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Vayikra/Leviticus 7:27 Any soul who eats any blood: and that soul will be cut off from its people.
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This verse is the second of three key verses in Vayikra that speak of blood. The first - "It is a law for all time throughout the ages, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood" (Vayikra 3:17, NJPS) - gives the basic command: blood is not to be eaten. It uses the important words (everlasting, for ever), (for your generations) and (in all your dwellings) to show that there is no limit, either by time or space. AsSefer HaChinuch says: "It is in force in every place and every time, for both man and woman." This second verse - our text - gives the penalty for breaking the commandment: death at the Divine hand - being cut off from (rather than at normal death, being gathered to) ones people. HaChinuch supplies the detail: "If a person violates it and eats an olive's amount of lifeblood - if it was deliberate, he must pay by 'karet' [divine severance of existence]; if it was unintentional, he should bring the standard unvarying sin offering" (#148 - not to eat the blood of a domestic or wild animal, or a fowl). The third verse explains why: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have assigned it to you for making expiation for your lives upon the altar; it is the blood, as life, that effects expiation" (17:11, NJPS). The blood has a sacramental function and is not to be abused or trivialised.
Our Sages join in the assertion that it is the function of the blood to make atonement. Discussing the verses which talk about the atonement process in different ceremonies and contexts, the rabbis conclude that although other parts of the ceremonies - laying hands on the head of the animal, "He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him" (1:4, ESV), waving the offering, "he shall take one male lamb for a guilt offering to be waved, to make atonement for him" (14:21, ESV) - are also essential and must be done with proper intent, it is the blood that makes atonement (b. Yoma 5a).
A number of reasons are offered as to why the blood may not be eaten.Maimonides proposes that "the eating of blood leads to a kind of idolatry, to the worship of spirits" (Guide to the Perplexed 3, chapter 46). John Hartley argues that "the holiness of the offerings had to be preserved in their handling and their disposal."1 Gordon Wenham points out that "in no circumstances may blood be consumed." Referring to an incident from the time of Israel's first king - "The troops pounced on the spoil; they took the sheep and cows and calves and slaughtered them on the ground, and the troops ate with the blood" (1 Samuel 14:32, NJPS) - and Saul's response that "the troops were sinning against the L-RD, eating with the blood" (v. 33, NJPS), Wenham concludes that "eating blood means eating meat from which the blood has not been drained."2 Walter Kaiser is definite that "the prohibition on the use of blood as food is absolutely universal. Whether the blood comes on the occasion of the sacrificial feasts or some other setting makes no difference"3, while Mark Rooker suggests that "the fear that blood might be consumed even applied to carcasses of animals because there would be uncertainty about whether all the blood was drained."4
We should note in passing that although blood is not to be consumed, this is not a question of impurity, since blood is used extensively in the setting up and annual purification of the Tabernacle to cleanse the furniture and vessels of the Tabernacle, for example when "Moshe took the blood and with his finger put some on each of the horns of the altar, cleansing the altar" (Vayikra 8:15, NJPS) or the Yom Kippur instructions that "[Aharon] shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and purge it: he shall take some of the blood of the bull and of the goat and apply it to each of the horns of the altar; and the rest of the blood he shall sprinkle on it with his finger seven times. Thus he shall cleanse it of the uncleanness of the Israelites and consecrate it" (16:18-19, NJPS). It even sanctifies the priests during their consecration: "Take some of the blood that is on the altar and some of the anointing oil and sprinkle upon Aharon and his vestments, and also upon his sons and his sons' vestments. Thus shall he and his vestments be holy, as well as his sons and his sons' vestments" (Shemot 29:21, NJPS).
Picking up on the the fact that prohibition against blood includes the resident aliens and strangers living among the people of Israel - "If anyone of the house of Israel or of the strangers who reside among them partakes of any blood, I will set My face against the person who partakes of the blood, and I will cut him off from among his kin" (Vayikra 17:10, NJPS - the New Covenant writers continue the ban on the consumption of blood. Speaking at the Jerusalem Council, James says, "Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:19-20, ESV). He reminds Jews and Gentiles alike that blood is prohibited for all time, throughout the generations, in all your dwellings. Gentiles, those from the nations, the wild olive branches who have been grafted in to the commonwealth of Israel, are those dwelling among the Israelites - "a wild olive shoot ... grafted in among the others and now sharing in the nourishing root of the olive tree" (Romans 11:17) - are embraced by James' affirmation that the ancient rules on blood apply to them.
In a similar vein, Hartley suggests that although New Covenant worship may be less formal and more spontaneous than worship in the days of the Tabernacle or Temple, there must still be a dignity and process to the service so that G-d may be honoured.5 He cites two New Covenant texts that would support his position: "let us offer to G-d acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our G-d is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:28-29, ESV); and "For G-d is not a G-d of confusion but of peace" (1 Corinthians 14:33, ESV). If the worship, prayers and teachings of G-d's people are holy, then the same care must be taken over the way in which they are offered, shared and consumed as the holy things in the Temple.
Extending the Talmudic argument above that while all parts of an atonement process are necessary and must be performed with appropriate intent, there is one key component that effects atonement, namely, the blood, let us put Yeshua's ministry under the spotlight. We need to ask which of the many excellent things that He did and said effected atonement for us, both as a people and as individuals. Was it the way He taught - the stories, parables and sermons; the humour and pathos of His illustrations and the keen insight that allowed Him to exactly touch where people were and what they were feeling - was it His verbal ministry that brought atonement? What about the miracles - the many who were healed, the raising of people from the dead, the exorcism of unclean spirits, the penetrating understanding of people's hearts and the announcement of forgiveness - was it His ministry of signs and wonders that brought us atonement? Surely His compassion and care - the way He touched, spoke with and met the needs of so many people who had given up hope - must have played a part?
Yes, all of these things were important components of Yeshua's ministry; without any of them the atonement would have been incomplete. Yes, Yeshua carried out the whole of His ministry with deliberate intent and purpose, investing every word and action with care, compassion and precision; without this His imaging of the character of G-d would have been incomplete. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, the one key component which brought atonement was the blood: His blood, shed on the cross; the blood that flowed from His side when pierced by the Roman soldier's spear (John 19:34); the "blood of the covenant ... poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28, ESV). This is the way that G-d has reconciled everything and everyone to Himself - Jew and Gentile alike - "making peace by the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:20, ESV).
Many academic scholars, despite their difficulties with accepting the amount of supernatural content in the gospels, are becoming convinced that the gospels do point to a real historical figure whose teachings and compassion for ordinary people were outstanding. Similarly, a number of Jewish scholars working and teaching in New Testament studies or involved in Christian-Jewish relations have been making significant moves to reclaim Yeshua as "one of ours," a genuine first-century rabbi who was wrongfully executed by the Romans. Despite Yeshua's recorded words, which show that He knew exactly what he was doing and why, both groups refuse to cross the line of faith and believe that He was who He said He was. Rav Sha'ul's words are still being proved true: "when we preach that Messiah was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it's all nonsense" (1 Corinthians 1:23, NLT). We need to be absolutely sure that we know where we stand and why: it is the blood that makes atonement for our lives.
1. - John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992), page 102.
2. - Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), page 125.
3. - Walter C. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 562.
4. - Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 136.
5. - Hartley, ibid.
Further Study: 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; Hebrews 9:19-22
Application: Have you accepted Yeshua's blood as your atonement and been reconciled to Father G-d through Him? Take a fresh look at the cross today, despite its barbarism and hated status as a Roman instrument of brutal execution, and know that it was only Yeshua's blood that brought us peace.
Comment - 13:00 04Apr20 CJ: The blood of the lamb at Pesach time is awesome and totally relevant. I love this scripture passage and have ordered your book on Leviticus
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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