Leviticus 17-18: Blood and Sweat


If you have noticed, there is a order throughout Leviticus. There is first the provision, then the standard. God never reverses that order. He never talks about behavior without first having spoken about provision.

There are two areas of life which were particularly carefully regulated for Israel, their behavior toward blood and their behavior toward sex.

In Chapter 17 the mystery of blood is set before us and in Chapter 18 the mystery of sex.

God was definitely driving home a truth in these areas.

The first requirement was that all blood must be offered to the LORD:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron and his sons, and to all the people of Israel, This is the thing which the LORD has commanded. If any man of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the door of the tent of meeting, to offer it as a gift to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man; he has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people.” (Leviticus 17:1-4 RSV)

In Verse 13 there is a further requirement:

“Any man also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust.” (Leviticus 17:13 RSV)

If anyone killed a domestic animal it had to be brought and offered as a peace offering to God, and the blood was to be poured out and collected in a basin. The priest had to perform certain rituals with it and then the meat of the animal could be eaten by the man’s family. And even if he was out hunting, the blood of any animal he killed had to be treated with respect and poured out and covered over with dirt, lest a ceremonial defilement result.

For an Israelite to violate this requirement was a very serious offense. He was to be cut off from among his people if he did not follow it carefully. So this must be a very important principle.

Earlier in this book we have studied through the various penalties that were assessed for failures among the people of God. You will recall that the mildest form of punishment was to be declared unclean until evening.

But here is something even more severe. This violator is to be cut off from among the people. This is the equivalent of the form of ostracism which is commanded in the New Testament when someone evidences a deliberate intent to continue in evil even when he knows it is wrong. You remember that there are particular instructions as to how to deal with this situation. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us that if your brother falls into a fault of some kind you are to go to him and tell him what is wrong between you and him alone. If he will listen to you then it is all over and you can forget it. “You have gained your brother,” Jesus said (Matthew 18:15b RSV). “But if he won’t hear you,” if he willfully continues to offend, then you are to “take two or three with you and go to him again. If he won’t hear them,” and still remains unwilling to change his behavior in accordance with the Word of God, then “tell it to the church.” And if he will not hear the church, then let him be to you as a Gentile or a publican, i.e., as though he were not a Christian at all (Matthew 18:16-17). That is what it means to be cut off from among the people — to be set aside and to have one’s whole relationship to God in doubt. Even the question of his salvation is in jeopardy. This is the seriousness of failure to treat blood properly and to recognize that it belongs to God.

The reason for this is given in Verses 5-7:

“This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they slay in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD, to the priest at the door of the tent of meeting, and slay them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD; and the priest shall sprinkle the blood on the altar of the LORD at the door of the tent of meeting, and burn the fat for a pleasing odor to the LORD. So they shall no more slay their sacrifices for satyrs, after whom they play the harlot. This shall be a statute for ever to them throughout their generations.” (Leviticus 17:5-7 RSV)

The object of this whole requirement is to teach that all life belongs to God and that he alone is capable of handling it rightly. Only God understands life. That is the basis for all proper behavior. If you don’t understand that fact you are not going to behave properly. You can’t. You must understand that your life belongs to God, and that all other life around you, even animal life, must be brought before God and related to him!


The second requirement regarding blood was that no one was permitted to eat it. Verses 10-14:

“If any man of the house of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. Any man also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust.

“For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.” (Leviticus 17:11-14 RSV)

As plainly as he possibly can, God is teaching his people by means of this visual aid that blood has something mysterious and sacred about it, since it is the bearer of life itself.

So, what is the reality here? It is declared plainly in the words of Jesus recorded in the sixth chapter of John. These words were spoken as our Lord taught in the synagogue at Capernaum.  Jesus is referring to himself here as the bread of life, the food sent down by God from heaven. And, beginning with Verse 52, John says,

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ”How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:52-56 RSV)


What does this all mean? Well, you see, blood is life, this passage in Leviticus tells us, and our Lord was now teaching them the great truth toward which all these restrictions point — that God has provided a new life from which to live, and that to eat the life of a fallen creation is no proper food for God’s people. If you eat the blood of an animal, God is saying, you are partaking of the life of a fallen creation. You are, in a sense, by a figure, feeding upon the life of an animal which is part of a fallen creation. Remember that not only did man fall in the Garden, but all of nature fell with him. The whole natural world is tied to man. Since man is intended to have dominion over it, the natural world fell when man fell. In his letter to the Romans Paul argues that nature is subject to wrath because of man and that it is now travailing and groaning in anguish, waiting for the curse to be lifted which came upon it when man fell (Romans 8:19-23).

God is patiently trying to teach us that we are no longer to depend upon that fallen life, what we call “the flesh,” the old life, the old method of operating. The resources that we lived by and depended upon before we became Christians — our personality, our training and education, our good looks, whatever we counted on — are no longer to be our resources. They are natural resources and to partake of them is wrong for a believer.  God has provided a new life, the life of Christ, imparted to us and now part of us. And that is a proper life — a God-intended, God-provided life — proper food. Therefore he who eats this life, drinks this blood, as Jesus said, “has eternal life,” is operating on God’s intended provision.

We eat and drink of this life whenever we draw upon the life of Jesus for strength to love someone who is not very lovely, or for patience when we are irritated and hard-pressed, or for kindness when we don’t feel very good. If, in any moment of demand we reckon upon his life, then we are drinking his blood and eating his flesh. When we do that, his life is flowing in us and Christ is at work in us. That is the difference. And this is what God is seeking to remind us of. We have a reminder of it in the Lord’s table where, by symbol, we eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, and that pictures the life we are to live. You can see how God labors to teach this. Anything else, he says, is a curse and if you fall prey to it you will be cut off from among your people, i.e., your life will be of such a character that there will be no observable change from the old life. You will not be living like a Christian. You may be a Christian, but you will not be living the Christian life if you depend on anything else.

Now let’s move on to the theme of sex in Chapter 18:

Next to the preservation of life the most powerful human drive is sex. And sex, as we are beginning to understand these days, is like a great river which, when it flows quietly between its banks, is a blessing to mankind. But when it is raging in full flood,  it is terribly destructive and hurtful. And so God’s Word is careful to regulate us and help us in this area. It is amazing that God takes the risk of letting us have this fantastic power in our lives. He doesn’t take sex away from us if we misuse it. He takes that risk with us, with a plea to us that we learn to keep it within its banks. That is the way this chapter starts:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, I am the LORD your God.[That is, you can trust me.] You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes.[All the nations have gone astray.] You shall do my ordinances and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God.[That is, trust me! ] You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances, by doing which a man shall live: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18:1-5 RSV)

You can see how God underscores the purpose of these instructions. They are to make you live, not die — not be restricted, not narrowed and hemmed in and prohibited from expressing yourself. No, quite the contrary! They are in order that you might live, might enjoy life to the fullest degree, might find it whole and rich.

Here in Scripture you get the truth about sex. All through the Scriptures we are taught that sex is to be a total union of a man and his wife, expressing physical, emotional, and spiritual oneness. That is what sex is all about. It is a total union. Therefore marriage is its only possible expression — anything else immediately becomes abortive and hurtful because the union cannot be total outside of marriage!

So, you see, sex with the wrong person is always harmful. And the most harmful of all, according to this passage, is sex with those who are near of kin. That is what God goes on to warn his people about, beginning with Verse 6:

“None of you shall approach anyone near of kin to him to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home or born abroad. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son’s daughter or of your daughter’s daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness.” (Leviticus 18:6-10 RSV)

The section goes right on, covering the cases of all the relatives and in-laws. The phrase which is used repeatedly here, “uncover nakedness,” is a Biblical euphemism which designates the total act of sex, especially including sexual arousal, preliminary fore-play. Even that is prohibited because it is harmful. There is to be no sexual arousal practiced with anyone who falls into these categories.

By reading this section carefully and comparing it with other passages which deal with sex we can perceive two basic reasons for this prohibition:

First, genetically, as we well know, sex with relatives which results in procreation inevitably intensifies weaknesses in the family strain.  And laws everywhere forbid incest. There is a recognition on the part of governments that society is injured by sexual relationships resulting in children between those of close kin.

And, second, psychologically, to have sex or even to arouse passion in one who is near of kin is to have a form of sex with oneself. As the passage indicates, nearness of kin is closeness to self. The “nakedness” of relatives is related to our own “nakedness.” And sex with oneself, in any form, apparently violates a kind of protective shield which is intended by God to keep the race from demonic invasion.  This is why God warns again and again throughout the Scriptures that nations or individuals who give themselves over to widespread sexual laxity are opening themselves to the most destructive, pernicious, demonic activity.

When a proper regard for the sexual limitations prescribed by God is broken down, the barrier which protects mankind from the unseen forces of darkness which surround us is violated and demonic invasion can then occur very easily. This is what destroys a race. A nation begins to fall apart at that point. Society comes apart at the seams. You only need to read the first chapter of Romans to see how inevitable is the decay and the decline. And it moves rapidly into other forms of violations and perversions, as this passage goes on to specify: Verses 19-23:

“You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.[That is an inordinate sexual demand, even within the marriage relationship.] And you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, and defile yourself with her.[That is adultery.] You shall not give any of your children to devote them by fire to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.[That was an offering of infants to the fiery iron god, Molech. They actually laid children in the heated arms of the image of the god so that the children were cremated alive. This was demon worship and evidently it was regarded as some form of sexual act.] You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.[That is homosexuality.] And you shall not lie with any beast and defile yourself with it, neither shall any woman give herself to a beast to lie with it: it is perversion.”[That is, bestiality.] (Leviticus 18:19-23 RSV)

All these practices, the Bible suggests, provide open doors to the destruction of the race, and of the individuals involved, because they open people’s lives to demonic influence. The spirits of darkness which are waiting to move into humanity to possess it, individually and corporately, are given purchase, are given foothold by loose sexual practice. Thus satanic influence grows, and oppression and mental illness and all the other accompaniment of demonic activity creeps into the race.

The end result of this process is given in Verses 24-30:

“Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves; and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for all of these abominations the men of the land did, who were before you, so that the land became defiled); lest the land vomit you out, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For whoever shall do any of these abominations, the persons that do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs which were practiced before you, and never to defile yourselves by them: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 18:24-30 RSV)

How tenderly God deals with his people! How graciously and faithfully he warns them that by violating his statutes they will only destroy themselves and that the ultimate effect of sexual looseness is ecological disaster.

Wow we are  so ignorant of our own humanity and of the way we are tied together and affect each other by what we do — whether other people know about what we do or not. Especially have we been ignorant of the way in which all humanity relates ultimately to the land — God never forgets that. Man does.

And God says that there is a tie between wrongful sexual practices and ecological disaster. When sexual practices are wrong, demonic influence twists the thinking of men and they do things to the land which turns it against its inhabitants. The expressive figure that God uses is that the land is defiled and it “vomits out” the people — it can’t stand them anymore. It rejects them.

If you think that the ecological crisis we are undergoing today — the widespread pollution and the destruction of our natural resources — is due to the population explosion, you are very, very wrong, because there have been ecological disasters for millennia before now in human history. Here in this passage is the record of one. The inhabitants of the land of Canaan were cast out beforehand by the land itself because of the sexual looseness of the people. And there are many records of similar ecological disasters in human history — long before there was a worldwide population boom. It isn’t population explosion that creates the disaster. No, the reason for it is that man in his ignorance of life does not understand the things that unite us to the land and to nature.

We would never think that our harmful sexual practices have something to do with our ecological crisis. But God, in his infinite knowledge of human affairs, knows that there is a tie and he tells us faithfully and honestly, “If you go on in the way you are going, sexually, the land will become repulsed by you. You will violate it and destroy it, despite your best intentions, and it will reject you. You will no longer be able to sustain yourself upon it.”

So, the  ecological and economic disaster our nation is facing is directly traceable to the sexual permissiveness that we have indulged in, and to our creation of wrongful attitudes toward sex.

We wouldn’t understand all this if he didn’t reveal it to us. And we cannot find our way out by ourselves. Nature reflects only the ravaged and ruined condition of the spirit of man. And as society falls apart in direct disobedience to what God has said — ignoring the gracious provision of a Redeemer, of a Savior, who offers a whole way of life that is entirely different, and a different power to live by — our nation becomes infiltrated with demonic thought, twisted satanic lies, delusions and illusions, and the land becomes increasingly defiled and sick. Ultimately, unless we have a national change of heart, it will vomit out its inhabitants.

God’s word, of course, is always the same: Repent, think it over, think again — especially the people of God — and believe! Remember, God alone can handle life. God alone can master our sexual desires. And he is ready and graciously waiting to provide what we need, so that we might live a whole, full, abundant life.

My God what a revelation




Some information taken from Ron Steadmans Leviticus Wholy Living

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