Blood

And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that eateth any manner of blood, I will set my face against that soul that eateth 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 to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, who taketh in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten; he shall pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. For as to the life of all flesh, the blood thereof is all one with the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh; for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off (Leviticus 17:10-14).

There certainly seems to be a lot of blood involved in Christianity.

Many of the popular hymns prominently feature blood; many of its uses would be considered graphic and revolting if taken literally. In song people are encouraged to hide in Jesus’ blood, or request to be drawn near to Jesus’ “bleeding side.” But by far the most common imagery is drawn from Revelation 7:13-14: the saints as having white garments after washing them in the blood of the Lamb. Such an image cannot be taken literally, as anyone who has ever attempted to get bloodstains out of white clothing can attest. Such talk of blood is not limited to song; Christians seem to always be talking about the blood of Christ and cleansing that comes from it. How could an image so graphic and almost grotesque as if understood literally become so powerful in Christianity?

We do well to consider what blood is and why it is important to the body. We have discovered that blood is one of the main transport vehicles throughout the body, bringing oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body while taking away carbon dioxide, toxins, and the like. The functions of blood are entirely essential to life; if blood is not flowing to and from a given body part, it will die.

The critical value of blood to life is what makes it so powerful as an image, as we see in Leviticus 17:10-14. God commands Israel to not eat blood, and does so with some vehemence. The reasoning behind the prohibition should interest us greatly in both of its dimensions: the life of flesh is in the blood, and it is given upon the altar to make atonement. Blood makes atonement by virtue of the life it represents (cf. Leviticus 17:11).

Blood, therefore, represents life. The great interest in the Bible and in song regarding the blood of Jesus is really a strong interest in the life of Jesus which was offered up and sacrificed for our sins (Hebrews 7:26-28, 9:11-26). This imagery is only possible because of the second aspect of blood as life as declared by God in Leviticus: a life can be given to atone for another life. In the Old Testament, animals were sacrificed upon the altar in order to accomplish this atonement (Leviticus 4:1-35, 17:11). Yet, as the Hebrew author demonstrates, the blood of bulls and goats could not truly atone for sin (Hebrews 10:4). The Hebrew author goes on to explain how Jesus’ life, represented by His shed blood, proved fully sufficient to atone for sin (Hebrews 10:5-18). There is no other offering of blood (thus, life) that needs to be added to what Jesus gave; thus all animal sacrifices are concluded. Jesus’ life can provide atonement and thus life for all mankind (Hebrews 7:24-26)!

Another potent image for atonement is cleanliness; that which has been ritually cleansed is pure and holy and suitable for God. In Leviticus, the holy place (the Tabernacle) and the holy people (the priests) were consecrated and made holy through the sprinkling of anointing oil and blood (Leviticus 8:1-36). This makes no sense literally; oil and blood do not get anything physically clean. But the physical actions are the means by which the spiritual reality can be established: the blood, as representing the life of the slain sin offering, is devoted to God for the atonement of sin, and thus becomes holy, communicating holiness to whatever it touches (cf. Leviticus 6:24-30). This is how blood can provide cleansing power: not on account of any physical property of blood, but through faith in God in the atonement that comes through the offering of a life for a life and the sanctification of first the offering and then the one who provided the offering.

There is, therefore, wonderful working power in the blood, particularly in the life of which the blood is the concrete representation. The power is not found in the physical property of blood, although the centrality of blood to the proper functioning of the body is what gives meaning to the imagery. The power comes from God and the means by which He provides the opportunity for atonement, or cleansing, from sin and its consequences, and the restoration of relationship with Him. When we consider the image of blood in Scripture, in song, or in preaching and teaching, let us think soberly about the life which the blood is representing, and be ever thankful for the gift of life which we enjoy, both now in the flesh and eternally in the spirit and in the resurrection thanks to Jesus and His life which He freely offered for our atonement!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Blood

The Limits of Study

And furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh (Ecclesiastes 12:12).

The words of the Preacher had been recorded and presented; the famous conclusion is nearing, declaring that to fear God and to keep His commandments is the end of the whole matter (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Yet, sandwiched between some words about the Preacher and this conclusion we have this declaration regarding books and study. Whatever does it mean, and what is it doing here?

Contextually, we do well to remember the situation of the day. There is no such thing as a printing press yet; a scroll (which was used then) was first hand written and then hand copied. Every time a scroll would begin to wear out it would have to be copied again. If there was a need for additional copies of a scroll, it would have to be hand copied for each. Any text that was not continually copied was destined for the dustbin of history– save for the few texts we have recovered from archaeological excavations, the reason that we have any text before 1450 is due to the copying of manuscripts generation after generation. There would certainly seem to be no end to this process!

As you can imagine, studying scrolls would be a difficult task, and it would not be any easier when sitting in rooms that might be a bit too warm or too cold, bereft of the “comforts” of a lot of modern pieces of furniture. There were no computers for fast searches or even concordances or anything of that sort. There were no swivel leather chairs. To devote oneself to study was going to involve much physical discomfort– that is the warning this man is providing for his son!

But this message is not just true for any other book of the Bible or regarding study in general; in fact, it is probably more true for, say, the 150 psalms, or one of the major prophets, than for the 12 chapter book of Ecclesiastes. So why is this message here of all places?

The whole book of Ecclesiastes does well at showing that no thing, when taken to the extreme, really provides the answers we seek in life. Pleasures– women, money, houses, plantations, servants, drink, etc.– do not ultimately provide any lasting and enduring satisfaction (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). Knowledge and wisdom has the same end; death comes for the knowledgeable as well as the ignorant, for the fool just as the wise (Ecclesiastes 2:12-15). Many of the challenging questions about the “fairness” of it all and the prevalence of evil are reckoned as absurd, without sufficient answer to be discovered by man (Ecclesiastes 8:14, 17). When it comes to this life “under the sun,” we cannot point to any one thing and say that it will really provide all the answers, solutions, or purpose for life, no matter how hard we try.

It is quite appropriate, therefore, for Ecclesiastes 12:12 to be appended upon Ecclesiastes, for the messages are consistent. Just as there are limits to the value of pleasures, knowledge, etc., so also there are limits to the value of books and study.

We can only imagine what the author of this declaration would think about the world today. How many millions of books are out there on any number of subjects? Books, magazines, papers, and especially electronic media today run the gamut from highly simplified to highly technical, very general to quite specific, regarding any and every subject under the sun. 200 years ago there were many people who could be termed “Renaissance men,” having a conversant understanding of almost every subject. These days it is almost impossible to plumb the depths of the knowledge and studies regarding one particular topic! How many times have we heard that the sum of all knowledge in this world has doubled? And yet how much more is there left to learn?

This is a very important and serious subject on a spiritual level. We constantly hear how important it is for us to study the Scriptures, and indeed, it is very important to study the Scriptures (Acts 17:11, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Yet what is the point of studying the Scriptures– merely to increase knowledge of what God has said? We can study and study and will never entirely plumb the depths of God’s message. There is always more to learn; our understanding can always improve. Bible study is a critical part of learning about God in Christ, and even though we will never learn everything, we must still keep learning (2 Peter 3:18).

Yet, as with pleasures and knowledge, so with Bible study– it is not the ultimate purpose of our existence, and it can become weariness to the flesh. Learning of God though Scripture is reckoned to be a part of the life of the disciple, the lessons of which are intended to be taken into life and applied (cf. Hebrews 5:14). We are to study the revealed Word to learn more about the Incarnate Word in order that we might look more like Him (cf. Romans 8:29)!

We have unprecedented access to the revealed Word of God today– different Bible versions, Bible computer programs, and an ever growing body of writing that helps to make sense of the Bible. We ought to be thankful and take full advantage of these resources so as to learn the message of Scripture better. But if we learn about God in Scripture and it just remains an academic and intellectual exercise, and it does not lead to a life that better reflects the image of the Son, then the whole exercise has been entirely futile, absurd, and without profit in eternal terms. Let us remember that Bible study is a good thing– but it is not the ultimate thing. Bible study is designed to lead us to godly living and the practice of the Christian life. Let us study so as to live, and not live merely for study!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Limits of Study

The Son of Man

I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).

“Son of Man” is one of those phrases that everyone has read and regarding which most just keep on reading. We get the understanding as we read that Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of Man (e.g. Matthew 16:13-16, 16:21, 17:22-23). It might strike us as odd for Him to do so; why all of these references to the “Son of Man” if He is indeed the Son of Man? Why describe Himself as such? What difference does it make?

“Son of man” is an interesting way of describing Jesus considering that it has a long history of being used to refer to all different types of people. “Son of man” is sometimes used in parallelism with “man” (e.g. Numbers 23:19, Job 16:21, 35:8, Psalm 8:4, 80:17, Isaiah 51:12, Jeremiah 49:18). It is almost exclusively the means by which God addresses the prophet Ezekiel (e.g. Ezekiel 2:1, 3). Daniel the prophet is also described as a “son of man” (Daniel 8:17).

The phrase may seem a bit odd to us, but it makes complete sense in Hebrew. A “son of man” is a human being. There are many times in Hebrew when a person or persons are spoken of as “sons of” someone or something. A wicked person is sometimes described as a “son of Belial” [e.g. Judges 19:22, often translated “base fellows” (ASV), “worthless fellows” (ESV)]. The Ammonites are almost always spoken of as the “sons of Ammon”; for that matter, the Israelites themselves are time and time again referred to as the “sons of Israel.” A “son of man,” then, is a human being.

So why the constant emphasis on this phrase, especially in the life of Jesus? How can Jesus refer to Himself as the Son of Man if Ezekiel and Daniel before Him were “sons of men”?

Jesus is reckoned as the Son of Man on account of the prophecy in Daniel 7:13-14, in which “one like a son of man” came before the Ancient of Days and received dominion, glory, and a kingdom. This “one like a son of man” seemed awfully like the same One who would be the rock destroying the kingdoms in Daniel 2:41-44, and consonant with the Branch from David described in Isaiah 9, 11, and in many other passages. Thus, this “one like a son of man” is the Messiah, the Christ, and it was so understood in Jesus’ day.

But why that description? Why does Jesus own it so? Perhaps part of the reason involves the language used. The “man” of “son of man” is frequently the Hebrew word ‘adam, which also refers to dirt or land in many contexts; it is also the name/description of the first man Adam. Thus, in a sense, the Son of Man is the Son of Adam, the Son of the ground. Perhaps God calls Ezekiel the “son of man” to remind him that he is but mortal and dust while God remains immortal and spirit. Yet Jesus is God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14, 18, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). And that is precisely why He refers to Himself as the Son of Man so frequently!

It was as easy then as it is now to get so caught up with Jesus’ divinity and spiritual power that His humanity is forgotten. Daniel quite clearly sees one like a human being receiving dominion, glory, and a kingdom that does not end– it is not a disembodied spirit or some immanent entity beyond our comprehension, but Someone who experienced the same types of things we have experienced (cf. Daniel 7:13-14, Hebrews 4:15, 5:8). God the Son condescended to the point of taking on the form of dirt, being the Son of Man– the Creator taking on the form of His creation (John 1:3, Philippians 2:5-7). As “the” Son of Man, He was just like the other humans around Him– the humans for whom He lived and died to redeem.

Gnosticism– the overemphasis of the spiritual, theoretical, and the abstract so as to reject the physical, practical, and the concrete– has been a challenge in the church since the beginning. But the idea of Jesus as the “Son of Man” entirely does away with this. Flesh cannot be entirely bad; God the Son took on the form of flesh. The body is not necessarily the enemy; God took on a body in Christ, had it transformed for immortality in the resurrection, and in that form “like a son of man” received all power and authority (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 42-57). We cannot just give up on the creation since God refused to do so and continues to refuse to do so (Romans 8:17-24, Hebrews 1:3).

Does it make a lot of sense to us that God would become man and live as man? No, of course not! Yet whereas every other religion exalts men to the position of God, it is only in Christ do we see God descending to become a Son of Man. It is a great mystery, but one for which we ought to be most thankful. Jesus reminds us through His words that He is not just the Son of God but also the Son of Man; let us praise Him for suffering with us and for us and redeeming us for the hope of the resurrection in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Son of Man

Reading with Understanding

And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading (Nehemiah 8:8).

Christianity is designed to be about Jesus the Christ, the means by which a person can become more like Him (Romans 8:29, Galatians 2:20, 1 John 2:6). Yet our knowledge regarding Jesus comes from the revelations given within the New Testament (John 20:30-31, John 21:24-25, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Our understanding of the context of who Jesus was, why He came, and the story of God’s people before Jesus comes from the revelations contained within the Old Testament (Romans 15:4, Galatians 3:19-25, 2 Peter 1:19-21). Therefore, while our faith must be in Jesus the Christ, we must work diligently to understand the revelations contained in both the Old and New Testaments so that we may know what we believe and be better equipped to accomplish the will of our Lord (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16-17, 2 Peter 3:18)!

An important part of our faith, therefore, involves reading the Bible. Yet, as is made evident in the days of Nehemiah, it is not enough just to read the Bible. The message of the Bible must also be understood and applied to the reader’s day!

About a thousand years had passed between Moses’ receiving the Law from God and Ezra’s reading of the Law before the assembled congregation of Israel. In those intervening years Israel had entered the land of Canaan, lived under judges and kings, were exiled from the land, and had returned to it. While we do not know the extent of the differences, there is little doubt that the precise language and terminology of the 1000-year-old law would be somewhat unfamiliar to its “new” audience, just as 500 and 1000 year old books use words and terminology unfamiliar to us.

Therefore, according to the commandment, the Law was read before the people (Deuteronomy 30:10-11). Yet, in order for the people to completely understand what was written, Ezra and his associates gave the sense of the reading (Nehemiah 8:7-8). Unclear words would be explained. Contexts would be clarified. Direct applications might have been provided. Thanks to the hard work of Ezra and his associates, the people were able to walk away with a better understanding of what God commanded than they had before!

We believe that God provided the message of the Bible for people of all generations and nations to understand what He has accomplished in His eternal plan regarding Jesus Christ (Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, Ephesians 3:11). Yet the Bible is a book written between 1900-3500 years ago describing events that happened between 1900 and at least 8000 years ago in languages different from what we speak and in vastly different cultures than our own.

Therefore, the question of the eunuch remains apt: how can I understand what I read, except some one shall guide me? (Acts 8:30-31). In order to understand the Scriptures, we must understand a little bit about the people and places regarding whom and to whom they are written. Some must spend much time learning and studying the original languages to provide meaningful and acceptable translations of the texts, rendering them in the language of people today so that it can be understood. Much can be gained from the diligent study of others who have gained insights regarding the contexts, cultures, languages, and other circumstances that frame the Biblical world.

In all these matters, as before, the text of Scripture must stand above all others. In the end, the Bible reveals the words of God, and the commentaries and studies of men remain uninspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Nevertheless, it is a good work to not just read the Scriptures, but to diligently strive to understand the meaning and to apply the message appropriately to the present day. Let us learn more of Jesus Christ and of God’s people in the Scriptures so that we can become better disciples of Christ and citizens of His Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Reading with Understanding