17:11 life of the flesh. This important verse, along with others (e.g., Genesis 9:3-6), indicates that the blood circulation is the key factor in physical life (a discovery made only in 1616 by William Harvey). The blood carries water and nourishment to every cell, maintains the body’s temperature, and removes the waste material of the body’s cells. The blood also transmits the very “breath of life,” carrying the oxygen from the lungs throughout the body to all its cells. This relatively modern scientific insight merely confirms what God revealed thousands of years ago.
Furthermore, this verse also confirms that the Biblical definition of “life” (Hebrew nephesh) does not include plants, which were created by God as food for man and animals. Thus plants do not “die” in the Biblical sense, since they are merely complex replicating chemical systems, without life. Death of animals containing life (i.e., the blood) results from the curse on man’s dominion as punishment for sin (Genesis 1:26-28; 3:17-21).
The shedding of animal blood on an altar in sacrificial atonement (Hebrew kaphar, meaning simply “covering”) for human sin was a temporary means of showing faith in God’s promised redemption. This was necessary until the coming of Christ, the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), since “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The substitutionary taking of the “life” (that is, the blood) of an innocent, blemish-free animal symbolized the great price of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation that would one day be paid by the Creator Himself, becoming man and taking all our sins upon Himself.
Blood sacrifices became obsolete with Christ’s death and resurrection, of course, for He “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26) and then was “raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25).