Leviticus begins with seven chapters detailing five specific offerings the people were to make at the “tabernacle of meeting” before the Lord. In chapter 1 we have recorded the Olah or the Burnt Offering which illustrated the Sacrifice God would have to graciously make in order to atone for our sins. God would offer something costly. Jesus would endure something ghastly. And in the end this work had to be accepted by the worshipper in faith!
Following this, Leviticus 2 documents the Minchah or the Grain Offering which articulated the appropriate way in which a person was to respond to God for the demonstration of His grace. God’s Sacrifice to make atonement on our behalf (the Burnt Offering) should yield a natural response in our lives back to Him. Note: This was specifically a free-will offering!
Stemming from the Olah Offering of grace and the Minchah Offering of response to God’s grace, chapter 3 lays out the Shelem or the Peace Offering. The idea behind this offering was not that the offering achieved a peace with God. Rather, it was an offering made to the Lord manifesting from a peace that had already been attained. In a profound way God is discussing how His grace should now be enjoyed by His people — His peace!
Chapters 5-7 transitions to the last two of these five offerings which were mandated… The Trespass and Sin Offerings. While the Sin Offering was focused on creating a path for a person to repent of their sins of nature (unintentional) and receive God’s forgiveness, the Trespass Offering was instituted to remove the weight and guilt of a person’s intentional sin. This is why a sinner was required to make restitution in addition to a sacrifice.
After articulating to Moses the protocols for the sacrificial system that was to occur specifically at this new “tabernacle of meeting,” Leviticus 8 quickly moves away from these seven chapters of legalese to an active narrative that lasts a grand total of eight days, carries us up through the end of Leviticus 10, and documents some crazy things.
In chapter 8 Moses designates his brother Aaron and his four sons to be the priesthood by adoring them with new robes in front of the entire congregation of Israel. Not only where they charged with the operational management of the tabernacle, but it would be their job to teach the people what things were “clean and unclean.” After a consecration process that lasted “seven days,” on the “eighth day” chapters 9-10 record their first day on the job.
There is no doubt the day reached a crescendo when “fire came out from the presence of the Lord” and devoured their sacrifices. It’s equally true things quickly took on a sober note when two of Aaron’s sons offered “profane fire” and end up being consumed as well!
While Leviticus 16 will pick up this narrative by God using the deaths of his sons to articulate to Aaron the protocols for what become known as the Day of Atonement — the one day the High Priest would be allowed to enter the Holy of Holies in order to make atonement for the sins of the people, chapters 11-15 records the Holiness Code whereby God defines what was “clean and unclean” on an array of various topics.
In chapter 11 we have the Dietary Guidelines. By prohibiting certain things from their diet God was illustrating how His people were not to be scavengers or predators. In chapter 12 God lays out certain protections for a woman who’d just given birth. In chapters 13-14 God explains how the priests were to diagnose the presence of leprosy or the judgment of God in a person’s life. And in chapter 15 we get the protocols for how the people were to handle bodily fluids and discharges — indeed it was what came out of a man that defiled him!
While the second half of the book beginning with chapter 18 will unpack how man should now live and interact with each other in light of his relationship with God, Leviticus 17 concludes this first section by discussing the sanctity and holiness of blood — which makes entire sense when considering the important role blood played in the sacrificial system, the designating of things as “clean” or “unclean,” as well as the Day of Atonement. Most amazingly, the word “blood” ends up being used 88 times in the book of Leviticus!
Since this is a relatively short chapter, let’s start by reading it in its entirety… Leviticus 17:1-5, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron (the High Priest), to his sons (the other priests), and to all the children of Israel, and say to them, ‘This is the thing which the Lord has commanded, saying: Whatever man of the house of Israel who kills an ox or lamb or goat in the camp, or who kills it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting to offer an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, the guilt of bloodshed shall be imputed to that man.
He has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people, to the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to the priest, and offer them as peace offerings to the Lord.”
Leviticus 17:6-7, “And the priest shall sprinkle the blood on the altar of the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and burn the fat for a sweet aroma to the Lord. They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.”
Leviticus 17:8-10, “Also you shall say to them: ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from among his people. And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.’”
Leviticus 17:11-12, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’ Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood.’”
Leviticus 17:13-14, “Whatever man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who hunts and catches any animal or bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust; for it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.’”
Leviticus 17:15-16, “And every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts, whether he is a native of your own country or a stranger, he shall both wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Then he shall be clean. But if he does not wash them or bathe his body, then he shall bear his guilt.”
As you seek to unpack this interesting chapter you should note God is wrapping up this section of Leviticus dealing with Israel’s relationship with Him by outlawing three specific behaviors… (1) They were forbidden from eating meat that had not been first presented before the LORD at the Tabernacle. (2) No sacrifices were ever to be made by the people in a location other than this tent of meeting. (3) Eating blood was strictly prohibited!
First, they were forbidden from eating meat that had not been first presented before the LORD at the Tabernacle. In our text God’s instructions were abundantly clear to the Children of Israel… Whether you wanted “ox, lamb, or goat” for dinner you were to first bring the animal to the “door of the tabernacle” as a “peace offering to the LORD.”
Admittedly, this particular mandate seems incredibly odd and if we’re honest not very practical. Is God really saying every time the people wanted to eat meat they had to come to the tabernacle? As crazy as it might sound that’s exactly what God was saying!
It’s important you keep in mind the people receiving this instruction was a group of about one to two million Jews located in the middle of the wilderness. The reality was that food was so scarce God was providing them daily provisions in the form of manna from heaven.
To this point, in Numbers 11 we read how the people had grown so sick of manna they start clamoring for meat! Understand, eating an “ox, lamb, or goat” was an expensive luxury. Because these animals served larger purposes (an ox pulled carts, a lamb provided wool for clothing, and a goat yielded milk), killing and eating one of them was a rarity.
One additional component to this command also centered on providing a practical provision for the priesthood. Remember the Levites had their needs met by the other 11 Tribes so they could spend their time focused on the tabernacle and things of the Lord.
If you recall at the end of Leviticus 7 the classification of an animal being a “peace offering” (verse 5) would result in the fat, kidneys, and liver being offered to the LORD upon the altar (the parts that wouldn’t have been healthy for the people to have eaten anyway) with the rest of the meat then being divided up between the worshipper and the priests.
Specifically, the priests would keep for themselves the “breast” and “right thigh” with the remainder of the animal’s meat going back to the individual. Again, the stipulations laid out in Leviticus 7 also establishes the number of days they had to eat the meat and so forth.
An aspect to this particular protocol I find striking was how deeply serious God was about it! According to verse 4 the LORD states that a failure to obey (eating oxtail soup without a trip to the tabernacle) would result in “the guilt of bloodshed” being “imputed to that man” resulting in him being swiftly “cut off from among his people.” Amazingly, an unsanctioned rack of lamb could actually result in a person’s excommunication from Israel!
What makes this heavy-handed approach so strange to me is that by the time the Children of Israel finally enter the Land of Promise God actually decides to do away with the law altogether. In Deuteronomy 12:20-21 we read the following, “When the LORD your God enlarges your border as He has promised you, and you say, 'Let me eat meat,' because you long to eat meat, you may eat as much meat as your heart desires. If the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, then you may slaughter from your herd and from your flock which the LORD has given you, just as I have commanded you, and you may eat within your gates as much as your heart desires.”
Again, context helps us make sense of what’s happening here… Don’t forget the group of people receiving these laws were literally a few months earlier slaves in Egypt. For 400 years they had been really nothing more than an ethnic minority immersed in Egyptian society. Sure, the Jews had their own unique patriarchal traditions, but after multiple generations knowing nothing else there is no question Hebrews were culturally Egyptian.
In fact, this is what makes Leviticus so important. God was taking this group of people and crafting them into a new society. He was stripping them of a former identity by imparting a new way of viewing life and the world in direct contrast to what they’d known in Egypt.
There is no doubt one of the biggest challenges to the core transformation of the Hebrew people would be deprograming them from the pagan religious belief system they’d learned in Egypt. This is why in His deliverance of the people each of the 10 Plagues were designed to demonstrate the True God of Israel’s superiority over ten popular Egyptian deities.
And yet, religious beliefs are hard to shake… Case in point in Exodus 32:1-6 we read, “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us… And Aaron said to them, ‘Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’
So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.’ Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”
My point in bringing up this story is twofold. First, the Golden Calf debacle happened just a month before Leviticus. Secondly, the fact Aaron fashioned the gold into a calf or literally a bull illustrated how susceptible the people still were to some of their pagan programming. Note: One of the most important deities in Egyptian Mythology was Apis — the bull god!
Undoubtedly, this susceptibility to paganism is what’s driving God’s commands in chapter 17. In verse 7 the LORD will say, “They shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot.” In the Hebrew this word “demon” can be translated as he-goat and was likely a reference to Mendes the goat-god or Pan in Greek mythology!
Again, a key to understanding what God is doing in this passage is to remember in these pagan religious practices it was not uncommon for ancient people to deify certain animals and then sacrifice those very animals in order to drink their blood for power. Knowing the Jews had just been liberated from such a religious culture God demanded His inclusion in the killing and eating of any animal specifically to safeguard from these very practices.
This would explain why — after wandering the wilderness for 40 years until this initial group who’d been liberated from Egypt finally died out on account of their lack of faith — the next generation who knew nothing of Egyptian mythology no longer needed such a mandate.
Before I get to our second point, I do want to take a second and highlight a larger principle we can draw from this… Anytime you find yourself in a dynamic where there is this “thing” that could easily pull you back into a former lifestyle, the easiest remedy is to include God!
For example… If money and the security you found in it was your god, the easiest way to safeguard against sliding back into that idolatry is to include God in the way you handle your finances. Giving of your firstfruits keeps your heart in check. If a relationship was your god and sex the unholy sacrament and now you want to insure a new relationship doesn’t suffer the same inevitable fate — include God by prioritizing church and praying together.
Secondly, God is clear no sacrifices were ever to be made by the people in a location other than this tent of meeting. According to verses 8-9 the LORD stipulated that anyone “who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from among his people.”
For many of the same reasons as before this was a serious matter for the LORD — one that would also result in a person being excommunicated from the people. Not only had God established a system by which He’d be approached through sacrifice, but He’d been explicit how and where the sacrifice was to be made. You needed a priest and a tabernacle.
In his commentary on this passage David Guzik writes, “In the pagan world at that time, it was customary to offer sacrifice wherever one pleased. Altars were customarily built on high hills, in forested areas, or at other special places… Yet now with a centralized place of worship, the Israelites were not allowed to offer sacrifice any way they pleased — they had to come to the tabernacle and have their sacrifice administered by the priests.”
One aspect to this I find interesting is how we’re subtly witnessing the development of an important theology. When it came to the worship of God Abraham and the patriarchs sacrificed wherever they wanted. God would meet with them and in response they’d build an altar and make a burnt offering. And yet, now the program has clearly changed…
In the times of the patriarchs the presence of God came and went — in one instance 13 years elapsed between God’s interactions with Abraham. And yet, now the fundamental difference was that the God’s presence would be permanently among His people with the simple stipulation that He had to be approached at a designated place (the tabernacle) and in a particular way (through a sacrifice administered on your behalf by a priest).
Most gloriously, all of these things ultimately pointed humanity to Jesus which is why in Leviticus 17 they were a nonnegotiable. In John 14:6 Jesus boldly declared for all the world, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Friend, there is only one place you can come to gain access to God — the cross of Calvary. There is only one sacrifice that suffices — the one Jesus made for you. There is only one High Priest who can grant you access to the Father’s throne of grace — His name is Jesus!
C.H. Mackintosh, “The moral of this is plain. There is one place where God has appointed to meet the sinner, and that is the cross — the antitype of the brazen altar. There and there alone has God's claim upon the life been duly recognized. To reject this meeting-place is to bring down judgement upon oneself — it is to trample under foot the just claims of God, and to arrogate to oneself a right to life which all have forfeited. It is important to see this.”
Aside from the fulfillment of these things being found in Jesus, there is still a much larger principle at work in the text still relevant in our New Testament context. You see God has established an order to the way our spiritual lives are to function today that is equally nonnegotiable. It’s simply impossible for us to determine these things for ourselves.
Your spiritual growth and development happens only one way — through the washing of the Word of God. Spiritual fruit and Godliness is yielded by only one mechanism — through the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Your continued vitality and health as you sojourn through this oppressive world is not an “on your own proposition” — It demands a genuine community, a church that provides instruction, encouragement, and accountability.
Finally, eating blood was strictly prohibited! In fact, Leviticus 17 is abundantly clear blood was to be treated by God’s people with the utmost reverence. In verses 11 and 14 God explains why this was to be the case. “Life” and “blood” were synonymous. God says, “The life of the flesh is in the blood” and that it is the “blood” that “sustains life.”
In this chapter God wanted the sanctity of life itself recognized and honored by His people through a reverence demonstrated in their handling of blood. When an animal was killed for its meat the carcass was to be properly drained of its blood before eaten. In Acts 15, as the church worked on blending Jewish and Gentile customs, it was advised by the Apostles that Christians should abstain from eating blood or animals strangulated.
In the event the death occurred during a “hunt” or a “catch” God even required respect be shown for the animal by the hunter “pouring out the animals blood” and burying it by “covering it with dust.” Aside from this, because of its connection with pagan worship and idolatry in addition to its negative health consequences, under no circumstance were God’s people ever to “eat the blood” of an animal or literally devour the blood.
In a practical sense what is being articulated to the Children of Israel about “blood” was a truth that transcended any type of possible scientific or medical understanding they would have had in that day in age. Indeed, life is impossible apart from the existence of blood!
Human blood is an amazing thing! Your blood consists of about 55% plasma which helps the cells move throughout your body, 40% red blood cells which carries oxygen to organs and tissues, 4% platelets which aids in the clotting process, and 1% white blood cells which are essential to fighting infections and fostering a healthy immune system.
Incredibly, every 4 months you are alive your body will regenerates for itself an entire set of new red blood cells, every 9 days new platelets, and anywhere from a few hours to several days new white blood cells depending on their need. Life is truly in the blood!
Aside from this on average your body has 6 quarts of blood flowing through a superhighway of veins, arteries, and capillaries. Considering your heart beats about 80 times per minute, all of your blood is cycled throughout your body in just 3 minutes! By days end your heart will have pumped 2,000 gallons and your blood will have traveled around 12,000 miles.
Even with our advance medical knowledge there is still so much about blood we don’t fully understand. When you’re cut instantly your central nervous system communicates to your blood telling it to begin clotting around the wound and sending white cells to fight infection.
Aside from this the original development of blood is mysterious. While we know that it’s during a narrow window of time in embryonic development the first blood stem cells form during the 5th week — which give rise to all the blood cells you will produce in your lifetime, how this happens is unexplainable. Additionally, while each parent contributes half of a person’s genetic code, a baby has neither of its parents blood. Your life is unique to you!
While there is no question “life is in the blood” God carries this idea one step further into its theological implications. Because the “wages of sin is death,” God makes it known atonement for the human soul is only made possible through the shedding of the blood. In fact, Leviticus 17:11 establishes the legal concept upon which the entire Bible stands. God says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”
As you peel back the implications of this verse the logic unfolds… First and foremost, within this blessed text God’s gift to man was indeed the possibility of atonement. Secondly, while radicle, God is equally clear the only mechanism “that makes atonement” would be “the blood” or death of an innocent sacrifice. Thirdly, since “life is in the blood” but the payment for human sin death, it stands to reason why the blood of an innocent animal would fall woefully short in providing atonement for mankind. Obviously, this would prove problematic.
And yet, because God says “it is the blood that makes atonement,” Leviticus 17 does establish the legal grounds upon which “the blood” or death of an innocent human life would actually suffice to “make atonement for the human soul” — if such a sacrifice existed!
In line with what we find here in Leviticus 17 it is simply a reality that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” Again, C.H. Mackintosh says it well, “Yes; atonement is God's gift to man; and, be it carefully noted, that this atonement is in the blood, and only in the blood. It is not the blood and something else. The word is most explicit. It attributes atonement exclusively to the blood… It is all through the blood of Jesus — nothing less — nothing more — nothing different. ‘It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.’ This is conclusive. This is God's simple plan of justification.”
Of all the concepts you’ll find carried over from the Old to New Testaments none is more pivotal than “the blood” of Jesus. In Romans 5:9 we’re “justified” before God “by His blood.” According to 1 Peter 1 we have been “redeemed with the precious blood of Christ.” In Ephesians 1:7 “through His blood” we have attainted “the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” For the first time since Eden Ephesians 2:13 declares that “you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
In Colossians 1:20 each of us have been reconciled to God because Jesus made “peace” with the Father “through the blood of His cross.” Aside from these amazing truth we read in 1 John 1:7 it’s “the blood of Christ” that has “cleansed us from all sin.” In Revelation 1:5 its declared that Jesus has “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” In Hebrews 10 we’re given “boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus.” Friend, the atonement of our sins was only made possible through the death of Jesus Christ!
With these things in mind we understand why in Matthew 26:26-28 “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, gave thanks, gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” Since “life is in the blood” Jesus is inviting each of us to accept His life indwelling ours!
This morning I want you to know Leviticus 17 is what ultimately makes the incarnation of Jesus of such importance. In Jesus the second sinless man was brought into this world through a miraculous conception when the virgin conceived. While fully man Jesus in turn did not possess the fallen genetics of the first — Adam. He was completely guiltless.
You see on a silent and holy night somewhere outside of Bethlehem Mary laid in a simple stable manger the most innocent child ever born! In Jesus the Most High dawned human flesh in order to have our blood coursing through His veins. As a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes God had come to earth to be our necessary sacrifice.
How the majesty of the moment would have quickly soured if anyone had truly known the blood of that peaceful baby boy fast asleep would have to be spilt and His life taken so that you and I might be forgiven! And why was this so necessary… Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”
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