By Brad Hicks
For probably thirty years I’ve wondered, probed, and asked God to teach me about this passage in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22) And after studying the word heart in Scripture over the last couple of months, it’s made me wonder what the relationship is between the heart and blood.
In physiological terms, the muscular organ that we call the heart is simply a pump that keeps blood circulating throughout our bodies. In humans, the heart beats about 100,000 times a day pumping about eight pints of blood to tissues and organs, and it carries away waste that’s in the blood.
In Bible times, in the ancient Near East, the physiological functions of blood and the heart were not known. The oldest Hebrew scriptures were written roughly 1,400 BC, and the latest New Testament letter was written sometime in the late first century, maybe 95 AD.
In 1,400 BC, most everything that Near Eastern civilization knew about the heart and blood came from the Egyptians, who believed and taught that the heart was the center of life and morality, and that it was the heart that would face judgment in the afterlife to determine one’s eternal destination — whether one would spend eternity in heaven with Osiris or whether one’s heart should be eaten by a demon and their soul vanished forever.
Later, the ancient Greeks and Romans held that the heart was the center of the soul and the single most vital organ in sustaining life.
But the greatest minds of ancient Egypt, Greece, or Rome had no idea that the heart’s purpose was to serve, regulate, circulate, and clean the blood! They also didn’t understand what the Holy Spirit had revealed to Moses and the Israelites in the Torah — that “the life of every creature is in the blood” — as it’s written in Leviticus 17.
Modern medicine has discovered and developed a means by which the human body can live for nearly two years without the heart organ. It can be replaced with a synthetic pump that keeps blood circulating throughout the body.
But the body cannot live without blood. Without blood, the body’s organs can’t get oxygen (the breath of God) and nutrients they need to survive; we couldn’t keep warm or cool off, fight infections, or get rid of our own waste products. Without blood, we weaken and die. Also, if the heart stops pumping blood to the body’s organs, we will die … in a few short minutes.
I think it’s wonderful that thousands of years ago God explained in very simple words that life is in the blood. He didn’t say life is in the heart but in the blood. But there is a lot packed into the word life in this passage! The Hebrew word for life in Leviticus 17:14 is nephesh, a word that’s used over 700 times in the Hebrew Bible. It means the whole person, soul, mind, and body; a person IS a nephesh, a living, physical being. Nephesh is my personality, me, or I.
Other passages in the Old Testament where nephesh is used are found in familiar verses like, “Let my nephesh live, that it may praise you” and “As the deer pants for the water, so my nephesh longs for God” in the Psalms, and in Song of Songs the bride is actually saying of her lover, “The one my nephesh loves” (nephesh here, in most English translations of the Bible, is heart).
Torah proclaims the nephesh is in the blood! My very self, my being, who I am, what I long for, my desires, my affections are in my blood. Does this all sound familiar? It’s almost exactly what we’ve been learning about the heart. What we have been studying and discussing over the last few weeks about the heart, I believe, is similarly a study and discussion about our blood.
Here is what I said in Part 3 of our study about the heart in Scripture: “The heart is a non-physical, intelligent, feeling, sensing, judging entity within human beings. And this entity, this heart, makes moral determinations about the data from the world that it takes in, decides what it believes about the data, then instructs the body how to act, behave, demonstrate, and express what it believes.”
Think about this considering the fall of Adam in the garden when he decided to disobey God’s instruction to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because, said God, “when you eat from it you will certainly die.” The first act of disobedience resulted in the nephesh being separated from God and given to another to control, possess, and dominate. You might say, mankind’s blood was handed over by God to another spirit; the nephesh in the blood literally died. If the nephesh was to be restored to God, his Maker, it needed to be made alive again, regenerated, repossessed, and made new.
Then, think also of this considering the prophecies in Jeremiah and Ezekiel about the promise of God to one day give his people a new heart, one of flesh, to clean it of impurities, write his laws on it, put a new spirit in them, and make a new covenant with them … might this all have something very important to do with giving us new nephesh in our blood?
Biblically or theologically speaking, I have read and heard that blood is only symbolic of death, that it’s the death of a God-approved innocent being that satisfies God’s requirement for atonement for man’s sins. But to the Bible student who pays close attention, it becomes clear that it is not only the death of an innocent one that atones for, forgives, remits, and purifies human sin — but also the way the unblemished creature dies … and that’s by its blood being spilled, poured out, shed, or drained from its body.
The atoning creature can’t die because of severe body trauma or disease, like being clubbed, or electrocuted, or drowned, or a heart attack, or suffocation, or cancer, or Covid 19. No, the victim must die by being pierced and its blood being shed.
But why? Is there a property, a quality, a nature in the blood that makes it so valuable, so essential to man’s atonement and, thus, his right standing with God?
I believe the answer is yes. Man, or more specifically, the nephesh in man’s blood was created to worship, to act in accordance with whomever or whatever it truly believes in or has put its faith in. In Adam, we have all inherited corrupted blood. It is bent on obeying its possessor, its master, its owner, its lord: Satan, the spirit of the world. In other words, we have inherited a sinful nature, bent on disobedience to God, and, consequently, our bodies ultimately inherit dust, decay, and death, and our nephesh is eternally separated from its holy Father-Creator.
But we know there is another story. I love this one in the Gospel of John, chapter 6.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”
Hallelujah! Praise be to God! Glory to the King of kings and Lord of lords! There is a Blood with a balm in it pure enough, clean enough, perfect, and sinless in all its properties, with a quality that far surpasses the blood of heifers and goats and sheep. There is a Lamb whose Blood is worthy enough, powerful enough, to repossess the blood of Adam that was lost to the one who had the power over it.
Remember we talked about God’s Great Strategy in Part 3 of our discussion of the heart? I said, “The entirety of scripture, from Noah to the Lord’s second coming in Revelation is the compilation of the many stories of God’s Great Strategy to change human hearts so they’re capable of eternal communion with him and his Son. What glorious eternal riches he has prepared for those who willingly choose to fully participate in, and accept as a gift, God’s gracious plan for our prodigal hearts.”
Brothers and sisters, we’ve been given new hearts through being given new Blood. You might ask, how can the Blood of Jesus change my blood, atone for my sin, and somehow make me right with God the Father?
It’s made possible by a new nephesh who now resides inside of you — the promised Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter wrote we are God’s elect, “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.”
What is required of us is to receive by faith this gift of a new heart, of the Holy Spirit, of the sprinkled Blood, of a new nephesh — as Paul taught in his letter to a fellowship of believers in Rome: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.”
It’s been an honor, friends, to share with you what the Spirit has been teaching me about God’s Great Strategy to win back his creation. I am learning that God is a keeper of his own laws and covenants. It is true, that God could snap his fingers and make everything perfect in the blink of an eye. But that’s not the way he works. He created men and women with flesh and blood, mind and heart, soul and spirit. He set parameters for how this amalgamation of human life was to sustain its life in his kingdom under his rule and reign, and he forewarned of the consequences of human trespass and transgression of his laws.
We are living in what scripture calls the “last days” before the return of the Lord Jesus to Earth. Let us put our trust in God, let us overcome the evil one by the Blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, let us keep in step with the Spirit, let us receive by faith this New Life, this new nephesh that we have been blessed with, and let us be watchful and ready for his coming.
We’ll have one final discussion about these matters of our new hearts and blood next time. The letter to the Hebrews has much to say about such things. Read it and be blessed by its profound mysteries reserved to be revealed to us prayerfully by his Spirit. Until then, Lord bless!