(Based on Genesis 9)
Why is the Bible so full of talk about blood? It’s all over the place.
In our churches, as well, we talk about it, we sing about it, we have a ceremony where we drink wine or grape juice that supposedly represents it. If the whole thing is new to you, it may seem as though Christians are obsessed with blood! And it may seem like a pretty weird and morbid obsession. Gross, even!
Well, the first thing you can probably see about blood is exactly what Genesis 9:4 and the first line of Leviticus 17:11 say about it. What do these verses teach us about blood? They teach us that the life of every creature is in the blood. Blood is life.
We can’t live without it. Its life-giving circulation, carrying oxygen to every the part of the body, is something we can’t quite manage without. “Blood” has come to be synonymous with life (or death), as in, “bloodshed,” “the shedding of innocent blood,” “I’ll have his blood,” “There will be blood tonight!” etc. And that, of course, is the significance of blood in the Bible.
So when covenants were “made with blood” in the Bible, what does that mean?
It means, of course, that a life was taken. Biblical covenants were not just blood pacts the way some of us may have made them as kids, where two friends pricked themselves with a pin and put their fingers together to mingle the two, little drops of blood that came out. We don’t see any examples of biblical covenants, of God making peace with humanity, without a life being taken.
What on earth?!!! Does that sound very compatible with this God of love and mercy who gets more and more beautiful the more you get to know Him that I’ve been telling you about?
Well, here’s the thing. The blood shed in the making of a covenant was not the blood of the one entering into the covenant with God. The one entering into the covenant with God was not an innocent party. That’s why there was a need for a covenant of peace. The Mighty Warrior is a warrior against evil. But He’s already at peace with all those who don’t do evil. There’s no need for Him to make a covenant of peace with the animal world (those who don’t do evil).
Because the Mighty Warrior is a relentless warrior against evil, the one who did evil had to take the just and lawful wage for doing evil — death (both the physical and the spiritual kind). Unless some other solution could be found. If an innocent party could representatively take the consequence of the death that should have fallen on the evil-doer, then the evil-doer wouldn’t have to. I don’t know why. It doesn’t exactly make sense to me. But there’s a lot of things I don’t understand about God and the way things work in His reality. (Imagine that!)
Now, God does not believe in human sacrifice (except in one notable exception that we’ll talk about at some future date). He made that very clear from His Law in the Bible. Human sacrifice is out! It was something that was abhorrent to Him. And besides the fact that human sacrifice is a great evil in itself, it wouldn’t have done any good. The purpose of the shedding of innocent blood in a covenant was to bear-by-representation the consequences of evil-doing. It was humans who did the evil. No human sacrifice (except one) could qualify as the shedding of truly innocent blood to bear the cost of guilt for the guilty blood that should have been spilt.
And so we find animal sacrifice as the only acceptable covenant sacrifice instituted in the Old Testament Law (actually, right back in the beginning of Genesis as soon as sin had entered the world). In our modern world, we tend to look at this as a barbaric practice. It’s extremely distasteful to us.
You have to understand two things about animal sacrifice: I believe it was distasteful to God, too, in a sense, even though He commanded it. If you read between the lines from Scripture, He cares about animals. He was the original animal rights activist. (Ex. 23:12, Deut. 25:4, Jonah 4:11). The whole system of animal sacrifice, I believe, was meant to be distasteful. It was a graphic illustration of how utterly distasteful sin is
To God, sin is distasteful (to put it mildly) just because it’s sin. But for us, sin is distasteful because of its connection to suffering and death. Suffering and death are utterly distasteful to us (and so the reason they needed to tag along on the heels of sin—to teach us just how distasteful sin really is). Animal sacrifice was a hard-hitting reminder of the awfulness of sin.
The other thing you have to understand is that, while God may find all death distasteful because He cares about all living things, He cares much more about people than about animals. As valuable as all life is, human life is much more valuable than animal life from a biblical persepective. In fact, God loves people desperately. Remember the dilemma we talked about a day or two ago? How does a relentless Mighty Warrior against evil who also desperately loves people who do evil reconcile the two sides of this dilemma?
As distasteful as we find animal sacrifice, isn’t human sacrifice much, much worse, even to us? God was willing to accept the innocent blood of animals shed in exchange for ours because we are infinitely more valuable to Him.
But Hebrews 10:4 tell us something interesting about the practice of taking animal life in exchange for human life. It states that animal sacrifice could never really do the job of taking away sin. Not the guilt of sin. Nor its consequences. So if the shedding of the blood of animals couldn’t possibly take away the sins of humans, what was the point of it?
I believe it was a picture. A graphic illustration. Not only of the distastefulness of sin. But a picture that had an even deeper meaning. But that’s a part of the story that will have to wait for now.
All the same, whatever its meaning, it was something that was commanded by God, and all those who wanted to enter into a covenant of peace with Him needed to enter into that covenant through the shedding of innocent blood as an act of faith in Him and obedience to Him. In Old Testament times, the shedding of innocent blood in these covenants was always animal blood.
I started thinking about this biblical principle when I started thinking about the covenant of peace that God made with Noah. After God had destroyed the world with a flood, then Noah performed a burnt animal offering. And after Noah had offered his sacrifice, the very next thing we see happening is the Mighty Warrior hanging up His bow as a sign of a covenant of peace.
Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at what makes the difference between the Old Testament and the New or between the Old Covenant and the New. (Hint: the covenant God made with Noah had far-reaching implications. It, too, was a pointer: a sign.)