This devotional is about Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”
Before the tabernacle existed, people offered animal sacrifices wherever and however they wanted. God’s laws described how the sacrifices should be offered and where they should be offered, namely the tabernacle. But people are creatures of habit and stubborn. If Israel was ever going to worship as God had commanded, the people had to stop doing their own thing and start bringing sacrifices to the tabernacle. That’s what Leviticus 17 is about. It commands the people not to offer sacrifices anywhere else but the tabernacle (v. 5) and it prescribes a severe penalty for those who don’t bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle (v. 4).
A key reason for these commands was to stop idolatry in Israel (v. 7). If anyone can sacrifice whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, they also can sacrifice to whomever they want–God or some idol. Creating a central place of worship had many benefits but guarding against idolatry was one of the biggest.
A key theme within this chapter has to do instructions about handling the blood of an animal sacrifice. The word “blood” appears 12 times in this chapter in verses 4, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, so it is an important detail. The reason for this attention to blood is stated in verse 11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood….”
Blood is necessary for life. When it stops flowing through the veins of a man or an animal, the organs and tissues in the body stop working and the animal or person dies. Because it is essential to life, blood is a perfect way to represent life and death. The later part of verse 11 goes on to explain the significance of blood in animal sacrifices: “and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” The Hebrew word translated “atonement” here means “to cover or conceal.” God is saying that the blood conceals one’s sins; it is God’s appointed method for receiving forgiveness. When a person brought an animal as a sacrifice for his sins, that animal became the person’s substitute. God accepted the life of that animal, symbolized by its blood, instead of the life of the person who committed the sin.
Ultimately, of course, all of this anticipated the death of Christ on the cross for us. The statement, “For the life of a creature is in the blood… it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (v. 11) explains why Christ had to die on the cross for our sins. Because he was the perfect man, sinless in every way and righteous by merit for obeying God’s law perfectly, he was the only man who could die as a substitute for sinners. Because you have believed in him, you can be certain that God has forgiven you based on Christ’s death and has accepted you. The death of Christ is central to our faith because only his death could atone for our sins.