Leviticus 17
Biblical Illustrator
This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded.
From chap. Leviticus 17. to chap. Leviticus 23, everything relates to the duties, qualities, and associations of individuals in private life. This fact, coming as it does right after the great Day of Atonement, is very suggestive. It indicates that God contemplates much more respecting us than the mere pardon of our sins; that justification is not the whole intent of the Saviour's redemptive services; and that there is to be a personal righteousness and purification which rests upon our own exertions. "In Him was life," and His "life is the light of men." Without some degree of conformity to Him, our religion is but a shadow and a name. For so it is written, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." Let me invite attention, then, more specifically to the means and elements of a good and holy life, as they are shadowed forth in the chapters before us.

I. The principal, and, perhaps, the only permanent provision contained in this chapter, is THAT WHICH RESPECTS THE MANNER OF TREATING BLOOD. NO matter how or from what animal it came, it was always to be looked upon with consideration. The use of blood was not forbidden because it was unclean, but because it was sacred. It represents life. It is that by which life was redeemed. Now, it is easy to see how a law of this sort would work to solemnise, restrain, and soften the heart of a conscientious Jew. It would keep the solemn atonement before him whithersoever he went. The very huntsman would be met by it in the deep recesses of the forest. And if we desire to learn what constitutes the deepest essence of a Christian life, we here have it most beautifully typified. We must keep in view the blood of atonement. It is our clear and continual recognition of what Jesus has done for us that weakens temptation, disposes to duty, and prompts to the deeds of righteousness. I remember to have met with an affecting little incident in Roman history connected with the death of Manlius Capitolinus, a renowned consul and general, who was once proudly hailed as the saviour of Rome. It happened one night when the Gauls threatened to overwhelm the Capitol, that he bravely took his stand upon the wall where they came on with their attack, and there fought singly and alone until he had repelled them, and so saved the city from destruction. It so occurred that this distinguished man was afterwards accused of some great public fault, and put upon trial for his life. But just as the judges were about to pass sentence upon him, he looked up at the walls of the Capitol, which towered in view, and with tears in his eyes pointed to where he had fought for his accusers, and perilled his life for their safety. The people remembered the heroic achievement, and wept. No one had the heart to say aught against him, and the judges were compelled to forbear. Again he was tried, and with the same result. Nor could he be convicted until his trial was removed to some low and distant point, from which the Capitol was invisible. And so, while Calvary is in full view, in vain will earth and hell seek to bring the Christian into condemnation. One serious look at the Cross, and at the love which there, unaided and alone, when all was dark and lost, interposed for our salvation, is enough to break the power of passion at once, and to strike dead every guilty proceeding.

II. Passing to chap. Leviticus 18., we find sundry laws, but all bearing upon two general points. The first RELATES TO THE CUSTOMS OF THE EGYPTIANS, FROM AMONG WHOM THE JEWS CAME, AND OF THE CANAANITES, WHOSE LAND THEY WERE TO INHERIT. Israel was to be a holy nation, and therefore was not to follow the ways of the unclean. The greatest danger of a purified man arises from his old habits and associations. It is not easy to turn a stream quite out of the channel in which it has been flowing for ages. It is a mighty work to revolutionise a character which has been forming for years, or to tear quite away from a long-continued routine which includes all our recollections of infancy, and in which our life took its chief attractions. The sow that has been washed, still has strong affections for the mire. The second grand element of a good Christian life, therefore, is a complete and thorough reformation with regard to old habits. If we have been in close intimacy with the vile, we must withdraw from their communion, and keep aloof from their wicked ways. If we have been giving way to bad passions, we must cut ourselves off from the occasions of our transgressions, and beware of putting ourselves into circumstances which invite temptation.

III. The other specifications of chap. 18. all RELATE TO SEXUAL PURITY. They typically refer to the necessity of a proper government of the affections. We may love, but we must love virtuously. We may cherish the most tender regards, but they must not rest upon criminal hopes. Our warmest feelings may be enlisted and indulged, but we must be cautious that they do not betray us into sin and shame. Even the secret thought of unchasteness, the hidden incontinent wish, the impure desire, the cherished hope of unclean gratifications, must be spurned and crucified as criminal before God, and crushed as an enemy to the peace and good of society. The heart must be kept with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life. It is God who saith, "Defile not yourselves in any of these things."

IV. We come now to chap. Leviticus 19. Here WE HAVE QUITE A LIST OF MORAL PRECEPTS, SETTING FORTH AN EXTENSIVE CODE OF CHRISTIAN RIGHTEOUSNESS. The provisions of the preceding chapter were negative; these are mostly positive. In the one God shows us how we are to "cease to do evil"; in the other He instructs us how to "do well."

V. A remark or two, now, upon chap. Leviticus 20. We have been contemplating the laws of holy living. In this chapter WE HAVE GOD'S THREATENINGS AGAINST THOSE WHO VIOLATE THEM. It is a chapter of penalties. God is not only our adviser, but our Lord and Judge. His commands are not only gracious counsels, but authoritative laws. The gospel is indeed glad tidings — glad tidings of great joy. It is a call of mercy from the heavens to the suffering and the lost. But it is a call to holiness. And whilst it is a glorious savour of life unto life to them that yield to it, and walk in its light, it is a fearful savour of death unto death to those who despise or disobey it.

(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

First, in regard to those passages which caution the people against vices of special enormity, we must remember that they were about to be settled in dangerous proximity to peoples who were thoroughly corrupted by these very vices, and therefore the cautions were not by any means unnecessary. Accustomed as most of us are to the pure air of Christian society, in which, notwithstanding all the selfishness and sin that still abound, vices such as these are "not so much as named," and the very possibility of them seems out of the question, it is difficult for us to imagine how different was the condition of society before these purifying influences were brought to bear on it, which issued from Mount Sinai first, and afterwards from Gennesaret's shore and "the place called Calvary." And when we find such warnings in the Book of Leviticus, we ought in the first place to feel humbled by the thought of the fearful lengths to which sin unrestrained by Divine grace will carry its wretched victim; and, in the second place, to lift up our hearts in gratitude to God, that in these latter days, though evil still abounds, we are nevertheless protected from such outrages to our moral and spiritual nature as those to which even the chosen people were exposed in the ancient times. On the other hand, it is pleasant to find in these chapters the evidence that the Mosaic Law came in many respects nearer to the morality of the New Testament than most people are willing to admit (see Leviticus 19:9, 10, 32-34). Finally, it is interesting to notice in these regulations, and throughout the entire law, the care which is taken to keep religion and morality closely wedded and welded together. "I am the Lord your God" is continually put forth, not as a creed article, but as an unanswerable argument for strictest obedience and the most scrupulous integrity. The relations of privilege which the people enjoyed are continually set forth as increasing their responsibility. "To whom much is given, of them much shall be required," is a principle taken for granted all through.

(J. M. Gibson, D. D.)

The principle which underlies this stringent law, as also the reason which is given for it, is of constant application in modern life. There was nothing wrong in itself in slaying an animal in one place more than another. It was abstractedly possible — as, likely enough, many an Israelite may have said to himself — that a man could just as really "eat unto the Lord" if he slaughtered and ate his animal in the field, as anywhere else. Nevertheless this was forbidden under the heaviest penalties. It teaches us that he who will be holy must not only abstain from that which is in itself always wrong, but must carefully keep himself from doing even lawful or necessary things in such a way, or under such associations and circumstances, as may outwardly compromise his Christian standing, or which may be proved by experience to have an almost unavoidable tendency toward sin. The laxity in such matters which prevails in the so-called "Christian world" argues little for the tone of spiritual life in our day in those who indulge in it, or allow it, or apologise for it. it may be true enough, in a sense, that, as many say, there is no harm in this or that. Perhaps not; but what if experience have shown that, though in itself not sinful, a certain association or amusement almost always tends to worldliness, which is a form of idolatry? Or — to use the apostle's illustration — what if one be seen, though with no intention of wrong, "sitting at meat in an idol's temple," and he whose conscience is weak be thereby emboldened to do what to him is sin? There is only one safe principle, now as in the days of Moses: everything must be brought "before the Lord" — used as from Him and for Him, and therefore used under such limitations and restrictions as His wise and holy law imposes. Only so shall we be safe; only so abide in living fellowship with God.

(S. H. Kellogg, D. D.)

Peace-offerings unto the Lord
Very beautiful and instructive was the direction that the Israelite, in the cases specified, should make his daily food a peace-offering. This involved a dedication of the daily food to the Lord; and in his receiving it back again then from the hand of God, the truth was visibly represented that our daily food is from God; while also, in the sacrificial acts which preceded the eating, the Israelite was continually reminded that it was upon the ground of an accepted atonement that even these everyday mercies were received. Such also should be, in spirit, the often neglected prayer before each of our daily meals. It should be ever offered with the remembrance of the precious blood which has purchased for us even the most common mercies; and should thus sincerely recognise What, in the confusing complexity of the second causes through which we receive our daily food, we so easily forget that the Lord's Prayer is not a mere form of words when we say, "Give us this day our daily bread"; but that working behind, and in, and with, all these second causes, is the kindly providence of God, who, opening His hand, supplies the want of every living thing. And so, eating in grateful, loving fellowship with our Heavenly Father that which His bounty gives us, to His glory, every meal shall become, as it were, a sacramental remembrance of the Lord. We may have wondered at what we have read of the worldwide custom of the Mohammedan, who, whenever the knife of slaughter is lifted against a beast for food, utters his "Bism Allah" ("In the name of the most merciful God"); and not otherwise will regard his food as being made halal or "lawful"; and no doubt in all this, as in many a Christian's prayer, there may often be little heart. But the thought in this ceremony is even this of Leviticus, and we do well to make it our own, eating even our daily food "in the name of the most merciful God," and with uplifting of the heart in thankful worship toward Him.

(S. H. Kellogg. D. D.)

For the life of the flesh is in the blood.
"Blood" is one of the characteristic, regent words of Scripture, occurring in it more than four hundred times. A word so recurrent must mean something fundamental. In fact, it is the blood of Christ which is the basis of Christianity, the very pivot of the Christian religion.

I. First of all, let us ponder what in light of modern physiology is certainly a remarkable Scripture. Moses, in forbidding the eating of blood, assigns for his prohibition the following reason: "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" (ver. 11).

1. The fact asserted: "The life (soul) of the flesh is in the blood."(1) This is, in fact, one of the instinctive beliefs of humanity; and instinct is often prophetic, holding latent history. How thoroughly the idea that blood is the seat of life has taken possession of the race is evident from such instinctive idioms as these: "shedder of blood," "man of blood," "imbrue in blood," "bloody-minded," "blood-thirsty," "avenger of blood," "blood-guiltiness," "cold-blooded," "prince of the blood royal," "blooded-stock," "blood-relation," "next of blood," "consanguinity," "sanguine of success," "sanguine temperament," &c., &c. So that marvellous diviner and formulator of human instincts, Shakespeare — the word "blood" occurs seven hundred and thirty-one times in his plays — for example: —

"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red."

("Macbeth," II:2.)

Again —

"Sluic'd out his innocent soul through streams of blood:

Which blood, like sacrificing Abel's, cries,

Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth,

To me, for justice and rough chastisement."

("King Richard II.," I:1.)

So England's poet-laureate—

"Defects of doubt, and taints of blood."

("In Memoriam," 53.)


"Through all the years of April blood."

("In Memoriam," 108.)

So Virgil —

"His purple life (purpuream animam) he poureth forth."

("AEneid," 9:349.)

So Homer, and very frequently, thus —

"The soul comes floating in a tide of gore."

("Iliad," 4:537.)


"He sobs his soul out in the gush of blood."

("Iliad," 16:419.)

Once more—

"And the soul issued in the purple flood."

("Iliad," 16:624.)

So the Scriptural writers; for example: "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground"; "Earth, cover not thou my blood"; "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God"; "Precious shall their blood be in His sight"; "All the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zachariah the son of Barachiah"; "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" The blood being thus instinctively conceived as the seat of life, and so the representative of the soul or person, no wonder that blood has ever been regarded as a sacred thing. Here is the secret of the Mosaic prohibition to eat blood, a prohibition frequently repeated, and in vers. 10-14 with solemn minuteness of detail. The blood being regarded as the symbol and home of the personality, to eat it was to be guilty of sacrilegious cannibalism. Here is the key to that chivalrous, pathetic incident in David's life: "Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this; is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?" (2 Samuel 23:15-17). But the Divine prohibition was not peculiar to the Jews. A millennium before Moses, when the new stock of humanity, just escaped the Deluge, was still young, God commanded Noah, saying, "Every moving thing that liveth shall be food for you .... But flesh with the life (soul) thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat" (Genesis 9:1-4). As the prohibition antedated the Mosaic Dispensation, so it postdated it. A score of years after Christ was crucified, a controversy arose in the Church at Antioch respecting the subjection of Gentile converts to circumcision and the Mosaic institutions generally (Acts 15:1-35). So much for the instinctive belief that the life, or soul, of the flesh is in the blood.(2) And modern science remarkably confirms this instinctive belief. The blood, in respect to its composition, consists of two principal parts: a liquid plasma, and countless microscopic corpuscles, or blood-discs, floating in it, by far the larger part of which are red, and the rest colourless. The office of the colourless corpuscles, called "Leucocytes," is not yet distinctly understood. This thing, however, must be said about them, When blood is taken from the living system, these leucocytes, or white corpuscles, if kept at something like their normal temperature, present for some time remarkable life-like phenomena; they protrude and retract numerous arms or processes, and even move about from place to place, as though things of life; in fact, so much do the motions of these corpuscles resemble the protean changes in figure and motions of the microscopic Rhizopod called "Amoeba," that they have received the name, amoeboid movements. The red corpuscles constitute nearly one half of the mass of the blood, tinging it so thoroughly as to give it its red colour. The office of these red globules, or blood discs, is, in the main, to serve as carriers of oxygen. To use the words of Prof. Flint, the red corpuscles "are respiratory organs; taking up the greater part of the oxygen which is absorbed by the blood in its passage through the lungs, and conveying it to the tissues, where it is given up, and its place supplied by carbonic acid." One more remark must be made about these red blood discs. Although the diagnosis of blood stains is not yet sufficiently advanced to enable us in all cases to discriminate with absolute certainty between the blood corpuscles of man and those of all mammals, yet it is far enough advanced to enable the microscopical expert to pronounce, in certain cases, with accuracy on the character of blood stains in murder trials; thus converting these tiny globules, having a diameter of only 1/3200 of an inch, into solemn, resistless witnesses. The melancholy Dane is right:

"Murder, though it have no tongue, will speak,

With most miraculous organ."

("Hamlet," II:2.)

Ay, "blood will tell." Thus the blood is in an eminent sense the seat and organ of life. The language of Hervey, the demonstrator at least, if not the discoverer, of the circulation of the blood, is striking: The blood is the "primigenial and principal part, because that in it and from it the fountain of motion and pulsation is derived; also because the animal heat or vital spirit is first radicated and implanted, and the soul takes up her mansion in it The blood is the genital part, the fountain of life, primum vivens, ultimum moriens." It is a solemn thing to observe the rhythmical systole and diastole of the heart, especially as recorded by that delicate instrument, the sphygmograph. The blood is a very river of life, the arterial and venous systems of circulation constituting an intricate network of canals, making the body a corporeal Amsterdam or human Venice. Each corpuscle is a barge, moving with various rates of speed in different parts of the body, toiling through the capillaries at the rate of two inches a minute, rushing through the arteries at the rate of from twelve to twenty feet a second, ceaselessly carrying on the organic functions of the body by perpetually exchanging freight, depositing at the depot of this and that tissue oxygen, and taking up carbonic acid. What money is to society, that blood is to the bodily system; it is the means of exchange, or the circulating medium. The scientific accuracy of the assertion, "the life of the flesh is in the blood," is strikingly shown in such facts as blood-letting, strangling, fainting, pyoemia, or blood-poisoning, and especially transfusion — a sometimes beneficent surgical operation, in which blood from a strong and healthy person, or from one of the lower animals, is injected into the veins of a feeble or anaemic patient. The life or soul of the flesh is in the blood. Thus the Bible of Scripture and the Bible of Nature is one; Scripture announcing a truth, Nature echoing it.

2. The rite appointed: "And I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls."(1) "I have given it to you upon the altar." Blood is emphatically the characteristic thing in the Levitical ritual, the very basis of the old sacrificial economy. Particularly is this true of the eminently sacred rites of the paschal lamb, the sin-offering, the day of atonement, and the mercy-seat; all the significance of these elaborate ceremonies turned on the element of blood. Indeed, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, summing up the Old Covenant in respect to ritual, expressly says, "Almost all things are by the law purified with blood; and without shedding of blood there is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22). The Old Testament is in very truth a scarlet dispensation.(2) "To atone for your souls." To atone; literally, to cover, hide, shelter. But in what sense to atone? Certainly not in the heathen sense of placating as with presents, or expiating as by offering a quid pro quo; but in the gracious sense of reconciling by sacrificial, vicarious interception.

3. The reason assigned: "For it is the blood that maketh atonement" — i.e., by the life thereof, in virtue" of the soul in it.(1) "It is the blood that maketh an atonement." It atones not, of course, absolutely; for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away the consciousness of sins. But the blood atones, so to speak, constructively, pictorially, prophetically.(2) "For the life (or soul) of the flesh is in the blood." And this on the principle that the blood, as being the seat of the life, is the representative of the person. Life for life, soul for soul; this is the meaning of the old sacrificial ritual. And it is all based on the admitted physiological principle — the life of the flesh is in the blood.

II. And now we have the key to the Scriptural doctrine of blood.

1. The blood of Jesus Christ it is which is the antitype or fulfilment of the blood of the Levitical victims. To prove this forms a great part of the argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Take chap. 9., verses Hebrews 9:13, 14, as a typical specimen of the argument.

2. The blood of Jesus Christ is the antitypal, real atonement for our souls on the same principle which held under the Old Dispensation — the principle of vicarious representation. That is to say, Christ's blood, as being the vehicle and representative of His own personality, was vicariously shed; and in this way He became the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. This, then, is the Scriptural doctrine of blood. It is based on the ancient Mosaic affirmation and on the modern scientific observation — "The life of the flesh is in the blood." How significant now the New Testament allusions to the efficacy of Christ's blood. For example: "Purchased with His own blood"; "Set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood"; "Justified by His blood"; "Redemption through His blood"; "Made peace through the blood of His Cross"; "Boldness to enter into the holiest through the blood of Jesus"; "The blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel"; "The blood of the everlasting Covenant"; "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin"; "Washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," &c. Thus blood is the scarlet thread winding through both the Covenants, their crimson rubric. This, then, is the conclusion of the whole matter — blood is the natural, physiological basis of the Scriptural doctrine of the Atonement. "Science" inexorably holds us to "orthodoxy" in the prime, pivotal article of the Christian religion.

(G. D. Boardman, D. D.)

Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh.
— The moral and spiritual purpose of this law concerning the use of blood was apparently twofold. In the first place, it was intended to educate the people to a reverence for life, and purify them from that tendency to bloodthirstiness which has so often distinguished heathen nations, and especially those with whom Israel was to be brought in closest contact. But, secondly, and chiefly, it was intended everywhere and always to keep before the mind the sacredness of the blood as being the appointed means for the expiation of sin, given by God upon the altar to make atonement for the soul of the sinner, "by reason of the life" or soul with which it stood in such immediate relation. Not only were they, therefore, to abstain from the blood of such animals as could be offered on the altar, but even from that of those which could not be offered. Thus the blood was to remind them, every time they ate flesh, of the very solemn truth that without shedding of blood there was no remission of sin. The Israelite must never forget this, even in the heat and excitement of the chase; he must pause and carefully drain the blood from the creature he had slain, and reverently cover it with dust: a symbolic act which should ever put him in mind of the Divine ordinance — that the blood, the life, of a guiltless victim must be given in order to the forgiveness of sin. A lesson lies here for us regarding the sacredness of all that is associated with sacred things. All that is connected with God, and with His worship, especially all that is connected with His revelation of Himself for our salvation, is to be treated with the most profound reverence.

(S. H. Kellogg, D. D.).

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