that up--I was HOPING to find some excuse to make this article a little more verbose (smile)…
A couple of points on the Ugaritic (and Canaanite, if we buy the identification of the two) connection:
First of all, we should recognize that these words for sacrifice and burnt-offering pre-date the Mosaic law and even pre-date Ugarit. Noah (Gen 8.20) and Abraham (Gen 22) offer burnt offerings and Jacob slaughtered a sacrifice for a covenant meal (Gen 31.54). ZBH and SRP are widely represented in the languages of NW Semite and often in Akkadian/etc. So the mere presence of cognate words means nothing more than that Israel did not invent its own language from scratch (cf. Klingon?)!
Secondly, we know almost nothing about these Ugaritic rites except these linguistic terms. Compare Pardee's sober statement:
"These [prescriptive ritual] texts are characterized by their laconic formulations, by the occasionally bewildering reversal of the order of mention of the sacrifice and its divine recipient, and by the use of standard terms for offerings and for sacrificial categories. From this text and those that will follow, it is clear that the primary act of the Ugaritic cult was the offering of bloody sacrifices and other offerings to deities. Not stated, however, are (1) the details of how the offerings were performed, (2) from whose assets they originated and whose assets they became, and (3) the function of each offering and sacrificial category, that is, the "theology" of the cult. Most such details may only be deduced from the structure of the texts and from comparisons with other cultures." [HI:RACU, 26]
Third, SRP ('burn') and ZBH ('sacrifice') are just generic terms and not specific enough to mess with. SRP means burning, but the Hebrew word for burnt-offering is HOLA instead of the cognate SRPU (although the two are sometimes combined in sentences, of course). Many ancient peoples had similar burnt-offerings, and Ugarit probably 'borrowed from them' in some sense as well.
"As far as the usage of the burnt offering [HOLA] is concerned, historically it is important to recognize the distinction between burnt offerings presented at solitary altars (i.e., not in the tabernacle or temple) as opposed to sanctuary altars (i.e., in the tabernacle or the temple; see the full discussion of this distinction and its historical critical implications in Offerings and Sacrifices, secs. 8–11). The term first occurs in Gen 8:20, referring to its use long before the tabernacle system had been established: “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” (cf. עֹלָה also in ch. 22 for the intended offering of Isaac, vv. 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 13). Moreover, such offerings continued at solitary altars and on high places long after the tabernacle (and even the temple) had been built, whether approved (e.g., Judg 6:26; 1 Sam 7:9–10, 17; 2 Sam 24:22–25; 1 Kgs 18:38–39; with peace offerings, Josh 8:31 [cf. Exod 20:24; Deut 27:5–7]; Judg 21:3–4, etc.) or unapproved (e.g., Judg 11:31; 1 Sam 13:8–14; 1 Kgs 18:25–29). … Of course, the sanctuary system of offerings and sacrifices also included the ancient burnt offering (with grain, drink, and peace offerings) that had been part of solitary altar worship of the faithful from Noah down through most of the preexilic monarchical period. The same external worship system to which the Israelite people were already accustomed before Sinai was tailored to fit into the tabernacle system, where, however, the key features of the rituals could be performed only by the Aaronic priests, not the offerers themselves. [NIDOTTE]
"Canonically, the root זָבַח (zbh) occurs first as a means of concluding or ratifying the covenant commitment between Jacob and Laban in Gen 31:54a, “He (Jacob) offered (זָבַח) a sacrifice (nom. זֶבַח) there in the hill country and invited his relatives (Laban, etc.) to a meal.” The only other occurrence in Gen is 46:1, “So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered (זָבַח) sacrifices (nom. זֶבַח) to the God of his father Isaac,” possibly as a means of dream incubation: “And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, ‘Jacob! Jacob!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied”…. Before Sinai this root continues to be used in general for sacrifices to the Lord (Exod 3:18; 5:3, 8, 17; 8:8 , 26–29 [22–25]; 10:25) and, specifically, for the “Passover sacrifice” ( Exod 12:27)." [NIDOTTE]
"srp. This noun appears to be a term for a particular
type of sacrificial offering, and is frequently association with
slmm. Since it is also usually mentioned in the context of
'fire', it is most likely to be a 'holocaust' or a 'burnt offering'
(the root srp is well-known in the Semitic languages,
appearing in Hebrew mainly as a verb meaning 'to burn', cf. serapim,
'burning ones'). Although therefore the cognate Hebrew words do
not have a sacrificial meaning, srp does seem to be
closely related to a type of sacrifice well known in the OT, that is,
the 'burnt offering' or 'whole offering' (Heb. 'old, kalit). [STB,
When one turns to the practices associated with burnt offerings, the evidence seems to confirm the picture described above concerning the slmm and selamim. The burnt offering, for example, was known in various parts of the Northwest Semitic area, including not only the Ugaritic srp and the Israelite 'ola and kalil, but also Punic kalil and Neo-Punic 'It. Both these latter terms are philologically as well as semantically equivalent to the Hebrew ones, while 'ola and 'It are also cognate with the Greek holokautdma. When therefore the Ugaritic scribes combined the terms for two of their major sacrifices in the phrase srp wslmm, they were demonstrating that these important elements of their sacrificial system were part of a wider pattern evident in Greece, Israel, and other parts of Syria. Mesopotamia on the other hand, did not participate in either of these types of sacrifice." [STB:98-99]
Fourthly, even with the linguistic similarities, the differences were still crucial. The burnt-offering in Leviticus has absolutely no human partaking of the victim, whereas the SRP (and SLM, of course) in Ugarit did:
"However, all these generic or "global" terms usually include the celebration of more "specific" rites, among which the types called srp and slmm stand out, sometimes indicated separately and sometimes in the sequence srp wslmm. They refer to two sacrificial series, the first of type srp and the next, type slmm, collocated as a composite expression, therefore, in the middle of both series (see, e.g., KTU 1.39:4; 1.41:13; 1.46:7; 1.109:15; cf. 1.130:8-9)… These types of sacrifice in Ugarit have been connected with Hebrew "holocaust" (hola) and "peace sacrifice" or "communion sacrifice" (selamim). However, strictly speaking, Ugaritic srp did not have the meaning of a complete "holocaust" of the victim, which was more probably ur(m), "burning" generally of the entrails, unless it denoted a type of offering in which fire was used in a special way in relation to one of its parts, as seems to be suggested by the "repetition" of the series of victims. It would seem that these are the two basic types of the Ugaritic sacrificial system that involved the participation of officiants and offerers in the consumption of the victim, i.e., at the sacred "banquet" in which the deity to whom the offering was made in the first place took part. " [OT:CRLTU, 36f]
Fifthly, the SLM offering itself was widely practiced in the ancient world (except Mesopotamia), but none of the various forms exactly match the Hebrew version. There are 'basic resemblances', but that's all:
"Despite the obvious attractiveness of interpreting slmm in the same way as the Hebrew (zebah) selamim, the relationship between the two expressions is by no means straightforward. The basic problem is that in spite of the comparative frequency with which slmm occurs as a sacrificial term, its precise meaning remains unclear. The issue is complicated by at least four factors: (a) the variety of meanings of words formed from the root slm in Semitic languages; (b) the existence of a deity Salim in Ugarit; (c) the unlikelihood of the singular form of the word (slm) having a sacrificial meaning; and (d) the lack of any explanation of slmm in the ritual texts themselves. … Closer comparison of the Hebrew and the Ugaritic terms in fact shows that to claim they are more or less identical in meaning is unwarranted. For example, in complete contrast with what is known of Israel, the citizens of Ugarit sometimes offered slmm sacrifices in connection with the cult of the dead and the ancestor cult. Further, the Levitical association between a selamim offering and a blood ritual, and the fact that Israelite priests shared part of the animal offered in a selamim sacrifice have no parallel in Ugarit. Another difficulty is that in contrast to Hebrew usage, in Ugaritic the terms slmm and dbh are not associated with each other. … On the other hand, slmm and selamim are not totally distinct. Both the Ugaritic and Israelite sacrifices were eaten by the worshippers. They also seem to share common features with practices elsewhere in the ancient Near East, especially other parts of the Northwest Semitic area and Greece. The typical Greek thysia, for example, was a sacrifice in which part of an animal was burnt on an altar and part was eaten as a cultic meal, while Punic inscriptions contain references to a sewa'at sacrifice where part was given to the priest and the rest to the offerer. … In fact, many scholars believe there is a direct relationship between Israelite communion sacrifices and these wider practices. The nature of the relationship may be explained in two alternative ways. While some believe that the Greek and Northwest Semitic customs shared a common origin (Rost, de Vaux), others have argued that the Israelites inherited the practice of a partially burned animal sacrifice from the Canaanites either via the Greeks and Minoans (Schmid) or the Myceneans (Gill). Despite the differences between the Ugaritic slmm and Hebrew selamim therefore, it does seem that there was a 'basic resemblance' between the Ugaritic and Israelite practices. This similarity is in marked contrast with Mesopotamian practice, where neither the burning of parts of an animal sacrifice nor the idea of a communion sacrifice seems to have been known. … " [STB:98-99]
So, your point about the Ugaritic/Canaanite case being different from that of Mesopotamia was absolutely correct, but even the data from Ugarit cannot carry the argument that the biblical God 'needed food' like the gods in the Canaanite pantheon appeared to. Even if the form of the rituals look 'more like Canaanite' than they look 'like Mesopotamian', the theology and interpretation of those rituals in the Hebrew bible are still very, very forceful that God was in no way dependent on Israel or the sacrifices she brought before God.
Ok, so the conclusion reached above still stands, and now even has a wider scope of reference than just Mesopotamian sacrificial beliefs/praxis.
I hope this helps your husband with his concerns--thanks--glenn