10 “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. 11 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. 12 Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.
13 “Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. 14 For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. 15 And every person who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean. 16 But if he does not wash them or bathe his flesh, he shall bear his iniquity.” – Leviticus 17:10-16 ESV
Life is in the blood. This simple statement is far from simplistic in its implications. All human and animal life is dependent upon blood for its existence. A significant loss of blood could lead to the loss of life. And in God’s economy, blood was not only necessary for sustaining life but it also served as the means for receiving atonement. God, the Creator of all life, placed a high value on blood’s life-giving properties. In the early days of creation, God provided Adam and Eve with a very specific diet.
…out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food… – Genesis 2:9 ESV
And God commanded the first couple, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden…” (Genesis 2:16 ESV). This non-carnivorous diet would continue for generations. It would not be until after the great worldwide flood that God would expand man’s dietary menu to include the consumption of meat. Once Noah and his family exited the ark, they were informed by God that their food options had increased to include “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” (Genesis 9:2 NLT).
God informed Noah, “I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables” (Genesis 9:3 NLT). But He also warned him, “…you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it” (Genesis 9:4 NLT). The new menu items were accompanied by a rather large asterisk that detailed the conditions surrounding the consumption of animal flesh and the spilling of innocent blood.
“And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. Now be fruitful and multiply, and repopulate the earth.” – Genesis 9:5-7 NLT
Now, centuries later, Moses and the people of Israel were being reminded of this divine decree that had been in place since the flood. God wanted the Israelites to understand that, as His chosen people, they were expected to keep this long-standing ban on the consumption of blood. This prohibition would have been passed down by Noah and his sons to their descendants. But it seems obvious that future generations of Ham, Shem, and Japheth’s progeny failed to heed God’s command. They had become fruitful and repopulated the earth, but they had not heeded God’s warning concerning blood and its close association with the sanctity of human life. God had warned Noah that human beings were made in His image and their lives were to be treated with dignity and respect. God had ordained that blood would contain the elements necessary to sustain the human body. Even life within the animal kingdom would be directly linked to the presence of blood.
As God prepared the Israelites to live in communion with Him, He reiterated His ban on the consumption of blood. It was essential that His chosen people live in keeping with His commands, both old and new. They were not free to live like the other nations of the world. They could not afford to ignore God’s commands because He had set them apart and given them the responsibility of demonstrating to the world what it looks like to live in obedience to Him and in perfect communion with Him.
The consumption of blood was strictly off-limits for God’s people. There were no exceptions or exemptions. And God made His thoughts on the matter perfectly clear.
“I will set my face against that person who eats the blood, and I will cut him off from the midst of his people…” – Leviticus 17:10 ESV
God would stand opposed to anyone who chose to violate His ban. Their decision to disobey God would have dire consequences, making them His enemy and the object of His divine wrath and judgment. They would be “cut off,” a not-so-pleasant euphemism that describes their permanent removal from the faith community through death. God wasn’t kidding around.
“By refraining from eating flesh with blood in it, man is honoring life. To eat blood is to despise life. This idea emerges most clearly in Genesis 9:4ff, where the sanctity of human life is associated with not eating blood. Thus one purpose of this law is the inculcation of respect for all life.” – Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus
God further clarified His stance on blood by stating, “for the life of every living thing is in the blood. So I myself have assigned it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives, for the blood makes atonement by means of the life” (Leviticus 17:11 NLT). The life-sustaining attributes of blood made it an extension of God’s creative power. By its very essence, blood carries on the original creation mandate by giving and guaranteeing life to the creatures God formed “in the beginning.”
But there is another aspect of blood that further enhances its value. God established blood as the means of atonement.
“…for the blood makes atonement by means of the life.” – Leviticus 17:11 NLT
“Throughout the Bible blood is not only the symbol of life – it is the life. When blood is shed, life is relinquished. Draining blood from an animal formed a graphic picture for the worshiper that the lifeblood was taken. God had designed it this way so that the people were confronted with the loss of life and reminded of the sacrifice every time the blood of the animal was shed. Therefore, to eat blood denigrated life and disregarded its divinely intended purpose.” – Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus
God had designed blood to sustain life. He had also ordained it as a means for obtaining atonement for sin. Blood in the veins provides life. But blood sprinkled on the altar also provides life by reconciling sinful men to a holy God. The penalty for sin is death. But shed blood that resulted in the death of an innocent animal could also provide renewed life for the guilty sinner. God designed blood to bring life. And whether it pumped in the veins or was poured out on the altar as a sacrifice, blood gave life to God’s people. So, it was to be treated with proper dignity, honor, and respect.
“It is this higher use of shed blood that greatly enhanced the prohibition against eating blood. Since God had designed blood for atonement, it had to be brought to God. Eating it made common or profane something that God intended for the sanctuary.” – Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus
And all of this points to the future, when Jesus would come to earth to offer His life as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). Jesus poured out His blood so that we might have life. He sacrificed Himself in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18) so that we could receive life rather than death. And the apostle Peter provides a powerful reminder of the efficacy of Christ’s atoning work, made possible by the shedding of His blood – life for life.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:23-25 NLT
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.