Life is in the Blood

22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, You shall eat no fat, of ox or sheep or goat. 24 The fat of an animal that dies of itself and the fat of one that is torn by beasts may be put to any other use, but on no account shall you eat it. 25 For every person who eats of the fat of an animal of which a food offering may be made to the Lord shall be cut off from his people. 26 Moreover, you shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwelling places. 27 Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people.”

28 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 29 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever offers the sacrifice of his peace offerings to the Lord shall bring his offering to the Lord from the sacrifice of his peace offerings. 30 His own hands shall bring the Lord’s food offerings. He shall bring the fat with the breast, that the breast may be waved as a wave offering before the Lord. 31 The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast shall be for Aaron and his sons. 32 And the right thigh you shall give to the priest as a contribution from the sacrifice of your peace offerings. 33 Whoever among the sons of Aaron offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat shall have the right thigh for a portion. 34 For the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed I have taken from the people of Israel, out of the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons, as a perpetual due from the people of Israel. 35 This is the portion of Aaron and of his sons from the Lord’s food offerings, from the day they were presented to serve as priests of the Lord. 36 The Lord commanded this to be given them by the people of Israel, from the day that he anointed them. It is a perpetual due throughout their generations.”

37 This is the law of the burnt offering, of the grain offering, of the sin offering, of the guilt offering, of the ordination offering, and of the peace offering, 38 which the Lord commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, on the day that he commanded the people of Israel to bring their offerings to the Lord, in the wilderness of Sinai. – Leviticus 7:22-38 ESV

In verses 22-27, God reemphasizes His restrictions on the Israelites consuming either the fat of an animal or its blood. He even expands this prohibition beyond the sacrificial system by placing off limits any animal that dies of natural causes or is killed by a wild beast. Regardless of how the animal dies, its fat and blood were not to be consumed under any circumstances. And God made this ban on the consumption of fat and blood very clear.

“All fat is the Lord‘s. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood.” – Leviticus 3:16-17 ESV

But these restrictions are far from arbitrary. God had a reason for prohibiting the Israelites from consuming the fat and the blood of an animal. The fat represented the best because it flavored the meat of the animal. The Hebrew word for this delicacy is חֵלֶב (ḥēleḇ) and it refers to the richest or choicest part of the animal. In fact, it was often used to refer to the “fatness” or abundance of the land. In the book of Genesis, Pharaoh tells Joseph to retrieve the rest of his family from Canaan and bring them to Egypt where he will provide them with “the fat of the land.”

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat (ḥēleḇ) of the land.’ – Genesis 45:17-18 ESV

Blood and fat are closely associated in Scripture. In the book of Exodus, Moses is commanded by God to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests. Part of the ritual included the sacrifice of a bull. Moses was told to set apart the blood and fat of the animal as part of the consecration ritual.

“…and shall take part of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and the rest of the blood you shall pour out at the base of the altar. And you shall take all the fat (ḥēleḇ) that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat (ḥēleḇ) that is on them, and burn them on the altar.” – Exodus 29:12-13 ESV

It seems that these two elements, the fat and the blood, are associated for a reason. In Leviticus 17, God provides the reason for His outright ban on the consumption of blood.

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them 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 for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. – Leviticus 17:10-11 ESV

Blood is the key to life. The loss of blood ensures the end of life. And God set apart the blood as a means of providing atonement and forgiveness of sin. The author of Hebrews provides an explanation for God’s use of this life-giving substance as a means of payment for the sins of His people.

For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:19-22 ESV

The loss of life (shedding of blood) became the key to prolonging life (forgiveness of sin) because the wages of sin is death. Pouring out the animal’s blood literally robbed it of life. But that very same blood was then used to purify and atone for the sinner. And this payment was offered to God, whose judgment against sin must be satisfied. God did not take the loss of life lightly. This substitutionary sacrifice was necessary to atone for the sins of the guilty party. So, God would not allow His people to consume the blood in any way. And He put the same restriction on the fat of the animal.

And it seems that the fat, like the blood, was also designed to bring life to the animal. The particular fat God prohibited was that which “around the internal organs, the two kidneys and the fat around them near the loins, and the long lobe of the liver” (Leviticus 7:3-4 NLT). The fat provided a protective layer for these vital and vulnerable organs of the body that helped to prolong life. The blood and fat were designed by God to ensure life. The kidneys and liver help keep the blood free from harmful contaminants by removing wastes and extra fluid from the body.  The kidneys also remove excess acid produced by the body’s cells and maintain a healthy balance of water, salts, and minerals—such as sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium—in the blood.  The liver removes waste products and foreign substances from the bloodstream and helps to maintain proper blood sugar levels and creates essential nutrients necessary for the body’s health.

God’s prohibition against the consumption of blood and fat was meant to emphasize the importance of life. These two vital elements were the key to sustaining life, a gift given by God to both man and animals.

All the way back in the book of Genesis, Moses records the words God spoke to Noah immediately after the flood that destroyed all human and animal life.

Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables. But you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.” – Genesis 9:1-4 NLT

Long before the law was given and the sacrificial system was established, God decreed His ban on the consumption of blood. But with the building of the Tabernacle and the inauguration of the sacrificial system, God provided His divine purpose behind this restriction. The blood would have a much greater purpose. Even in death, the blood would be used to extend life. The guilty would receive pardon and escape the penalty of death because innocent blood was poured out on his behalf.

God is the provider of all life. It is He who initiates all human, animal, and plant life, and He has given mankind the means of extending life through the consumption of meat, grain, fruits, and vegetables. Even in the sacrificial system, God made provision for life by providing the priests with their portion of the offering.

“Then the priest will burn the fat on the altar, but the breast will belong to Aaron and his descendants. Give the right thigh of your peace offering to the priest as a gift. The right thigh must always be given to the priest who offers the blood and the fat of the peace offering. For I have reserved the breast of the special offering and the right thigh of the sacred offering for the priests. It is the permanent right of Aaron and his descendants to share in the peace offerings brought by the people of Israel. This is their rightful share. The special gifts presented to the Lord have been reserved for Aaron and his descendants from the time they were set apart to serve the Lord as priests.” – Leviticus 7:31-35 NLT

Through the sacrificial system and the use of the blood and fat, God provided a means by which the sinner might enjoy life rather than death. But God also provided a way to extend and enhance the lives of those men who helped make atonement possible. Their lives had been set apart for God’s service. They were sacrificing their lives to the service of God’s people and would not receive any of the “fat of the land” in Canaan. But God would graciously provide them with life-giving meat and grain to eat, and He would do it through the sacrificial system.

But ultimately, God would provide eternal life through the death of His Son. It would be through the shed blood of Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, that sinful mankind would find true atonement and a permanent means of finding restoration to a right relationship with God.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:7-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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