There’s a sense of anticipation when waiting for something to be revealed. In football – the FA Cup, for example – if you’re Accrington Stanley, you’ll hope for a plum tie against Liverpool or Manchester United. When it comes to Bible notes being allocated, Genesis 1, Psalm 23 and Isaiah 53 are all pretty good options. Today’s passage doesn’t feature high on the list!
However, that’s where we are, so let’s dive in. Chapter 17 provides details as to where sacrifices are to be made, and instructions regarding the drinking of blood; chapter 18, using the NIV heading, covers “unlawful sexual relations”. We’ll start with chapter 17, because there are some significant features that perhaps provide clues how to read chapter 18.
Firstly, instructions regarding sacrifice. This is a process of ‘centralisation’, marking a change from what went before, particularly with regard to Passover. Going back to the original Passover instructions (Exodus 12), we find that the Passover lambs were sacrificed in ‘households’, the number of people in the ‘household’ being dictated by the number of people that a single lamb could feed – remembering that none was to remain. Now, Moses reveals that it has to be centralised, the feast being focused at the Tent of Meeting, which anticipates the permanent Temple, Passover becoming one of the great pilgrimage feasts. Admittedly, today’s passage is not just about Passover, but it does include it.
One reason for this is that Israel’s context had changed. There was a real danger, if things were not altered, that their own practices might be compromised by the practices of the people in the land they were about to enter. Reading on through Israel’s history, we see that this was not an unwarranted concern. So, the law was amended to reflect this – and all sacrifices were to be made at the Tent/Temple – although various other instruction regarding celebrating the Passover itself, remained.
Secondly, in 17.10, God says he will “set [His] face against” anyone who eats blood. The reason? It’s where the life is. This is such a key part of the law that it’s one of the distinctives legislated in Acts 15 (those distinctives, in fact, mirroring today’s passage). One problem, however, is Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to drink “my blood” (John 6.53-56, Matthew 26.27). How do we square this with what we read in Leviticus? How does Jesus’ ministry and message allow us to reinterpret what’s gone before? How does context affect things? We’re out of space, but perhaps we must search higher and wider than one verse, or one passage, for true wisdom…
Father God, thank you that you’re the source of wisdom. Help me drink from that source today. Amen.