Leviticus 17:11
For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul.
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(11) For the life of the flesh is in the blood.—Better, for the soul of the flesh is in the blood. The word here rendered “life” in the Authorised Version occurs twice more in this very verse, and is in both instances properly translated soul. Though it is immaterial whether the word in question is translated life or soul, it is essential that it should be rendered uniformly throughout the passage. By translating it differently in the first clause, the Authorised Version has unnecessarily increased the difficulty of the verse. This clause assigns the reason why blood must not be eaten. It is the principle of vitality, it constitutes the soul of animal life. Hence blood and life are used interchangeably in the Scriptures. Thus, when the Psalmist exclaims, “what profit is there in my blood” (Psalm 30:9), he uses it for life.

I have given it to you upon the altar.—For the sake of emphasis, the words in the original denoting “upon the altar” are placed first in the Hebrew, and the Authorised Version follows this order. It is however better to translate this clause, For I have ordained it upon the altar to make atonement for your souls. Because it is the principle of life, therefore God has ordained it to be offered upon the altar as an expiation for the offerer’s life.

For it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.—Better, for it is the blood that maketh atonement by means of the soul. As the blood of the victim is identical with its life, and represents the soul of the animal, hence God has appointed it as a substitute for the sinner’s life. Thus the life of the sacrifice atones for the life of the offerer. Hence the remark of the Apostle, “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).

Leviticus 17:11. Is in the blood — Depends upon the blood, is preserved and nourished by it. The blood maketh atonement — Typically, and in respect of the blood of Christ which it represented, and by which the atonement is really made. So the reason is double. 1st, Because this was eating the ransom of their own lives, which in construction was the destroying themselves. 2d, Because it was ingratitude and irreverence toward that sacred blood of Christ, which they ought to have had in continual veneration.17:10-16 Here is a confirmation of the law against eating blood. They must eat no blood. But this law was ceremonial, and is now no longer in force; the coming of the substance does away the shadow. The blood of beasts is no longer the ransom, but Christ's blood only; therefore there is not now the reason for abstaining there then was. The blood is now allowed for the nourishment of our bodies; it is no longer appointed to make an atonement for the soul. Now the blood of Christ makes atonement really and effectually; to that, therefore, we must have regard, and not consider it as a common thing, or treat it with indifference.Rather, For the soul of the flesh is in the blood; and I have ordained it for you upon the altar, to make atonement for your souls, for the blood it is which makes atonement by means of the soul. In the Old Testament there are three words relating to the constitution of man;

(a) "life" as opposed to death Genesis 1:20; Deuteronomy 30:15;

(b) the "soul" as distinguished from the body; the individual life either in man or beast, whether united to the body during life, or separated from the body after death (compare Genesis 2:7);

(c) the "spirit" as opposed to the flesh Romans 8:6, and as distinguished from the life of the flesh; the highest element in man; that which, in its true condition, holds communion with God. The soul has its abode in the blood as long as life lasts. In Leviticus 17:14, the soul is identified with the blood, as it is in Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:23. That the blood is rightly thus distinguished from all other constituents of the body is acknowledged by the highest authorities in physiology.

"It is the fountain of life (says Harvey), the first to live, and the last to die, and the primary seat of the animal soul; it lives and is nourished of itself, and by no other part of the human body." John Hunter inferred that it is the seat of life, because all the parts of the frame are formed and nourished from it. "And if (says he) it has not life previous to this operation, it must then acquire it in the act of forming: for we all give our assent to the existence of life in the parts when once formed." Milne Edwards observes that, "if an animal be bled until it falls into a state of syncope, and the further loss of blood is not prevented, all muscular motion quickly ceases, respiration is suspended, the heart pauses from its action, life is no longer manifested by any outward sign, and death soon becomes inevitable; but if, in this state, the blood of another animal of the same species be injected into the veins of the one to all appearance dead, we see with amazement this inanimate body return to life, gaining accessions of vitality with each new quantity of blood that is introduced, eventual beginning to breathe freely, moving with ease, and finally walking as it was wont to do, and recovering completely." More or less distinct traces of the recognition of blood as the vehicle of life are found in Greek and Roman writers. The knowledge of the ancients on the subject may indeed have been based on the mere observation that an animal loses its life when it loses its blood: but it may deepen our sense of the wisdom and significance of the Law of Moses to know that the fact which it sets forth so distinctly and consistently, and in such pregnant connection, is so clearly recognized by modern scientific research.

11. the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls—God, as the sovereign author and proprietor of nature, reserved the blood to Himself and allowed men only one use of it—in the way of sacrifices. Of the flesh, i.e. of living creatures.

Is in the blood, i.e. it depends upon the blood, is preserved and nourished by it, and is extinguished when the blood is gone. And this law was given to the Jews, and hard-hearted people, as they are oft said to be, that by this restraint from the blood of brute creatures they might be wrought to the greater abhorrency of taking away the life of a man.

It is the blood that maketh an atonement; typically, and in respect of the blood of Christ, which it represented, by which the atonement is really made, Hebrews 9:12. So the reason is double:

1. Because this was the eating up of the price or ransom of their own lives, which in construction was the destroying of themselves.

2. Because this was ingratitude and irreverence towards that sacred blood of Christ which they ought to have in continual veneration. For the life of the flesh is in the blood,.... The animal life or soul, the life and soul of every creature, and even the animal life and soul of man; agreeably to which our famous Dr. Harvey, who found out the circulation of the blood, says of it, that it is the principal part which first appears in generation; is the genital part, the fountain of life the first that lives, and the last that dies; the primary seat of the soul or life, from whence motion and pulsation take their rise; in which the innate heat is produced the vital spirit is generated and the life consists (i); and therefore it is spread all over the body, and according to the condition that it is in, such is the health and such the diseases of the body; yea, the affections of the mind, such as fear, shame, joy, and anger are discovered by it. Hence Antoninus the emperor, more than once, calls the soul a vapour or exhalation arising out of the blood (k); and the sentiments of various Jewish writers agree herewith: says Aben Ezra, it is a truth, that the soul or life, with which man lives, is in the blood of the heart; so says Jarchi the soul or life depends upon the blood; and Ben Gersom observes, that the blood is the vessel of the soul to carry in it the fundamental heat, and food to the parts of the body; and hence the animal only dies when the blood is removed:

and I have given it unto you to make an atonement for your souls: that being the life of the creature, was given for theirs to preserve them alive, and secure them from death their sins deserved; and so the Targum of Jonathan is, for the sins of the soul; which shows that these sacrifices were vicarious, in the room of men, and for the life of them, and to atone for them; and is the reason given why blood should not be eaten, at least while these typical expiatory sacrifices were used. Ben Gersom seems to intimate, as if it was only the blood of those that was forbidden: his words are, hence we learn says he, that they were not guilty of cutting off, but on account of the blood, which, according to its way was put upon the altar; and this was the blood of the soul as it saith the blood of the bullock, and the blood of the goat; but the blood that was pressed out, and the blood of the members they were not guilty of cutting off, on account of them:

for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul; so here was life for life, soul for soul as Aben Ezra expresses it; it was a vicarious sacrifice and atonement, typical of the sacrifice and atonement of Christ, in the room and stead of his people, there being no atonement, no remission of sins without shedding of blood; and the reason of the prohibition of eating blood was to direct to that blood as the atonement for sin, and to keep up a reverence of it, and a value and esteem for it; but now seeing that blood has been shed and atonement made by it, the end of the law is answered, and the reason of it ceased, and so the law itself; and as Christ's blood is now to be eaten in a spiritual sense, the eating of blood in a literal sense, properly dressed, is lawful. And indeed, as before observed the law concerning it was never binding upon Gentiles, only on Jews and proselytes.

(i) De Generatione Animal. Exercitat. 51. p. 302, 303, &c. (k) De Seipso, l. 5. sect. 25. & l. 6. sect. 11.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
11. The reason for avoiding blood is given.

the life … your souls … the life] The Heb. word néphesh is the same in the three cases.

it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life] i.e. the life which it contains, not as A.V. ‘maketh atonement for the soul.’Whoever of the house of Israel slaughtered an ox, sheep, or goat, either within or outside the camp, without bringing the animal to the tabernacle, to offer a sacrifice therefrom to the Lord, "blood was to be reckoned to him;" that is to say, as the following expression, "he hath shed blood," shows, such slaughtering was to be reckoned as the shedding of blood, or blood-guiltiness, and punished with extermination (see Genesis 17:14). The severity of this prohibition required some explanation, and this is given in the reason assigned in Leviticus 17:5-7, viz., "that the Israelites may bring their slain-offerings, which they slay in the open field, before the door of the tabernacle, as peace-offerings to Jehovah," and "no more offer their sacrifices to the שׂעירים, after whom they go a whoring" (Leviticus 17:7). This reason presupposes that the custom of dedicating the slain animals as sacrifices to some deity, to which a portion of them was offered, was then widely spread among the Israelites. It had probably been adopted from the Egyptians; though this is not expressly stated by ancient writers: Herodotus (i. 132) and Strabo (xv. 732) simply mentioning it as a Persian custom, whilst the law book of Manu ascribes it to the Indians. To root out this idolatrous custom from among the Israelites, they were commanded to slay every animal before the tabernacle, as a sacrificial gift to Jehovah, and to bring the slain-offerings, which they would have slain in the open field, to the priest at the tabernacle, as shelamim (praise-offerings and thank-offerings), that he might sprinkle the blood upon the altar, and burn the fat as a sweet-smelling savour for Jehovah (see Leviticus 3:2-5). "The face of the field" (Leviticus 17:5, as in Leviticus 14:7, Leviticus 14:53): the open field, in distinction from the enclosed space of the court of Jehovah's dwelling. "The altar of Jehovah" is spoken of in Leviticus 17:6 instead of "the altar" only (Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 11:15, etc.), on account of the contrast drawn between it and the altars upon which they offered sacrifice to Seirim. שׂעירים, literally goats, is here used to signify daemones (Vulg.), "field-devils" (Luther), demons, like the שׂדים in Deuteronomy 32:17, who were supposed to inhabit the desert (Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14), and whose pernicious influence they sought to avert by sacrifices. The Israelites had brought this superstition, and the idolatry to which it gave rise, from Egypt. The Seirim were the gods whom the Israelites worshipped and went a whoring after in Egypt (Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7; Ezekiel 23:3, Ezekiel 23:8, Ezekiel 23:19, Ezekiel 23:21, Ezekiel 23:27). Both the thing and the name were derived from the Egyptians, who worshipped goats as gods (Josephus c. Revelation 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). The expression "a statute for ever" refers to the principle of the law, that sacrifices were to be offered to Jehovah alone, and not to the law that every animal was to be slain before the tabernacle, which was afterwards repealed by Moses, when they were about to enter Canaan, where it could no longer be carried out (Deuteronomy 12:15).
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