Ickiness and Holiness (Leviticus 12-15)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Leviticus 12:1–15:33
Ickiness and Holiness
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
January 21st, 2018
I. Icky Images
Allow your mind to become, for a moment, a blank canvas. And as I read this list of words, consider what image or images are being painted on that canvas. Ready?
Befoul, blemish, blight, contaminate, corrode, corrupt, decay, defile, desecrate, dirty, infect, mar, pervert, poison, pollute, profane, putrefy, rot, ruin, soil, spoil, stain, sully, taint.
I'm guessing that whatever image or images you're seeing with your mind's eye, it or they could be labeled as “icky”, right? Things that make you say, “gross”, or “yuck”, or “nasty”, or “distgusting”, right?
If you would, hold onto that mental image, and to those feelings, and look with me at Leviticus chapter 12. This is where left off last time. This is where we've arrived in our ongoing study of the third book of the Bible, Leviticus.
II. The Passage: "Separate from Their Uncleanness”" (12:1-15:33)
You may recall how this book was given to the nation of Israel a year after they escaped from slavery in Egypt. They were still living at the base of Mount Sinai, and had recently completed the construction of a mobile temple called the “Tent of Meeting”. As the name indicates, this is where they would meet with the God of their fathers. This is where the living God, where Yahweh, would dwell among them.
But as we've already seen in the first ten chapters of the book, if a great, gracious, and holy God is to dwell in the midst of fallen, selfish, stubborn people, their sin must be addressed. That's where the animal sacrifices and the priesthood came in.
But as we saw last time, chapter 11 begins a section covering the topic of “uncleanness”. This was not simply the dirty kitchen or toddler covered in spaghetti sauce kind of uncleanness. This was what we'd call 'ritual uncleanness'. We were introduced to this concept back in chapter 5, in connection with what is called the “sin offering”, but might be better labeled, the 'purification offering'.
What's interesting about this idea of “uncleanness” is that it wasn't exactly the same as sin, but if neglected, could lead to sin. As one commentator puts it: “Uncleanness establishes boundaries of action, but as long as these are not transgressed, no guilt is incurred.” (Wenham)
And yet, in many cases, a purification offering was still required.
So the section that begins in chapter 11 runs all the way through chapter 15. And in a bold move, what I'd like to do this morning is to board our Bible study plane and climb several thousand feet, so we can look down on Leviticus and do a good overview of chapters 12-15. I think we can do that because of what unites these chapters. Let's briefly look at four threads woven through these four chapters. The first thing this section speaks to is...
1. Uncleanness Inside (cf. 12:1-4a)
Look at the opening verses of this section, chapter 12, verses 1-4...
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean.  And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.  Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying.” [let's stop there]
So think for a minute about how this compares to what we saw last time. In the last chapter, the chapter about animals, uncleanness was a result of what went into a person. Here, uncleanness is a result of what comes out of a person, specifically, in this case the blood, technically, lochia that discharges after childbirth (as a side note, the mention of menstruation here helps form a bracket with chapter 15, which goes into more detail on that topic).
But when we take hold of that idea of “uncleanness” because of what comes out of us, because of our own bodies, we ended up seeing that same theme in all four of these chapters. What exactly do we see? Bodily fluids and conditions like...Blood, lochia, menses, semen, pus, mucous, venereal disease discharges, and on top of that, skin conditions like psoriasis, leukoderma, favus, and eczema.
Anyone feeling uncomfortable at this point? Or slightly grossed out? But that kind of list forces us to ask why? Why would natural bodily fluids and common skin conditions be considered “unclean”?
Well, remember what the NT taught us about those animals labeled as “unclean” in Leviticus 11. There was nothing really wrong with any of those animals. God simply chose to use them as a teaching tool with Israel, with His people, a people who were very immature when it came to holiness. The same is true here. God chose to use certain bodily conditions and bodily fluids as teaching tools.
And as we've seen, one of the things we learn from this section is the uncleanness is not just about what goes into us. It's all about what comes out of us; about me, and even my body. But there's more. This section also speaks to the issue of..
2. Uncleanness Transmitted (cf. 12:4b; 14:46, 47; 15:4-5, 8, 11-12)
Look back at to that new mother described in chapter 12, specifically to the second half of verse 4. We read...“She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed.”
The concern expressed here is the ritual transmissibility, the ritual contagiousness of this ritual uncleanness. I just mentioned some of the different skin diseases described in chapters 13 and 14. Interestingly, most of what is described is likely not what today we would call “leprosy” (or Hansen's disease). And the same word in Hebrew is also applied to things like cloth, clothing, and the walls of a house. Clearly, what is being described when it comes to those objects is mold or mildew. In 14:46, 47, we read this about an 'unclean' house...
“Moreover, whoever enters the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening,  and whoever sleeps in the house shall wash his clothes, and whoever eats in the house shall wash his clothes.”
And if you move over to chapter 15, we find the same theme, this time in reference to what is probably a venereal disease discharge. Starting in 15:4...
“Every bed on which the one with the discharge lies shall be unclean, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean.  And anyone who touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening... And if the one with the discharge spits on someone who is clean, then he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening... Anyone whom the one with the discharge touches without having rinsed his hands in water shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.  And an earthenware vessel that the one with the discharge touches shall be broken, and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.”
Clearly, God wanted His people to learn something about the contagiousness of that which defiles. But again, there's more. We also discover that this section speaks to the issue of...
3. Uncleanness Purged (13:45-46; 14:41)
In chapter 13:45, 46, we read that if a person with one of these skin conditions was pronounced “unclean”, her or she must follow these instructions:
“The leprous [skin-diseased] person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’  He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
And in the next chapter, in 14:41, if mold or mildew was found in a house, we read...
“And he shall have the inside of the house scraped all around, and the plaster that they scrape off they shall pour out in an unclean place outside the city.”
If a garment was tainted in this way, and cannot be cleaned, several times throughout 13:47-59 the Israelites are instructed to burn that garment.
Clearly, the common is idea is that the uncleanness must be purged from the people of God. Remember, the camp of Israel was arranged as sacred space; it helped the people visualize how a holy God was at the center of all things, then, moving outward, his priests, then his people, then outside the camp, those who were or that which was unclean.
But there's one more key idea we find throughout this section, in chapters 12-15. We find there the reality of...
4. Uncleanness Cleansed/Covered (12:6-8; 14:4-7)
Let's look one more time to the new mother of chapter 12. We read in 12:6-8...
“And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering,  and he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female.  And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”
So the burnt offering is a general offering for her as a sinner. The second sacrifice, the “sin” or purification offering was to meant to atone for, literally, to cover the ritual stain of her un-cleanness. If look over at 14:4-7, we find more insight this covering and cleansing. We read:
“...the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop.  And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water.  He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water.  And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field.”
This procedure was then followed by a ritual cleansing, and then a consecration with oil (similar to the consecration of priests in chapter 8). But did you notice one bird dies because of the uncleanness, while another seems to bear the uncleanness and carry it away.
So the purging of what was unclean, was to be followed by, at the appropriate time, the covering of what we might call a ritual 'stain'. And when we get to the end of this section, in 15:31, we find an important summary of everything detailed in chapters 11-15. Why all of these strange and frankly, icky descriptions? God gives this reason:
“Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”
III. Clean Out the Old Leaven
As we think about how the New Covenant can help us understand this icky part of the Old Covenant, I think it's important to see that these chapters connect us directly to the Gospels, first through Mary's postpartum offering in Luke 2, but then later, during the ministry of Jesus, to the lepers He cleansed, and to the woman with the discharge of blood. We can't forget how He touched those lepers and allowed the bleeding woman to touch him. Just as with the food and washings, Jesus showed us once again that these old boundaries had been removed.
But there's another connection. As we push deeper into the NT, we discover the same principles from Leviticus chapters 12-15, only this time, in a letter from the Apostle Paul. Look with me at I Corinthians 5. Let me read this chapter and consider if anything sounds familiar.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife.  And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.  For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.  When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,  you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh [i.e., put him out of the church, and back into our devil-gripped world], so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.  Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (5:1-13)
Do you see the same principles from Leviticus 12-15? Let me point them out.
We read about Uncleanness Inside as Paul talks about sexual immorality inside the sinner's heart, and then inside the church as well, as this man walked in disobedience and remarkably, the church did nothing.
We read here about Uncleanness Transmitted as Paul compares this man's actions to leaven or yeast in bread, warning how this man's sin was corrupting others in the church, encouraging them to minimize sin and boast in some twisted counterfeit of grace.
We read here about Uncleanness Purged as the Apostle instructs the Corinthians to practice church discipline and put this unrepentant man out of the church. The quote given in the final verse is found throughout Deuteronomy, where God called His people to separate themselves from those who might lead them down a path of dangerous disobedience.
Finally, we read here in I Corinthians 5 about Uncleanness Cleansed/Covered. Paul's appeal to them about mournful repentance, about grief over this man's sin and their own inaction, his appeal is grounded in the fact that they they (v. 7) “really are unleavened”. How? Because (v. 7) “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed”.
What is God's word showing you in light of this connection between Leviticus and I Corinthians? It's emphasizing the fact that terms like befoul, blemish, blight, contaminate, corrode, corrupt, decay, defile, desecrate, dirty, infect, mar, pervert, poison, pollute, profane, putrefy, rot, ruin, soil, spoil, stain, sully, and taint should always remind you, first and foremost, of the true nature of the very uncleanness that dwells in you and seeks to destroy you.
Our God good wants us to see and embrace the fact that sin is truly disgusting, and then, to turn from sin's ickiness to a path of holiness; to pursue Christlikeness, not the corruption that comes through conformity to the world and its desires.
We may ask, were the rules of Leviticus 12-15 only for symbolic effect? Well, there may have been a public health benefit in regard to some of these discharges and disorders. But within the context of Leviticus, the context of the book of Moses, the contexts of the OT and the NT, the main point of these strange regulations was to visualize the corrupting uncleanness of sin; to show the danger of moral lack, of spiritual unhealthiness, to show us how it is completely incompatible with the good and great presence of our holy God.
But while many of us see certain sins as foul and corrosive, do we see all sin that way, from gossip to lust, from boasting to murder, from envy to every form of evil? Are we repulsed by everything God labels as morally unhealthy? We need the transformation only God can give, don't we? But consider the words of another Apostle. Peter gives us this encouragement in light of God's call to holiness:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (II Peter 1:3–4)
What has God granted us? Everything we need to live a godly life. How has He granted this to us? Through “precious and very great promises”, firm and unchangeable assurances that because of Jesus, we are clean forever; therefore, we can live in God's presence forever. It is to this painful, but precious price paid for you, that the author of Hebrews directs us:
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (13:12, 13)
Jesus took our uncleanness “outside the camp” and suffered in our place. But what does it mean for us to go “outside the camp”? It begins with a growing revulsion to the sin in us and around us, as love for and gratefulness to Jesus grow in your heart. Then, it means a willingness to separate yourself from the mentality of the masses; to walk a different path; to reject the ugliness that daily tempts us; to be clear-headed about the danger of sin; and, in humility, to help those also diseased and defiled by that same me-centeredness.
In light of these strange chapters from Leviticus, let's ask God to help us take sin as seriously as we should, the sin inside us and the sin in our midst. And let's do this with regular reflection on the cleansing that is ours in Jesus, the One who both died for our sin and carried it away.