The use of the phrase “poured out His blood” opens up a consistent biblical theme of the sifting out of the Old Testament priesthood to the point where only the High Priest was permitted to pour out blood for sacrifices. The Levites were given other menial tasks to do. Therefore Jesus was fulfilling His role as the Eternal High Priest on the altar of the cross where He was not simply shedding His blood but rather He was pouring out His blood.
When Jesus died on the cross for the salvation of the human race, He did more than just shed His blood, He poured out His blood for us! Why this distinction between shedding and pouring out blood? Although the definition of shedding may include a sense of pouring, it also includes a more passive sense of falling, diffusing, and flowing from a wound while pouring has a more active sense to it. Our recent change in the words of the consecration at the Eucharist has the priest stating that the blood is poured out.
The use of the word poured opens up a deeper biblical theme. The book of Exodus 12:21-22 (NAB translation) describes how the heads of the families, the fathers, “the elders” or first born sons at the Passover were to take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the “blood that is in the basin.” Obviously the elders must have poured the blood of the lamb into the basins before they sprinkled it on the two doorposts and lintels of their homes.
We also read of the holocaust offerings of Noah and Abraham, as well as the premature offering of a sacrifice by King Saul.
There was, however, a sifting out of the Old Testament priesthood which began after the people rebelled at the base of Mount Sinai by worshiping a golden calf. After that, only the males of the tribe of Levi could act as priests dedicated to the special ministry of ritual service. This dedication is found in Exodus 33:29 (NAB) where Moses says, “Today you (Levites) have been dedicated to the Lord, for you were against your own sons and kinsmen, to bring a blessing upon yourselves this day.”
Up to this point, the fathers or first born sons could offer sacrifices on behalf of their families. But now, only the Levites were empowered to offer sacrifices which obviously involved the pouring out of blood into basins.
When they rebelled again by the Baal of Peor incident, only the male descendants of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, could become High Priests and pour blood into basins for an atonement sacrifice.
We read in the Book of Numbers: “When Israel thus submitted to the rites of Baal of Peor, the Lord’s anger flared up against Israel” (25:3). We do not hear of the Levites taking the Lord’s side or keeping their purity. They too submitted to the rites of Baal of Peor and had illicit relations with the Moabite women. Only Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, remained faithful and stood up for the Lord.
An Everlasting Priesthood
We read in Numbers 25:12-13, “Announce therefore, that I hereby give him my pledge of friendship, which shall be for him and for his descendants after him the pledge of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous on behalf of his God and thus made amends for the Israelites.” From then on, only Phinehas and his male descendants would be High Priests and therefore be allowed to offer atonement sacrifices which involved the pouring of blood.
The High Priest on the Day of Atonement would pour the blood of a bullock into a mizrak (a containment vessel) while a Levite priest, who now could do only the menial tasks, would continuously shake the mizrak so the blood would not congeal. The Levite priest continued shaking the mizrak while waiting for the High Priest to offer incense before he entered the Holy of Holies.
There the High Priest would sprinkle blood and eventually mix some of it with a mizrak of goat’s blood. Then he would pour out the mixture onto the western side of the altar and the remaining blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar, as described in chapter four of the Book of Leviticus (A House of Prayer for All Nations: The Holy Temple of Jerusalem, by Chaim Richman).
The point of all this is that only High Priests could offer on behalf of the people the atonement sacrifices involving pouring out the blood of animals. It was part of their High Priestly duty.
Jesus, acting as the Eternal High Priest of the New Covenant willingly (not passively) poured out His blood for us as both High Priest and victim Lamb of God! The Letter to the Hebrews (9:12, which describes Jesus as the High Priest) states, “He (Jesus) entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with His own blood.”
So Jesus as our Eternal High Priest did not simply shed His blood but poured it out for all of us because of His infinite love for us. And we are called to pour out our lives in service to God and others in His Name!
FATHER KARWACKI is Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, and Diocesan Liaison for Charismatic Renewal for the Diocese of Harrisburg.