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…
No act was more strongly denounced than that of eating any manner of blood. The man guilty of that deed, whether an Israelite or a stranger sojourning in the land, was threatened with the displeasure of God and severest penalty. It seemed to partake of the nature of a ceremonial rather than a moral offense, yet it must be remembered that violations of ritual become moral transgressions when they are committed against the known will of the recognized Legislator. This is especially the case when, as here, the Lawgiver condescends to explain the reason upon which the prohibition is founded. Such explanation ought to secure intelligent observance of the enactment. And that enactment was but the reissue of the former decree that gave animals to man for food, but annexed a prohibition against tasting the blood (Genesis 9:4).
I. The fact stated, that THE SHEDDING OF BLOOD CONSTITUTES AS ATONEMENT. Illustrated by the numerous sacrifices of the patriarchs, and the provisions of the Law that sacrifices should form a part of all national and individual festivals, as well as of all offerings to wipe away inadvertent transgression. See it in the sprinkling of the book and vessels and people at the ratification of the covenant. It is confirmed by the well-nigh universal practice of heathen nations, and is proved by direct Scripture statements in the Old and New Testaments. "Without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22). It typified, therefore, the offering of Jesus Christ, whose blood redeems us "from our vain manner of life" (1 Peter 1:18). "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." This Mosaic way of speaking is ingrained in the apostles, showing how they regarded the death of Jesus as the fulfilment of the types of the Law.
II. The truth implied that THE CHIEF VIRTUE OF BLOOD AS AN ATONEMENT IS DERIVED FROM GOD'S APPOINTMENT. "I have given it unto you" indicates that the blood of animals had no intrinsic efficacy to atone for sin. And the same truth is shadowed forth in the words, "upon the altar." There was no difference in itself between blood ordinarily spilt and that presented before God, but the presentation constituted the difference. To sprinkle the blood upon the altar was to bring it emblematically into the very presence of the Deity. "God set forth" Christ Jesus "to be a propitiation, through faith, by his blood."
III. The reason afforded for the selection of BLOOD, that it IS THE VEHICLE OF LIFE. Physiology, and especially recent investigations with the microscope, confirm the dictum of Scripture, that "the blood is the life." It nourishes and sustains the whole physical frame; if it deteriorate in quality the body weakens, if it diminish in quantity power is lessened.
1. By such an atonement God is recognized as Lord of life and of all its consequences. He gave and takes away, to him alone should life be offered. Thus the sanctity of life was enforced. Man was not to feast upon that which was God's prerogative; blood must be poured upon the ground like water, thus returning to the earth.
2. The enormity of sin is represented, as enacting the utmost for an atonement that can be rendered. "Life is the most cherished of possessions, since man is powerless to create or to restore it." The crowning proof of Christ's compassion was that he gave "his life"a ransom for the many, and the gift revealed the awfulness of sin to require such a redemption.
3. It represents the substitution of one life for another, death being the sentence pronounced upon the sinner. "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin" was Isaiah's prediction of the sacrifice of Christ. It may be observed that the word in the text translated "soul" and "life" is the same, corresponding to the use made of the equivalent Greek word in Matthew 16:25, 26. That but for the death of Jesus Christ we must have been subject to eternal death, is the plain import of many passages in the Word of God.
IV. THE FUTURE ADVENT TYPIFIED OF ONE WHO SHOULD BY HIS OFFERING: FULFIL ALL THE CONDITIONS OF A PERFECT ATONEMENT. Every Israelite might not perceive in the insufficiency of his sacrifices a prediction of the Lamb of God, but there it was portrayed visibly enough. An innocent, holy, human victim, a voluntary offering, being himself the Lawgiver, and by incarnation subjecting himself to the Law, making adequate acknowledgment of the righteousness of God and of the ill deserts of God's rebellious sinful children, revealing to man at once the loving heart of God and the hatefulness of sin which had estranged man from his Father in heaven, by his death exhibiting the length to which sin will go, and the willingness of Divine holiness and love to submit to extreme degradation and anguish in order that the curse might be removed and man's heart won, - this is the atonement of truest efficacy, a mighty moral power with God and man. This is the death that gives life to the world, the blood that cries out, not for vengeance, but for mercy, that sanctifies not merely to the purifying of the flesh, but to the purging of the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. And the shedding of the blood of Christ was the signal for release from the ceremonies and restrictions imposed by the Mosaic Law. The prohibition of the text had served its purpose.
CONCLUSION. With what rejoicing should we approach our altar, the cross of Christ (Hebrews 13:10)! And what guilt we incur if we slight the blood of Christ as little available for salvation, or, though professing to believe, yet by conduct show that we count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing! - S.R.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.