Genesis 9:4
But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
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(4) But flesh. . . . —The words are remarkable. “Only flesh in its soul, its blood, ye shall not eat.” The Authorised Version is probably right in taking blood as in apposition to soul, which word means here the principle of animation, or that which causes an animal to live. This is God’s especial gift; for He alone can bestow upon that aggregation of solids and fluids which we call a body the secret principle of life. Of this hidden life the blood is the representative, and while man is permitted to have the body for his food, as being the mere vessel which contains this life, the gift itself must go back to God, and the blood as its symbol be treated with reverence.

Genesis 9:4. But flesh with the blood thereof shall ye not eat — One meaning of this may be, Ye shall not cut off, tear away, or take any member or part of any creature for your food, while it is yet alive; but ye shall first spill its blood, and thereby put it to death in the way most easy to it. This is the sense which the Jews give the words, and, thus understood, they contain a prohibition of all cruelty toward those animals which are killed for food. And the prohibition, in this point of view, was not unnecessary, the practice here condemned being not unusual in ancient nor even in modern times, in many parts of the East. The principal meaning, however, of the passage, is to prohibit the eating of blood in any way, the eating of which seems to have been forbidden especially for two reasons: 1st, To be a token to mankind in all ages, that they would have had no right to take the life of any animal for food, if God had not given them that right, and who, therefore, to remind them of it, and impress it on their minds in all generations, denied them the use of blood, and required it to be spilled upon the ground: 2d: In honour of the blood of atonement, Leviticus 17:11-12. The life of the sacrifice was accepted for the life of the sinner, and blood made atonement for the soul, and therefore must not be looked upon as a common thing, but must be poured out before the Lord, 2 Samuel 23:16. And it ought to be observed, that this prohibition of eating blood, given to Noah and all his posterity, and repeated to the Israelites, in a most solemn manner, under the Mosaic dispensation, has never been revoked, but, on the contrary, has been confirmed under the New Testament, Acts 15.; and thereby made of perpetual obligation.

9:4-7 The main reason of forbidding the eating of blood, doubtless was because the shedding of blood in sacrifices was to keep the worshippers in mind of the great atonement; yet it seems intended also to check cruelty, lest men, being used to shed and feed upon the blood of animals, should grow unfeeling to them, and be less shocked at the idea of shedding human blood. Man must not take away his own life. Our lives are God's, and we must only give them up when he pleases. If we in any way hasten our own death, we are accountable to God for it. When God requires the life of a man from him that took it away unjustly, the murderer cannot render that, and therefore must render his own instead. One time or other, in this world or in the next, God will discover murders, and punish those murders which are beyond man's power to punish. But there are those who are ministers of God to protect the innocent, by being a terror to evil-doers, and they must not bear the sword in vain, Ro 13:4. Wilful murder ought always to be punished with death. To this law there is a reason added. Such remains of God's image are still upon fallen man, that he who unjustly kills a man, defaces the image of God, and does dishonour to him.The first restriction on the grant of animal food is thus expressed: "Flesh with its life, its blood, shall ye not eat." The animal must be slain before any part of it is used for food. And as it lives so long as the blood flows in its veins, the life-blood must be drawn before its flesh may be eaten. The design of this restriction is to prevent the horrid cruelty of mutilating or cooking an animal while yet alive and capable of suffering pain. The draining of the blood from the body is an obvious occasion of death, and therefore the prohibition to eat the flesh with the blood of life is a needful restraint from savage cruelty. It is also intended, perhaps, to teach that the life of the animal, which is in the blood, belongs not to man, but to God himself, who gave it. He makes account of it for atonement in sacrifice; otherwise it is to be poured on the ground and covered with dust Leviticus 17:11-13.4. But flesh … the blood … shall ye not eat—The sole intention of this prohibition was to prevent these excesses of cannibal ferocity in eating flesh of living animals, to which men in the earlier ages of the world were liable. With the life thereof, i.e. whilst it lives, or taken from the creature before it be quite dead; which was an ancient practice, and an effect either of luxury or cruelty.

Which is the blood thereof, i.e. which life or soul hath its seat in and its support from the blood, and the spirits contained in it. It is certain blood is the thing which is here principally minded and forbidden, and so the words may be thus translated and understood:

But flesh, i.e. the flesh of living creatures hereby allowed you,

with the life thereof, that is to say, with the blood thereof, wherein its life consists; or, flesh whilst it hath in it its life or soul, or, which is all one, its blood, shall you not eat. God thought fit to forbid this, partly that by this respect shown to the blood of beasts it might appear how sacred a thing the blood of man was, and how much God abhorred the sin of murder; and principally because the blood was reserved and consecrated to God, and was the means of atonement for man, (which reason God himself gives, Leviticus 17:11-12), and did in a special manner represent the blood of Christ, which was to be shed for the redemption of mankind.

But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall you not eat. This is the only exception to the eating of flesh; it was not to be eaten with the blood in it, which is said to be its life; not that the blood is of itself the life, but because it is a means of life, and that being exhausted, the creature must die, and because the animal and vital spirits appear to us most vigorous in it; yea, it is the ailment and support of them, and which furnishes out the greatest quantity of them: or rather it may be rendered, "the flesh with its life in its blood" (m); while there is life in the blood, or while the creature is living; the meaning is, that a creature designed for food should be properly killed, and its blood let out; that it should not be devoured alive, as by a beast of prey; that raw flesh should not be eaten, as since by cannibals, and might be by riotous flesh eaters, before the flood; for notwithstanding this law, as flesh without the blood might be eaten, so blood properly let out, and dressed, or mixed with other things, might be eaten, for aught this says to the contrary; but was not to be eaten with the flesh, though it might separately, which was afterwards forbid by another law. The design of this was to restrain cruelty in men, and particularly to prevent the shedding of human blood, which men might be led into, were they suffered to tear living creatures in pieces, and feed upon their raw flesh, and the blood in it. The Targum of Jonathan is,"but the flesh which is torn from a living beast at the time that its life is in it, or which is torn from a beast while it is slain, before all its breath is gone out, ye shall not eat.''And the Jewish writers generally interpret this of the flesh of a creature taken from it alive, which, they say, is the seventh precept given to the sons of Noah, over and above the six which the sons of Adam were bound to observe, and they are these;1. Idolatry is forbidden. 2. Blasphemy is forbidden. 3. The shedding of blood, or murder is forbidden. 4. Uncleanness, or unjust carnal copulations is forbidden. 5. Rapine or robbery is forbidden. 6. The administration of justice to malefactors is required. 7. The eating of any member or flesh of a creature while alive (n) is forbidden.Such of the Heathens who conformed to those precepts were admitted to dwell among the Israelites, and were called proselytes of the gate.

(m) "carnem cum anima, "seu" vita ejus, sanguine ejus", Cartwright. (n) Maimon. Hilchot Melachim, c. 9. sect. 1.

{d} But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

(d) That is, living creatures, and the flesh of beasts that are strangled: and by this all cruelty is forbidden.

4. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof] Man’s privilege is attended, first, with a strict ritual prohibition. The words might be more literally rendered thus, “nevertheless flesh with its vital principle (or ‘soul’), which is its blood, ye shall not eat.” The Israelites regarded the blood as in a mysterious way the vehicle of the soul, or vital principle (nephesh), of the flesh (Leviticus 17:11). The blood was always offered in sacrifice to God as the most sacred part of the victim, the symbol of its life. The prohibition to eat flesh, with the blood in it, formed one of the strictest rules of Israelite and Jewish life. As the institution of the Sabbath was associated with the age of the Creation, so the prohibition of blood-eating was associated with the age of Noah. In other words, its primitive character was shewn by its traditional origin, being regarded as antecedent even to the Call of Abraham. The infringement of the regulation betokens savage impiety (1 Samuel 14:32-34), or contamination with idolatrous abominations (Ezekiel 33:25). In Acts 15:29 to abstain from blood and from things strangled was absolutely necessary for the purpose of holding together the Jewish and Gentile members of the new Christian community1[13]. In our own time the Jews observe this regulation with strictness, and the Jewish butcher follows special rules in order that the meat may be entirely freed from blood (“Kosher Meat”).

[13] But καὶ πνικτῶν is possibly here a gloss; and, if so, the gloss is a tribute to the usage. See Kirsopp Lake, The Earlier Epp. of St Paul.

The passages in the Law bearing upon this important regulation are Leviticus 17:10-14, Deuteronomy 12:16; Deuteronomy 12:23.

Verse 4. - But - אַך, an adverb of limitation or exception, as in Leviticus 11:4, introducing a restriction on the foregoing precept - flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof. Literally, with its soul, its blood; the blood being regarded as the seat of the soul, or life principle (Leviticus 17:11), and even as the soul itself (Leviticus 17:14). The idea of the unity of the soul and the blood, on which the prohibition of blood is based, comes to light everywhere in Scripture. In the blood of one mortally wounded his soul flows forth (Lamentations 2:12), and he who voluntarily sacrifices himself pours out his soul unto death (Isaiah 53:12). The murderer of the innocent slays the soul of the blood of the innocent (ψυχὴν αἵματος ἀθώου, Deuteronomy 27:25), which also cleaves to his (the murderer's) skirts (Jeremiah 2:34; cf. Proverbs 28:17, blood of a soul; cf. Genesis 4:10 with Hebrews 12:24; Job 24:12 with Revelation 6:9; vide also Psalm 94:21; Matthew 23:35). Nor can it be said to be exclusively peculiar to Holy Scripture. In ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics the hawk, which feeds on bloods, represents the soul. Virgil says of a dying person, "purpuream vomit ille animam" ('AEneid,' 9:349). The Greek philosophers taught that the blood was either the soul (Critias), or the soul s food (Pythagoras), or the soul's seat (Empedocles), or the soul's producing cause (the Stoics); but only Scripture reveals the true relation between them both when it declares the blood to be not the soul absolutely, but the means of its self-attestation (vide Delitzsch s ' Bib. Psychology,' div. 4. sec. 11.). Shall ye not eat. Not referring to, although certainly forbidding, the eating of flesh taken from a living animal (Raschi, Cajetan, Delitzsch, Luther, Peele, Jamieson) - a fiendish custom which may have been practiced among the antediluvians, as, according to travelers, it is, or was, among modern Abyssinians; rather interdicting the flesh of slaughtered animals from which the blood has not been properly drained (Calvin, Keil, Kalisch, Murphy, Wordsworth). The same prohibition (commonly regarded by the Hebrew doctors as the seventh of the Noachic precepts which were enjoined upon all nations; vide infra, ver. 6) was afterwards incorporated in the Mosaic legislation (cf. Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26, 27; Leviticus 17:10-14; Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23, 24; Deuteronomy 15:23), and subsequently imposed upon the Gentile converts in the Christian Church by the authority of the Holy Ghost and the apostles (Acts 15:28, 29). Among other reasons, doubtless, for the original promulgation of this law were these: -

1. A desire to guard against the practice of cruelty to animals (Chrysostom, Calvin, 'Speaker's Commentary').

2. A design to hedge about human life by showing the inviolability which in God s eye attached to even the lives of the lower creatures (Calvin, Willet, Peele, Kalisch, Murphy).

3. The intimate connection which even in the animal creation subsisted between the blood and the life (Kurtz, 'Sacr. Worship,' I. A.V.).

4. Its symbolic use as an atonement for sin (Peele, Delitzsch, ' Bib. Psy.' 4:11; Keil, Wordsworth, Murphy). That the restriction continues to the present day may perhaps be argued from its having been given to Noah, but cannot legitimately be inferred from having been imposed on the Gentile converts to Christianity as one τῶν ἐπάναγκες τούτων, from the burden of which they could not be excused (Clarke), as then, by parity of reasoning, meat offered to idols would be equally forbidden, which it is not, except when the consciences of the weak and ignorant are endangered (Calvin). Genesis 9:4"Every moving thing that liveth shall be food for you; even as the green of the herb have I given you all (את־כּל equals חכּל)." These words do not affirm that man then first began to eat animal food, but only that God then for the first time authorized, or allowed him to do, what probably he had previously done in opposition to His will. "Only flesh in its soul, its blood (דמו in apposition to בּנפשׁו), shall ye not eat;" i.e., flesh in which there is still blood, because the soul of the animal is in the blood. The prohibition applies to the eating of flesh with blood in it, whether of living animals, as is the barbarous custom in Abyssinia, or of slaughtered animals from which the blood has not been properly drained at death. This prohibition presented, on the one hand, a safeguard against harshness and cruelty; and contained, on the other, "an undoubted reference to the sacrifice of animals, which was afterwards made the subject of command, and in which it was the blood especially that was offered, as the seat and soul of life (see note on Leviticus 17:11, Leviticus 17:14); so that from this point of view sacrifice denotes the surrender of one's own inmost life, of the very essence of life, to God" (Ziegler). Allusion is made to the first again in the still further limitation given in Genesis 9:5 : "and only (ואך) your blood, with regard to your souls (ל indicative of reference to an individual object, Ewald, 310a), will I seek (demand or avenge, cf. Psalm 9:13) from the hand of every beast, and from the hand of man, from the hand of every one, his brother;" i.e., from every man, whoever he may be, because he is his (the slain man's) brother, inasmuch as all men are brethren. The life of man was thus made secure against animals as well as men. God would avenge or inflict punishment for every murder, - not directly, however, as He promised to do in the case of Cain, but indirectly by giving the command, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," and thus placing in the hand of man His own judicial power. "This was the first command," says Luther, "having reference to the temporal sword. By these words temporal government was established, and the sword placed in its hand by God." It is true the punishment of the murderer is enjoined upon "man" universally; but as all the judicial relations and ordinances of the increasing race were rooted in those of the family, and grew by a natural process out of that, the family relations furnished of themselves the norm for the closer definition of the expression "man." Hence the command does not sanction revenge, but lays the foundation for the judicial rights of the divinely appointed "powers that be" (Romans 13:1). This is evident from the reason appended: "for in the image of God made He man." If murder was to be punished with death because it destroyed the image of God in man, it is evident that the infliction of the punishment was not to be left to the caprice of individuals, but belonged to those alone who represent the authority and majesty of God, i.e., the divinely appointed rulers, who for that very reason are called Elohim in Psalm 82:6. This command then laid the foundation for all civil government,

(Note: Hic igitur fons est, ex quo manat totum just civile et just gentium. Nam si Deus concedit homini potestatem super vitam et mortem, profecto etiam concedit potestatem super id, quod minus est, ut sunt fortunae, familia, uxor, liberi, servi, agri; Haec omnia vult certorum hominum potestati esse obnoxia Deus, ut reos puniant. Luther.)

and formed a necessary complement to that unalterable continuance of the order of nature which had been promised to the human race for its further development. If God on account of the innate sinfulness of man would no more bring an exterminating judgment upon the earthly creation, it was necessary that by commands and authorities He should erect a barrier against the supremacy of evil, and thus lay the foundation for a well-ordered civil development of humanity, in accordance with the words of the blessing, which are repeated in Genesis 9:7, as showing the intention and goal of this new historical beginning.

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