Chapter 17

Forbidden Sacrifices

    • The Lord told Moses to tell Aaron, his sons, and all of the Israelites that anyone who killed a bull, sheep, or goat anywhere inside or outside the camp instead of bringing it to the Tabernacle entrance is considered guilty of murder and will be cut off from the community. This rule is to ensure that the Israelites bring their offerings to the priest so they can be sacrificed appropriately according to ritual instead of being offered out in the open fields. The Israelites must stop being unfaithful to God by offering sacrifices to goat demons. This was a permanent law for them and applied to all Israelites as well as the foreigners who lived among them.

      • Guzik writes, “In the pagan world at that time, it was customary to offer sacrifice wherever one pleased. Altars were customarily built on high hills, in forested areas, or at other special places…This looser attitude towards the place of sacrifice may have been fine for the time of the patriarchs. Yet now with a centralized place of worship, the Israelites were not allowed to offer sacrifice any way they pleased – they had to come to the tabernacle and have their sacrifice administered by the priests. If they disobeyed, they would be cut off from among the people – exiled from their community.”

      • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “These regulations (see also Deuteronomy 12:15-21) indicate that unsupervised sacrifice could easily lead to the integration of pagan elements into the true worship of the Lord (Leviticus 17:7). Israel was camped around the Tabernacle (Numbers 2:2-34), so it was not inconvenient to bring an animal to the sanctuary for slaughter. Deuteronomy 12:2-24 anticipates Israel’s settlement in the land and the hardship imposed by this regulation. It permitted slaughtering and eating meat without bringing it to the sanctuary, as long as the blood was not consumed.”

      • Ellicot’s Commentary for English Readers notes, “The word (sēirim) here translated “devils,” literally denotes hairy or shaggy goats, and then goat-like deities, or demons. The Egyptians, and other nations of antiquity, worshipped goats as gods. Not only was there a celebrated temple in Thmuis, the capital of the Mendesian Nomos in Lower Egypt, dedicated to the goat-image Pan, whom they called Mendes, and worshipped as the oracle, and as the fertilising principle in nature, but they erected statues of him everywhere. Hence the Pan, Silenus, satyrs, fauns, and the woodland gods among the Greeks and Romans; and hence, too, the goat-like form of the devil, with a tail, horns, and cloven feet, which obtain in medieval Christianity, and which may still be seen in some European cities…This is the form of idolatrous worship which the Jews brought with them from Egypt, and to which reference is continually made. (See Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7; Ezekiel 23:3; and especially 2 Chronicles 11:15.)”

Eating Blood and Carcasses Prohibited

    • The Lord continued with these instructions to Moses, “I will turn against and cut off from the community any Israelite, or foreigner who lives among them, who eats or drinks blood. This is because the life of a creature is in its blood and blood is the means by which I have given you to make purification and atonement possible.”

      • Israel was forbidden to consume blood because it was symbolic of the life given by God and was reserved as God’s portion of each animal offering. God had also designated the sacrificial blood as the means of atonement. In other words, God’s grace permitted the animal to be accepted in exchange for the life of the sinner. In the NT, the blood of Christ- representing His life freely given- has provided eternal redemption for believers (Hebrews 9:12). (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

    • Any Israelite or foreigner living among them who hunts an animal or bird that can be eaten (considered clean) has to drain its blood and cover the blood with dirt because the life of the creature is in the blood.”

      • Just like the blood of animals presented in altar offerings, the blood of wild game also represented life…Covering the blood of a slain animal gave it a symbolic burial. This demonstrated reverence both for the animal’s life and for God, the life-giver. The burial signified the return of that life to God, just like the disposal of the blood by the priest in the altar offerings.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

      • Guzik gives us something to think about, “This respect for blood of animals should make us consider how we regard the blood of Jesus. If, under the Old Covenant, the blood of animals was to be respected, what of the precious blood of Jesus which makes a New Covenant? Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29)”

      • As a side note, the HCSB notes that this passage is the source of the Jehovah’s Witness belief that accepting blood-transfusions is a sin, “Using this passage about the eating of blood, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) forbids members from receiving blood through the mouth or veins. Hence, they allow no blood transfusions, even in life-or-death situations.”

    • Anyone who eats an animal that has died a natural death or been killed by wild animals must wash their clothes, take a bath, and will be unclean until evening. If they fail to do this, they will be punished for their sin.”

      • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains, “An animal killed by a predator or which died of natural causes still had undrained blood in its tissues. This rendered it ceremonially unclean and a potential source of defilement (22:8). Israelties were to throw such an animal to the dogs (Exodus 22:31) or give or sell it to a non-Israelite (Deuteronomy 14:21). If an Israelite happened to eat an animal with undrained blood, he or she became ceremonially unclean and had to wash in water. The uncleanness itself was not a sin, but the neglect of the unclean state brought punishment.”