Author: Monica Koch
With this chapter begins another subdivision of the law. Hereto we have had before us only sacrificial worship and matters of merely ceremonial law. The law of holy living contained in the following chapters (17-22), on the other hand, has to do for the most part with matters rather ethical than ceremonial, and consists chiefly of precepts designed to regulate morally the ordinary engagements and relationships of everyday life.
Lev 18:3 “After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.”
Israel, redeemed by Jehovah, is called to be a holy people; and this holiness is to be manifested in a total separation from the ways of the heathen. This principle is enforced by various specific commands and prohibitions, which naturally have particular regard to the special conditions under which Israel was placed, as a holy nation consecrated to Jehovah, the One, true God, but living in the midst of nations of idolaters.
It was not enough that the true Israelite should abstain from food prohibited by God, as in chapter 12; he must also use that which was permitted in a way well pleasing to God, carefully shunning even the appearance of any complicity with surrounding idolatry, or fellowship with the heathen in their unholy fashions and customs. Even so for the Christian: it is not enough that he abstain from what is expressly forbidden; even in his use of lawful food, he must so use it that it shall be to him a means of grace, in helping him to maintain an uninterrupted walk with God.
In Lev 17:1-7 is given the law to regulate the use of such clean animals for food as could be offered to God in sacrifice; in Lev 17:10-16, of such as, although permitted for food, were not allowed for sacrifice.
The directions regarding the first class may be summed up in this: all such animals were to be treated as peace offerings. No private person in Israel was to slaughter any such animal anywhere in the camp or out of it, except at the door of the tent of meeting. Thither they were to be brought "unto the priest," and offered for peace offerings (Lev 17:5); the blood must be sprinkled on the altar of burnt offering; the fat parts burnt "for a sweet savour unto the Lord" (Lev 17:6); and then only the priest having first taken his appointed portions, the remainder might now be eaten by the Israelite, as given back to him by God, in peaceful fellowship with Him.
This regulation for the wilderness days is said (Lev 17:5,7) to have been made "to the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they sacrifice in the open field unto the Lord, and sacrifice them for sacrifices of peace offerings unto the Lord And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the he-goats, after whom they go a whoring,"
There can be no doubt that in the last sentence, "he-goats," as in the Revised Version, instead of "devils," as in the Authorised, is the right rendering. The worship referred to was still in existence in the days of the monarchy; for it is included in the charges against "Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin," (2 Chron 11:15) that "he appointed him priests; for the he-goats, and for the calves which he had made." Nor can here we agree with Dillmann that in this worship of he-goats here referred to, there is "no occasion to think of the goat worship of Egypt." For inasmuch as we know that the worship of the sacred bull and that of the he-goat prevailed in Egypt in those days, and inasmuch as in Ezekiel 20:6-7, 15-18; repeated reference is made to Israel’s having worshipped "the idols of Egypt," one can hardly avoid combining these two facts, and thus connecting the goat worship to which allusion is here made, with that which prevailed at Mendes, in Lower Egypt. This cult at that place was accompanied with nameless revolting rites, such as give special significance to the description of this worship (Lev 17:7) as "a whoring" after the goats; and abundantly explain and justify the severity of the penalty attached to the violation of this law (Lev 17:4) in cutting off the offender from this people; all the more when we observe the fearful persistency of this horrible goat worship in Israel, breaking out anew, as just remarked, some five hundred years later, in the reign of Jeroboam.
Very naturally, the requirement to present all slaughtered animals as peace offerings to Jehovah gives occasion to turn aside for a little from the matter of food, which is the chief subject of the chapter, in order to extend this principle beyond animals slaughtered for food, and insist particularly that all burnt offerings and sacrifices of every kind should be sacrificed at the door of the tent of meeting, and nowhere else. This law, we are told (Lev 17:8), was to be applied, not only to the Israelites themselves, but also to "strangers" among them; such as, e.g., were the Gibeonites. No idolatry, nor anything likely to be associated with it, was to be tolerated from anyone in the holy camp.
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.
Very beautiful and instructive, again, 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.
In Lev 17:10-16 the law is given for the use of these. It is prefaced by a very full and explicit prohibition of the eating of blood; for while, as regards the animals to be offered to the Lord, provision was made with respect to the blood, that it was to be sprinkled around the altar, there was the danger that in other cases, where this was not permissible, the blood might be used for food. Hence the prohibition against eating "any manner of blood," on a twofold ground: first (Lev 17:11, 14), that the life of the flesh is the blood; and second (Lev 17:11), that, for this reason, God had chosen the blood to be the symbol of life substituted for the life of the guilty in atoning sacrifice: "I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls." Hence, in order that this relation of the blood to the forgiveness of sins might be constantly kept before the mind, it was ordained that never should the Israelite eat of flesh except the blood should first have been carefully drained out. And it was to be treated with reverence, as having thus a certain sanctity; when the beast was taken in hunting, the Israelite must (Lev 17:13) "pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust"; - an act by which the blood, the life, was symbolically returned to Him who in the beginning said, (Gen 1:24) "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind." And because, in the case of "that which dieth of itself," or is "torn of beasts," the blood would not be thus carefully drained off, all such animals (Lev 17:15) are prohibited as food.
For, as the result of our modern discoveries with regard to the constitution of the blood, and the exact nature of its functions, we in this day are able to say that it is not far from a scientific statement of the facts, when we read (Lev 17:14), "As to the life of all flesh, the blood thereof is all one with the life thereof." For it is in just this respect that the blood is most distinct from all other parts of the body; that, whereas it conveys and mediates nourishment to all, it is itself nourished by none; but by its myriad cells brought immediately in contact with the digested food, directly and immediately assimilates it to itself. We are compelled to say that as regards the physical life of man - which alone is signified by the original term here - it is certainly true of the blood, as of no other part of the organism, that "the life of all flesh is the blood thereof."
For Dr. de Mussy, in his paper before the French Academy of Medicine already referred to, calls attention to the fact that, not only did the Mosaic laws exclude from the Hebrew dietary animals "particularly liable to parasites"; but also that "it is in the blood," so rigidly prohibited by Moses as food, "that the germs or spores of infectious disease circulate." Surely no one need fear, with some expositors, lest this recognition of a sanitary intent in these laws shall hinder the recognition of their moral and spiritual purport, which in this chapter is so expressly taught. Rather should this cause us the more to wonder and admire the unity which thus appears between the demands and necessities of the physical and the moral and spiritual life; and, in the discovery of the marvelous adaptation of these ancient laws to the needs of both, to find a new confirmation of our faith in God and in His revealed Word. For thus do they appear to be laws so far beyond the wisdom of that time, and so surely beneficent in their working, that in view of this it should be easy to believe that it must indeed have been the Lord God, the Maker and Preserver of all flesh, who spoke all these laws unto His servant Moses.
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, as in the former part of the chapter, 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 that 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. Even though the blood of the deer killed in the chase could not be used in sacrifice, yet, because it was blood, was in its essential nature like unto that which was so used, therefore it must be treated with a certain respect, and be always covered with earth. It is the fashion of our age - and one which is increasing in an alarming degree - to speak lightly of things which are closely connected with the revelation and worship of the holy God. Against everything of this kind the spirit of this law warns us. Nothing which is associated in any way with what is sacred is to be spoken of or treated irreverently, lest we thus come to think lightly of the sacred things themselves. This irreverent treatment of holy things is a crying evil in many parts of the English-speaking world, as also in continental Christendom. We need to beware of it. After irreverence, too often, by no obscure law, comes open denial of the Holy One and of His Holy Son, our Lord and Saviour. The blood of Christ, which represented that holy life which was given on the cross for our sins, is holy - an infinitely holy thing! And what is God’s estimate of its sanctity we may perhaps learn - looking through the symbol to that which was symbolised - from this law; which required that all blood, because outwardly resembling the holy blood of sacrifice, and, like it, the seat and vehicle of life, should be treated with most careful reverence. And it is safe to say that just those most need the lesson taught by this command who find it the hardest to appreciate it, and to whom its injunctions still seem regulations puerile and unworthy, according to their fancy, of the dignity and majesty of God.