Sunday, March 1, 2009

Leviticus 11 - 15: Laws of Purity

Leviticus 11 - 15: Laws of Purity

When Israel had been slaves in Egypt, keeping their unique identity hadn’t been an issue - they were slaves. The boundaries between the people of Israel and the people of Egypt had been clearly drawn. Following the exile this all changed and clear separation had to be defined between the people of Israel and the Gentiles. Some of the prohibitions in these sections are prohibited because they were practiced by the Gentile nations. They needed to know what was ceremonially "clean" and what was "unclean".

Holiness in Daily Life Leviticus 11-22

  • Holiness in Diet: Leviticus 11

  • Holiness with New Children: Leviticus 12

  • Holiness in Sickness: Leviticus 13-14:32

  • Holiness in Hygiene: Leviticus 14:33-15

  • Holiness in Day of Atonement: Leviticus 16

  • Holiness in regard to Blood & Pagan practices: Leviticus 17

  • Holiness in Sexuality: Leviticus 18

  • Holiness in Personal Relationships: Leviticus 19

  • Penalties for Unholiness: Leviticus 20; 24:10-23

Leviticus 11 - Food Restrictions:

Noah already understood that anything that was to be offered to God had to be something that was "clean". So the distinction between clean and unclean begins far earlier than the Book of Leviticus. However, it is not until Leviticus 4 that the “clean and unclean” terminology reappears after Genesis 7 and 8. Now it is given more substance, and “clean and unclean” are brought to bear on Israel’s worship of God and on Israel’s eating habits. At the end of Genesis 8, Noah offered up the "clean" animals as a sacrifice to God. Noah brought seven of the clean ones so that he could sacrifice them to God.

Leviticus 11 deals with the subject of cleanness and uncleanness - specifically, with the subject of clean and unclean foods. The word “clean” has a lot of different meanings today depending upon the context in which it is used. Cleanness and uncleanness are related to holiness. If we desire practical holiness in our lives, we need to understand how cleanness and holiness are related. Unclean and its related terms occurs 132 times in the Old Testament, over 50 percent in Leviticus. So the sense of uncleanness is a predominate theme.

Some practices that resulted in ceremonial uncleanness were not morally wrong in themselves, such as childbearing. Therefore, we must not think "sinful" whenever we read "unclean." "Unclean" does not mean "sinful" but "impure." Impurity restricted the Israelite from participating in corporate worship at the tabernacle.

First, there are the land animals. There are two basic stipulations which must be met before an animal that dwells on the land can be considered clean and therefore can be eaten by the Israelite. It must be both split-hoofed and a cud-chewer.

It seems to be partly true, if not universally true, that many of the creatures that are unclean are those creatures which may live on meat and may therefore be blood-shedders. It would seem that often, though not always, the animals that are unclean are blood shedders, or they are those that eat off dead prey, as vultures of some sort or another. Israelites are not to eat of animals that of themselves sacrifice the life or come into contact with other animals. So man only eats creatures which are themselves free from contamination by death, by not shedding blood in a sacrificial way.

Specific animals listed as "unclean": camel, rock badger, hare, pig. However, we're not sure of the identity of the "hare" and the "rock badger" but that's how it's translated in the NLT.

Specific animals listed in Deuteronomy 14 as "clean": ox, sheep, goat, deer, gazelle, roebuck, wild goat, ibex, antelope, mountain sheep.

Second, the sea creatures. When we come to the creatures that dwell in the sea, they must meet two qualifications as well—they must have fins and scales. Shrimp, lobster, dolphins, squid and whales are then unclean.

Third, those creatures that are in the air. They are creatures that are non-vulture like. Then we have flying insects that are described. Here all flying insects are called unclean, with the exception of those that have a set of jumper legs which propel them so they can leap through the air and thus propel themselves through the air. Jumping, flying insects are edible; all the rest are not. So, locusts, crickets and grasshoppers are "clean".

Specific birds listed here and in Deuteronomy 14 as "unclean": eagle, vulture, kite, falcon, raven, ostrich, nighthawk, sea gull, little owl, short-eared owl, barn owl, tawny owl, stork, heron, hoopoe and the bat.

Fourth, there is the category of dead animals which are unclean. Essentially, any dead animal other than an animal which has been killed through the sacrificial process in the front of the door of the tent of meeting is unclean. There are unclean animals that will defile in their death, and there are clean animals that will defile man in their death, if their death is not a sacrificial death. The carcasses are that which can contaminate. Therefore if a person eats a cow which has just been killed by a wolf, that person would be ceremonially unclean even though he could eat the meat if it were sacrificed to God.

Fifth, swarming animals. This category includes things like mice, lizards and snakes. Apparently they are called swarming because they go about together in groups, and they seem to have an erratic, unpredictable manner of movement. Even touching one makes you "unclean". Additionally, anything that crawls on its belly such as snakes are "unclean."

We ought not to eat clean animals that die by themselves.

Cleanness or uncleanness is a matter of category more than of condition. Cleanness is defined by God and declared by the priests. It is the state of access to God. The practical outworking of being declared unclean means that we have to stay back. For example, a priest in Leviticus 22 cannot go about his priestly duties in a state of uncleanness. He must wait until he is ceremonially clean. So one may not approach God in his normal worship in an unclean state. It restricts one’s fellowship with God, and it restricts one’s fellowship with men. That is the natural consequence of the declaration of uncleanness.

When we get down to the basic reason why an Israelite is to make these distinctions between clean and unclean, it is because God says, “You are to be holy, for I am holy.” Cleanliness is related to God’s holiness, and Israel is to observe it because of the holiness of God.

Cures for uncleanness are spelled out in Leviticus and on through the Old Testament.

David says in Psalm 51:7: Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. and in Psalm 51:10: Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Cleanness becomes something that is more internal than external.

Ezekiel 36:24-27: For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

Isaiah 6:5 (New International Version): "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."

When we come to the New Testament, we discover that Jesus talks in terms of clean and unclean, and particularly as the scribes and Pharisees are disputing with Him. In Mark 7, for example, they debate about whether Jesus and His disciples can come in from outside and then begin to eat dinner when they have not ceremonially washed their hands. This is something the Jews added to the interpretation and the meaning of the Old Testament. They had more emphasis on cleanliness that was by their tradition than it was by Scripture. Jesus said, “Don’t you understand that it is not that which comes from without that defiles a man, but that which comes from within that defiles a man.” Then, Mark says parenthetically, “Thus He declared all things to be clean.” No one really understood the implications of that until after the death of Jesus Christ.

Cleanness and uncleanness in terms of food was what distinguished a Jew and a Gentile. That is, a Jew, in order not to eat of the kinds of food God had prohibited, could not eat in a Gentile home because undoubtedly there was going to be contamination there. That built up a great wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles. That distinction was designed in the Old Testament, but it had to be set aside in the New Testament. The Book of Ephesians says the middle wall of partition has been torn down—the enmity that existed there has been taken away, and the Jews and Gentiles have been brought together in one new body—the church. The distinctions therefore that separate Jews and Gentiles have to be set aside. Thus in Acts 10, God said in a vision to Peter that He wanted him to eat of these things which Peter recognized as being unclean by Old Testament definition. And Peter said “Oh, no!” But God said to him three times, “What I have called clean, don’t you call unclean.” He takes the arbitrary definition of clean and unclean. Something is clean or unclean because God declares it to be just that. That means if God re-declares that something which was unclean is now clean, it is clean. And Peter had difficulty understanding that.

Acts 10:9-15: The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.” “No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean." But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.

Leviticus 12: Purification after Childbirth:

For the next four chapters, concentration is mostly on ‘uncleanness’ as it applies to men and women in connection with discharges from, or diseases in, their physical bodies.

After the birth of a son, who is to be circumcised the eighth day, the mother is considered unclean for forty days After the birth of a daughter, 80 days. When the days of her purifying were ended, she was to bring a lamb for a burnt-offering, and a young pigeon or a turtle-dove for a sin-offering. If she was poor and not able to bring a lamb, she was to bring either two turtle-doves or two young pigeons, which is what Mary brought after the birth of Jesus.

The purpose of sin offering “atonement,” in particular, was to purge impurities from the tabernacle, whether they were caused by physical uncleannesses or by sins and iniquities. In this case, the woman has not “sinned” morally by having a child. Even Mary brought such offerings for giving birth to Jesus (Luke 2:22-24), though she certainly did not “sin” in giving birth to him. Note that the result of bringing this “sin offering” was “she will be clean,” not “she will be forgiven”. The impurity of the blood flow has caused the need for this “sin offering,” not some moral or relational infringement of the law.

Luke 2:22-24: Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.” So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Leviticus 13-14: Diseases on Skin, Clothing and Dwellings:

According to Wenham (The Book of Leviticus - Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979, page 201) there are 21 different cases of skin disease in chapter 13, along with 3 different cases of diseased garments.

Health regulations pertaining to "contagious skin diseases" as translated in the New Living Translation or "leprosy" in the King James version were also included in God's laws. Such guidelines enabled the priests, who were responsible for the health of the camp, to distinguish between serious and chronic forms of these various diseases. Some of these diseases - unlike the diseases we call "leprosy" or "Hansen's disease" today - were contagious. Regulations regarding certain forms of mildew (greenish or reddish) in fabrics or houses are also described (Leviticus 13:49; 14:37).

The Hebrew word translated as "leprosy" is tsara'at. It is obvious from the context that this is not what we today consider leprosy - it includes skin ailments such as festering or running sores, itches from fungal infestations such as ringworm, eczema, scabies, boils, inflamed swellings and rashes, warts, psoriasis, hives, boils, burns, etc. and is even extended to dwellings and clothing (mold, mildew and fungus)! What today is called leprosy (Hansen's disease) was unknown in the Near East at the time of Leviticus.

Those whom the priest declared to be "unclean" due to a skin disease were required to live outside the camp until the priest declared that they were free of their disease and to present a sacrifice as part of a cleansing ceremony. The purpose of this law is to prevent what is "unclean" from coming into contact with what is holy.

The person with a skin disease is to tear his clothes, go about with an unadorned head, have his beard and mouth covered and say "Unclean, Unclean" as the walked about.

Only a priest can declare a person or a dwelling "clean."

2 Kings 5:1-14: The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy. At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.” So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing. The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “This man sends me a leper to heal! Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.” But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage. But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child’s, and he was healed!

Mark 1:40-44: A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said.

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. Then Jesus sent him on his way with a stern warning: “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

Leviticus 15: Bodily Discharges:

Discharge of semen makes the man unclean for 7 days. Semen on clothing, furniture or a saddle makes them unclean for 7 days. Sex makes the man and woman unclean until evening and until they have a bath. Not to have sex during a woman's menstrual period. A woman is unclean during her menstrual period. After 7 days, she must bring a sacrifice of two turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Part of this is because of the practice of temple prostitution in most of the rest of the world.

Mark 5:25-34: A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition. Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?” His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”

Leviticus 15:31-33 summarizes this chapter and even this entire section: “This is how you will guard the people of Israel from ceremonial uncleanness. Otherwise they would die, for their impurity would defile my Tabernacle that stands among them. These are the instructions for dealing with anyone who has a bodily discharge—a man who is unclean because of an emission of semen or a woman during her menstrual period. It applies to any man or woman who has a bodily discharge, and to a man who has sexual intercourse with a woman who is ceremonially unclean.”

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