Israel Holy to Jehovah: 2. Eating Blood Prohibited

Leviticus 17:10‑16  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
What we have just had before us applies in its fullness only to the wilderness and the tabernacle there, in part even to the strangers that sojourned among them, wholly to the children of Israel as Jehovah's people of possession. The main prohibition of the closing verses (10-16) has a far wider bearing as the N. T. proves.
“10 And every one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, that eateth any manner of blood—I will set my face against the soul that eateth the blood, and I will cut him off from among his people, 11 for the life (or, soul) of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to atone for your souls, for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul. 12 Therefore have I said to the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall the stranger who sojourneth among you eat blood. 13 And every one of the children of Israel, and of the strangers that sojourn among them, that catcheth in the hunt a beast or fowl which may be eaten, he shall pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with earth; 14 for as to the life of all flesh, its blood is the life in it (or, for its life): and I have said to the children of Israel, Of the blood of no manner of flesh shall ye eat, for the life of all flesh is its blood: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off. 15 And every soul that eateth that which died [of itself] or that which was torn [by beasts, whether he be] home-born or a stranger, shall both wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the even; then he shall be clean. 16 But if he wash them not nor bathe his flesh, he shall also bear his iniquity” (vers. 10-16).
Thus did Jehovah impress on the heedless heart of man, that as human life was forfeited to God through sin, so He forbids the profane levity of turning the blood which is the natural life of earthly creatures into food. So had He enjoined after the deluge when liberty was first given to partake of flesh. The blood was strictly reserved for Himself. Even with natural animals, born to be taken and destroyed, and suitable for food, the claims of God must be maintained. This was long before the law, or even the fathers who had the promises. It was for those rescued from destruction, and standing on what Jehovah saw in the holocaust Noah offered on the altar. But when God thereon blessed Noah and his sons, who began the world that now is, while every moving thing that lived was now given for food as the green herb previously, “flesh with the life, or blood, ye shall not eat.” Man's life has a value attached to it never before declared; and the more because now for the first time it was for government responsible to God to vindicate. “And surely your blood, [the blood] of your lives, will I require.” Even if a mere animal with no reasonable soul slew a human creature, this was no reason to pass it by. “At the hand of every animal will I require it; at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man's brother, will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man” (Gen. 9:3-63Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. 4But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. 5And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. 6Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. (Genesis 9:3‑6)).
These Noahic precepts were carried out further for the children in the law; but they were divinely made known for the post-diluvian world. And when the judaizing party in the early days of the church strove to bring the Gentiles under the law, God took care to maintain liberty from the law of Moses for such. The effort was made at Antioch, where the very name of Christian was first heard, by certain men who came down from Judea, and taught that none could be saved, unless circumcised. Paul and Barnabas after no small discussion failed to settle the question, which was carried to the source of the dispute; and all came out before the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. There Peter, giving a witness with no uncertain sound, asks why they tempted God by putting a yoke on the disciples “which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord we shall be saved in like manner as they also,” not merely shall they be saved even as we. Then Barnabas and Paul rehearsed what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them; and James summed up that which became the decree of the apostles and the elders with the whole assembly, nay of the Holy Spirit Himself, to lay upon the Gentile confessors no other burden than these necessary things “that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which, if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you” (Acts 15:28, 2928For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. (Acts 15:28‑29)).
It surprises not a few that non-complicity with idols, and personal purity should be set with abstaining from eating blood and things strangled. The apostles did not reason on the ground of man's conscience; for grave a monitor as it is, it was then and it might be at any time darkened by public opinion and habits, which among Gentiles made as little of idolatry and personal purity as of using blood and strangled things for food. The revealed will of God is absolute for the believer; and as a fact His face was set against all these indulgences, entirely apart from the peculiar institutions of Israel. They have the full weight of apostolic authority as “necessary things “: what can abrogate this expressly for those of the Gentiles that believe? and in pointed distinction from Levitical ordinances? God's honor is inviolate, and His sanction of marriage, not of fornication. God insists on the recognition that life belongs to Himself; so that, as He gives to eat of flesh, He reserves the blood and forbids eating of things strangled similarly; and the Christian is in no way to be indifferent even to these last injunctions, but bound to honor Him in both.
In Israel, as we see in these verses, to eat blood was to provoke Jehovah's jealousy to the cutting off of the offender: Israelites or strangers sojourning among them made no difference. It denied man's obligation to own the forfeit of life to God: for God was to be owned solemnly, if not on the altar, at least by pouring out the blood on the earth as due to Him, instead of appropriating it to one's own gratification. Death was a serious thing; and Jehovah would not have it slighted, even when He allowed His people to partake of flesh that had been killed for their food. But He would have them, on penalty of their own death, honor His claim of the blood as the sign of life given up to God, and in no way for man to make his food.
Yet there is marked distinction as ver. 15 shows between eating that which died of itself, or what was torn by beasts, “Whether he be home-born or a stranger, he shall both wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean till even; then he shall be clean.” Here it was not the defiance of Jehovah's rights, as in deliberately planning to eat the blood which was forbidden; yet was it a want of zeal for God's word, and of adequate sense of relationship to Him, and uncleanness was incurred, with the command to purge oneself and one's surroundings before Him in the manner prescribed. If the defiled soul was indifferent to these mild terms of humiliation in the ease, Jehovah was not mocked, and the soul which so despised Him, “shall bear his iniquity.”
Who that weighs these words can wonder at the shock given to Jewish feeling by our Lord's words in John 6:2828Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? (John 6:28)? “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have no life in yourselves. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath life eternal; and I will raise him up at the last day; for my flesh is truly food and my blood is truly drink.” Granted, that His words were symbolical, as so often in this Gospel. Yet what symbol could be more startling? His person, His work, is the key to the truth. To eat blood under the law was to rebel against one's forfeited place, and to deal with the life that reverts and only belongs to God. But God now gives eternal life in His Son to every believer, and sent Him to die as propitiation for our sins. Grace changes all; and we despise the truth too, if we do not appropriate His death as the food of faith for our souls. But this in no way abrogates the fact that, in the full blaze of the N. T., the apostles under the Spirit's guidance call us to respect the outward token that life given up belongs to God.