This section in Leviticus is perhaps the most reading tedious of all. You could entitle it cleanliness is next to godliness. God had already told His people they are to be holy...set apart...because He is holy. He has also told them to keep the camp holy because that is His dwelling place. What you read today is aimed at keeping the camp as clean as possible. The Israelites cleanliness was closely intertwined with their godliness. The Israelites feared becoming ceremonially unclean because of something they had eaten or touched. And they were working at submitting every aspect of their lives to the authority of God's law. It was not easy. We begin with eating clean and unclean food.
Noah was the first to have experience with clean and unclean animals. But what we see first is that now God speaks to both Moses and Aaron. Aaron was now the high priest and that made him responsible for teaching and administering the law. The instructions are given to them both. We also see a distinction made between the animals of the earth and things of the sea. This same distinction was made at creation. Animals that chew their cud eat mainly grass and grains. This means they won't eat something that once had breath or blood in it. And they would then be less likely to carry disease. Keep in mind Israel is called to be a separate people. They believed you became one with what you ate so following the dietary guidelines was important. They were told to stay away from unclean meat so they would learn to stay away from unclean people and an unclean lifestyle. They were not to follow the same practices as their pagan neighbors. Some animals were unclean because they were part of pagan ritual sacrifices. When it came to water creatures only things with both fins and scales were clean. Oysters, clams, crabs, scallops, eels, and such are scavengers, and they could well pick up something harmful to God's people.
It wasn't just the eating of things that could cause a person to become unclean. God demanded they not touch any animal that had died of unknown causes. This was an issue because the blood would not have been properly drained out of them. And the Israelites were forbidden from eating blood because that is where the life was. There is a distinction between touching a live unclean animal...such as a donkey...verses one that is dead. The live unclean animal still had its blood. If this would have been a problem the people would have been unclean all the time. Anyone who became defiled by touching a carcass was considered unclean until the end of the day. They had to wash themselves and their clothes and couldn't enter the camp until sunset. This would keep them from spreading to others any contamination they may have picked up from touching the unclean, defiled, dead animal. Anything touched by a carcass had to be washed or destroyed. Part of this was to keep the people from getting sick. A contagious disease would spread like wildfire in a camp that large. We have seen it countless times in refugee camps where there are unclean conditions.
The holiness regulations didn't just cover what the Israelites ate. There were regulations about cleanliness after giving birth. And they were different for male and female children. While these regulations may seem extreme think about this. There is nothing here that says giving birth is defiling. But again, this is about keeping people safe and healthy. Since the mother was considered unclean for a period of weeks after childbirth that meant few people could come near. That gave her time to rest and recover before returning to her household duties. This would encourage her own well-being. It would also protect her and the baby from possible sickness carried by people who wanted to assist her or come visiting. The eighth day would make the end of the mother's uncleanness with regard to everyday objects and activities. She would no longer make then unclean by touching them. But her personal uncleanness would continue on for another 33 days. This was in regard to male babies. But it makes sense medically. Blood is both the carrier of life in the body and the agent of purification from sin. Blood could be a source of pollution and death if it is taken lightly or not handled properly. The time required for a woman's cleansing is different for female and male babies. There is no reason given.
Skin diseases were another problem addressed. Not only was this an issue of cleanliness but health. Leprosy was and still is contagious. So, they did everything they could to keep it from spreading through the camp. However, any kind of skin disease fell under the heading of leprosy which is why people were quarantined immediately and examined after a period of time. But there is more here too. In scripture disease is also one of the images of sin and sin is deeper than the skin. In Jeremiah 17:9 we read that ”The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The word for wicked here is most often translated sick. Sin is not just a surface problem that can be treated with simple remedies. That would be akin to treating skin cancer with hand lotion. Sin spreads...just like leprosy. What begins as one sore will spread and turn into nodules, deformities and ulcers covering the body. Sin spreads like that too. Sin defiles. In reading psalm 51 we see how David's sin defiled all his body...eyes, mind, ears, bones, heart, and mouth. Even his hands were defiled with Uriah's blood. Sin isolates people. So does leprosy. Sin is fit only for the fire. A defiled garment was to be burned in the fire. It was not to be purified but destroyed. When Jesus spoke about hell it is a place where the fire never goes out. He used the word Gehenna, the same word used for the garbage dump outside Jerusalem. The fire there never went out. The consequences of leprosy are temporal, but the consequences of sin are eternal.
In chapter 14 we see that all is not lost. A leper can be cleansed and restored. The Israelites had no cure for leprosy so any healing that occurred was a result of God's grace and mercy. It is through God's grace and mercy that we have forgiveness of sin and hope in Jesus Christ. The ritual for cleansing healed lepers is a bit strange. But there is a great picture here of what Jesus did for us. Birds do not belong in clay jars; they belong in the heavens. Jesus came down from heaven and became human. One could say He put himself in a clay jar to that He might die for our sins. The running water over which the bird was killed reminds us of the Holy Spirit of God. And running water is literally living water. Stagnant water symbolized potential death while living water symbolized life. Jesus offered Himself through the eternal spirit. When the blood-stained bird was released it is a picture of Jesus resurrection. Only a living Savior can save dead sinners. The blood of the bird that was sacrificed was in the jar and on the living bird. It also had to be put on the leper. We are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Cedar wood was used because of its durability and resistance to decay, symbolizing the patient's recovery from the decay that had threatened their life. Scarlet was probably a thread or cord. It symbolized blood, the agent in the sacrificial system that brought victory over sin and death. The dead bird represented the death the patient had escaped. Once the living bird had been sprinkled it was let loose in the open field, symbolically taking away from camp the uncleanness of the person who was returning to camp.
Finally, chapter 15 deals with personal hygiene. The possibility of infection was taken very seriously. These chapters are a lot of reading. Again, these regulations are God's way of keeping His people safe, clean, and healthy. And though it may seem crazy, this too was God's grace.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W