The passage from Jeremiah in context, is completely accurate:
21 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. 22 For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ 24 But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. 25 From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. 26 Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers. (Jeremiah 7) [ESV]
The LORD brought the people out of Egypt because of His promises (not their sacrifices):
2 And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” 3 Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. 4 I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes.” (Genesis 46)
23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2)
The LORD did not require burnt offerings and/or sacrifices to be freed from bondage in Egypt; He gave no command to make burnt offerings or sacrifices in order to be brought out of Egypt because He was fulfilling His promise. In fact, if their freedom was conditioned on their actions, it would not be a promise.
After He brought them across the Red Sea, He led them to Marah:
25 There the LORD made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, 26 saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.” (Exodus 15)
Jeremiah has accurately restated the history of the Exodus. The LORD brought His people out as He promised. After bringing them out He only asked them to obey His voice.
Also, there is no contradiction with the initial giving of the Law (Exodus 20:1 - 23:30) in which there is no requirement to make sacrifices. As Charles Ellicott says:
I spake not . . . concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. — “Concerning” is, literally, for, or with a view to, the matter of sacrifices. The words seem at first hard to reconcile with the multiplied rules as to sacrifices both in Exodus and Leviticus. They are, however, rightly understood, strictly in harmony with the facts. They were not the end contemplated. The first promulgation of the Law, the basis of the covenant with Israel, contemplated a spiritual, ethical religion, of which the basis was found in the ten great Words, or commandments, of Exodus 20. The ritual in connection with sacrifice was prescribed partly as a concession to the feeling which showed itself, in its evil form, in the worship of the golden calf, partly as an education. (emphasis added)
Historically, the Israelites were engaged in the practice of making animal sacrifices before being brought out of Egypt. Aaron made the gold calf and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings:
And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. (Exodus 34:6)
Just as Aaron made an idol, he made a sacrifice. His sacrifice was not done according to the Law or following any proscription from the LORD. He chose the animal(s), the method of killing them, how to handle the blood, and so forth. Aaron was not using instruction the LORD had given; rather Aaron used a system which he already knew and likely had used before. As Jeremiah says, Aaron acted of his own counsel.
Not only Aaron, but the people were engaged in this type of practice:
So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. (Leviticus 17:7)
Where did the people learn how to make these sacrifices? Not from the Law. In other words, the people, like Aaron used a system of making sacrifices which they had learned in Egypt. So as Ellicott says, the sacrifices in the Law served two purposes:
- A concession to the desires to make sacrifices
- A procedure to separate an acceptable sacrifice from unacceptable
Consider the LORD's response to the peoples intent on sacrificing to goat demons:
1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. 3 If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the LORD in front of the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. 5 This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD. (Leviticus 17)
This is not a requirement to make the sacrifices; it is a way in which unrequired sacrifices are made acceptable.
Jeremiah was not the first prophet to speak out against animal sacrifices. Abraham J. Heschel gives an apt description of the world at the time of Jeremiah:
Sacred fire is burning on the altars in many lands. Animals are being offered to the glory of the gods. Priests burn incense, songs of solemn assembly fill the air Pilgrims are on the roads, pageantries in the sacred places. The atmosphere is thick with sanctity. In Israel too, sacrifice is an essential act of worship. It is the experience of giving oneself vicariously to God and of being received by Him. And yet, the pre-exilic prophets uttered violet attacks on sacrifices (Amos 5:21-27; Hos. 6:6; Isa. 1:11-17; Mic. 6:6-8; Jer. 6:20; 7:21-23; Isa 61:1-2; Pss. 40:7; 50:12-13). Samuel insisted: "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than to sacrifice, and to hearken to than the fat of rams" (I Sam. 15:22). However, while Samuel stressed the primacy of obedience over sacrifice, Amos and the prophets who followed him not only stressed the primacy of morality over sacrifice, but even proclaimed that the worth of worship, far from being absolute, is contingent upon moral living, and that when immorality prevails, worship is detestable. Questioning man's right to worship though offerings and songs, they maintained that the primary way of serving God is through love, justice, and righteousness. 1
In a world in which people are intent on acting in their own counsels, the LORD gave them a right system to make an unnecessary sacrifice. Then He sent the prophets to remind them, He never asked them to make sacrifices to obtain what He promised.
- Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962, p. 19