Leviticus 17:10-16 ~ 20161009 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
10/16 Leviticus 17:10-16; Atonement by Blood; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20161016_leviticus-17_10-16.mp3
Leviticus chapter 17 is a chapter dealing with blood. Leviticus is a bloody book. All this focus on blood is a reminder that I am a sinner, and that the wages of my sin is death. Central to chapter 17 is verse 11, which gives one of the clearest statements of the reason behind the whole sacrificial system. Looking at an outline of this chapter we see that verse 11 is the central statement about God's gift of blood to make atonement for life. The beginning of the chapter prohibits sacrificial bloodshed to other gods or away from God's one sanctuary. The end of the chapter prohibits eating meat not properly drained of blood. The center section gives the purpose of blood to make atonement
Last week we looked at the first section of this chapter; the dangerous draw of idolatry, and the exclusive nature of God; that he alone is to be worshiped and only in the way he has proscribed. Today we will look at the rest of the chapter.
Blood is a Big Deal
This prohibition against eating blood is not new. This came all the way back in Genesis 9, where God first gave man permission to eat meat from animals. After Noah and his family left the ark and offered burnt offerings to the Lord,
All the way back in Genesis, life is equated with blood. The shedding of blood is the taking of a life. Verse 10 gives the penalty for eating blood, and it is severe. That person shall be cut off from his people. This applies to both the native Israelite and the sojourner dwelling among them. This is the same penalty attached in verse 4 to offering peace offerings outside the tabernacle. Verse 4 credits the person with bloodguilt who has shed sacrificial animal blood to another deity away from the tabernacle. God considers idolatry as serious as murder. Verse 9 attaches the same penalty to offering burnt offerings or any other sacrifice outside the tabernacle. Here in verse 10, God makes it personal.
God says he personally will set his face against that person, he will do the cutting off. There's a lot of things I would like to avoid in life, lots of things that don't sound very pleasant, but I can think of nothing worse than having the sovereign, omnipotent, everywhere present, all wise, all good, loving God set his face against me. God takes the handling of blood very seriously. He personally will see to it that disregard of the value of blood will be punished.
Verses 13-14 extend this penalty to the blood of non-sacrificial wild game. The Israelite may hunt and eat game, but he may not eat the blood. It must be poured out on the ground and covered with earth. Verses 15-16 warn of the danger of eating animals that have not been killed in the proper way so as to drain the blood. Meat that has not been properly butchered is likely to retain more of the blood in it, and thus makes the person who eats it unclean until evening. This is not as blatant or willful an act of disobedience as that of eating blood, so it carries a lesser penalty.
Why such a big deal about blood? Why such severe penalties attached to blood consumption and misappropriation of blood? Genesis 9 makes the connection between life and blood, and issues the death penalty for anyone who sheds the lifeblood of another. The penalty is life for life, because man is made in the image of God, and God cares about his creation. God is the living God, the eternal God, and the death of his image bearer misrepresents him. God takes our lives seriously, because he takes himself seriously. He takes the life he gave seriously. In Genesis 2 he 'breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature' (v.7).
Life in Hebrew thought is tied to breath, spirit, wind - that invisible, immaterial essence that animates; and blood - the physical, tangible, visible thing that sustains life. Medically we understand something about how these two are related, and if you've ever taken CPR or first aid, you know that the most basic signs of life are pulse and breathing.
Atonement and Substitution; Life for Life
Here in Leviticus life is connected with blood as the visible tangible gift that makes atonement.
There is a symmetry in these verses that is clouded by our English translation. The same Hebrew word 'nephesh' can be translated 'life, soul, or person' depending on the context. This word shows up three times in verse 11, and also once each in verses 10 and 12.
The pivotal statement in verse 11 is God's gift of blood on the altar to make atonement for your person, your soul, your life. That statement is bracketed on either side by a statement about the 'nephesh' being connected to the blood, and bracketed again in verses 10 and 12 by statements about the 'nephesh' who eats blood. In the very structure of the passage, we see that the person who sins is atoned for by the 'nephesh' of another. A life for a life; a life poured out is substituted for a life that has sinned. This transaction is a transaction in blood.
It would serve us well to meditate on each phrase of this central statement.
Blood sacrifice is first of all a gift. It is a gift of God. God says in the first person “I have given it.” God takes the initiative. God is the giver. This is grace; a gift freely given by a gracious God. A gift by definition is undeserved, unmerited. We are sinners, and what we deserve, what we can justly demand, what we have right to is death. The wages of sin is death. Anything else is purely a gift of God, far beyond, in fact contrary to, what we deserve or can justly lay claim to. This is a gracious gift from God.
“I have given it for you.” This gift has an intended recipient. This is not a gift, neatly wrapped, left on a park bench for no one in particular. It is a gift from someone, and it is a gift to someone. To you! God has you, by name, in mind. This is a personal gift to you.
It is given “on the altar.” There is a specific place where this gift is given. There is one way. This gift does not come any way we like. Not just anything anywhere. This is narrow and specific. It is not up to us to determine. We are not at liberty to say 'I don't like blood – it makes me squeamish. How about whipped cream?' God has divinely decreed how atonement will be made. We can accept or reject his gift, but we cannot make up different terms for the agreement. God is the offended party, and it is his to determine what he will accept and in what way he will accept it.
It is given “to make atonement.” It is not given to make us feel better. A relationship has been severed that must be restored. Our sins have offended a holy God and they must be covered. God is a just judge, and his justice must be satisfied. The wages of sin is death and a death must occur.
It is given “for your souls.” Blood is given to make atonement for your life, for your person. What a gift! You have sinned and you deserve to die. But the blood of a substitute is given to take your place! A life is laid down to save your life!
The Blood Of Jesus
Of course this points beyond the animal sacrifice of the Levitical system to the fulfillment in Jesus, the ultimate, final, infinitely valuable, once for all sacrifice.
Jesus is God the Father's ultimate gift to us. Galatians 1:4 says that Jesus “gave himself for our sins.” Galatians 2:20 says that “the Son of God ...loved me and gave himself for me.” The context makes it clear that this giving himself refers to the crucifixion. Ephesians 5:2 tells us that “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” What a gift! What grace!
Sinners justified, redeemed, propitiated; declared not guilty but righteous, purchased out of the slave market, God's righteous hatred of sin appeased. How? By his blood.
Justified, saved from God's wrath by his blood.
Redemption, forgiveness, through Jesus' blood; rich, extravagant grace! Ephesians 2:13 says that we were “brought near by the blood of Christ.” Colossians 1:20 says that he reconciled us to himself “making peace by the blood of his cross.” Hebrews 10:19 says “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.” Hebrews 13:12 says that Jesus sanctifies us “through his own blood.” 1 Peter 1:18-19 tells us we “were ransomed ...with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 John 1:7 declares that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Revelation 1:5 says that Jesus “has freed us from our sins by his blood.” Revelation 7:14 says that the saints “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
So what's the big deal about blood? Why so much talk about blood? Why such a focus on the cross? “I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls.” Blood is sacred. It is a gift. It is to be treated with care. It is not to be put to common use.
Leviticus 17 and Acts 15
It is interesting, at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, where circumcision of Gentile converts was the big issue, this issue of blood comes up. The conclusion of the debate was:
Is this a requirement for us to eat Kosher today? It certainly does underline the value of blood. But the reason given is:
This seems to be a Romans 14 or 1 Corinthians 10 reason; not to put us under specific parts of the law as an obligation, but rather to avoid giving unnecessary offense to those of Jewish background. There's a lot of sin forbidden elsewhere in the New Testament that's not on this list. But all the things listed would specifically be connected to idolatrous worship practices that were common in that day.
Drink My Blood
Leviticus 17 for the Jew would make consumption of any blood utterly repulsive and offensive. This would make Jesus' teaching after feeding the five thousand so startling.
Jesus came to be the life giving bread from heaven. He invites us to feed on him. To drink his blood. Jesus is taking Leviticus 17 and transforming it and making it new. On the one hand, do not treat my blood as common or ordinary; on the other hand, connect with me, take me in, draw life from my sacrifice. In Leviticus, blood was applied to the altar in the tabernacle. In the New Covenant, the blood is applied inside us, the new temple, making holy the dwelling place of God.
At his final meal with his disciples,
Jesus' blood, the blood of the New Covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls. Freely given. For you. Grace that was greater than all our sin. Drink of it, all of you! Take it in! Live! Jesus died so you might live!
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org