Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.” Anyone, whether native-born or foreigner, who eats anything found dead or torn by wild animals must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be ceremonially unclean till evening; then they will be clean. But if they do not wash their clothes and bathe themselves, they will be held responsible. Leviticus 17:13-16
The preceding verses and this verse explain why blood is important “for the life of a creature is in its blood”. We know now that this is in fact true from a biophysical perspective — without blood our bodies would not be able to process oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Blood allows the cells of our bodies to be “fed”. Clearly there was a prohibition against eating the blood of animals. This seems to be because aside from the physical purpose of blood it has a spiritual purpose for atonement. Eating blood would be like touching the ark of the covenant or entering the Most Holy Place without the proper linen garments. As we explored in yesterday’s post we do not need special linens to receive God’s grace.
The directive to wash after encountering a dead animal seems prudent. Dead animals harbor all kinds of bacteria and other gross things. My dad used to tell a story about a time he was walking down to a river in Kansas to go catfish fishing. Apparently catfish like smelly chicken guts and parts. Well as my dad tells it he was walking down the river bank with a container full of chicken parts which had maggots all over them and he slipped and the entire mess fell all over him. This would truly call for a thorough washing, perhaps a clorox bath! Our cat Meryl likes to bring chipmunks onto our deck where she proceeds to eat most of them. She seems to dislike the entrails and tails. So we often find little presents on our deck — this can be really unpleasant when one is walking on the deck at night with bare feet. I am all about thorough washing in this case also.
This verse makes the same distinction which has been made in previous verses about being ceremonially unclean versus just unclean. I do not understand it any better here than I did in previous passages. I am struggling to find a deeper meaning of this passage…maybe there is no deeper meaning…maybe it just means “don’t eat or touch road kill and if you touch it wash up after words.”…but then again maybe there is something.
How do people treat Jesus’ blood — the atonement for us through the shedding of his blood? In my experience this is not something that many people take on when they choose to consider Jesus. They may think of him as a great moral teacher or a good man. That is much less confusing and threatening than a God-man who died on a cross for us by shedding his own blood for our sins. Jesus himself instructs us to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood ( Mark 14:22-25) during the meal with his disciples. What does it mean that God himself instructs us to do something that in this passage would make us unclean? It probably means that the disciples did not need to be “ceremonially clean” to be in God’s presence…he was right in front of them washing their feet.
Prayer: God help me to understand the atonement that the shedding of your blood accomplished.