The Israelites had various laws and ceremonies relating to hygiene, illness, cleanness and uncleanness, etc, that made them different from other peoples. Why were these regulations given to Israel? If they were given by God, they must have had a significant purpose. Sometimes we can discern a reason, sometimes not. Ultimately the laws of Israel served a spiritual purpose, relating to the Israelites and with an eye to the person and work of the Messiah. Consider Leviticus 17:10-12 The blood makes atonement.
1. The prohibition
The regulations of Leviticus 17 relate to sacrifices and the use of blood. Thus v1-9 deal with the place for offering sacrifices and v10-12 deal with the use of blood. Blood must not be consumed but drained from meat before cooking. One especially significant case is that of the sacrifice of clean animals (v3). In v11 God gives two reasons why sacrificial blood is not to be consumed:
(i). ‘the life of a creature is in the blood’: in the shedding of blood life was poured out. It is the prerogative of God to decree how that is to be done.
(ii). ‘I have given it to you to make atonement’: the blood of the sacrifice has profound spiritual use and significance and so must be treated as he wills.
2. The pattern
The regulations the Lord gives establish a pattern that lies at the heart of biblical faith and life. What was happening when the blood of one of these animals was shed? The shedding of blood provides salvation. Note:
(i). Propitiation: ‘it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life’ (v11). The idea in the verb is ‘to cover’ – the sacrifice satisfies the righteous wrath of God – it is a ‘propitiation’. God provides the means for sin to be covered from his sight by sacrifice.
(ii). Substitution: the blood is ‘to make atonement for your souls’ (ESV). The victim sheds blood that the guilty sinner ought to shed – the animal is a substitute for him.
3. The perfection
Hebrews 10:14 states ‘it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take a way sins’. They were the God-ordained temporary provision, foreshadowing the Messiah:
(i). Propitiation: Christ provided the propitiation (Romans 3:25) covering our sin and turning away the wrath of God – God thus deals with his own holy wrath.
(ii). Substitution: this is central to Christ’s work (1 Peter 3:18). All he did was for the benefit of his people, providing the blood that makes atonement for our sins.