When and When Not to Drink Blood (Leviticus 17:1-16)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: Leviticus 17:1–17:16
When and When Not to Drink Blood
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
April 8th, 2018
I. Review: Warmth and Light
You might have looked at the title of today's message and thought Count Dracula was going to be teaching. No, nothing like that this morning. Yes, the title was meant to get your attention and pique your curiosity. But as we are directed by God's word this morning, I think you'll see what that title means.
That journey begins in the book of Leviticus. If you have a Bible, please turn over to Leviticus 17. It's been a couple of months since we looked together at this strange, but spectacular book. And since it has been a while, let me remind you of what Leviticus is all about.
Leviticus, the third book of the Bible, is constructed around one amazing idea: living life with God himself in your midst. God's plan has always involved dwelling with His people. And we need His presence. Fire is an image often associated with God's presence, especially in the previous book of Exodus. In the cold, darkness of sin's curse we need God's warmth and light. We were made for that very thing.
But because of His justice, because He is holy and we are unholy, sin makes God's presence a very dangerous thing. But that's where Leviticus comes in. As I indicated in a previous message, “The restrictions, regulations, and rituals described in this book were the path along which God's people were to walk in order to commune with, and not be consumed by, the One who had redeemed them from slavery.”
Let's keep that in mind as we look together at chapter 17.
II. The Passage: "For It is the Blood" (17:1-16)
As you can probably see from your Bible, this chapter is composed of two sections that each contain two smaller sections. So as you outline indicates, there are four parts for us to think about. Let's first make sure we understand what these parts are communicating. Remember, as we do that, and after we do that, we are listening for what God wants to show us this morning. Amen? The first thing we learn about here is...
1. Where to Kill a Sacrifice (vs. 1-7)
This is what we read in verses 1-7...
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. >>>
 If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp,  and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the LORD in front of the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people.  This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD.  And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the LORD.  So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.
Okay, first thing we need to remember here about the first readers of this book is this: eating meat was a luxury; something usually reserved for special occasions. Cooking up a steak or eating lamb shanks was not a regular thing. Now, with that in mind, we can consider the regulation, the restriction God gave the Israelites here: there was to be no killing and butchering of sacrifice-appropriate animals (i.e. ox, lamb, goat) outside of the sanctuary, the Tent of Meeting.
This means that if you want to butcher a sheep for a meal, you would need to bring it to the Tent of Meeting and offer it as a peace offering to God. Remember, with the peace offerings, the worshiper was able to eat most of the meat, after the priest took his portion. Now, this restriction was only practically possible while Israel was living and traveling together through the wilderness. Once they were settled in the land, a new provision was given. The book of Deuteronomy describes that new rule:
“When the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ because you crave meat, you may eat meat whenever you desire.  If the place that the LORD your God will choose to put his name there is too far from you, then you may kill any of your herd or your flock, which the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you, and you may eat within your towns whenever you desire.” (Deuteronomy 12:20, 21)
But the rest of that passage goes on to emphasize the importance of still following the other rules required for handling this meat.
Now, this rule from Leviticus 17 should drive us ask, “Why so strict? Can't a guy just have a hamburger without going to the Tent of Meeting?” Well, look again at verse 5: This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD. And why is that important? Because, verse 7: So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore.
Yikes! The Hebrews were not immune to the temptations of superstition and idolatry. That point is abundantly clear when you read the OT. But especially here, as they are learning what it means to be a 'set-apart people', it is critical they follow God's guidelines. An absolute prohibition on not butchering your own meat was a safeguard for those who might be tempted to dabble while out in the field, and a way to ensure that deceivers couldn't cover their tracks: “Who me? I wasn't sacrificing anything. I was just getting dinner ready.”
But notice the additional emphasis given in verses 8 and 9. There we read about...
2. Where to Offer a Sacrifice (vs. 8, 9)
We read: “And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice  and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the LORD, that man shall be cut off from his people.”
So if the first part of this first section was about where to slaughter an animal, this precept is stressing the broader point: the killing of all sacrifice-appropriate animals should be thought of in sacrificial terms, AND every deliberate sacrifice, whether it be a burnt offering or a peace offering or a sin offering, is to be offered at the Tent of Meeting, by God's sanctioned priest. There will not be multiple locations for sacrifice. Rivals altars will not be tolerated.
These rules were meant to protect the integrity of the sacrificial system that God designed and the priesthood God instituted. Remember, without it, Israel could be consumed by, rather than commune with, the God of their fathers.
Now keep that in mind as we move into the second half of the chapter. In verses 10-12 we find regulations regarding...
3. The Blood of a Sacrifice (vs. 10-12)
Through Moses, God tells his people, verse 10, that...
“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.  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.  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.”
Okay, notice that we are still talking about killing animals and meat and sacrifice. Do you see that? But things have got more specific here. The focus now is on the blood of the animal. As we just heard, the restriction is clear and concise: do not eat blood. Full stop.
To be clear: this is not a new rule. Leviticus 7:22-27 already detailed restrictions on eating both the fat and the blood of an animal. But this prohibition on blood goes back even earlier. It goes way back! Listen to God's words to Noah in Genesis 9:3, 4...
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.  But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
Now those verses make a similar point to Leviticus 17:11. But we'll come back to that in just a minute. Let's finish up this chapter by pulling verses 13-16 into the discussion. We see in those verses that God also wants to talk with them about...
4. The Blood of Any Animal (vs. 13-16)
Moses continues with God's word. Verse 13...
“Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting [i.e. takes as game] any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.  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.  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.  But if he does not wash them or bathe his flesh, he shall bear his iniquity.”
Okay, what's different here? This ordinance is referring to non-sacrificial animals, but animals still considered 'clean' according to Leviticus 11. These were animals the Hebrews could eat. So for example, if a man hunts and kills an antelope, he is free to eat its meat. But he must first dig a hole and drain all the animal's blood into that hole, so he can cover it over with dirt. This prevented him from both mishandling the blood then and eating any blood later on.
Verses 15 and 16 of this chapter simply repeat the teaching of 11:39 and 40. If you find a fresh animal carcass, you may its meat, but you will be ritually unclean the evening, and will need to wash yourself and your clothes.
Now having looked at the specifics of this passage, this is where we need to stop and think about the underlying principle that ties this passage together. We find that principle in its simplest form in verse 14: For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Think about that for a minute...its blood is its life.
But we also need to remember what verse 11 does with this principle: 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.
But we also read this in verse 4: the man who does not bring his offering to the Tent of Meeting...bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people.
That verse is not arguing that killing an animal is the same as killing a person. It is emphasizing the severity of not following this rule. But the rule is grounded in the sacredness of the altar. And the sacredness of the altar is grounded in the sacredness of the sacrifice. And as we just heard from verse 11, the sacredness of the sacrifice is grounded in he sacredness of its blood.
And why is the blood sacred? Because as God made clear, beginning in Genesis 9, the blood of a creature is the life of that creature. And life is sacred because it is the gift of God. Just as he breathed into man, and man became a “living creature” (Genesis 2:7), so too are all animals described as having the “breath of life” (Genesis 1:30).
This is how atonement for sin was possible. Sin makes unholy me guilty before a holy God. If a suitable ransom is to paid to set me free, then life must be traded for life.
III. Drink His Blood
But wait. All of this is the OT. What does it mean for NT followers of Jesus? What does it mean for us this morning. Well, on the surface, we do find the Apostles talking about blood in Acts 15. Eating meat with blood was one of the four restrictions the Apostles decided to communicate to Gentile converts, to non-Jewish follower of Jesus. I believe Acts 15:21 tells us this restriction was meant to help those Gentile Christians guard against giving unnecessary offense to Jewish believers.
But the fact that the letters of the NT do not repeat this prohibition, but allow all meat to be eaten, probably meant this was more of a guideline, rather than a hard and fast rule.
So that's on the surface. What about below the surface? Well, listen to what Jesus said to Jewish leaders in John 6:53-57...
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
Whoa. In contrast to Acts 15, Jesus doesn't seem concerned here about giving offense to the Jews. Not only is He talking to them about eating his flesh, but also drinking his blood, an idea, as we've learned this morning, that must have been especially repugnant to his Jewish listeners. This is why a few verses later we read this about His own followers...
[verse 60] When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"  But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, "Do you take offense at this?”
Brother and sisters, Jesus is asking the same question to you this morning. Are you offended, are you put off, is it disturbing when Jesus calls you to drink His blood? It shouldn't be. We should hear those words and rejoice. Why? Because of what we've learned in Leviticus 17...not ultimately that the blood is the life, but that the blood represents the life of something or someone. Therefore, when Jesus calls us to drink His blood, he is first talking about giving His life for us.
Peter reminds his readers in I Peter 1:18–19...you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,  but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
The table we come to this morning, the Lord's Table, reminds us there can be no rival altars. There is nothing we can offer up, no other place we can go, to accomplish our ransom, to obtain forgiveness for our wrongs, to find peace with God...no place but the cross of Jesus. We've seen on so many occasions how Leviticus points forward to the perfect sacrifice, to the finished work, the 'once-for-all' sacrifice of Jesus. Wonderfully, chapter 17 does it again.
But there's more. When Jesus tells us we must drink His blood, I believe there's more.
The image of drinking His blood goes beyond what the 'shadow' of animal sacrifices were designed to communicate. When we look at Jesus' own teaching and the rest of the NT, I believe Jesus' invitation here is not only about giving his life for us, but also, second, putting His life in us.
In the old covenant, God allowed animal blood to be given for us. But He never allowed animal blood to be put in us. It's life could cover us, but it could not fill us. But Jesus could and can and does and will, for any who trust him. Later in his Gospel, John describes it this way...
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4–5)
Paul talked over and over about this stunning reality. He declared, It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20) He spoke of the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27) He tells us how the Spirit empowers us, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). He points his readers to “Christ, who is your life” (Colossians 3:4). He reminds the Corinthians in II Corinthians 4:10 that we are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. Speaking of Jesus, Paul declares, and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (II Corinthians 5:15) You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. (I Corinthians 6:19–20)
Do you see how this brings us right back to purpose of Leviticus? God gave this book, these rules, regulations, rituals, and restrictions to His people, in order that He might dwell in their midst. Funny how a rule about not eating blood can point us to an invitation to drink blood. And in that strange language, we find something spectacular: a call to faith; to trust in Christ's life for us, and each day, to trust in Christ's life in us.
Do you want that? Are you tired of fighting for your own way, so that you will some how feel 'full'? God is calling each us this morning to be full of Jesus, that we might surrender instead of fight; that we might yield to his way, to the life of Jesus in us. Let's pray that this morning.
More in Living Leviticus
July 22, 2018Spiritual Vows and a Voluntary Spirit (Leviticus 27:1-34)
July 15, 2018Just Justice? (Leviticus 26)
July 8, 2018Belonging and Belongings (Leviticus 25)