Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Friday, March 31, 2006

Nefesh: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 17 with poem by Olive Cecelia Jacks, The Offering

Daily Readings
Psalm 46, Exodus 36:2-38, Leviticus 17, II Timothy 2

Daily Text: Leviticus 17


Leviticus 17 commences the so-called ‘Law of Holiness’ that runs through chapter 25. This 'Law' is not a unified whole, but a collection of injunctions to guide the ritually holy life. The chapter (17) itself addresses all animal slaughter and includes a prohibition against the consumption of blood.

Essentially, the rule is that all slaughter must be done at the opening of the Tent of Meeting, thus giving us the setting of the Exodus wanderings. And vs. 7 claims that this ruling is for all time. However, Deuteronomy 12:13 changes that and allows for sacrifice at any altar designated as the LORD’s. This contradiction cannot be resolved cleanly. Scholars take several positions and each contradicts the others. But the sense of the ruling is that if you do not bring your animal to be slaughtered at the altar, but slaughter it elsewhere, you are guilty of bloodshed—murder, in other words. That slaughter is treated in God’s eyes as if you had killed another human being! This is a very high view of creation and the status of animals in God’s economy.

The second major point in Leviticus 17 is a prohibition against the eating of blood. Says the lawmaker, life or nefesh, usually translated ‘soul’, is in the blood. You yourself possess nefesh and must not consume any other creature’s nefesh. That same nefesh may atone for your sin, but it may not be offered outside the approved sacrificial setting. In the Christian faith we believe likewise that Jesus’ blood atones for our sins and our guilt, and that inferential possibility is drawn originally from chapter 17.

The Offering
Olive Cecilia Jacks


How have we fallen from our high estate,
O Lord! plunged down from heaven!
In wanton pride, in lust for empires great,
For riches have we striven.
Are these not dust and ashes in thy sight,
Swept by the wind and lost?
Have we not sinned against the Spirit’s might,
Blasphemed the Holy Ghost?

What dost thou ask from all the sons of men?
Atonement for this wrong?
Behold, we lay upon thine altar, then,
A host twelve million strong:
Twelve million dead; they stand before thy face,
An offering for sin;
Their cry goes forth into the bounds of space;
They crowd thy courts within.

Our dead they are,--friend, foe, alike,--our dead;
On sodden battlefield
They laid them down; for us their blood was shed;
By their stripes were we healed;
For our transgressions were we smitten sore;
Slaughtered with shot and shell;
For us the chastisement of peace they bore,
Descending into hell.

Not theirs alone the atoning sacrifice:
Wives, mothers, at the call,
In unity of sorrow paid the price,
Gave of their best, their all:
One was the heartache, one the darkened home,
And one the company
Of living dead, who wait to see God come:
A mighty company.

Collect for the Day
God our strength, your power is for peace, and the pride of your mighty acts secures the city of the humble. Teach us to put our trust in your salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:764:46 Psalm prayer]


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