Meditations in the Law : No.38 : Blood
Lev 17:8,9 Say to them: `Any Israelite or any alien living among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to the LORD–that man must be cut off from his people.
Again and again in the laws of Leviticus, I suggest, we come across things which to us today seem most strange and yet, once you think about them, make a lot of sense. My underlying belief, having read God’s word for many years, is that the laws make sense! God gave them for a purpose and each one conveys some truth about life. These instructions that we find in chapter 17 convey strong messages about life, about death and about God.
Our starting place, in our verses above, is very simple: if you bring a sacrifice then you must bring it to the tabernacle. The tabernacle or Tent of Meeting was the place ordained by God where the Israelites would come to meet with God – the only place that He had ordained. Thus, to sacrifice anywhere else meant a) you were doing your own thing and disregarding God and b) it was likely you would start offering your sacrifice to some other imaginary god or idol. The truth, as the early Ten Commandments remind us, is that there is only one Supreme Being and so anything else is drifting into superstitious fantasy. These verses summarise what has already been said in verses 1 to 4 and they were given because already the Israelites were sacrificing out in the open (v.5) to goat idols (v.6), obviously from other nations.
Having dealt with this issue, the Law then moves on to a specific prohibition of eating (or drinking) blood: “Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood–I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people.” (v.10). In case we might wonder why this should be so, the reason is then given: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (v.11) When a sacrifice was made of an animal, the person offering it could see the blood pouring out of the animal and it was very clear that this was the very life of the animal seeping away. Today we know that blood carries oxygen and without that the body dies. Mostly certainly “the life of a creature is in the blood.” In the previous meditation we said that Atonement refers to the act of a substitute dying to pay the price of sin for the Offeror to reconcile them to God and so if the creature’s life is contained in the blood, as the blood is taken it is the life being taken and hence the Law says, it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Thus the blood was seen as the very life being given up and so there had to be great respect for that life and so it went on, “Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood.” (v.12)
This respect for life continues on to include the act of hunting: “Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.” (v.13,14) Hence once you have killed an animal in hunting for food, to respect the life, pour the blood away and bury it – and then comes yet again a third injunction about not eating the blood (v.10,12,14).
Near the end of the Bible in chapter 19 of the book of Revelation we find an incredible picture of a coming conquering king who is Jesus and one of the descriptions states, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.” (Rev 19:13) Even in this picture blood is emphasized and of course it is his own blood shed for us. It is his badge, if you like, what gives him authority for he has purchased men through his blood: “And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9) The writer to the Hebrews summed it up: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb 9:22)
Justice demands that wrong is punished. The enormity of the wrongs of every human being, a lifetime of wrongs, demands a life be taken. That is justice. The blood, representing a life being given under the old covenant of the Law, was simply a picture of the life that would be given by the eternal Son of God. He alone was great enough to pay for every single sin that has ever been and will be committed. We either receive his work on our behalf, or we pay the price ourselves in eternity. It is pure folly to opt for the second choice.