I think one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Old Testament is the Sacrificial System that Jewish Law demands. Did you commit a sin against God or against your fellow man? That’s okay! If you kill a goat on the altar and you can walk away clean! (This is a gross oversimplification, but the core idea is correct.
The Sacrifical System didn’t just come straight out of the heavens on a written scroll. It was perfected and carefully modified over generations. Before the days of buying unblemished goats and doves in the temple courts (the days of Jesus), you would have to procure your own goat or dove (Temple of Solomon).
But in the days of the tabernacle – a time where the temple of the Lord was mobile, and traveled with the people – the goat or dove was your own. You helped birth it, you helped feed it. You were there when it broke it’s leg and you fixed it up. You fed it grain or seed everyday. And it would be you – not the priest, who would hold down the animals head as a blade was struck across it’s neck for actions you did against God. And there would surely be tears in your eyes as restitution was made.
But how did we get there? Why would we ever think that a goat’s blood could stand in for our own? My answer will be a different one – a uniquely female take. This culture of “blood for blood” doesn’t start with theology, or even the patriarchy. Instead, it starts in a very relatable way. Becasue for 50% of the population, it starts in a unique way – during puberty, when a girl sheds her first blood.
Imagine a world without molecules; a world without atoms and neutrons. Imagine a world where microbiology does not exist. There are no cells in this world; instead, the smallest unit of life is a gnat. There’s no viral or bacterial infection. There is simply life or death.
There’s no ovary or sperm in this world. There is no zygote in the womb, nor is there a fetus. There is no such thing as endometrium lining. Things in this world aren’t contained in the sterile environment of scientific progress and dictionary definitions. There is simply life or death.
And there one thing that separates life from death. Lifeblood.
Everyone month, much like the waxing and waning moon, a woman waxes and wanes blood. This blood, the blood that could become life leaves her body. And this is not an ordinary blood that spills out of a wound. Instead, it’s a blood that cramps your abdomen as it sheds. It’s a blood that makes the woman tired, and emotional. It’s a blood that makes her breasts hurt, her appetite change. This type of blood leaves in a painful and emotional process that takes a few days to complete. There is no scientific terms to explain away this monthly phenomena. There is only blood. It’s messy. It’s uncomfortable. And for 50% of the population, it’s uniquely human.
The goats and sheep in the fields did not shed blood every month. The birds of the air and fish of the sea do not shed blood. Blood is not needed for your herds to grow, your seed to sprout, your chickens to flock. Wild dogs and cats do not need to bleed to create a life. But a human? A woman needs to bleed to harbor a life. Is it any wonder that a period marked the final transition from girl to woman? From single to married? Form child, to life-bearer? Becasue there is something uniquely human about blood. A human, who is made in the image and likeness of God, requires blood for life to come forth.
And suddenly, that red sticky liquid flowing in your body becomes lifeblood.
So yes, the women were sequestered off when they were on their period. No, they aren’t pariahs! No they aren’t dirty, fowl, second-class, or less-than-human! They are women who are letting this blood-that-could-have-been-life leave their body. It’s not endometrium lining, not to the ancient world. It’s a potential for the image and likeness of God that is leaving.
Why would you dishonor that lifeblood by mingling it in your tent, by sleeping with your husband as you shed? Instead the women would meet together in their sequestered space. They would share remedies, tell stories and pass on knowledge about all things related to lifeblood. A lifeblood that is given to humanity -made in the image and likeness of God.
And in this world where water is precious and scarce (only 4 inches a year in some places!) you wouldn’t wash off the lifeblood every day. No. You would wait until all the bleeding was complete, and then you would wash away the lifeblood and go back to the tent of your husband. The same applies to the sequestering of a woman after birth. Birth is messy and bloody and it will continue to be messy and bloody for quite some time. Lifeblood continues to bleed, fluids leak. This isn’t something to be mixed in with the comings and goings and every day. It’s a part of this life-blood process.
This is the understanding of lifeblood that allowed the our ancestors to sacrifice animals. For my sin, wrought in blood, can only be rectified by blood. But human blood is too precious, it’s in the image and likeness of God! But the blood of a goat, a sheep, or a ox – that could work. It’s a law that ultimately, requires God to become lifeblood in order to unify the broken world to himself.
Blood is human. Blood is messy. Yet it is human blood that harbors life, as long as God breathes his breath unto it. And men who have seen battle would know this. Its not the sword the kills you, but the amount the blood that sword causes you to loose. Guts bleed out on open fields, while lips turn blue. A wound sours and becomes putrid as veins change color until death – lifeblood corrupted.
So many cultures around the world drink the blood of the dead in order to commune with them because they understand a fundamental truth that we have seemed to forgotten so quickly.
That life is found in blood. From conception. To death.