Where the world comes to study the Bible

The Preciousness of Blood (Leviticus 17)

Introduction

Down through the centuries, men have sought to identify and then to acquire what is precious. Many are those who have been mistaken in what they have valued most highly. When an error is made here, the tragedy is great. Some have valued things too highly. Some have treasured things, only to have them stolen, or to see them slowly deteriorate through natural processes. Some have erred in attributing value to what others value, only to discover that values change. Money has always been valued, but look at what Confederate Money is worth today!

Today, gold and silver are considered one of the precious commodities that can be accumulated and that will assure one of having something of worth in the future. Think of what would happen to the value of gold if a process was discovered which would enable men to make gold as reasonably and in as great a quantity as nylon or plastic. Let’s face it, there are not very many things which we can call precious, with any certainty that their value will endure.

The things which we can be assured are precious are those things which God has declared to be so. What He values as precious we should value as well. Leviticus chapter 17 clearly identifies one of the few precious commodities of this world—blood. While blood has been implied to be of great value previously in history, here it is directly stated. The value of blood results in several exacting requirements. These requirements are set out for the Israelites in chapter 17 as well. The purpose of our study will be to identify the reason for the value of blood, and then to seek to discover how the preciousness of blood relates to the New Testament Christian.

A Preview of Leviticus 17

Leviticus 17 is a transitional chapter.79 On the one hand, it concludes the previous 16 chapters, which have focused on the sacrificial process by applying the principle of the preciousness of blood to the daily practices of the Israelites. On the other hand, it introduces the following chapters, which deal with the practice of holiness in the everyday life of the Israelites.80 If the first 16 chapters of Leviticus were addressed primarily to the priests of Israel, this chapter is addressed principally to the people of Israel. If the previous chapters deals with the sacred—the tabernacle, the sacrifices, and the priests—this chapter deals with the secular, the normal course of life of the Israelite.

After a characteristic introduction in verses 1 and 2,81 the chapter itself divides into four sections:

(1) Regulations concerning the slaughter of sacrificial animals, vv. 3-7.

(2) Regulations concerning other sacrifices, vv. 8-9.

(3) Regulations concerning the eating of blood, vv. 10-13.

(4) Regulations concerning one who eats an animal that has died or been killed by another animal, vv. 14-16.

The structure of Leviticus is, then, not unlike that of the New Testament epistles. Both begin with principles and precepts, followed by instruction which is very practical in describing the ways in which divine revelation is to become real and relevant in the daily lives of God’s people.

Our approach will be to briefly describe the nature and purpose of the regulations outlined by these four sections of the chapter. We will then seek to identify the most striking features of this chapter. Next, we will attempt to show the ramifications of these regulations in the lives of the Israelites. Finally, we shall seek to derive the principles which underlie these regulations, their relationship to New Testament revelation and their relevance to men and women today.

The Slaughter of Sacrificial Animals
(17:3-7)

In these verses only “sacrificial animals” are in view, those animals which an Israelite could offer to God as a sacrifice: “an ox, or a lamb, or a goat” (v. 3). In offering one of these animals in one of the sacrifices prescribed earlier in the Book of Leviticus, these animals would have been slaughtered82 only at the tent of meeting. The regulation of verses 3-7 presupposes that an Israelite would be tempted to slaughter one of his animals for non-sacrificial purposes, most likely to kill the animal for its meat. Any slaughter which was not sacrificial was considered a danger, for the blood might well have been improperly disposed of. Thus, this regulation forbade the Israelite to slaughter one of his “sacrificial animals” in any other way than in accordance with the ritual prescribed for one of the sacrifices (cf. chaps. 1-7, 16). Since it appears that the purpose for a non-sacrificial slaughter was to obtain meat for eating, the fellowship offering is the only one considered in these verses.83

You will remember that in the fellowship offering, regulations for which are found in chapter 3 and 7 (cf. also 19:5-8), the animal’s blood was sprinkled around the altar, its fat was burned on the altar of burnt offering, the breast and right thigh were given to the priest, and the rest was eaten by the offerer and his guests. The command given in Leviticus 17:3-7 had some immediate and evident implications:

(1) No Israelite could eat the meat of one of his flock or herd unless he first offered it as a sacrifice.

(2) Sacrificial animals could only be killed according to the sacrificial rituals prescribed previously in Leviticus.

(3) This assured that the priests would be provided for.

The primary concern behind this regulation is not to see to it that the priests were kept busy or even fed. Neither was the great danger that the Israelite might slaughter his cattle in some irreligious way. The great danger was that the Israelite would slaughter his beast in a way that would be an act of pagan sacrifice and worship:

“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. … And they shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons84 with which they play the harlot” (Lev. 17:5, 7a, emphasis mine).

You can see by the expressions (“which they were sacrificing,” “no longer,” “they play”) which I highlighted in the text above, that the danger of worshipping goat-demons was not hypothetical, but actual. The purpose of this regulation was not prevention, but cure. Pagan sacrifice which involved the worship of “goat-demons” was something which the Israelites had learned in Egypt and were persisting to practice in the wilderness. The commandment contained in verses 3-7 was thus intended to bring a particular false practice to a halt. The more we learn of this people, the more we realize how much idolatry and false worship they had learned in Egypt and brought with them into the wilderness. Thus, Joshua, the successor to Moses, would have to command the next generation of Israelites: “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:14; cf. also Amos 5:25-26).

Apparently the people of that day had a “killing ritual” which they employed in slaughtering their beasts, and this ritual was, in reality, pagan. The slaughtering of an animal by an Israelite was thus destined to be an act of worship, either of God or of a “goat-demon.” There was no purely “secular” slaughter, but only a sacred ritual, of one kind or the other. God’s command in verses 3-7 instructed the Israelites to exchange their heathen practices for those which worshipped Him. This commandment was one that had very practical and pressing reasons behind it. This regulation would later be modified due the new circumstances of the Israelites once in the land of promise.85

The Offering of All Other Sacrifices
(17:8-9)

The previous command specifically related to the “fellowship (peace) offering,” for this was the only offering which enabled the offerer to partake of the meat of his sacrifice. What of sacrifices other than the “fellowship” offering? The regulation of verses 8 and 9 plugs any “loophole” which might be abused by some. No other offering or sacrifice could be made which is not made at the tent of meeting. This assures that the priests will offer the people’s sacrifices according to God’s instructions, already laid down in previous chapters. In the light of the Israelites’ pagan sacrificial practices, no sacrificial act was left to occur outside the camp, away from the scrutinizing eye of the priests.

The Consumption of Blood
(17:10-13)

The previous regulations had to do with the place and with the ritual by which the blood of a sacrificial animal was shed and then disposed of. The regulation of verses 10-13 seeks to prevent another way in which blood was misused in the ancient Near East—by eating it.

The regulation of verses 10-13 forbids both the Israelite and the alien to eat the blood of any animal (not just the sacrificial animals dealt with above). The reasons for this prohibition are given as well: (1) “the life of the flesh is in the blood,” and (2) the function of shed blood is divinely appointed for the atonement of man (v. 11).86 Thus, anyone who eats the blood of an animal will be “cut off” from his people, an expression which, at best, refers to one’s expulsion from the nation, and, at worst, execution, either by the hand of man or by a direct act of God.87 This command includes the blood of wild game, as well as of domestic animals (v. 13). It makes sense that the blood of wild animals would be singled out here, since the previous regulations have required the animals from the Israelites’ flocks or herds to be offered at the tent of meeting, where the blood would have been disposed of by the priest. The blood of the wild animal must be poured out on the ground and covered, buried, if you would.88 Here (v. 13), as above (v. 10), the alien and sojourner must abide by God’s command not to eat blood.

Animals Not Slain by Human Hands
(17:14-17)

The previous regulations have pertained to either domestic or wild game, which the Israelite kills. What about those animals which have died naturally (that is, by some kind of accident) or have been killed by another animal? In this case, the blood of the victim would not and could not have been poured out, as God had instructed above. The principle of not eating the blood of an animal, because its life is in its blood, is first reiterated in verse 14, along with a repetition of the consequences for the violator.

In verse 15 it is made clear that such an animal, which has died apart from the hand of man, may be eaten, but since the blood could not be poured out as per the instructions given, the individual who thus eats of this animal’s flesh will be unclean, and must therefore wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening time he will be clean. This is essentially a repetition of what God had previously said in Leviticus:

‘Also if one of the animals dies which you have for food, the one who touches its carcass becomes unclean until evening. He, too, who eats some of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; and the one who picks up its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening’ (Lev. 11:39-40).

The priests, however, could not eat such meat (Lev. 22:8). For any of the people to disobey this command to be washed caused one to “bear his guilt” (v. 16; cf. 5:1; 7:18), an expression which gives a rather vague pronouncement of guilt and consequence. It does seem to suggest that the consequences will come as a matter of course or nature, rather than by the hand of men.

As I understand it, both from chapter 11 and from chapter 17, the Israelite is not forbidden to eat the meat of an animal which has died, but neither is he encouraged to do so, especially since it will render those who touch and/or eat this meat unclean.

Overall Impressions From This Passage

As I have reflected on the chapter as a whole, two impressions predominate. The first is that this is a very bloody chapter. The one topic which overshadows the chapter is the proper practice of the Israelites as pertains to the handling of blood. The blood of the sacrificial animals (vv. 3-7) must be sprinkled on the altar of burnt offering by the priest. The blood (implied) of all other sacrifices must not be poured out anywhere other than the altar (vv. 8-9). The blood of no animal can be eaten (vv. 10-13), and since the blood of an animal not slaughtered by man is not poured out properly, eating the meat of this animal makes the person unclean and requires washing (vv. 14-16).

The second impression is that penalties prescribed are “tough.” Any violation of these regulations brings very severe consequences. With the exception of the last section (vv. 14-16), which is a kind of “misdemeanor” offense, the rest of the violations are “felonies,” indeed, one might call them capital offenses. Think through the chapter with me and see what I mean. The transgression in most of these violations is identified as “bloodguiltiness”89 (cf. v. 4). This is the expression which is used of murder. Thus, the consequences for such a violation can be expected to be serious. Failing to slaughter a domestic “sacrificial” animal as a fellowship offering at the tent of meeting brought the sentence of being “cut off” from his people (vv. 3-7), as did offering a sacrifice anywhere other than at the tent of meeting (vv. 8-9) or eating blood (vv. 10-13). Being “cut off” may very well have meant death.

As if matters could not get worse, there is something about the punishment which is even more frightening. The violation of some of these “blood” regulations brings the direct involvement of God in the matter: “‘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’” (Lev. 17:10). It is bad enough to think of suffering some natural consequences for sin. It is even worse to have to face your countrymen. But when God promises to “set His face against” the violator so as to personally “cut him off,” that is a most sobering thought.

The impact of these regulations on the Israelites has been grasped by a Jewish lawyer, who is cited by Wenham:

The threat of being “cut off” by the hand of God, in His own time, hovers over the offender constantly and inescapably; he is not unlike the patient who is told by his doctors that his disease is incurable and that he might die any day. However merciful, because of its vagueness and lack of immediacy, this threat of punishment may seem to modern criminals, in ancient times its psychological effect must have been devastating. The wrath of the omnipotent and omniscient God being directed particularly at yourself of all people, and being certain to strike at you with unforeseeable force and intensity any day of the year and any minute of the hour, was a load too heavy for a believer to bear.90

Practical Ramifications for the Israelite

While I don’t think that this lawyer caught the major thrust of these regulations, he surely did grasp some of their impact. But what was the impact of these regulations intended to be? What was God trying to accomplish in the lives of His people by their obedience to these regulations?

Negatively, they must have created a sense of ominous danger, for a failure here could well be fatal. Keeping these regulations (and who would dare to violate them?) would, of necessity, keep the Israelite from offering pagan sacrifices. It would also greatly restrict the Israelite’s social intercourse with the Canaanites, who did not observe such scruples regarding blood.

We can continue to see this “separating” dimension to the blood regulations even to this day. These regulations are the basis for the Jews’ practice of eating only Kosher foods,91 that is meat which is killed in such a way as to comply with the blood-draining requirements of the Law. Because of “kosher” foods, the Jews are set apart from other peoples and their social interaction is restricted. One of the intimacies of the ancient world (and even of our own) is the intimacy of sharing a meal. Thus, the blood regulations kept the Israelites apart from their contemporaries.

The greatest significance of these blood regulations was in their declaration of the preciousness of blood, due to the interrelationship between life and blood, and consequently the preparation of the Israelites for the atoning work of Messiah in a day yet to come. It is only in the light of the death of Christ that the significance of these blood regulations can really be grasped.

Conclusion

I believe that this chapter underscores several principles which are vital to the spiritual life of every man, woman, and child. Let us prayerfully consider each of these principles and the practical way in which they should intersect our lives.

(1) The principle of progressive revelation. The principle of progressive revelation is simply this: God has chosen to reveal His truths to mankind sequentially. Thus, the great doctrines of the faith are generally introduced early in the Old Testament, later developed more fully by the prophets, and then by our Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry, and finally seen in their fullest form in the New Testament, in the light of the interpretation and teaching of the apostles.

In Leviticus chapter 17 the principle of progressive revelation is very clearly demonstrated in several ways. First, it can be seen in the progressive way in which God revealed the sins of the Israelites to them. Only at this point has God exposed the pagan dimensions of the sacrifices which the Israelites had been offering all along in the open field (cf. vv. 5-7). God did not reveal this sin until He had the solution for it, a sacrificial system which He had designed.

Second, we can see the principle of progressive revelation at work in the way God has progressively revealed the preciousness of blood in His plan of redemption. Early in Genesis, God took the shed blood of Abel seriously (Gen. 4), and later, after the flood, God gave more exacting commands regarding blood-shedding (Gen. 9:1-6). In the life of these Israelites camped at the base of Mt. Sinai, God used the shed blood of the Passover lamb to distinguish His people from the Egyptians, who were visited by the death angel (Exod. 12). Now, in Leviticus, Israel’s conduct with regard to handling blood is even more carefully prescribed, with very serious consequences for any violation.

While the importance of shed blood was once only to be learned by inference, now the principle of the preciousness of blood is stated more clearly than ever before (cf. Lev. 17:11, 14). The Old Testament will continue to clarify and expand on the value of shed blood for atonement (cf. Isa. 53), and in the New Testament the matter will come into full focus, in the light of the atonement which God has provided for man in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. As Peter put it, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Here, Peter does not compare the precious blood of Christ to gold or silver; he contrasts it with these supposedly “precious” metals. He places gold and silver in the category of “perishable things,” which infers to us that the blood of Christ is imperishable, and thus of eternal value. We know, of course, that this is the case, for in heaven it will be the shed blood of the Lamb of God which is still valued for saving sinners:

… Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood (Rev. 1:5).

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:6-9).

A matter as important as the atoning work of Christ was so vital, so important, so precious, that God long beforehand began to prepare men for its coming to pass. Thus we find the preciousness of blood and the principle of atonement revealed very early in the Pentateuch, and then clarified throughout the remainder of biblical revelation.

This leads me to a very important application: The principle of progressive revelation provides us with a vital clue to the importance of any teaching.

Because the atoning work of Christ was so important, so precious, God began to reveal the underlying principles very early in time. I believe that the same thing can be said for any doctrine that is truly vital, truly important, truly precious.

I would hope that you could readily and enthusiastically agree with this principle that important doctrines should have a long history of being progressively revealed. And yet the practice of many violates this principle. Think about it for a moment. What characterizes those truths about which some become most enthusiastic, and which they are so eager to proclaim to others? Let me suggest a few of the characteristics of revelation which is eagerly sought and taught:

(a) That truth which is new and novel, which does not have a long track record. Often these truths are packaged and sold under the guise that “God has, in these last days, revealed some new and wonderful truths.” Rather than feeling the need to apologize for this novelty, these false teachers look down upon those in the past as less enlightened than they. This excuses their teaching from having to conform either to biblical revelation or from the church’s understanding of it through the history of the church. In the Book of Acts we see this desire for “newness” in the philosophers of Athens (Acts. 17:19-21).

(b) That truth which is obscure, which is not clearly taught, and thus not recognized and accepted by most evangelical Christians. Rather than having to explain the fact that few accept their teaching, the false teachers look down upon those who haven’t “seen the truth” as unspiritual and less enlightened. In the days of the New Testament churches, this took the form of gnosticism. Also in Paul’s letters to Timothy there was the warning against speculative teaching.

(c) That truth which conforms to one’s evil lifestyle, and which enables the “believer” to follow his own appetites and evil desires. Strangely enough, the “new doctrines” which are seen by the spiritual elite and missed by the masses, are those truths which justify the sins of its followers. Paul warns of those who will have itching ears, who will gather people who preach to their preferences (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Peter likewise warns of those who teach in a way that enables and encourages men to indulge in the flesh (cf. 2 Pet. 2:18-19).

Let us learn from the principle of progressive revelation that those truths which are vital and most valuable are those which have been taught in greater and greater clarity throughout the entire Bible. Let those matters which are scarcely mentioned not be major concerns or undue subjects for our curiosity.

In addition, the principle of progressive revelation provides us with the key to quickly discerning one’s orthodoxy: ONE OF THE BEST TESTS OF ORTHODOXY IS TO DETERMINE WHAT VALUE ONE PLACES ON THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST.

The doctrine of the preciousness of shed blood develops in its full bloom in the New Testament by declaring that the most precious substance of all is the shed blood of Christ. Thus, anyone who denies the preciousness of the blood is not true to the faith of the Bible, and thus denies saving faith as well. We do not need to know everything which a certain sect teaches (although they are eager to teach us), we only need to know what they make of Christ’s blood. Is it alone what atones for our sins? Here is one of the touchstones for orthodoxy. This question may not flush out all heretics, but it will expose most of them, if answered honestly.

(2) The preciousness of blood in God’s sight. The Israelite of old learned from Leviticus, as nowhere else up to that point in time, the preciousness of blood to God. How much greater value does blood take on for the New Testament saint, whose blessings are all a result of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. As Harrison summarizes the matter,

The blood is the life of the flesh (Lev. 17:11), and it is through the atoning blood of Christ that the believer receives redemption (I Pet. 1:18-19), forgiveness (Eph. 1:7), justification (Rom. 5:9), spiritual peace (Col. 1:20), and sanctification (Heb. 13:12).92

Blood is not precious in its own right, but because it is equated with life. The principle conveyed first in Leviticus 17 is that “the life is in the blood.” Pressing this matter further, then, we can safely conclude that God values life as precious. Blood is the instrument through which atonement is made, which spares the life of the sinner. Life is thus precious to God, as well it can be for it was God who created all life (Gen. 1-2).

If blood (and, as we have seen, life) is precious, then there are several areas of application. The first application is that God values all life. Let the abortionist take note! Let those who talk about “quality of life” beware. God is the giver of life; Satan, through sin, seeks to destroy it. Let us prove to be on God’s side by seeking to save life, rather than to destroy it.

Pressing the fact that God values all life to its personal level, we can say with great conviction, God values your life. God values your life much more highly than you do. The measure of the value which God has placed on your life is the price which He was willing to pay to save it: the precious blood of His only Son, Jesus Christ. According to this standard, God has placed infinite value on your life. May you and I value our life in the light of the value God has ascribed to it.

Further, knowing the value which God has assigned to life enables us to better grasp the evil of sin, which seeks to destroy life by producing death. Sin can only be appraised in the light of its ultimate result—death, and death can only be evaluated in the light of its opposite —life. How ugly sin is in the light of the value of the life which it seeks to destroy.

(3) If we truly treasure the blood of Christ, we will not defile it. The preciousness of the blood of Christ is a very pertinent factor in the life of the Christian. Peter maintains that the preciousness of the blood is to be the Christian’s motivation for purity—for avoiding profaning the price of our redemption. In other words, to resist the goal for which the blood of Christ was shed is to profane the price which was paid to realize this goal: purity and holiness. Put differently, the degree to which the blood of Christ is precious is also the measure of the penalty for profaning it.

The regulations which God gave to the Israelites in chapter 17 of the Book of Leviticus were intended to prevent the profaning the blood of living creatures. It should be granted, then, that what is precious should not be profaned. Are there ways in which the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is profaned? I believe so.

First, the believer profanes the blood of Christ by persisting in the very sins from which the precious blood was intended to cleanse us. Listen to these most sobering words from the Book of Hebrews:

How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? … It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:29, 31).

A second way in which the Christian can profane the precious blood of Christ is by a disregard for the Lord’s Table, or by misconduct in the remembrance of the Lord’s death. You will recall that in the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the misconduct of the Corinthian saints was described. The result was that some were judged by sickness and some by death (1 Cor. 11:30). The reason given by Paul was that the saints did not “judge the body rightly” (v. 29). A part of this was surely that the blood, as symbolized in the wine (of which some drank too much, v. 21), was disregarded and thus profaned.

Not only is misconduct at the Lord’s Table profaning the blood of Christ, but also absence from the Lord’s Table. There are many who view communion as a ritual at best to be endured, and then only occasionally. The New Testament saints remembered the Lord daily (Acts 2:42, 46), and later it was weekly (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11, cf. 16:2). Those who consistently fail to commemorate the Lord’s death not only disobey the command of our Lord (cf. Luke 22:19-20), but they profane the blood He has shed by valuing it so little that they fail to commemorate His death as He has instructed us. Forget your anniversary and you get a taste of what such neglect conveys to your loved one. Neglect the Lord’s Table, in the light of what we have learned of the blood, and profane His blood.

There is essentially but one way in which non-Christians profane the blood of Jesus Christ, and that is by esteeming it of so little worth that they seek acceptance with God on the basis of their own works, in place of the atonement, in which Christ shed His own blood. Imagine standing before the judgment seat of God (the Great White Throne) and having God ask you but one question, the answer to which determines whether you spend eternity in heaven or in hell. The question, I assure you, will be this, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE SHED BLOOD OF MY SON?”

God cares nothing for what you have to offer, but only for what He Himself has offered you, His only begotten Son: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). How dare any man think he could offer God anything for his own redemption, when God has paid the price in full, as the cost of the blood of His Son.

If you have never claimed the blood of Christ for your own salvation, as payment for your sins, I urge you to do so now. If you would hesitate, let me leave you with this solemn thought. Every man will have to give an account for the blood of Christ. Those who accept it as God’s atoning gift will spend all eternity giving praise to God and to the Lamb for that blood. And those who reject it will have these words with which to identify, the words of those who, at the trial of our Lord, called forth to Pilate as they rejected Him as their Messiah, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). These words will haunt ever unbeliever for all eternity, for those who reject the blood of Christ as their atonement, will find it to be their accuser.

(4) The value which we place on the blood of Christ is not proven as much by what we profess, as by what we practice. As I have been meditating on the practical implications of the preciousness of the blood of Christ, it occurred to me that the Israelites’ practice was to prove their regard for blood. Their obedience to the regulations of Leviticus 17 was evidence that they, along with God, found blood to be precious.

The same is true for us. It is not enough to assent to the preciousness of the blood of Christ as a fact. It is not even enough to believe in the blood of Christ for one’s salvation. There must be some practical way in which we prove our regard for Christ’s blood by the way we act. This is not a particularly biblical pattern, but I can say from a few years of observation that people who find something precious tend to act the same way. Let me characterize the actions of one who has found something precious, and see if this describes your life as a result of finding Christ’s blood precious.

First, when a person finds something which he values as precious he will give all that he has to acquire it. The parable of the “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:45-46) is but one illustration of this. If the blood of Christ is truly precious, we do not have to bribe men with false promises to convince them to accept it, nor do we have to minimize the cost. To put it in other words, to the degree that we dilute the gospel message (which has as its central theme the blood of Christ), we betray our own devaluation of His blood and we suggest to the lost that it is not worth a man’s all.

Second, when we value something as precious, we can’t get enough of it. A person who values a certain kind of car as precious will get as many of them as he can. The one who values gold will also get all of it he can get his hands on. So, too, with the blood of Christ. We will not only claim it once for our salvation, but we will claim it on our every approach to God. We will never tire of talking of it, meditating on it, or speaking of it to others. The Lord’s Table will never be a burden, but a delight, if we truly find His blood precious. I find that when I acquire something I value greatly, I keep going out (usually it is in my garage) to look at it. So we should see the blood in the Bible, from cover to cover, and never tire of looking for it and at it again.

Third, when a person finds something that is precious to him he seeks to share it with others. One who has a very rare coin, or jewel, or automobile will not try to give it away, but he will seek to share its beauty with others. That is, he will seek to show it off to others. Now my analogy breaks down here because the things which we value most on earth are rare. Thus, one is not about to give away something which is in short supply and which cannot be replaced. But the blood of Christ is very different. The blood is infinitely precious, but it is also infinitely available. Therefore you can give it away to as many as will receive it and not have your own supply of it diminished. What I am trying to say here is that we would seek to bring others to Christ through the blood if we really valued the blood ourselves. Our estimation of the preciousness of Christ’s blood is the measure of our evangelistic zeal.

Fourth, when we truly find something precious we seek to guard it from damage or defilement. The things which are precious to us we lock up, we put bars around, and we buy alarm systems to protect. If we truly find the blood of Christ precious, we will do our best to keep from profaning it ourselves, or to keep others from profaning it. This relates, once again, to the way in which we remember the Lord’s Table and the way in which we live out our lives in personal holiness.

(5) The shedding of blood is the standard by which love is measured. There remains but one thing more to say, and that is that the measure of true love is ultimately one’s willingness to shed his blood for another. Our Lord taught that no one has greater love than the one who will lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). The death of Christ went one step beyond this, for He died for us while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:6-8). If we truly love others, we will shed our blood for them. If we truly love God, we will be willing to shed our blood for Him. It is against this principle that the words of the writer to the Hebrews come on us with stinging force. He is writing to those who would forsake their faith because of some opposition, and he concludes, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). Any struggle with sin which does not go this far betrays a lack of love.

May the blood of Christ be more precious to you now than it has ever been before.


79 “I prefer to view ch. 17 as a hinge linking the two halves of the book: chs. 1-16 containing the ritual regulations for public life and worship, and chs. 18-25 regulating the personal and private affairs of individuals.” Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 241.

80 “Unlike the regulations in the preceding chapters, this section says very little about the role of the priests. It concentrates on the mistakes a layman is apt to make: he may be tempted to kill animals outside the tabernacle (vv. 3-7) or forget to drain out the blood before eating the meat (vv. 10ff.). In this respect these laws have more in common with those that follow in chs. 18-26, which are designed to promote the holiness of all Israel.” Ibid., p. 240.

81 “Chapter 17 is systematically arranged. It begins with an introductory formula typical of Leviticus (vv. 1-2; cf. 1:1; 4:1; 6:1; 7:28; 11:1; 15:1; 16:1-2; 18:1-2; 19:1-2). Four paragraphs follow, dealing with sacrifice and the consumption of meat. Each paragraph begins in similar fashion: ‘If any Israelite or resident alien who dwells among them’ (vv. 3, 8, 10, 13), continues with a definition of the sin (vv. 3-4, 8-9, 10, 13-14), prescribes the punishment of ‘cutting off’ for disobedience (vv. 4, 9, 10, 14), and generally closes by giving an additional reason for obeying the law (vv. 5-7, 11-12, 14).” Ibid.

82 “The word ‘kills’ may cover slaughter for nonsacrificial purposes (e.g., Gen. 37:31; 1 Sam. 14:32), though it is most commonly used for the ritual slaughter in sacrifice (cf. Lev. 1:5, 11, etc.).” Ibid., p. 241.

83 There is disagreement among scholars as to what is forbidden in verses 3-7. Some think that God has only forbidden sacrifice, particularly the fellowship or peace offering, to take place outside the camp. Others believe that all slaughter is forbidden. This is, to some degree, a result of the ambiguity of the term “slaughter” (cf. fn. 4 above), which can mean either “sacrifice” or simply “to slaughter” (kill). I am inclined to think that all slaughter is forbidden, and not just sacrifice. This best explains why only the peace (fellowship) offering is in view in verses 3-7 (because this was the only offering which left meat for the offerer to eat), while all other sacrifice is covered in verses 8-9.

84 “Both the thing and the name were derived from the Egyptians, who worshipped goats as gods (Josephus c. Ap. 2,7), particularly Pan, who was represented in the form of a goat, a personification of the male and fertilizing principle in nature, whom they called Mendes and reckoned among the eight leading gods, and to whom they had built a splendid and celebrated temple in Thmuis, the capital of the Mendesian Nomos in Lower Egypt, and erected statues in the temples in all directions (cf. Herod. 2, 42, 46; Strabo, xvii. 802; Diod Sic. i. 18).” C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. by James Martin (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968 [reprint]), II, p. 409.

85 “This law could be effective only when eating meat was a rare luxury, and when everyone lived close to the sanctuary as during the wilderness wanderings. After the settlement it was no longer feasible to insist that all slaughtering be restricted to the tabernacle. It would have compelled those who lived a long way from the sanctuary to become vegetarians. Deut. 12:20ff. therefore allows them to slaughter and eat sheep and oxen without going through the sacrificial procedures laid down in Leviticus, though the passage still insists that the regulations about blood must be observed (Deut. 12:23ff.; cf. Lev. 17:10ff.).” Wenham, p. 243.

86 “Of the seven prohibitions in the Pentateuch against eating blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 3:17; 7:26-27; 17:10-14; 19:26; Deut. 12:15-16, 23-24; 15:23), this one (Lev. 17:10-14) is the clearest and provides the underlying rationale.” F. Duane Lindsey, “Leviticus,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), p. 199.

“The first reason simply forms the foundation for the second: God appointed the blood for the altar, as containing the soul of the animal, to be the medium of expiation for the souls of men, and therefore prohibited its being used as food. ‘For the blood it expiates by virtue of the soul,’ not ‘the soul’ itself. … Accordingly, it was not the blood as such, but the blood as the vehicle of the soul, which possessed expiatory virtue; because the animal soul was offered to God upon the altar as a substitute for the human soul. Hence every bleeding sacrifice had an expiatory force, though without being an expiatory sacrifice in the strict sense of the word.” Keil and Delitzsch, II, p. 410.

87 “In other words, this offense [bloodguiltiness due to killing a sacrificial animal apart from ritual sacrifice] is as serious as murder. He has shed blood, consequently he will be punished by God directly. This is the traditional understanding of the phrase ‘to be cut off,’ and it does seem to fit the different contexts in which it is found (e.g., Exod. 30:33; Lev. 7:20ff.; 20:17ff.).” Wenham, p. 241.

“Other interpretations have been suggested. One is that it is a demand for the death penalty to be imposed by human agency following conviction in the courts. But though death does seem to be envisaged by the phrase, it is unlikely that judicial execution is intended, because many of the crimes to which this penalty is attached are secret sins which would be difficult to prosecute in the court (e.g., Exod. 30:38; Lev. 7:20-21; Num. 15:30-31). Moreover, God sometimes threatens to cut people off himself. Such a threat would be unnecessary if capital punishment were mandatory (17:10; 20:3ff.).

“Another possibility is that ‘being cut off from his people’ means being expelled from the nation. Support for this idea can be found in the Laws of Hammurabi, par. 154, which provides for banishment in a case akin to Leviticus (20:17). But the same objections apply to this as to the previous interpretation, namely, the difficulty of prosecution in many cases and the fact that God exacts the penalty in others.

“… It appears, therefore, that this phrase may not only refer to premature death at the hand of God, but hint at judgment in the life to come. Offenders will be cut off from their people forever.” Wenham, p. 242.

88 “In Deut. xii 16 and 24, where the command to slay all the domestic animals at the tabernacle as slain-offerings is repealed, this is extended to such domestic animals as were slaughtered for food; their blood also was not to be eaten, but to be poured upon the earth ‘like water,’ … like water which is poured upon the earth, sucked in by it, and thus given back to the womb of the earth, from which God had caused the animals to come forth at their creation (Gen. i. 24).” Keil and Delitzsch, II, p. 410.

89 “Bloodguilt was a legal term which was normally used in the Old Testament with reference to manslaughter or murder.” R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), p. 178.

90 H. H. Cohn, Israel Law Review 5 (1970), p. 72, as cited by Wenham, p. 242.

91 “Any animal meant for human consumption had to be killed in such a way that all the blood was either drained or washed from its body, a principle that results in what the Jews call kosher meat.” Harrison, p. 181.

92 Harrison, p. 176.