What does it say?
This is the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur (Lev 16). Once each year the High Priest offers sacrifice for the entire nation’s sin. The priest, people and the tabernacle itself are ceremonially cleansed in preparation.
The altar is the center of Hebrew worship (Lev 17). All animals are slaughtered exclusively on the altar to prevent the people from engaging in outside, free-lance offerings to the goat demons (lit) (17:7, devils) after the customs of their pagan neighbors. Centrality of the altar in the assembly aims to promote unity in worshipping the one true God. Ingesting blood is also prohibited.
The rest of Leviticus expands upon the foundational truth of chapter 17, beginning here with instructions regarding sexual purity (Lev 18).
What does it mean?
Repeating the Day of Atonement annually underscores the fact of no permanent sacrifice for sin. Only the high priest, and only on this day, can enter the holiest place with the sacrifice for sin, just as our High Priest Jesus Christ alone atoned for our sin. His sacrifice was once for all.
On this day the priests offer a bull, two rams for cleansing and two goats. One goat is a burnt sacrifice. The other, the scapegoat is released into the wilderness. The name of the goat is literally Azazel. The specific word meaning is a matter of debate, but the symbolism is clear. The goat sacrificed on the altar represents Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross that satisfies the legal penalty of our sin. The other goat (Azazel) is driven into the realm of the goat demons, symbolizing that on the basis of the substitutionary sacrifice, God has removed the guilt of our sin far away (Psa 103:12).
The life of the flesh is in the blood (17:11). This not a medical or scientific statement, but emphasizes the shed blood of the sin sacrifice – life for life. Blood is not life; blood sustains life. To ingest blood would be to demean the symbolism of the sacrifice.
How will I respond?
Everything in the story is ultimately to give God the greatest glory. I’m a part of the story, but it’s not about me. This passage emphasizes God’s glory in the assembly of his people. Not ingesting blood honors the nature of the sacrifice. Sometimes I tend to think the story and mission are about me, forgetting that above all God must get the glory. What one aspect of my life can I adjust today to give God greater glory? The way I view assembling with other believers, whether in the larger assembly or small group? My attitude toward service, giving or sharing my faith?