Blood as a Symbol (Bible)

What Does Blood Symbolize in the Old Testament Bible?

jesus-on-the-cross-bloodIn the ancient world the belief was the gods were angry. Natural disasters were seen as the anger of the gods. Sacrifices were made to the gods to appease them. The Israelites made sacrifices to their God in order to maintain his favor. Blood became symbolic of the atonement of sin and the protection/favor of God.

In the Book of Exodus, the final plague was the Angel of Death. The Hebrew people were instructed by Moses and Aaron; “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year old male…They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses….” The houses with blood on the door posts would be protected from the Angel of Death.

In chapter 24 of the Book of Exodus, blood became a symbol of covenant; “He [Moses] sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they all said ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant that Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’”

In the Old Testament blood was often a symbol of God, blood was necessary for life and God gave life. Because blood was sacred, life was sacred. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, God included a commanded the echoed the sacredness of blood, the sacredness of life; “You shall not murder.”

The belief of blood as a symbol of atonement for sin developed even further following the execution of Jesus of Nazareth by the Roman Empire. Various Christian denominations believe that the death of Jesus on the cross was the last sacrifice that needed to be made to God.  In some denominations Jesus is viewed as the last Passover lamb. This belief in Jesus as the Passover lamb can be found in many hymns of various Protestant traditions.

Examples of this include:

1. Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

2. What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

3. There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

One theologian wrote the following about the symbol of Jesus as the final sacrifice, “Entire civilizations for thousands of years enacted sacrificial rituals, because people believed that this was how you maintained a peaceful relationship with the gods, the forces, and the deities who controlled your fate…So when the writer of Hebrews insisted that Jesus was the last sacrifice ever needed, that was a revolutionary idea. To make that claim in those days? Stunning. Unprecedented.

Blood for the ancient Israelites was symbolic of God, life, and of covenant. For some Christians today blood is a symbol of Jesus of Nazareth. Blood was sacred because it was needed to appease the gods. Blood was sacred because without it there would be no atonement for the sins of the people.