Deu_12:23-25. Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh: thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water: thou shalt not eat it, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the Lord.
THERE are many injunctions in the Mosaic law, which appear to have been given with more solemnity than their comparative importance demands: nor can we account for the stress laid upon them, but by supposing them to have had a typical reference. What is here said, for instance, respecting the eating of blood, if we consider it as intended only to give an oblique hint of the duties of humanity and self-denial, is delivered in a far more emphatical manner than we should expect such an intimation to be given: for though a plain precept relating to them might fitly be enjoined in the strongest terms, and enforced by the strongest sanctions, it is not to be conceived that the image by which they would be shadowed forth, should be made to assume such an important aspect. If we mark the force and energy with which the prohibition of eating blood is here repeated, we shall be well persuaded that it contains some deeper mystery, which demands our most attentive consideration. But as, from the strength of the expressions, we may be ready to imagine that it is still binding upon us, we feel it necessary to guard against that mistake; and shall therefore consider,
The prohibition given—
The manner in which it was given, must by no means be overlooked—
[There is not in all the sacred volume any prohibition or command delivered more peremptorily than this. Four times it is repeated even in the short space of our text, “Thou mayest not eat of it; Thou shalt not eat of it; Be sure thou eat not of it.” The frequency too with which it is received in the Scriptures is truly astonishing. When first the use of animals for food was permitted to Noah, the grant was accompanied with this restriction, “But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat [Note: Gen_9:3-4.].” By Moses the restriction is repeated again, and again [Note: Lev_3:16-17; Lev_7:26-27; Deu_15:23 and several other places.]. The sanctions with which it is enforced are also peculiarly awful. Not only was the prosperity of the people suspended on their obedience to this command [Note: See the text.], but they were threatened with the most tremendous vengeance, if they should presume to violate it: “I will set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people [Note: Read attentively Lev_17:10-14.].” Even if they took in hunting or caught by any means a beast or fowl, they must “pour its blood upon the earth as water, and cover it with dust [Note: Ibid.]:” and all these injunctions must be observed by all, by strangers and sojourners as well as natives. Now I ask, Would this prohibition have been so peremptorily [Note: Read attentively Lev_17:10-14.] given, so frequently repeated, so solemnly enforced; would such particular directions have been added; and would they have been made so universally binding, if there had been nothing mysterious in this appointment?]
We may be sure that the grounds of it are deserving of the deepest investigation—
[We speak not of such grounds as might probably exist, such as those before referred to, namely, the promotion of humanity and self-denial, (though in both these views the prohibition may be considered as highly instructive;) but of those grounds which we know assuredly to have been the principal, if not the only, object of the institution.
We must remember, that offerings were by the divine appointment presented from time to time as an atonement for sin; that the blood of those offerings being, as it were, the life of the animals, was considered as exclusively prevailing for the remission of sins; and that on that very account it was poured out upon the altar, in token, that it was presented to God as an expiation for iniquity, and was accepted by him instead of the life of the offender.
We must remember also, that all these offerings had respect to the sacrifice of Christ, which was in due time to be offered for the sins of the whole world.
Now it was of infinite importance that the highest possible veneration should be instilled into the minds of men for the offerings which they presented to God; and that they should be deeply impressed with a consciousness of their mysterious reference to the sacrifice of Christ. But, if they had been permitted to eat of blood, this reverence would have quickly abated: whereas by the strictness of the prohibition, it was kept alive in their minds: and even their common meals were rendered an occasion of bringing to their recollection the use of blood in their offerings, and the efficacy of that blood which was at a future period to be poured out upon the cross.
Here then was a reason for the prohibition; a reason, which accounts at once for the strictness, the frequency, the vehemence, with which it was given, and for the tremendous sanctions with which it was enforced. Nothing could be unimportant that had such a reference: and the more insignificant the prohibited thing was in itself, the more need there was that all possible weight should be given to it by the manner of its prohibition.]
But we shall not have a complete view of the subject, unless we consider,
The prohibition reversed—
It is reversed, as it relates to the use of blood—
[To the first converts indeed it was enjoined, that they should abstain from the use of blood [Note: Act_15:20; Act_15:29.], no less than from fornication itself: and hence it has been supposed that there was a moral evil in the one, as well as in the other; and that, consequently, the prohibition still equally exists against both. But this is by no means the case. There was a necessity at that time to prohibit fornication, because the Gentile converts, who had been habituated from their youth to regard it as allowable, and in some instances even to practise it in their idolatrous worship, were still in a great measure insensible of its moral turpitude. They therefore needed to be more clearly informed respecting that sin, and to be cautioned against it: whilst we, having been educated with clearer views and better habits, are well aware of the sinfulness of such a practice. There was also a need to prohibit the eating of blood, because the Jews, who had been accustomed to regard the use of it with such abhorrence, would have been greatly offended when they saw Christians taking so great a liberty in direct opposition to what they considered as the law of God. On this account it was thought right to continue the prohibition for a time, that they might not shock the prejudices of the Jewish nation. But St. Paul assures us repeatedly that another part of this same prohibition was revoked: and declares that the circumstance of meat having been offered unto idols does not render it unfit for a Christian’s use, provided he see the liberty into which the Gospel has brought him [Note: 1Co_8:4; 1Co_8:8.]. In like manner he declares, that “there is nothing unclean of itself,” but that “to the pure all things are pure [Note: Rom_14:14; Rom_14:20; 1Ti_4:4-5.].” Hence we are sure, that the prohibition in our text is reversed.]
It is reversed also in a far higher sense—
[The real intent of the offerings under the Old Testament is abundantly declared in the New: and the blood of Christ which was once shed on Calvary for the remission of sins, is uniformly represented as the great Antitype to which all the types referred. Now it is true, that that material blood cannot be drunk by us: but in a spiritual sense it may. Do I say, It may? I must add, It must: we are required to drink it: and the command is enforced with sanctions still more solemn than those by which the prohibition in our text was enforced. Let us attend to the words of Christ himself: “Except ye eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life: for my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed [Note: Joh_6:53-55.].” Here the command is as universal, as, before, the prohibition was. Need we to explain this to any of you? We would hope, there are few so ignorant as not to know what was designed by our blessed Lord: he meant, that, as he was about to give himself as an offering and a sacrifice for sin, we must all believe in him as the only Saviour of the world, and apply to ourselves all the benefits of his atonement.
But lest this injunction of his should be forgotten, he actually instituted an ordinance, wherein he appointed wine to be drunk in remembrance of his blood, and expressly said of the cup, when he put it into the hands of his disciples, “This is my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins; drink ye all of this [Note: Mat_26:27-28.].” And St. Paul explaining the reason of this ordinance, observes, that it was instituted in order that we might “shew forth the Lord’s death, till he come [Note: 1Co_11:25-26.].” Here then we see that the prohibition under the Old Testament, and the command under the New, have one and the same object: the prohibition was to call the attention of men to the death of the Messiah at his first advent; and the command is, to keep up the remembrance of his death till his second advent. The ends of the prohibition are the same, whether we consider it as given, or as reversed: and the duty of every living creature is pointed out, that we must look unto the blood of our great Sacrifice as the only means of reconciliation with our offended God [Note: Col_1:14; Col_1:20; Heb_9:22; Rom_3:25.]. In reference to that therefore we must say, “Be sure thou eat the blood: thou mayest eat; and thou shalt eat it, that it may go well with thee.”]
As an improvement of this subject, we beg leave to add a few words of advice:
Think not light of any sin—
[The Jews might readily have said, “What need is there of being so particular about getting out all the blood? the meat will be improved by retaining some of it; and no injury will be done to any one.” We read indeed on one occasion, that they acted upon this presumption: they had taken great spoils from the Philistines, and were so eager to get some refreshment, that they overlooked in their haste the divine command. But was this deemed a just excuse for their conduct? No: they were severely reproved for it; and all the people were commanded to take their cattle to be slaughtered at a particular place, where the observance of this law might be scrutinized and secured [Note: 1Sa_14:31-34.]. Let not us then presume to set aside any of God’s commands, however small they may appear, or whatever reasons we may have to extenuate the violation of them. In fact, the commission of every sin very much resembles this of which we are speaking. God has allowed us every species of gratification, if we will take it in the way and manner prescribed by him: but we say, ‘No; I will have it in my own way; I will not be content with the flesh, but I will have the blood. I will not indeed drink it in bowls; but I will reserve a little of it to improve the flavour of my food.’ What should we think of a Jew that would deliberately provoke God to anger, and bring ruin on his own soul, for such a gratification as this? Yet such is the conduct of every sinner; and such are the gratifications for which he sells his soul. O remember, that, if we could gain the whole world at the expense of our own souls, we [should make a sad exchange. Be careful therefore not only not to violate any command of God, but not to lower in any one particular the standard of his law: for, “if in one thing only you deliberately and allowedly offend, you are guilty of all [Note: Jam_2:10.],” and infallibly subject yourselves to his everlasting displeasure.]
Above all things, think not light of the blood of Christ—
[The means used to beget a reverence for the blood which only shadoweth it forth, may clearly shew us what reverential thoughts we ought to entertain of the atoning blood of Christ. In that is all our hope: “by that alone we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins: through that the vilest sinner in the universe may obtain mercy; for it is able to “cleanse us from all sin.” It is of that the hosts of heaven are making mention continually before the throne of God: their anthems are addressed “to Him who loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood.” Of that then should we also sing; and in that should we glory. But if we be disposed to disregard it, let us contemplate the fate of him who disregarded the typical injunction; “God declared, that he would set his face against him and cut him off.” The proper reflection to be made on that, is suggested to us by God himself: “If he that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses, of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing [Note: Heb_10:29.]?” It was terrible to “die without mercy;” but there is a “much sorer punishment” than that: there is a “second death,” which they shall suffer, who trample on the blood of Christ. The Lord grant that we may never turn the means of happiness into an occasion of so great a calamity! Let us rather take the cup of salvation into our hands, and drink it with the liveliest emotions of gratitude and joy.]