We read of certain prohibitions the Lord commanded Israel and may wonder what’s behind them. One such that we come across today in our reading is Deuteronomy 12:23 in which Yahweh declares through Moses:
“Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh.”
Now, you may think: “I like a good rare steak. What is God saying here? Does this mean I can’t enjoy meat cooked in this way?” (Of course, there are others who choke on the thought of eating rare meat; well done is their preferred and only option. But I digress!)
Let’s read a little further in the text and see what we come up with. Consider the several verses comprising Deuteronomy 12:29-31 under the ESV heading Warning Against Idolatry:
“When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.”
Context is everything. There is one Christian apologist who says: “Never read a Bible verse.” Greg Koukl isn’t telling us not to read our Bibles; rather, he’s saying that we should never read a single verse without understanding those surrounding it, i.e. the context of the verse. Dr. Michael Heiser makes the same point. Never pull out one verse from Scripture and think you understand all it means. Especially don’t make doctrine out of an isolated verse. Understand what’s going on in the passage around it.
So, we see following the injunction not to eat blood, that there is a relationship in doing that to idolatry, specifically the worship of other gods.
The Israelites had a propensity for defeating their foes because of God’s mighty hand, then wondering about their gods to the extent that they became ensnared by them. God’s children would inquire about these pagan entities and begin to follow them. Imagine how contrary this is to logic of any kind. You defeat an enemy, specifically knowing that God has done the heavy lifting to provide that victory, then you begin to worship the gods of these nations that you’ve just defeated. These gods had no power. They could do nothing against the God of heaven. In fact, He made them look foolish in many instances. Yet, you abandon the One who brought you to the dance for someone else who apparently whispers in your ear that he really-really is so much better than your date. So you follow him home to the other side of the tracks. You see his poverty and how worthless he is, but he’s enchanted you. As a result, you go like a dumb oxen to the slaughter. It’s only after you’ve been mistreated and lost all your self-respect that you finally come limping home to your One true love.
Yahweh had good reasons for His warnings. The practices of the pagan gods were abominable to Him. They practiced child sacrifice. In their pagan ceremonies, they drank (ate) the blood of animals – perhaps even of humans – they had killed.
Contrast this with the value God places on life – particularly human life. As our first verse above says, the blood is the life. God created all. He made life in such a way that when blood flows in the veins of any creature, it lives. When blood is shed, it must be accounted for. Blood sacrifices that Yahweh demanded of His people were always to be done with reverence to Him as the One who made all creatures. These sacrifices were offered to Him for the atonement of various sins. Never once did He command human sacrifice as a way of appeasing His wrath.
Pagan deities inevitably demanded the shedding of blood and the eating of it. Their purpose was to counter God’s ways; to do the opposite of what His righteousness demanded. Anything that Yahweh wanted, the pagan gods required a 180 degree turn from that. Think about this in light of what we know of satanic masses. What do they do? They display an upside down cross, sacrifice animals (or humans!), and drink their blood. All in the interest of poking a stick in God’s eye and for their own self-glorification.
Is it any wonder that the text goes on to read that a person who entices someone else to serve other gods should be literally despised and put to death (Deuteronomy 13:6-8)? God knew that human flesh is corruptible. People are weak. They are easily led down the primrose path because it looks so alluring. Unfortunately, in their deception, they lose their way and often perish. Yahweh wanted to prevent this destruction coming upon His children. He wants to keep us today from the same dangers.
It’s why we’re shown in Scripture that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life. He alone saves us from ruin. This is why we must resolve to follow only Him and to believe that His Word is the only one that delivers us into God’s Kingdom. Jesus is the only means for someone to enter heaven. All other paths lead to eternal darkness.
By the way, concerning that steak: Intent is everything. If we eat it as an offering to other gods, that’s the problem. If we eat it because that’s our preferred method, and it has nothing to do with pagan worship, I don’t think that’s an issue. The same holds true for tattoos. They aren’t my thing, but are they against God’s will? Again, intent is everything. Tattoos used to be the means for someone to declare his allegiance to a pagan god. If someone today gets a tattoo, and there is no intent to worship another god in this act, I don’t think God has a problem with that. In these various acts, it all hinges on one’s relationship to God and/or whether the doing of them takes someone in a direction contrary to following Him.
God loves us. He desires that none shall perish. All these other gods? Their desire is for us to perish with them. Why follow such losers? Jesus has won the victory over death and the grave. Shall we not cast aside the pretenders and go with the victor?