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Deeper Commentary


Lev 17:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
These regulations which follow reflect the concept of sacred space which was central to the old covenant. Stephen's speech in Acts 7 demonstrates how even within the Old Testament, there were many hints that God operated well beyond the confines of this concept. And finally all notions of sacred space were collapsed beneath the wonderful idea that God dwells in the hearts of those who are His.

Lev 17:2 Speak to Aaron, and to his sons, and to all the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘This is the thing which Yahweh has commanded-
As discussed on :3,5, the commandment of Yahweh in this passage was limited to Israel in the wilderness. Because later, sacrifice to Yahweh was acceptably offered by men like Gideon, Manoah, David and Samuel in places other than the sanctuary. Likewise the command that Gentiles could not eat Passover was only true for the first Passover, and later legislation allowed them to eat it. A failure to appreciate this has led to many mistaken turns in Biblical exposition; thus Adventists think that any law of Yahweh is eternal, whereas clearly the laws within 'the law of Moses' were often time and place limited. And 'closed table' enthusiasts build an argument on the laws surrounding the first Passover instead of realizing that those laws were only for a limited place and time. 

Lev 17:3 Whatever man there is of the house of Israel, who kills a bull, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or who kills it outside the camp-
This legislation was clearly only intended for Israel during the wilderness years. For "the camp" no longer existed once the land had been settled. It could be argued that the animals listed are not simply sacrifices, but refer to any animal. In this case, it was not God's intention that the people should eat animal meat during the wilderness journey; the manna was intended to be all sufficient. In this case they would have returned to the situation after creation and before the flood, when animal meat was not eaten. It was therefore an attempt to help Israel rise above the effects of the flood and to return towards Eden, as they were on their way to the promised land, which was presented as an Eden to some extent restored. 

Lev 17:4 and hasn’t brought it to the door of the Tent of Meeting, to offer it as an offering to Yahweh before the tabernacle of Yahweh: blood shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people-
The animal represented the offerer, and therefore to slay a sacrificial animal was as if a person had been slain. Hence the language of bloodshed. The Law foresaw that there would be the tendency to worship God away from the rest of the congregation. Those who did so were condemned in the strongest terms: their sacrifice of an animal was seen as the murder of their brother, whereas they would have seen it as an expression of their righteousness. "He that kills an ox is as if he slew a man" (Is. 66:3) refers back to this, making it parallel with idolatry and proudly refusing to let God's word dwell in the heart.  


Lev 17:5 This is to the end that the children of Israel may bring to Yahweh their sacrifices which they sacrifice in the open field, to the door of the Tent of Meeting, to the priest, and sacrifice them for sacrifices of peace offerings to Yahweh-
This was to help the Israelites not to follow the example of the Egyptians and desert dwellers through whom they travelled, who offered religious sacrifices to satyrs and other supposed demons of the desert (:7). Sacrifice was only to be offered at the tent of meeting. This was later impractical when Israel were no longer just dwelling around the tent of meeting; so this law was temporary. See on :2.

Lev 17:6 The priest shall sprinkle the blood on the altar of Yahweh at the door of the Tent of Meeting-
To sprinkle blood upon something didn't necessarily mean the object was forgiven. For an inanimate altar didn't need forgiving. The blood of the covenant was sprinkled (s.w.) upon the people as a sign of their involvement with the covenant process of salvation, rather than as a statement of their forgiveness (Ex. 24:8). Likewise with the sprinkling of the blood of the Passover lamb (2 Chron. 35:11). This was an act of identification rather than forgiveness of sin. The function of the altar was valid before God, or efficacious, because of its association with the blood of Christ; for the blood of the animals slain upon it couldn't bring salvation of itself, but only through God's way of looking at that blood is looking ahead to that of His Son (Heb. 10:4). And so the altar was associated with the blood which represented His blood.     

And burn the fat for a pleasant aroma to Yahweh-
“A pleasant aroma” is a very common phrase. This concept is important to God. It first occurs in Gen. 8:21 where it means that God accepted Noah's sacrifice and vowed that the pole of saving mercy in His character was going to triumph over that of necessary judgment. Under the new covenant, it is persons and not sacrifices or incense which are accepted as a "pleasant aroma" (Ez. 20:41). The word for "pleasant" means strong delight; this is how God's heart can be touched by genuine sacrifice. Those pleasing offerings represented us, the living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). And so it is applied to us in 2 Cor. 2:15- if we are in Christ, we are counted as a pleasant aroma to God. The offering of ourselves to Him is nothing of itself, but because we are in Christ and counted as Him, we are a delight to God. Hence the colossal importance of being “in Christ”. "Aroma" or "smell" is a form of the Hebrew word ruach, the word for spirit or breath. God discerns the spirit of sacrifices, that was what pleased Him rather than the burning flesh of animals. Our attitude of mind in sacrifice can touch Him. Sacrifice is therefore accepted, Paul says, according to what a person has to give, but the essence is the attitude of mind behind it. We think of the two coins sacrificed by the widow.

Lev 17:7 They shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat idols-
See on :5. LXX calls the idols "vanities". Do we feel that life is just pointless, an endless round of childcare, working all day doing in essence the same job for 30 years, a trudging through an endless tunnel until our mortality catches up on us? We were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ from the “vain way of life handed down from the fathers" (1 Pet. 1:18), from the frustration of this present life . The word used for “vain" is that used by the LXX for the ‘vanity’ of life as described in Ecclesiastes, and for idol worship in Lev. 17:7 and Jer. 8:19. We have been redeemed from it all! Not for us the life of endlessly chasing the rainbow’s end, slavishly worshipping the idols of ever bigger homes, smarter technology...we were redeemed from the vanity of life “under the sun" by the precious blood of Christ. We were bought out of this slavery, even if in the flesh we go through its motions.

After which they play the prostitute. This shall be a statute forever to them throughout their generations’-
Israel is so often set up as the bride of God (Is. 54:5; 61:10; 62:4,5; Jer. 2:2; 3:14; Hos. 2:19,20). This is why any infidelity to God is spoken of as adultery (Mal. 2:11; Lev. 17:7; 20:5,6; Dt. 31:16; Jud. 2:17; 8:27,33; Hos. 9:1). The language of Israel 'selling themselves to do iniquity' uses the image of prostitution. This is how God feels our even temporary and fleeting acts and thoughts of unfaithfulness. This is why God is jealous for us (Ex. 20:15; 34:14; Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15)- because His undivided love for us is so exclusive. He expects us to be totally His. Just as Israel were not to be like the Egyptians they were leaving, nor like the Canaanites into whose land they were going (Lev. 18:1-5; 20:23,24). We are to be a people separated unto Him.

Lev 17:8 You shall say to them, ‘Any man there is of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who live as foreigners among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice-
Dt. 12:20,21 says that when God enlarged the land, this law of only eating at the sanctuary was to be changed. There was never any signal from God that He had now enlarged the land and therefore this change of the law was allowed. We note that the law of Moses was flexible and open to change. That it should later be abrogated is therefore no surprise. The argument that each Mosaic law was eternal is therefore lacking in careful attention to the text of the law itself.  

Lev 17:9 and doesn’t bring it to the door of the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to Yahweh; that man shall be cut off from his people-
Sacrifice couldn’t be offered anywhere, although see on :8. It wasn’t the case that the fact someone had a desire to do something for God thereby made them acceptable to Him. He had to be approached in the way He stipulated; and Jesus said “I am the door” (Jn. 10:9). It’s not therefore true that all spiritual roads lead to the same place. We can only come to God in His way. Later we read that God did accept sacrifice in local sanctuaries; we think of acceptable offerings made in other places, by Gideon, Manoah, David and others. We see reflected here God's willingness to accept less than ideal sacrifices, so desirous is He of relationship with His people. 

Lev 17:10 Any man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who live as foreigners among them, who eats any kind of blood, I will set my face against that soul who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people-
The peoples' behaviour in 1 Sam. 14:32 is portrayed as breaking every principle of the commands here about eating blood in Lev. 17:10-14. They ate blood, and also killed calves and mothers on the same day (disobeying Lev. 22:28). All because they were more obedient to their oath to Saul not to eat anything until sundown, rather than to God's covenant. For all this, they were to have God against them and be cut off from God's people. The essence of this has been seen so many times in church history. An insistence upon petty legalism leads people to commit major sin. They are more obedient to the party line and the barked orders of their leadership, than to God. And the legalistic demands of their elders lead them to make utter shipwreck of their faith, breaking the most elemental principles of their covenant with God. Once sundown came and they were free from the oath to Saul, the people were totally disobedient to the covenant.

Blood represents life; to take life to ourselves rather than recognize it is God’s results in us losing our lives (:14). Just as simply as the blood was to be given to God, so we are to give our lives to God. To take the blood to themselves is in fact spoken of as being as bad as murder (:4). This seems extreme language, but it underlines how important to God is this principle- that life is His and we are to give it to Him rather than live or take it to ourselves.

Lev 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life’-
The symbolism of blood in the Bible is difficult. At times it seems to mean simply 'life', at others, it appears to be used for 'death'. We are saved by the blood of Christ- His life, outgiven in death, and His resurrection life lives in us today through the Spirit. God did not demand the death of animals because He simply is pleased by death. What He wants from us is our lives, not that we accept Christ and kill ourselves. 1 Cor. 10 speaks of how we have fellowship with the blood of Christ through the memorial drinking of wine, but in practice this surely refers to our physical symbolism of how we are sharing in His life; His life becomes ours. Life is not ours to take, we are to give it to God- that's the whole idea of the repeated Old Testament emphasis upon not drinking blood but pouring it out to God. The Lord Jesus alludes to all this by urging us to drink His blood, His life- the life we live in the flesh we are to live by, or 'on account of', Jesus (Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 4:11).

When the psalmist says, 'What profit is there in my blood?' he means, 'What profit is there in my death?' (Ps. 30:9). The idiom of 'blood upon him' means that a person bears the guilt for another's death. "His blood be on us" (Mt. 27:25) clearly means they accepted guilt for the death of Jesus. Babylon is a woman "drunken with the blood of the saints"- guilty of their death (Rev. 17:6; 18:24). "Innocent blood" is brought upon a person by allowing the death of an innocent person (Jer. 26:15 RV). The blood of the innocent cries out to God- in the sense that their death cries out to Him for vengeance (Gen. 4:10). The Leviticus passages state that "the life is in the blood", meaning that once the life is taken out of a person or animal, then they are dead [this is an oblique evidence against the notion of an 'immortal soul']. In this sense, blood refers to death as well as life. We have no right to shed blood because all life is God's; and likewise we have no right to think that our life is our own. It is God's. Even animal life was seen as belonging to God- the blood of animals had to be poured out to Him in acknowledgment of this. Our thanks to God for meat is gratitude that He has allowed us to kill and eat animals, to take their lives. "The blood of his cross" (Col. 1:20) clearly means the death of the cross, rather than the blood of Jesus which was smeared on the cross as opposed to His blood generally.

The command not to murder has as its basis the fact that human life is not for us to use as we will (Ex. 20:13; Lev. 17:11; Gen. 9:6). It is God's life and is His- and this applies to our view of others lives as well as our own. Others, therefore, are not for us to use as we will. Gentleness and sensitivity to the life of others, in family life, the workplace, on the road... is therefore an outcome of our belief that the 'other' person likewise has been created by God and has life from Him. To drive in an unkind way, to act in a thoughtless way to others detriment, is therefore the same basic error as taking human life in murder.


Lev 17:12 Therefore I have said to the children of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who lives as a foreigner among you eat blood-
The blood was understood as representing life (Dt. 12:23; Lev. 17:11). We are not to take life to ourselves; not merely in that we aren’t to murder, but we also aren’t to assume that our lives, or any life, is in fact ours to use or dominate for ourselves. Our lives and those of others are God’s, and we cannot take any life to ourselves. The Lord Jesus specifically alluded to the major Jewish principle of not eating blood- when He taught that unless His blood was drunk, then they had no life in them. This alludes to another reason for not eating blood, given in Lev. 17:11: "I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life". The blood looked ahead to the blood which God would give which would make atonement. The blood of animals couldn't take away sins (Heb. 10:4). So the blood only 'made atonement' because it pointed forward to that of the Lord Jesus. The whole structure of the laws about blood required some blood of atonement which had to be shed in future, a blood sacrifice of a representative human who was not an animal. That blood was to be given to God, and not to man. Hence the stress upon not eating blood.

Lev 17:13 Whatever man there is of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who live as foreigners among them, who takes in hunting any animal or bird that may be eaten; he shall pour out its blood, and cover it with dust-
Burying the life, as it were. In baptism, we give our lives to God and figuratively die and are buried with Christ (Rom. 6:1-10). We are to live life in this spirit that life is not ours but to be given to God. This frees us from all the manic human concern to live life to the full for ourselves. We no longer have this concern if we continually accept the principle that life is not ours, but God's.

Lev 17:14 For as to the life of all flesh, its blood is its life; therefore I said to the children of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any kind of flesh; for the life of all flesh is its blood-
It is very often stated in the New Testament that our justification and salvation is through the blood of Jesus (e.g. 1 John 1:7; Rev. 5:9; 12:11; Rom. 5:9). To appreciate the significance of Christ's blood, we must understand that it is a Biblical principle that "the life of every creature is its blood" (Lev. 17:14 NIV). Without blood a body cannot live; it is therefore symbolic of life. This explains the aptness of Christ's words, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53). Sin results in death (Rom. 6:23),i.e. a pouring out of the blood, which carries the life. For this reason the Israelites were expected to pour out blood each time they sinned, to remind them that sin resulted in death. "According to the law (of Moses) almost all things are purged (cleansed) with blood, and without shedding of blood is no remission (forgiveness)" (Heb. 9:22). Because of this, Adam and Eve's covering of themselves with fig leaves was unacceptable; instead, God killed a lamb to provide skins to cover their sin (Gen. 3:7,21). Similarly, Abel's sacrifice of animals was accepted rather than Cain's offering of vegetables, because he appreciated this principle that without shedding blood there could be no forgiveness and acceptable approach to God (Gen. 4:3-5). Not only did he appreciate it, he had faith in that blood, and on this basis God accepted his offering (Heb. 11:4). These incidents point forward to the supreme importance of the blood of Christ.

Whoever eats it shall be cut off-
Being "cut off from Israel" may not mean that the person must be slain. For then the phrase "cut off from the earth" would have been used (as in Prov. 2:22 and often). The idea is that the person who ate leaven (Ex. 12:15) or was not circumcised (Gen. 17:14) was excluded from the community of God's people because they had broken or despised the covenant which made them His people. But there is no record of Israel keeping a list of 'cut off from Israel' Israelites and excluding them from keeping the feasts. So we conclude this means that God would consider such persons as cut off from His people. He would do the cutting off, and not men. In His book, they were "cut off". But there was no legal nor practical mechanism provided to Israel to manage the 'cutting off from Israel' of those who despised the covenant. The cutting off was done in God's eyes, in Heaven's record, and the Israelites were intended to continue to fellowship with such persons at the feasts. This is a strong argument for an open table, and for not seeking to make church excommunication the equivalent of this cutting off of the disobedient from the people of Israel. This explains why being "cut off from Israel" is the punishment stated for doing things which man could not see and judge- secretly breaking the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14), eating peace offerings whilst being unclean (Lev. 7:20- for how were others to know whether someone had touched the unclean, or was experiencing an unclean bodily emission), eating meat with blood still in it (Lev. 17:10,14), not adequately humbling the soul (Lev. 23:29), not keeping Passover (Num. 9:13), being presumptuous (Num. 15:30,31- only God can judge that), not washing after touching a dead body (Num. 19:13,20). This is why Lev. 20:6 makes it explicit that "I [Yahweh personally] will set My face against that person, and will cut him off from among his people". It is Yahweh who does the cutting off and not men (also 1 Sam. 2:33).

Lev 17:15 Every person that eats what dies of itself, or that which is torn by animals, whether he is native-born or a foreigner, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening: then he shall be clean-
The more conscious was the association with uncleanness, the greater was the effort which made to be made to achieve cleansing. Thus if someone knowingly carried a carcass, they had to was their clothes in addition to being unclean. And it's the same principle here. There is definitely a principle connection between knowledge and responsibility, and conscious defilement requires greater cleansing.

Lev 17:16 But if he doesn’t wash them, nor bathe his flesh, then he shall bear his iniquity-
The Lord Jesus Christ knew from Isaiah 53 that He was to bear Israel's sins, that the judgments for their sins were to fall upon Him. Israel ‘bore their iniquities’ by being condemned for them (Num. 14:34,35; Lev. 5:17; 20:17); to be a sin bearer was therefore to be one condemned. To die in punishment for your sin was to bear you sin. There is a difference between sin, and sin being laid upon a person. Num. 12:11 brings this out: “Lay not the sin upon us… wherein we have sinned”. The idea of sin being laid upon a person therefore refers to condemnation for sin. Our sin being laid upon Jesus therefore means that He was treated as if He were a condemned sinner. He briefly endured within Him the torment of soul which the condemned will feel.