God has instituted the sacrificial system. The priests have been consecrated. God has filled the tabernacle with his presence. Nadab and Abihu have been killed for bringing unauthorized fire into God’s holy presence.
Now, Leviticus starts giving laws. It makes sense really. If you had just heard about two priests dying in God’s presence for not bringing the correct type of fire, would you not want to do everything you could to know how this God wants you to act and live in his presence? Of course you would.
The first group of laws has to do with animals and blood. This forms a nice bridge between the sacrificial laws before it and the laws about morality and society after it. The second group of laws is about marriage and sexual relations.
Laws About Blood
Two commands basically sum up this discussion about blood. First, the people could only make sacrifices at the tabernacle before God. They were forbidden from sacrificing to any other false gods, idols, or demons. The reason for this rule is easy to see. Only the one true God deserves worship and devotion. Further, this rule is intended to help Israel from picking up some of the pagan practices from her neighbors, especially after they enter the Promised Land.
Second, the people were forbidden from drinking blood. This isn’t limited to just pouring some blood in a cup and drinking it. Most of the commands are concerned with eating meat from an animal whose blood was not properly drained. Therefore, by eating the meat you would still eat the blood. The reason for this rule is more difficult to see.
Leviticus gives two reasons why the people weren’t to eat or drink blood. It is because life is in blood and blood is used for making atonement. The consequence of sin is death - the taking away of someone’s life, the shedding of their blood. But God allowed a substitute life to be given in the sacrifice of an animal. So when the animal’s blood was shed, the price of death was paid. God was owed a debt of life. The blood of the animal was allowed to pay it. That’s atonement.
But the people of Israel were not to drink the blood themselves. That is because the life of that animal did not belong to them, but to God. It paid their debt. And a debtor does not get to benefit from paying what they owe.
Another reason the people weren’t supposed to drink blood is because of a belief that was present at that time. Contemporaries of Israel would drink blood, thinking it gave them power. So drinking the blood of an ox would make you strong like an ox. But God wanted his people to know that he alone grants life and power to his people, not some pagan ritual of drinking blood.
Laws About Sex
The second section forbids incest, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and other forms of sexual promiscuity and unfaithfulness. God cares about what we do with our bodies. He cares about how women are treated. He cares about marriage. He cares about children. All of this is evident through these laws.
But the main point of these commands is to distinguish Israel from the other nations who practice all kinds of sexual immorality. God wants Israel to be faithful to their wives, have pure relations, and keep their commitments to one another because that is what he has done for Israel. God has been the faithful, pure, and committed husband of Israel. Therefore, Israel’s marital faithfulness to one another is supposed to be a picture of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people.
Where is Jesus?
Both of these laws get taken to new levels through Jesus’ teaching.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus commanded people to drink his blood (John 6:56). In fact, he said that if you didn’t you couldn’t have eternal life. It’s no surprise, then, that the people who heard this were confused and angry. Jesus was telling them to do something God explicitly told them not to do. Why would he do this?
Before we answer that, it will be important to understand what Jesus meant when he told people to drink his blood. While Christians practice this regularly in the Lord’s Supper, that may not be all Jesus had in mind when he gave this command recorded in John’s Gospel. Jesus was telling the people present that they must put their trust in him as they put their ancestors put their trust in the bread God provided in the wilderness or the sacrifices provided on the altar. This is what we do when we take the Lord’s Supper anyway. We remember his death, put our trust in it, and ingest a picture of our hope.
Now back to our question. Why would Jesus make this controversial command?
Life is in the blood. And Jesus’ blood is not just payment for our debt of death, it is also life to us who should have died. The blood of Jesus’ sacrifice is for God, but not just for God. It performs a double work - paying for our life and giving us life. Therefore, we are allowed, in fact, we are commanded, to drink his blood so that we may have eternal life.
Additionally, what God wanted Israel to refrain from in Leviticus is invites us to in Jesus. The people were not supposed to drink blood, thinking it gave them the power of whatever animal it came from. However, in Jesus, when we drink his blood we actually do get his power. We get the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. We get the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).
Jesus not only elaborated on laws about blood, but he also told us more about sexual laws. Jesus not only taught that we must not commit adultery, as Leviticus teaches. He also taught that anyone who looks at another person lustfully has already committed adultery in their heart (Matthew 5:27-28).
If Israel’s relations with one another was to be a picture of God and his people, marriage today between a husband and a wife is to be an even greater picture of Jesus and his church. In the Gospels, Jesus calls himself our husband, or bridegroom (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29). Jesus is the true and faithful husband of anyone who puts their trust in him. Therefore, we are to love our spouse, be faithful to our spouse, and lay our lives down for our spouse as an outward picture to the world of what Jesus has done for us.
See For Yourself
I pray the Holy Spirit would show you our faithful God who alone deserves to be worshipped above all else because he is the only God who atones for sin and pledges himself to his people. And that you would see Jesus as the one who gives us his very blood, not only to pay for our debt of death but to give us his eternal life for his eternal bride.