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Leviticus 17:11

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

For the life of the flesh is in the blood - This sentence, which contains a most important truth, had existed in the Mosaic writings for 3600 years before the attention of any philosopher was drawn to the subject. This is the more surprising, as the nations in which philosophy flourished were those which especially enjoyed the Divine oracles in their respective languages. That the blood actually possesses a living principle, and that the life of the whole body is derived from it, is a doctrine of Divine revelation, and a doctrine which the observations and experiments of the most accurate anatomists have served strongly to confirm. The proper circulation of this important fluid through the whole human system was first taught by Solomon in figurative language, Ecclesiastes 12:6; and discovered, as it is called, and demonstrated, by Dr. Harvey in 1628; though some Italian philosophers had the same notion a little before. This accurate anatomist was the first who fully revived the Mosaic notion of the vitality of the blood; which notion was afterward adopted by the justly celebrated Dr. John Hunter, professor of anatomy in London, and fully established by him by a great variety of strong reasoning and accurate experiments. To support this opinion Dr. Hunter proves: -

  1. That the blood unites living parts in some circumstances as certainly as the yet recent juices of the branch of one tree unite with that of another; and he thinks that if either of these fluids were dead matter, they would act as stimuli, and no union would take place in the animal or vegetable kingdom; and he shows that in the nature of things there is not a more intimate connection between life and a solid than between life and a fluid.
  2. He shows that the blood becomes vascular, like other living parts of the body; and he demonstrated this by a preparation in which vessels were clearly seen to arise from what had been a coagulum of blood; for those vessels opened into the stream of the circulating blood, which was in contiguity with this coagulated mass.
  3. He proves that if blood be taken from the arm in the most intense cold that the human body can suffer, it will raise the thermometer to the same height as blood taken in the most sultry heat. This is a very powerful argument for the vitality of the blood, as it is well known that living bodies alone have the power of resisting great degrees of heat and cold, and of maintaining in almost every situation while in health that temperature which we distinguish by the name of animal heat.
  4. He proves that blood is capable of being acted upon by a stimulus, as it coagulates on exposure to the air, as certainly as the cavities of the abdomen and thorax become inflamed from the same cause. The more the blood is alive, i. e., the more the animal is in health, the sooner the blood coagulates on exposure; and the more it has lost of the living principle, as in cases of violent inflammation, the less sensible it is to the stimulus produced by being exposed, and coagulates more slowly.
  5. He proves that the blood preserves life in different parts of the body. When the nerves going to any part are tied or cut, the part becomes paralytic, and loses all power of motion, but it does not mortify. But let the artery be cut, and then the part dies and mortification ensues. It must therefore be the vital principle of the blood that keeps the part alive; nor does it appear that this fact can be accounted for on any other principle.
  6. He thinks this vitality farther proved from the case of a person who was brought to St. George's hospital for a simple fracture of the os humeri, and who died about a month after. As the bones had not united, he injected the arm, and thus found that the coagulated blood which filled the cavity between the extremities of the fractured bones was become vascular, and in some places very much so, which vessels, had it been dead matter, it never could have produced.

This system has been opposed, and arguments have been adduced to prove that the principle of vitality exists not in the blood but in the nervous system. But every argument on this ground appears to be done away by the simple consideration that the whole nervous system, as well as every other part of the body, is originally derived from the blood; for is it not from the blood of the mother that the fetus has its being and nourishment in the womb? Do not all the nerves, as well as the brain, etc., originate from that alone? And if it be not vital can it give the principle of vitality to something else, which then exclusively (though the effect of a cause) becomes the principle of vitality to all the solids and fluids of the body? This seems absurd. That the human being proceeded originally from the blood admits of no doubt; and it is natural and reasonable to suppose that as it was the cause under God which generated all the other parts of the body, so it still continues to be the principle of life, and by it alone all the wastes of the system are repaired. Two points relative to this subject are strongly asserted in Divine revelation, one by Moses, the other by St. Paul.

  1. Moses says, The Life of the flesh is in the Blood, Leviticus 17:11. This has been proved by the most indisputable facts.
  2. St. Paul says, God hath made of One Blood all nations of men, Acts 17:26. And this is demonstrated, not only from there being only one pair from whom all the nations of men have been derived, but also from the fact that every human being, from the first-born of Eve to the present hour, has been formed out of and supported by the mother's blood; and that from the agency of this fluid the human body, after being born into the world, has its increment and support.

The reason given by God for the law against eating blood is perfectly conclusive: I will set my face against that soul that eateth blood - for the Life (נפש nephesh ) of the flesh is in the Blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your souls (נפשתיכם naphshotheychem, your Lives): for it is the blood (because it is the Life, נפש nephesh ) that maketh an atonement for the soul (בנפש bannephesh, for the life; for the word is the same in all these cases). By transgression a man forfeits his Life to Divine justice, and he must die, did not mercy provide him a substitute. The life of a beast is appointed and accepted by God as a substitute for the sinner's life (in reference to the life of Christ, which was to be given for the life of the world); but as this life is in the Blood, and as the blood is the grand principle of vitality, therefore the blood is to be poured out upon the altar: and thus the life of the beast becomes a substitute for the life of the man.

And it is well worthy of being remarked, that Christ not only died for sinners, but our redemption is everywhere attributed to his Blood, and the shedding of that blood; and that on the altar of the cross, this might make an atonement for the lives and souls of men, he not only bowed his head, and gave up the ghost, but his side was opened, the pericardium and the heart evidently pierced, that the vital fluid might be poured out from the very seat of life, and that thus the blood, which is the life, should be poured out to make an atonement for the life of the soul. The doctrine of Moses and Paul proves the truth of the doctrine of Harvey and Hunter; and the reasonings and experiments of Harvey and Hunter illustrate and confirm the doctrine of Moses and Paul - Here then is a farther proof of the truth and authority of Divine revelation. See Clarke's note on Genesis 9:4; Dr. J. Corrie's Essay on the Vitality of the Blood; and the article Blood, in the Encyclopaedias.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 10-14

The prohibition to eat blood is repeated in seven places in the Pentateuch, but in this passage two distinct grounds are given for the prohibition: first, its own nature as the vital fluid; secondly, its consecration in sacrificial worship.

Leviticus 17:11

Rather, For the soul of the flesh is in the blood; and I have ordained it for you upon the altar, to make atonement for your souls, for the blood it is which makes atonement by means of the soul. In the Old Testament there are three words relating to the constitution of man;

(a) “life” as opposed to death Genesis 1:20; Deuteronomy 30:15;

(b) the “soul” as distinguished from the body; the individual life either in man or beast, whether united to the body during life, or separated from the body after death (compare Genesis 2:7);

(c) the “spirit” as opposed to the flesh Romans 8:6, and as distinguished from the life of the flesh; the highest element in man; that which, in its true condition, holds communion with God. The soul has its abode in the blood as long as life lasts. In Leviticus 17:14, the soul is identified with the blood, as it is in Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:23. That the blood is rightly thus distinguished from all other constituents of the body is acknowledged by the highest authorities in physiology.

“It is the fountain of life (says Harvey), the first to live, and the last to die, and the primary seat of the animal soul; it lives and is nourished of itself, and by no other part of the human body.” John Hunter inferred that it is the seat of life, because all the parts of the frame are formed and nourished from it. “And if (says he) it has not life previous to this operation, it must then acquire it in the act of forming: for we all give our assent to the existence of life in the parts when once formed.” Milne Edwards observes that, “if an animal be bled until it falls into a state of syncope, and the further loss of blood is not prevented, all muscular motion quickly ceases, respiration is suspended, the heart pauses from its action, life is no longer manifested by any outward sign, and death soon becomes inevitable; but if, in this state, the blood of another animal of the same species be injected into the veins of the one to all appearance dead, we see with amazement this inanimate body return to life, gaining accessions of vitality with each new quantity of blood that is introduced, eventual beginning to breathe freely, moving with ease, and finally walking as it was wont to do, and recovering completely.” More or less distinct traces of the recognition of blood as the vehicle of life are found in Greek and Roman writers. The knowledge of the ancients on the subject may indeed have been based on the mere observation that an animal loses its life when it loses its blood: but it may deepen our sense of the wisdom and significance of the Law of Moses to know that the fact which it sets forth so distinctly and consistently, and in such pregnant connection, is so clearly recognized by modern scientific research.

Leviticus 17:14

Rather, For the soul of all flesh is its blood with its soul (i. e. its blood and soul together): therefore spake I to the children of Israel, Ye shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the soul of all flesh is its blood, etc.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Here is a confirmation of the law against eating blood. They must eat no blood. But this law was ceremonial, and is now no longer in force; the coming of the substance does away the shadow. The blood of beasts is no longer the ransom, but Christ's blood only; therefore there is not now the reason for abstaining there then was. The blood is now allowed for the nourishment of our bodies; it is no longer appointed to make an atonement for the soul. Now the blood of Christ makes atonement really and effectually; to that, therefore, we must have regard, and not consider it as a common thing, or treat it with indifference.
Ellen G. White
Faith and Works, 22.1

Man broke God's law, and through the Redeemer new and fresh promises were made on a different basis. All blessings must come through a Mediator. Now every member of the human family is given wholly into the hands of Christ, and whatever we possess—whether it is the gift of money, of houses, of lands, of reasoning powers, of physical strength, of intellectual talents—in this present life, and the blessings of the future life, are placed in our possession as God's treasures to be faithfully expended for the benefit of man. Every gift is stamped with the cross and bears the image and superscription of Jesus Christ. All things come of God. From the smallest benefits up to the largest blessing, all flow through the one Channel—a superhuman mediation sprinkled with the blood that is of value beyond estimate because it was the life of God in His Son. FW 22.1

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Ellen G. White
The Acts of the Apostles, 191

At Jerusalem the delegates from Antioch met the brethren of the various churches, who had gathered for a general meeting, and to them they related the success that had attended their ministry among the Gentiles. They then gave a clear outline of the confusion that had resulted because certain converted Pharisees had gone to Antioch declaring that, in order to be saved, the Gentile converts must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. AA 191.1

This question was warmly discussed in the assembly. Intimately connected with the question of circumcision were several others demanding careful study. One was the problem as to what attitude should be taken toward the use of meats offered to idols. Many of the Gentile converts were living among ignorant and superstitious people who made frequent sacrifices and offerings to idols. The priests of this heathen worship carried on an extensive merchandise with the offerings brought to them, and the Jews feared that the Gentile converts would bring Christianity into disrepute by purchasing that which had been offered to idols, thereby sanctioning, in some measure, idolatrous customs. AA 191.2

Again, the Gentiles were accustomed to eat the flesh of animals that had been strangled, while the Jews had been divinely instructed that when beasts were killed for food, particular care was to be taken that the blood should flow from the body; otherwise the meat would not be regarded as wholesome. God had given these injunctions to the Jews for the purpose of preserving their health. The Jews regarded it as sinful to use blood as an article of diet. They held that the blood was the life, and that the shedding of blood was in consequence of sin. AA 191.3

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Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 390

The unbelieving Jews refused to see any except the most literal meaning in the Saviour's words. By the ritual law they were forbidden to taste blood, and they now construed Christ's language into a sacrilegious speech, and disputed over it among themselves. Many even of the disciples said, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” DA 390.1

The Saviour answered them: “Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” DA 390.2

The life of Christ that gives life to the world is in His word. It was by His word that Jesus healed disease and cast out demons; by His word He stilled the sea, and raised the dead; and the people bore witness that His word was with power. He spoke the word of God, as He had spoken through all the prophets and teachers of the Old Testament. The whole Bible is a manifestation of Christ, and the Saviour desired to fix the faith of His followers on the word. When His visible presence should be withdrawn, the word must be their source of power. Like their Master, they were to live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4. DA 390.3

As our physical life is sustained by food, so our spiritual life is sustained by the word of God. And every soul is to receive life from God's word for himself. As we must eat for ourselves in order to receive nourishment, so we must receive the word for ourselves. We are not to obtain it merely through the medium of another's mind. We should carefully study the Bible, asking God for the aid of the Holy Spirit, that we may understand His word. We should take one verse, and concentrate the mind on the task of ascertaining the thought which God has put in that verse for us. We should dwell upon the thought until it becomes our own, and we know “what saith the Lord.” DA 390.4

In His promises and warnings, Jesus means me. God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that I by believing in Him, might not perish, but have everlasting life. The experiences related in God's word are to be my experiences. Prayer and promise, precept and warning, are mine. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. As faith thus receives and assimilates the principles of truth, they become a part of the being and the motive power of the life. The word of God, received into the soul, molds the thoughts, and enters into the development of character. DA 390.5

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Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 418

The ministration of the earthly sanctuary consisted of two divisions; the priests ministered daily in the holy place, while once a year the high priest performed a special work of atonement in the most holy, for the cleansing of the sanctuary. Day by day the repentant sinner brought his offering to the door of the tabernacle and, placing his hand upon the victim's head, confessed his sins, thus in figure transferring them from himself to the innocent sacrifice. The animal was then slain. “Without shedding of blood,” says the apostle, there is no remission of sin. “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” Leviticus 17:11. The broken law of God demanded the life of the transgressor. The blood, representing the forfeited life of the sinner, whose guilt the victim bore, was carried by the priest into the holy place and sprinkled before the veil, behind which was the ark containing the law that the sinner had transgressed. By this ceremony the sin was, through the blood, transferred in figure to the sanctuary. In some cases the blood was not taken into the holy place; but the flesh was then to be eaten by the priest, as Moses directed the sons of Aaron, saying: “God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation.” Leviticus 10:17. Both ceremonies alike symbolized the transfer of the sin from the penitent to the sanctuary. GC 418.1

Such was the work that went on, day by day, throughout the year. The sins of Israel were thus transferred to the sanctuary, and a special work became necessary for their removal. God commanded that an atonement be made for each of the sacred apartments. “He shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.” An atonement was also to be made for the altar, to “cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.” Leviticus 16:16, 19. GC 418.2

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 624

Soon the noise of the battle was heard in the camp of Israel. The king's sentinels reported that there was great confusion among the Philistines, and that their numbers were decreasing. Yet it was not known that any part of the Hebrew army had left the camp. Upon inquiry it was found that none were absent except Jonathan and his armor-bearer. But seeing that the Philistines were meeting with a repulse, Saul led his army to join the assault. The Hebrews who had deserted to the enemy now turned against them; great numbers also came out of their hiding places, and as the Philistines fled, discomfited, Saul's army committed terrible havoc upon the fugitives. PP 624.1

Determined to make the most of his advantage, the king rashly forbade his soldiers to partake of food for the entire day, enforcing his command by the solemn imprecation, “Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies.” The victory had already been gained, without Saul's knowledge or co-operation, but he hoped to distinguish himself by the utter destruction of the vanquished army. The command to refrain from food was prompted by selfish ambition, and it showed the king to be indifferent to the needs of his people when these conflicted with his desire for self-exaltation. To confirm his prohibition by a solemn oath showed Saul to be both rash and profane. The very words of the curse give evidence that Saul's zeal was for himself, and not for the honor of God. He declared his object to be, not “that the Lord may be avenged on His enemies,” but “that I may be avenged on mine enemies.” PP 624.2

The prohibition resulted in leading the people to transgress the command of God. They had been engaged in warfare all day, and were faint for want of food; and as soon as the hours of restriction were over, they fell upon the spoil and devoured the flesh with the blood, thus violating the law that forbade the eating of blood. PP 624.3

During the day's battle Jonathan, who had not heard of the king's command, unwittingly offended by eating a little honey as he passed through a wood. Saul learned of this at evening. He had declared that the violation of his edict should be punished with death; and though Jonathan had not been guilty of a willful sin, though God had miraculously preserved his life and had wrought deliverance through him, the king declared that the sentence must be executed. To spare the life of his son would have been an acknowledgment on the part of Saul that he had sinned in making so rash a vow. This would have been humiliating to his pride. “God do so, and more also,” was his terrible sentence: “thou shalt surely die, Jonathan.” PP 624.4

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