THE SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM ORDAINED FOR OT WORSHIP REVOLVED AROUND THE LINK BETWEEN BLOOD AND LIFE
Allen Ross: The main theological theme, then, is the sanctity of blood. The basis for this emphasis forms the second significant idea: life is in the blood. To pour out blood is to pour out life. Third, the punishment for violating these laws was premature death. This theme of judgment for sin surfaced a few times before in the book, but it is now brought out forcefully.
Because life is in the blood and belongs to God, the people of Israel had to demonstrate their loyalty to the LORD by bringing all sacrificial blood to his tent exclusively, by not eating any blood, and by pouring out the blood of hunted animals to the LORD, thereby avoiding the punishment of death.
Roy Gane: Addressed to all Israelites, both priests and laity, chapter 17 issues three sharp warnings against violation of divine commands recorded earlier in Leviticus. These commands concern offering sacrifices at the sanctuary (nowhere else) to the Lord (not to anyone else) throughout the year and related matters of diet:
(1) not eating blood with meat, and
(2) ritual purification when eating meat from animals not slaughtered by human beings.
In this chapter the warnings are formulated according to the casuistic pattern: “Anyone who . . . [does a certain offense] is condemned to . . . [receive a corresponding penalty].” . . .
In any case, because there are affinities of content and terminology between chapters 17 and both the preceding and following materials in Leviticus, this chapter is clearly transitional.
Peter Pett: With the emphasis that God has placed on the need for the careful regulation of the shedding of blood which represented God-given life (Genesis 9:2-6), it was necessary at some stage that Israel be carefully instructed in how to deal with situations where such questions arose. God wanted them to recognise that life was sacred, and that all life belonged to Him. And this is now the basis of what we find in this chapter, combined with definitions as to the significance of the blood which are of importance to us all.
But there is more to it than that. It will have already been noted that pivotal to this Book is the idea of sacrifice. The first seven chapter centralised on it. The priests were anointed in order to be able to perform it. Severe uncleanness required it. The Day of Atonement focused on it. And now this chapter introduces the remainder of the Book, stressing that underlying the whole covenant lies the idea of sacrifice. Without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness of sin, no atonement, no covenant. All is based on sacrifice.
(:1-2) PROLOGUE – DIVINE COMMANDS
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 ‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, and to all the sons of Israel, and say to them, This is what the LORD has commanded, saying,’”
R. K. Harrison: An introductory formula indicates that this material, like other sections before it, bears the authority of divine revelation. It is to be part of the priestly corpus of teaching, and has to be communicated to the entire nation as a commandment from God. If kept, the injunctions will ensure the continuity of Israel’s distinctive way of life; but if they are disregarded, the nation is warned of the punishment that will follow.
I. (:3-9) HONOR GOD BY WORSHIPING EXCLUSIVELY AT HIS ALTAR — SLAIN SACRIFICES MUST BE BROUGHT TO THE TABERNACLE
A. (:3-4) Sacrificed Animals Must be Offered up to the Lord at the Tabernacle
“Any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox, or a lamb, or a goat in the camp, or who slaughters it outside the camp, 4 and has not brought it to the doorway of the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguiltiness is to be reckoned to that man. He has shed blood and that man shall be cut off from among his people.”
Kenneth Mathews: All of the instructions of Leviticus 1–16 presupposed that legitimate worship of God would only occur at the authorized place of worship. Our passage commands the people of Israel to bring their animals for offerings to the Tent of Meeting. The text’s use of the word “kills” in verse 3 clarifies that the killing in mind is sacrifice for worship, not hunting for meat. The word in the original language is the most common Hebrew term for ritual sacrifice. Here the animals specified were domesticated animals named as the proper beasts for sacrifice—ox, lamb, or goat (cf. Leviticus 1–7, 11). If a person wanted to eat meat from these animals, he brought his animal to the tabernacle as a peace offering made to the Lord (Leviticus 3). The peace offering provided meat for the priest and for the offerer. One’s family and the poor were also invited to enjoy the feast of thanksgiving. Eating meat had a special connotation of blessing because it was not a common part of the Israelite’s diet. It was a delicacy that was available to the upper class. . .
The reasoning behind this condemnation arose from acknowledging the ownership of the life of the animal. The life of the animal belonged to God, and he had given its blood to the Israelite as a means for securing the person’s atonement. The unlawful taking of the animal’s life, that is, using its blood, meant that the Israelite had illicitly killed the beast. The guilty person had taken the blood for his own purposes, usurping God’s right to the life of the animal. In the ceremony of atonement, the blood of the animal was returned symbolically to the Lord by pouring or tossing the blood at the altar in the tabernacle courtyard (Leviticus 1–7). Failure to return to God his due meant that the guilty person had seized from God control over the life of the animal.
Constable: God did not permit the Israelites to slaughter certain sacrificial animals (i.e., oxen, lambs, or sheep without blemishes) anywhere except before the altar of burnt offerings (“doorway of the tent of meeting”; vv. 3-5). They could slaughter animals not used as sacrifices elsewhere (cf. Deut. 12:15-16, 20-27; 1 Cor. 10:31).
B. (:5-7) Specific Reasons for This Exclusivity of Worship
1. (:5) So the Lord Gets His Due
“The reason is so that the sons of Israel may bring their sacrifices
which they were sacrificing in the open field,
that they may bring them in to the LORD,
at the doorway of the tent of meeting to the priest,
and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD.”
Perry Yoder: introduces reasons why all slaughter of flock and herd animals must be done at the tent of meeting. The slaughter of these animals is a holy action.
Peter Pett: The reason for this provision was so that any clean domestic animal which was slaughtered was brought as a peace sacrifice to the door of the tent of meeting to be offered up by the priests. This would then ensure that the blood was properly dealt with, that the fat was offered to Yahweh, and that the life was offered back to God, and from this it would be made quite clear to them that they had received its benefits from Him. They could then themselves partake of its meat, once the priest had had his portion, the fat and vital parts having been offered to God. Every animal slaughtered for meat thus also became a sacrifice of peace offering, confirming peace and wellbeing before Yahweh.
2. (:6) So the Blood and Fat are Properly Handled
“And the priest shall sprinkle the blood on the altar of the LORD
at the doorway of the tent of meeting,
and offer up the fat in smoke as a soothing aroma to the LORD.”
3. (:7a) So Idolatry Can be Avoided
“And they shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot.”
Ken Mathews: The passage indicates by the parallel language in verses 5 and 7 that the offerings made in “the open field” were understood as “sacrifices to goat demons.” The worship of other gods was a constant threat. A sacrifice in an unauthorized place, even if offered in the name of the Lord, was tantamount to the worship of the gods. God, centuries later, by the prophet Jeremiah condemned the people of Judah for their “abominations [of false worship] … on the hills in the field” (Jeremiah 13:27).
R. K. Harrison: If all sacrifices were to be performed within the sanctuary area, there could be no possibility of a person making a private, idolatrous offering to some imagined denizen of the countryside. This legislation was timely, for even from the beginning of the wilderness wanderings idolatrous tendencies were never very far from the minds of the Israelites (cf. Exod. 32:1–6).
4. (:7b) So There Will be No Deviation Down thru the Ages
“This shall be a permanent statute to them
throughout their generations.”
C. (:8-9) Severe Penalty for Any Violation
“Then you shall say to them, ‘Any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, 9 and does not bring it to the doorway of the tent of meeting to offer it to the LORD, that man also shall be cut off from his people.’”
Peter Pett: Note the continued stress on resident aliens. They were not to be free to outwardly practise their own religion or worship as they pleased. If they wished to do so they must go elsewhere. While they lived in Israel, or in the camp, there must be no danger of their leading Israel astray. While they lived in Yahweh’s land they must worship and make offering to Yahweh alone.
R. Laird Harris: The expression “must be cut off from his people” (v. 9; cf. v. 4) is not easy to identify. It usually refers to ceremonial offenses (Passover, Exod 12:15, 19; Num 9:13), uncircumcision (Gen 17:14), eating of unclean foods, or failing to be cleansed after defilement (Lev 17:4, 9, 10, 14; Num 19:13, 20 et al.). The times when it may refer to judgment on moral matters are Leviticus 18:29, where it refers to all the previous matters of incest; Numbers 15:30, the unpardonable sin; Exodus 31:14, Sabbath desecration; and Leviticus 20:3, 5-6, idolatry and spiritualism. It is hard to think that all these instances involve capital punishment – though some may. Another view is that they involve excommunication. Wenham (p. 242) may be right in saying that it involves divine rejection, which was tragic indeed, but which might be averted by repentance.
II. (:10-14) HONOR GOD BY RESPECTING THE SANCTITY OF LIFE — EATING OF BLOOD PROHIBITED
A. (:10) Prohibition against Eating the Blood
“And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.”
Allen Ross: 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 an animal was shed. Therefore, to eat blood denigrated life and disregarded its divinely intended purpose.
It is this higher use for 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 had intended for the sanctuary. Consequently, anyone who ate the blood was cut off. Genesis 9 first set the tone for this divine judgment by saying that God demanded an accounting for the crime. Here, the bold expression is that God set his face against the guilty, a stern expression of judgment.
B. (:11) Principle: Connection between the Blood and the Life
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood,
and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls;
for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.”
Ken Mathews: If the people ate the blood of sacrifice, it was a denial of the blood as God’s gift for their atonement. Verse 11 is central to the passage since it presents the clearest statement of the theological reason for proscribing the ingestion of blood. Superstition regarding blood was rampant in the ancient world. It has its counterparts today too in various cults, especially those associated with the occult. Blood was thought to possess power inherently; by eating the blood, the person appropriated the spiritual power of the blood. Drinking or eating blood was a part of ancient rituals. The Bible adamantly opposes this understanding and prohibits the eating of blood in any form, whether directly or in meat not properly drained (Deuteronomy 12:23; 1 Samuel 14:32–34). The blood is a gift from God that had to be presented to the altar in worship if it was to have the effect of atonement. “I have given it for you” announces that the blood is God’s to give, and by that gift forgiveness is achieved. The gift must be honored by the recipients by proper handling of the blood. To drink the blood would be tantamount to spurning the Giver and using the blood for the individual’s own purpose.
Richard Hess: The first clause associates life in some way with the blood. The word for “life” (nepeš, GK 5883) describes the basic desire for life in the person and expresses that desire as it enlivens the physical body. In the second clause, the blood becomes the ransom or atonement for the sins of people. This is God’s gift to Israel. Instead of demanding their lives for their sins, God allows the people to substitute animals and place their blood on the altar. Thus the lives of the animals take the place of the lives of God’s people. Since the blood is intimately and inseparably associated with the life of the living being, it forms the means of ransom or atonement. That is the point of the third clause. This blood cannot be consumed because (1) it belongs to the animal as the symbol of its God-given life, and (2) God possesses it at the altar in order to redeem Israel from her sin and alienation from fellowship with God.
Wenham: 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 Gen. 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.
C. (:12) Prohibition against Eating the Blood
“Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’”
D. (:13-14) Procedure Regarding Blood from Hunted Game
1. (:13) Disposing of the Blood
“So when any man from the sons of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, in hunting catches a beast or a bird which may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.”
2. (:14a) Identifying the Blood with the Life
“For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life.”
Robert Vasholz: Eating blood, therefore, is an act of disdain for the means that God provides for atonement. Eating blood flies in the face of the symbol that blood serves as the ransom for life which provides atonement on the altar of God. Therefore, anyone eating blood, both native and alien, shall be cut off.
3. (:14b) Summarizing the Prohibition / Principle / Penalty
“Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.’”
Perry Yoder: The blood of sacrificial animals is placed on the altar, but the blood of wild animals cannot be so placed. Instead, the animal’s blood is drained and covered over. Now their meat may be eaten. But why should their blood be given this special treatment of being buried? It does not play a role in purification. The reason given in verse 14 is because the life of every creature is its blood. No less than sacrificial animals, the blood of all living animals, as life, needs to be treated respectfully. This is why God said to Israel, You must not eat the blood of any creature (v. 14). To ensure this obvious point is clear, the reason is stated once more: because the life of every creature is its blood.
Richard Hess: This law also applies to both Israelites and aliens resident in the land. It considers the case of the hunter’s killing of wild game. Since the animal has already been killed, the question arises as to what should be done with its blood. In such cases, the blood should be poured out on the ground and covered with dirt. This eliminates any possible use of the blood for ceremonies involved in worshiping deities of the underworld. It also affirms that the blood of every animal is the concern of God, not just that of the potential sacrificial animals that may be offered to the Lord.
III. (:15-16) HONOR GOD BY AVOIDING CONTAMINATION — CLEANSING FROM CONTAMINATION OF DEAD CARCASSES
A. (:15) Process of Cleansing
“And when any person eats an animal which dies, or is torn by beasts,
whether he is a native or an alien, he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening; then he will become clean.”
Peter Pett: With regard to beasts’ carcasses, where the death had occurred naturally, or as a result of one beast killing another, so that some of the blood would have drained out, then to eat of them was to render the eater unclean. The blood had not been properly dealt with. But still the blood and the fat must not be consciously eaten of, although the problem now arose as to how to remove the blood. Nevertheless the blood and fat were sacred to Yahweh. In fact elsewhere the Israelite was discouraged to eat of such animals at all (compare Leviticus 11:39-40; Leviticus 22:8 of priests) because as the people of God they were ‘holy’ (Deuteronomy 14:21). If they did eat of them they became unclean, although, once they had washed their clothes and washed themselves thoroughly, their uncleanness only lasted until the evening. Once the evening came they would be clean again.
(It will be apparent to all that the total removal of all blood was not practical even with sacrificially slain animals. It was the principle that was important, the avoidance of the deliberate imbibing of blood).
B. (:16) Pronouncement of Guilt
“But if he does not wash them or bathe his body, then he shall bear his guilt.”
Mark Rooker: If an Israelite or an alien ate an animal that had died naturally or had been killed by other beasts, he had to wash his clothes and be unclean until evening (17:15). The blood of a dead animal would certainly have coagulated; thus it would be impossible to avoid consuming blood if one were to eat of an animal that had died. This law is identical to Lev 11:40. The violator of this law bore his own guilt or responsibility (17:16).