In the Harry Potter story, J.K. Rowling uses the symbolism of blood in remarkably consistent ways. Unicorn blood provides life. Professor Quirrell drank unicorn blood to sustain Lord Voldemort’s parasitic presence in his body. Dragon blood is a cleansing and healing agent. Of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood which Albus Dumbledore discovered, we get glimpses of four: Hagrid used it to help with his injuries from giants in Order of the Phoenix; dragon blood is a cure for warts; dragon blood could also be used as an oven cleaner; and in an interview with one of the movie screenwriters, Rowling said that dragon blood was also a spot remover. Curious!
I believe Rowling was drawing on the imagery of blood in the Bible. In the past few posts, I’ve explored why the shedding of blood through the animal sacrifices does not indicate a blood thirsty God, but a blood donating God. God was acting like a dialysis machine, taking Israel’s impurities into Himself, and returning His purified life in the form of uncorrupted animal blood. It was an anticipation of what He would do in the person of Jesus: He would be a medical substitute to carry our sin away and return truly human life to us.
I wish to incorporate insights from both biblical scholars Margaret Barker and Vern Poythress to understand the significance of the Day of Atonement in the life of Israel more broadly. Barker, drawing on the insights of Mary Douglas, argues that the sanctuary represents the creation, and calls the atonement ritual a creation-stabilizing ritual. The Levites were appointed so that Israel would not face the plague (Num.8:19). The revolt of Korah triggered a plague from God, which Aaron stopped (Num.16:47). And Phineas stopped a plague from God from breaking out among the people by killing the rebellious Israelite and his Midianite wife (Num.25:10 – 13). Phineas, significantly, ‘made atonement.’ He turned aside God’s wrath from Israel as a whole, by executing it against a portion of Israel. Barker aptly points out that the plagues represent an undoing of God’s creation. Atonement restores the covenant, and thus, the shalom and peace that was threatened by human sin. The covenant God made with Israel involved (or modeled in microcosm) the covenant God has with the creation. God sustained the creation through a system of boundaries and bonds, ‘ordering and binding the forces of chaos.’ I do not think that Genesis 1 presents us with ‘chaos’ as a ‘force’ somehow inherently lurking behind God’s creation, as various passages refer to the boundaries God set in creation (Job 38:8 – 10; Jer.5:22; Ps.104:9). But I accept Barker’s language insofar as chaos is the result of human sin, and human sin strains the bonds of creation itself. This, too, is attested by the biblical writers. When Israel and humanity disregarded the law of God, creation itself was described as undone, or as being threatened by being undone (Isa.24:5; Jer.4:23). The flood of Noah is best described as a relaxation of boundaries established by God in creation, as with the plagues on Egypt during the exodus. Moreover, the beastly empires seen by Daniel as terrible, bizarre, hybrid animals (Dan.7) broke boundaries established by God in creation, signifying a world gone mad. All this brings us back to atonement rituals being creation-renewing rituals, called so fairly by Barker and Douglas. The atonement rituals, albeit only temporarily and symbolically, repaired the damage done to the creation. The sacrifices made by Abel, Noah, Abraham, and eventually Israel sought to ‘cover’ or ‘repair’ the ruptures that always threatened to be exposed by the fall of humanity through disease or natural events that indicated that human beings had done damage to creation and to ourselves.
The Day of Atonement therefore enabled God to co-exist on the same land on which Israel lived, and allowed Israel to experience God’s blessing of fruitful land as a place to dwell. Notice that the mediation of the high priest affected Israel on other levels involving blood and land. The actual death of the high priest allowed a man who had accidentally committed manslaughter, presumably shedding another man’s blood in a variation of Cain’s murder of Abel, to exit the city of refuge and resume life in God’s good land (Num.35:9 – 34, Dt.19:1 – 10, Josh.20). This relationship between the high priest and the land is vital to note. If we consider the rite of the bull and two goats on the Day of Atonement in the holy of holies to be a personal cleansing of the high priest, as well as of the priests and the people of Israel through him, then the image fits quite well. If we also consider the Day of Atonement rite to be an archetypal symbol of God’s removal of the high priest’s sinfulness, as well as a symbolic provision of his cleansed life-blood in return, then the imagery conforms even more closely to a wider pattern in the biblical story. The man guilty of manslaughter could go free and return to the land because the high priest carried his blood-related sin into death.
Poythress additionally makes the case that the high priest personally represents the sanctuary. He notes that the priests were cleansed by blood and sacrifices in a similar way that the sanctuary was cleansed by blood and sacrifices (Lev.8). The blood of a ram was placed on the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot (Lev.8:22 – 24). Poythress explains the physical symbolism: ‘Since most people are right-handed, the right side is chosen as the principal, representative, “orderly” side. The ear, the upper extremity, is touched first because it is the extremity nearest heaven. Then those extremities are touched that are involved in manipulating the sacrifices and walking on the ground of the tabernacle. Thus the priests’ relations to all the holy things around them are cleansed from defilement.’ The priests were then dressed in garments of the same material and color of the tabernacle: gold, blue, and scarlet. On the head of the high priest was a turban with a gold plate inscribed with the phrase, ‘Holy to the Lord’ (Ex.28:36). Poythress suggests that the high priest himself is a kind of human tabernacle: his feet touch the earth. His hands handle the blood that mediates between heaven and earth, and in particular God and Israel. He is clothed with the same material as God’s dwelling place. His head, being closest to heaven, is akin to the most holy place. Conversely, Poythress provocatively suggests that the design of the sanctuary represents a person. While I personally find Poythress’ argument persuasive, the point I am making here is simply that there is a symbolic relationship between the high priest and the tabernacle. If the relationship is reciprocal between the high priest and the tabernacle, the argument is that much stronger. Elsewhere, in a related thought, Poythress says:
‘Thus the high priest is a kind of minitabernacle. Since the whole of Israel is a nation of priests (Exod. 19:5-6), each Israelite reflects the pattern of the high priest at a subordinate level. Moreover, Israelites were told to wear tassels on their clothes as a reminder of “all the commandments of the LORD” (Num. 15:37-40). These tassels are naturally associated not only with the holiness of the commandments but also with the blue of the tassel-like pomegranates attached to the hem of the high priest’s robe (Exod. 28:33-34). Thus each Israelite is depicted as a subordinate priest.’
I support Poythress’ argument because it is based on explicit literary connections made within the Pentateuch. The idea that the high priest and the tabernacle are mirror images of the other also finds support in the New Testament Gospels, which sees Jesus as the true tabernacle, and the letter to the Hebrews, which sees him as the true high priest and the true tabernacle and the true sacrifice all rolled together into one. To recognize that the Pentateuch itself saw the high priest and the tabernacle as parallel to each other makes it much easier to understand why Jesus called himself the true temple of God (Mt.11:25 – 12:6; Jn.2:19 – 22; 8:12; 14:1 – 17:26) and taught his apostles to do so as well, incorporating themselves into the image using various metaphors as ‘living stones’ or as a corporate ‘light of the world’ or ‘city on a hill’ (Mt.5:13 – 16; 1 Pet.2:4 – 8; Eph.2:11 – 22; 1 Cor.3:9 – 17; 6:18 – 20).
I value Poythress’ observations as a biblical scholar, but am uncertain how he integrated this idea into his own Calvinist conviction about penal substitution. It appears to me that he has not. For if the high priest represented the sanctuary, then was he not cleansing himself, in some sense? Would not the high priest himself have been struck by the symmetry between his own circumcision, in which blood was shed by cutting something away from him and casting it away, and the atonement rite over which he presided, where blood was shed by cutting one goat and casting another away? Surely so, for he was cleansing the physical sanctuary on Israel’s behalf in the Day of Atonement rite, but if the sanctuary is polluted by contact with the ontologically unclean and ethically sinful Israelites, then what can we suggest about the high priest himself, who is also ontologically unclean and ethically sinful? Is there not some typological relation that pertains to the high priest on the Day of Atonement? Or is Poythress avoiding the implications of his own observation? The symbolism might be taken to indicate some kind of God-ordained ‘cleansing’ of one’s self by receiving the instruction and presence of God, mirroring by some distant relation the fundamental rite of Abraham, circumcision. In that sense, the Day of Atonement rite, for the high priest, is most decidedly a cleansing, in response to, in partnership with, and in submission to God.
Poythress’ observations fit seamlessly into the ontological substitution atonement theory for which I am arguing. Israel was called upon to personally identify with the high priest, who was renewing the covenant on their behalf. Israel was called upon to identify with and participate in his act of renewal. This is what mediation meant. Moses’ mediation for Israel on their behalf shaped the high priest’s subsequent mediation on Israel’s behalf. God identified Israel with Moses; Israel identified with Moses; and Moses identified himself with Israel and with God. This double mediation happened repeatedly in the Pentateuch. But Moses’ own sin and mortality pointed to the need for another mediator to rise up after Moses and stabilize the covenant. That is precisely what the Pentateuch in its literary form raises as a question. The priests continued to falter. The high priest surely would one day falter as well and, at the very least, be unable to go beyond his own frail human strength and sinfulness. Ultimately, this is why the Pentateuch points beyond itself and to the Messianic king who will come from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, who will be the seed of the woman. But within the immediacy of Israel’s history from the point after Moses’ mediation, the high priest was the one who stood as the one who mediated for Israel. The high priest alone ministered in the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. Thus, forgiveness can be explained in terms of identification with a representative mediator, and a new identity found in relation to that mediator, not merely in terms of judicial transactions that happen over one’s head.
Because of these thematic, literary, and typological connections between blood and land, I believe that the blood of the goat symbolically cleansed the high priest as the mediator of God’s covenant with Israel. The symbolic death and cleansing of the high priest through the bull and two goats on the Day of Atonement allowed the high priest, in a type of resurrection cleansing, to continue standing before God in the holy of holies. The rite evinces the wonder that a man can stand before God in the same physical space of land, and not die. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he can die and rise again, cleansed, in the presence of God. This had tremendous import within the biblical story. For only in the holy of holies did the one true creator God stand at the threshold of heaven and earth, between the cherubim on the lid of the mercy seat that represented the cherubim guarding the original tree of life. The action of the high priest on Yom Kippur cleansed the rest of the sanctuary and allowed the priests to continue serving in the sanctuary. The goat that was killed provided the innocent animal life-blood that cleansed the sanctuary area so that the sanctuary could continue in operation.
Furthermore, the high priest’s action allowed Israel to continue life in the land. For if the sanctuary continued in operation by the priests, then by direct implication, Israel could continue living in a state of God’s special blessing in the garden land (Dt.11 – 12). So the declaration of the ‘jubilee’ on the Day of Atonement (Lev.25:9) now makes perfect sense. The land reverted to its original family boundaries and indentured people displaced from their land inheritance were freed to return to their ancestral portion on this very day. Debts must be cancelled. Or rather, people were cleansed of their debts to return to their land. If possible, a blood relative provided this cancellation and cleansing of debt, but if that was not possible, the person was cleansed of debt anyway (Lev.25:25 – 28). Close blood relationship served as the basis for an obligation to restore a relative to God’s blessed land. This is the far-reaching significance of the Day of Atonement in the life of Israel.
The ripple effect of the Day of Atonement, starting from the high priest in the holy of holies in the presence of God is geographically and thematically similar to the original commission God gave to Adam and Eve in creation. In the creation, God commanded Adam and Eve to spread the garden life from Eden to the rest of the creation. After the fall of humanity, the corruption of human blood, and the cursing of the ground, God commanded His people to spread life again. But in this case, the life was not the simple, straightforward life of humans living out their imago dei identity in creation. Instead, the life was the innocent life of animal blood given as gift back to humanity by God. The uncorrupted blood of animals was an institution God provided for His people, and probably also the rest of humanity who were not in covenant relationship with God, to continue living on the whole earth whether they recognized their indebtedness to God or not.
This parallelism is not a coincidence, and the parallel was not lost upon Israel. Later biblical writers like Isaiah and Micah saw a new ripple effect beginning from Jerusalem – already seen as the new Eden – as the reign of the Messiah advanced over the earth. The law would go forth from Zion, the nations would beat their swords into plowshares (Isa.2:1 – 4; Mic.4:1 – 5), and the Messiah will end the shedding of human blood – a powerful claim because human blood is both the corrupted source and the visible effect of humanity’s sinful actions. I strongly suspect that Isaiah’s model for the atonement and the reign of the Messiah, inaugurated through his own blood (Isa.52:13 – 53:12), was a chain reference to earlier ripples of life which God instituted in His creation through His people. Isaiah saw the ripple effect of innocent life from the holy of holies on Yom Kippur, which was itself already layered on top of the intended ripple of garden life from Eden. For example, the ‘suffering servant’ would ‘sprinkle many nations’ (Isa.52:15). The sprinkling image is connected to cleansing through blood, the purified blood of the Messiah.
Isaiah, in describing the ‘suffering servant’ (Isa.52:13 – 53:12) drew together two images: the Passover and the Day of Atonement. Both Passover and Yom Kippur involved a separation between two of like kind. In Passover, Israel was identified as God’s firstborn son, and the Passover lamb corresponded with a firstborn son. The latter was killed and the former went free through the life-blood of the latter, on the doorposts. In the Day of Atonement, one goat was killed and the other went free. But in this case, the latter bore away the sins of Israel, while the former gave its life-blood so that Israel could continue to exist on the garden land in freedom. The two holy days are complementary. Passover seems to describe the action of God on Israel. God cut something away from Israel with her voluntary participation (a circumcision) and set her free to be God’s servant. The Day of Atonement seems to describe the action of God in the midst of Israel, to maintain Israel’s presence in the garden land. God cut the accumulated impurity of Israel from Israel, took it into Himself via the high priest offering one of the goats, which is mirrored in the sending of the second goat far away. The scapegoat probably served as the poetic inspiration for saying, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us’ (Ps.103:12), and ‘You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea’ (Mic.7:19). Isaiah, discerning the conceptual links already established in the Pentateuch between the two holy days, described the ‘suffering servant’ using both motifs. The only place to send the corruption of sin that far away is God Himself. And the only way God can do that is by personally acquiring a human nature Himself, purifying the corruption of sin out of it, and joining everyone else to him by the Spirit.
Others have already seen the connection between Jesus, the Day of Atonement, and the Suffering Servant, but to my knowledge, this connection between ontological substitution atonement in the Pentateuch as a whole and in the book of Isaiah as a whole is my own conclusion. The great theologian Karl Barth once remarked that Isaiah 53 is the only passage in the Bible that could be considered to teach penal substitution. In another essay on Isaiah 53, I argue why it does not. I argue that Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 teaches ontological-medical substitution, and not penal substitution. God was already punishing Israel for her sins, through exile. The Servant enters into Israel’s exile and suffering, and shares in it with them, taking on a punishment undeserved relative to himself. But he emerges on the other side of Israel’s exile, also on Israel’s behalf. In other words, the Servant takes on a punishment that is already being endured by Israel. He does not, in Isaiah 53, seem to take on an additional punishment that Israel did not already suffer, which is what penal substitution requires.
The function of the blood, therefore, becomes clearer, not only here in the Day of Atonement rite, but throughout the Pentateuch. Uncorrupted animal blood is a gift from God. The blood of the animals stands for its life (Lev.17:11), and is linked symbolically to the interconnectedness between God, humanity, and land. The animals’ life-blood becomes available through its death. Since Jewish tradition requires the death of the animal be as painless as possible, as absolutely nothing in the Pentateuch suggests that the animal must suffer pain, close examination of the sacrificial system leans us towards the conviction that Jesus’ death is significant, not whatever Roman torture or hypothetical spiritual torment he suffered along the way. But in this case, the antitype provides more clarity than the typology: It is not the case that Jesus’ physical blood was always pure and needed to be extracted from his body at his death and sprinkled on people. Rather, Jesus spiritually cleansed his own body and blood throughout his life, death, and resurrection, and then become a sacramental meal, available for us to internalize by his word and Spirit (Jn.6:51 – 63). The Eucharistic communion elements of bread and wine thus serve as a reminder that Jesus – who carried the sinful flesh that we have, resisted it, defeated it, and cleansed his humanity of it – is the nourishment from God which we must internalize by the Spirit. One of the meanings contained in that memorial is that Jesus’ blood was cleansed by Jesus and now cleanses us by our participation in him and receiving him into ourselves. The sacrament points to an ontological substitution, not a penal substitution.
By contrast, Emile Nicole’s interpretation of blood in Leviticus 17:11 is completely divorced from all other instances of the word ‘blood.’ Nicole claims to perceive a penal substitutionary logic in the sacrifices. But he fails to consider the rich literary tapestry already woven with the motif of blood. He does not undertake an exploration of the animal skin coverings that God made for Adam and Eve, which demonstrates in an act of covering that most, if not all, interpreters agree lies at the root of the word kippur, which means to cover. He does not explore the relationship between blood and land: from the suggestion that innocent animal blood was provided as a gift from God to ‘cover’ the rupture between corrupted human blood and the land; to the clear implication that Cain shedding Abel’s blood made him unable to settle the land; to the bloodletting of Abrahamic circumcision as a rite designed to stir the confession that human beings need to be cleansed in order to inherit God’s good land and to be in covenant relationship with God; to the idea of covenantal bloodletting done by one’s self or one’s father draws forth, in effect, a confession that human blood is corrupted and the Israelite male must bear the burden of that acknowledgement; to the connections between bloodshed and the Levites as a kind of ‘firstborn’ in Israel; to the use of animal blood in Israel’s sanctuary system that allows them to settle on the land while the Levites lived in cities, not on the land.
Nicole apparently believes none of these connections are significant to understanding Leviticus 17:11. Hence, I believe his treatment of ‘blood’ in Leviticus 17:11 is anemic, pun intended. Blood is not an expression of the animal dying as a penal substitute, but as an ontological or medical substitute. In Israel, animal sacrifices were done after some sinful activities, true enough. However, animal sacrifices were also performed with medical regularity, much like a person with kidney failure today would need dialysis to cleanse his or her blood of toxins. The animal was a medical or ontological substitute that bore away the unclean part of the worshiper, which was already signified through circumcision as contained in the human being. The animal, however, returned back a life-giving substance: its own blood. Animal blood was important to Israel as a source of life, provided by God in return for their blood (through circumcision) and the implicit confession that their blood was contaminated, as a gift to allow Israel to continue experiencing His blessing on His garden land. Human blood was also understood by Israel as a contaminated substance that needed to be cleansed, especially when murder or manslaughter further aggravated the relationship between God, Israel, and the land. I believe this logic supplies the reason behind the Deuteronomic idea that a man who was especially wicked should be hung on a tree (Dt.21:22 – 23): his blood should be separated from the land, if only for a short while. Meanwhile, Jewish circumcision and other rites of cleansing that were built on top of the idea of circumcision pointed the way forward for Israel to hope that God would one day cleanse their hearts, their inward beings, and their blood, of the contamination that had corrupted their human nature, the original image of God. For Nicole to speak for the Pentateuch and not even link blood to all its other appearances outside the explicit sacrificial animals is a methodological flaw.
In the Day of Atonement rite, the high priest therefore cleansed himself and the sanctuary for ongoing use (Lev.16), for as long as God deigned to use the Tabernacle/Temple as His dwelling place. This ritual with the two goats was a continuation of God using animal skins for Adam and Eve, drawing on innocent animal blood in order to provide more life for the land, because corrupted human blood made human occupation of the land a spiritual problem. The lifeblood of the goat provided a measure of innocent life from God for a cascading set of interwoven patterns to flow outward. The high priest could continue to stand in God’s presence; the priests could continue operating the sanctuary; Israel could continue to enjoy God’s blessing in the garden land; and perhaps even the whole of humanity could continue to live on God’s good earth, the garden planet.
This interpretation of the Day of Atonement brings it into complete alignment with the ‘circumcision of the heart’ spoken of by Moses (Dt.30:6) and echoed by the other prophets. God must consume something internal to us (Gen.6:5 – 6; 8:21), sending it far away from us by internalizing it Himself, while providing us in return with life-giving blood that renews human occupation of God’s good land. That is, God, out of His love for us, must renew His original creation order. He is not just aiming to maintain Israelite occupation of the Promised Land and Levitical occupation of the sanctuary. Rather, He has always sought the restoration of and blessing of all humanity in a new heavens and new earth. But because our corrupted life-blood needed to be undone and replaced by innocent life-blood, ultimately the true answer to this dilemma could not be an animal sacrifice but the sacrifice of the eternal Word of God who had taken on human flesh, and human blood. Hence, Jesus is the true Temple, the intersection of God and humanity, built by himself as the true king. He is the true Temple served and maintained by himself as the true priest, because he has offered himself as the true sacrifice. He perfected human lifeblood – his own, because of his own faithful obedience, making human blood innocent and cleansed once again within his own body. Thus, the paradigm for understanding the sanctuary and the sacrifices is medical-ontological, not judicial-penal. This corresponds perfectly with the ontological-medical substitution atonement theory.
 Margaret Barker, ‘Atonement: The Rite of Healing’, Scottish Journal of Theology 49.1.1994, p.6 argues that the most holy place represented heaven, and the holy place represented the garden of Eden. She therefore suggests that the bread of the presence signifies the fruit of Eden and the menorah signifies God’s presence. However, the fact that the cherubim mark the threshold of heaven and earth indicate more distance than Barker admits. The most holy place represents already the threshold of heaven and earth, from which God makes His presence known, and the garden of Eden lies behind that threshold. In the holy place, the bread of the presence represents God’s provision of manna to Israel (Ex.16), and more broadly, God’s provision of bread throughout the fall, because bread is connected thematically with the fall (Gen.3:17 – 19). The golden menorah probably represents the burning bush (Ex.3:2 – 5), and was probably designed originally not in the form in which we now see it in today’s menorahs but a more three-dimensional interweaving of metal vines with lit candles at different points, more akin to the lampstand Zechariah saw in a vision (Zec.4:1 – 14). Hence, the approach of the high priest through the holy place, in the smoke of the burnt offering, into the holy of holies is meant to recall the approach of Moses through the wilderness to the top of Mount Horeb, clothed in smoke, to stand in the presence of God and mediate the covenant for Israel (Ex.19:18 – 25; 24:1 – 18; 32:11 – 14). The question, ‘Who will mediate the covenant for us like Moses did?’ is meant to be answered on the Day of Atonement with the answer, ‘The high priest.’
 Ibid., p.4 – 5
 Vern Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), p.53 – 54
 Ibid., p.59 – 63
 Ibid., p.32
 E.g. Margaret Barker, ‘Atonement: The Rite of Healing’, Scottish Journal of Theology 49.1.1994, p.15 – 17
 What Did the Suffering Servant Suffer? Isaiah 53 and Penal Substitution; http://nagasawafamily.org/isaiah.53.punishment.pdf
 The Karaite Jewish scholar named Yefeth ben Ali, in the 10th century, said about Isaiah 53: ‘As to myself, I am inclined, with Benjamin of Nehawend, to regard it as alluding to the Messiah, and as opening with a description of his condition in exile, from the time of his birth to his accession to the throne: for the prophet begins by speaking of his being seated in a position of great honour, and then goes back to relate all that will happen to him during the captivity. He thus gives us to understand two things: In the first instance, that the Messiah will only reach his highest degree of honour after long and severe trials; and secondly, that these trials will be sent upon him as a kind of sign, so that, if he finds himself under the yoke of misfortunes whilst remaining pure in his actions, he may know that he is the desired one….’ (S. R. Driver and A. Neubauer, editors, The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters (2 volumes; New York: Ktav, 1969), p.19-20; the English translations are taken from volume 2; the original texts are in volume 1; cf. Soloff, p.107 – 109)
 Emile Nicole, ‘Atonement in the Pentateuch,’ editors Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James III, The Glory of the Atonement (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004)