26. Ye shall not eat anything with the blood.
26. Non comedetis cum sanguine.
Notwithstanding thou mayest kill. What precedes I
have introduced in its proper place, viz., that they should not kill the sacrifices anywhere but in the sanctuary, of which there was only one in Judea. Here the permission to eat meat is given, provided that they do not offer the animals to God, but eat of them as of wild beasts. By way of example, two kinds are mentioned, the roe-buck and the hart, of which no offering was made. They are, therefore, freely allowed to eat meat wheresoever they pleased, with this exception, that they should not taste the blood; for, although this was observed by their forefathers before the giving of the Law, God ratifies it anew when He would gather a peculiar people to Himself. We know that immediately after the deluge, Noah and his posterity were commanded to abstain from blood; but, inasmuch as the greater part of mankind soon degenerated, it is probable that all nations neglected God's command, and permitted to themselves a universal license on this point; and it is even questionable whether this observance, which was everywhere fallen into desuetude, prevailed among the family of Shem. Certainly it may be conjectured from the renewed promulgation of the law, that it was altogether obsolete; at any rate, God would have His chosen people distinguished by this mark of separation from heathen nations.
The reason of the prohibition which is now mentioned had already been declared, viz., because the blood is the seat of life. But although it, was allowable to kill an animal for food, yet, was it a useful restraint to prevent inhumanity, that they should not touch the blood; for if they abstained from the blood of beasts, much more necessary was it to spare human blood. After God, therefore, has forbidden blood to be eaten, He immediately proceeds to speak of men themselves: |Whose sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.| (Genesis 9:4-6.) Hence I have deemed it appropriate to annex all the passages in which God commands the people to abstain from blood, to the Sixth Commandment. In itself, indeed, the eating of blood was a thing of no great importance: since, therefore, God so often inculcates a point of so little weight, it may be inferred that the law has some further object. To this may be added the severity of the punishment, for surely it was not a crime worthy of death to taste the blood of some little bird; and hence, also, it is manifested that the prohibition had another meaning, viz., that cruelty might be abhorred. And the words of Moses show that the eating of blood is not forbidden because it infected man with its uncleanness, but that they might account the life of man to be precious; for it is said, |the blood is the life,| which, in the opinion of Augustine, is equivalent to its being |the sign of life;| but Moses rather means that animal life is contained in the blood. Wherefore, blood, which represents the life, was not interdicted without reason, nor was it only sinful to eat the blood by itself, but also together with the flesh, as is expressly declared both in Deuteronomy and in the last passage from Leviticus.
23. Only be sure that thou eat not. It is not without cause that he earnestly exhorts them to inflexible firmness, because it was both a matter trifling in appearance, and its observation troublesome, whilst it was easy to decline from it on account of the universal example of the Gentiles. For if they considered within themselves that it contributed not to holiness that they should not touch blood, hence a snare to indulgence might easily have arisen.