Look upon us, O God, and consider our worship; and accept it as you accepted the gifts of Abel, the sacrifices of Noah, the burnt offerings of Abraham, the priestly offices of Moses and Aaron, and the peace offerings of Samuel.
In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering.
Ritual sacrifices were an important part of the Jewish faith as was lived out in the Old Testament. The next phrase of the prayer calls to mind five examples of Old Testament sacrifices that were pleasing to God.
The sacrifice of Abel. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain was the oldest. Both worked the earth, Cain tilling the ground and Abel raising animals. They both came to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Cain brought “an offering” while Abel brought the firstlings, the best, of his flock. The Lord was pleased with the offering of Abel, but not so with Cain. The result of this was that Cain was so angry, he murdered his brother Abel. The irony is that God had even told Cain, when Cain was angry with God, that “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7) In other words, if Cain offered his first fruits, God said that He would accept them. However, God warned Cain, “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (4:7) Sadly, Cain let sin master him.
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.
The sacrifice of Noah. After the flood, when the waters had receded and Noah and his family had finally emerged from the ark, Noah made an offering to the Lord, in thanksgiving and gratitude for having been spared from the floodwaters and having been kept safe by God, together with his family. The Lord was pleased with the offering of Noah and said, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” (Genesis 8:20-21)
And Abraham listed up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
The sacrifice of Abraham. Abraham and Sarah had waited a long time to have children. They were very old when they finally had a child, by the blessing of God. Then God tested Abraham, he asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. There was actually another meaning in this. Because every Hebrew child knew the story of when Abraham went to sacrifice his son. It put into everyone’s consciousness that a person could actually do that. So that when God sacrificed His Son, Jesus Christ, who was also a descendant of Abraham, the idea wasn’t foreign to the people. God was pleased with Abraham, that Abraham trusted in God enough to sacrifice his own son, the one that he had hoped for so long. God told Abraham to put down his knife and not to sacrifice his son. Then Abraham looked up and there was a ram caught in a thicket and this was the sacrifice Abraham was able to offer to God instead of his son.
But Aaron and his sons made offerings upon the altar of burnt offering and upon the altar of incense for all the work of the most holy place, and to make atonement for Israel, according to all that Moses the servant of God had commanded.
I Chronicles 6:49
The sacrifice of Moses and Aaron. During the time of the forty years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the Law on Mount Sinai. The Law provided for the Ten Commandments to be kept in an ark, called the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was to be kept in a tent (which was the precursor to the temple that Solomon would later build). There were many rituals, instrument and utensils used in the tent and associated with the Ark. There were also twelve tribes of Israel, one of which was the tribe of Levi. God said that certain men of the tribe of Levi would be the priests that took care of the Ark, the tent, the utensils, and performed the rituals, many of which involved sacrifices. The Old Testament book of Leviticus was the book of the priests, who were Levites, which told them how all of this was to be done. This particular Scripture quote is from the book of Chronicles, which in many places summarizes all that came before, including the work of Aaron and his sons who made offerings on the altar to make atonement for Israel. This pleased the Lord.
Then the spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon you, and you shall prophecy with them and be turned into another man. Now when these signs meet you, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. And you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”
I Samuel 10:6-8
The sacrifice of Samuel. Samuel was a prophet, anointed by God. When the people demanded a king be set over them, Samuel was sent by God to anoint Saul to be the king. Upon anointing Saul, Samuel told him that the spirit of the Lord would come on him and change him into another person. And that Samuel would come to Saul to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings to the Lord to show their gratitude.
What these five sacrifices have in common is that they were offered with good intentions by good people. And these were pleasing to God. When we approach God in the Divine Liturgy and ask Him to consider our worship, as He considered theirs, we have to also approach in the same way, which is to come with goodness, with humility, obedience and with joy.