Leviticus 17 – The Sanctity of Blood
A. Prohibition of sacrifice outside the tabernacle.
1. (1-4) Sacrifice must be at the tabernacle and by the appointed priests.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron, to his sons, and to all the children of Israel, and say to them, ‘This is the thing which the Lord has commanded, saying: “Whatever man of the house of Israel who kills an ox or lamb or goat in the camp, or who kills it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting to offer an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, the guilt of bloodshed shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people,”‘”
a. Bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting: In the pagan world at that time, it was customary to offer sacrifice wherever one pleased. Altars were customarily be built on high hills, in forested areas, or at other special places.
b. The guilt of bloodshed shall be imputed to that man: This looser attitude towards the place of sacrifice may have been fine for the time of the patriarchs. Yet now with a centralized place of worship, the Israelites were not allowed to offer sacrifice any way they pleased – they had to come to the tabernacle and have their sacrifice administered by the priests. If they disobeyed, they would be cut off from among the people – exiled from their community.
i. This command runs completely contrary to the way most people come to God in our culture. The modern world is characterized by an entirely individualistic way of coming to God, where each person makes up their own rules about dealing with God as they see Him.
ii. In the book Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah and his colleagues interviewed a young nurse named Sheila Larson, whom they describe as representing many Americans’ experience and views on religion. Speaking about her own faith and how it operates in her life, she said: “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It is ‘Sheilaism.’ Just my own little voice.” This instinct for an individualistic, set-your-own-rules religion is given free reign in our modern world.
2. (5-9) The right way to bring sacrifice – to the tabernacle, through the priest.
“‘To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to the priest, and offer them as peace offerings to the Lord. And the priest shall sprinkle the blood on the altar of the Lordat the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and burn the fat for a sweet aroma to the Lord. They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.'” Also you shall say to them: ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from among his people.'”
a. They shall no more offer sacrifices to demons: There was a spiritual reality behind the pagan gods, but the reality was really demonic. In sacrificing to Baal, Ashtoreth, and others, they really worshipped demons.
i. Paul says essentially the same thing in 1 Corinthians 10:20-21: Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. There is a sense in which all worship that is not directed to God is directed to the devil and his demons.
b. That man shall be cut off from among his people: The demonic background to sacrifice justified this severe punishment of open idolatry.
B. Prohibition against eating blood.
1. (10-12) The prohibition stated.
‘And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’ Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood.’
a. I will set My face against that person who eats blood: This was a strict command, but the reason was simple: For the life of the flesh is in the blood. The idea was that all life belonged to God, and since blood is an emblem of life, it specially belonged to God.
b. And I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: Additionally, blood was the means by which atonement was made – therefore, to eat blood was to profane it.
i. Of course, many pagan rituals celebrated the drinking of blood, and God also wanted a separation from these pagan practices.
ii. Thus, as a matter of practice, all animals that were butchered in Israel were drained of blood as much as possible. Not all nations did this. “It appears from history that those nations who lived most on it [blood] were very fierce, savage, and barbarous, such as the Scythians, Tartars, Arabs of the desert, the Scandinavians, [and so forth], some of whom drank the blood of their enemies, making cups of their sculls!” (Clarke)
2. (13-16) How to respect God’s command regarding blood.
“Whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who hunts and catches any animal or bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust; for it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.’ And every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts, whether he is a native of your own country or a stranger, he shall both wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Then he shall be clean. But if he does not wash them or bathe his body, then he shall bear his guilt.”
a. He shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust: If an animal was killed in a hunt and could not be properly bled as in a regular butchering, then the blood was to be poured out on the ground and covered with dust.
i. We may erroneously think this would profane the blood – allowing it to drip on the ground and covering it with dirt. When we think like that, we make the same mistake Uzzah made in 2 Samuel 6:6 – thinking that somehow, the ground is less profane than we are.
ii. Instead, pouring out the blood on the ground like this honored the blood of the animal, and was also hygienic. “The life had thus returned to the ground from which it had come, and the hunters and others who chanced to be in the vicinity were protected from the possibility of communicable disease or infection.” (Harrison)
iii. This respect for blood of animals should make us consider how we regard the blood of Jesus. If, under the Old Covenant, the blood of animals was to be respected, what of the precious blood of Jesus which makes a New Covenant? Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29)
b. Every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts: If one came upon an animal that had died naturally (or was something like modern road kill), one could eat it, because good meat shouldn’t go to waste. But the person who ate was regarded as ceremonially unclean, needing washing.
© 2004 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission