Leviticus 15: The Trouble With Nature


You can’t read the book of Leviticus without seeing how intimately God is concerned with his people. He is deeply concerned about every minor and trivial detail of their lives. He regulates their food, their clothing, their activities, their treatment of diseases. He gives counsel and advice on every matter of life.  No wonder the Lord Jesus said to his disciples, “Even the very hairs of your head are numbered. You are of much more value to God than many sparrows…” (Matthew 10:30-31, Luke 12:7). Everything about us is of great concern to our heavenly Father. So it was with his ancient people and so it is with us today.

In this chapter, we look at the various discharges and see what they meant in terms of the physical lives of God’s people then, we need also to see what they mean to us on the level of our spiritual development now.

The first problem concerns discharges associated with certain diseases:

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the people of Israel, When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean. And this is the law of his uncleanness for a discharge. whether his body runs with his discharge, or his body is stopped from discharge, it is uncleanness in him.” (Leviticus 15:1-3 RSV)

As you go through life you unavoidably pick up certain infections which create bodily discharges like diarrhea and runny noses. God is concerned for his people about these. So for these kinds of discharges a very strict quarantine was imposed upon them, Verses 4-12:

“Every bed on which he who has the discharge lies shall be unclean; and everything on which he sits shall be unclean. And any one who touches his bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until evening. And whoever sits on anything on which he who has the discharge has sat shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening. And whoever touches the body of him who has the discharge shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening. And if he who has the discharge spits on one who is clean, then he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening. And any saddle on which he who has the discharge rides shall be unclean. And whoever touches anything that was under him shall be unclean until the evening; and he who carries such a thing shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening. Any one whom he that has 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 the earthen vessel which he who has the discharge touches shall be broken; and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.” (Leviticus 15:4-12 RSV)

This is the  exact procedure used today in modern hospital to prevent the spread of infectious and contagious diseases. All these practices were imposed upon God’s people by their heavenly Father in order to prevent among them the diseases which were rampant in the ancient world. Remember that God promised them when they came out of Egypt, “If you will walk in my ways, I will put none of these diseases upon you that were in Egypt…” (Exodus 15:26). This is the way he fulfilled that promise. He quarantined them. He taught them how to deal with infections and contagions. And there is no question but that these restrictions and regulations saved the nation Israel from many dangerous plagues which were over taking the pagan populations around them. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons that Israel has been preserved as a nation through all these centuries.

Once a person was cleansed, once these discharges stopped running, then the individual was to offer an offering, as we have seen in many earlier instances, Verses 13-15:

“And when he who has a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, and wash his clothes; and he shall bathe his body in running water, and shall be clean. And on the eighth day he shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and come before the LORD to the door of the tent of meeting, and give them to the priest; and the priest shall offer them, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD for his discharge.” (Leviticus 15:13-15 RSV)

It is evident that the unavoidable diseases, afflictions, and discharges mentioned here are of a much less serious nature than the leprosy with which we have been dealing in previous chapters. You remember that when the leper was cleansed he had to go through a much more rigorous ceremony which included several offerings. But here the very simplest of the offerings is prescribed — two turtledoves or two young pigeons: one for a sin offering, one for a burnt offering — the cheapest, the most available of the offerings. Yet God never once sets aside the requirement for the blood of an innocent substitute to be shed in the place of one who is defiled for any reason whatsoever. By this means he underscores the great fact that human nature needs to be dealt with by blood, by life poured out. It is a deep and complicated problem. It cannot be solved by a mere rearrangement of surface symptoms. God is constantly underscoring that for us in these offerings.

There was a second type of discharge which was concerned with sexuality, Verses 16-18:

“And if a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water, and be unclean until the evening. And every garment and every skin on which the semen comes shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the evening. If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening.” (Leviticus 15:16-18 RSV)

Here we are dealing with married sex. It would be a great mistake to judge from this passage that the Bible suggests in any way that sex in marriage is immoral or wrong. This is simply God’s reminder of the pollution of nature, of the fact that the nature of humanity is fallen and that man cannot solve his problems himself. He desperately needs a Savior. And he passes on to his children the same fallen, twisted nature and propensities which he himself is born with.

We who are parents know how this has proved true. When our children were born we looked at them in their innocence and thought we could shelter them.” Yet it never works out that way because, though we can help them in certain ways and give them counsel and guidance, nevertheless they will have to make some of the same mistakes that we made. e. Even though they recognize that what they are going to do is wrong they will still do it. Life is continually confirming this great fundamental fact which the Scriptures set before us — that there is something wrong with nature.

So all that God is doing here when he says that the act of sex results in an uncleanness until evening is simply reminding us that man is a fallen creature and that he must deal with that problem realistically. He can’t avoid it. There is no way that he can eliminate it himself. God must handle it, and God has handled it. There is only one way it can be handled — the redemptive intervention of God — and if it isn’t handled that way there is no escape from the defilement and the destruction of humanity which will follow. So God reminds us that even in the act of sex which results in conception there is a fallen nature involved.

In Verses 19-30 there is a very similar passage dealing with women.  It deals with the normal, natural monthly menstrual flow of women and, in Verses 25 and following, with abnormalities which would be caused by diseases. Again, there is no implication here that there is anything morally wrong about this function. But the symbolic significance is the same and in each case the treatment is exactly the same — washing, being unclean until evening, and the offering of a sacrifice of blood which would cleanse and thus take away the defilement involved.

In reading a chapter like this we can recognize its intense value on the physical level to prevent the contagion of infectious diseases. But it has primary significance on the level of the spiritual. This is why these pictures in the Old Testament are given to us. We are reminded of that in Romans 15 where the Apostle says, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that we might learn thereby…” (Romans 15:4 KJV). As you lift this passage to the spiritual level you find very many practical and helpful suggestions.

We don’t have to guess at what the spiritual applications are. In the seventh chapter of Mark. He said, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him…” (Mark 7:14b-15a RSV). Nothing you eat or drink, can defile you, ceremonially and morally. Mark adds this parenthesis in Verse 19: “(Thus he declared all foods clean.)” There are no unclean foods. There may be dangerous food, even poisonous food, but it is not unclean in this moral sense. Then Jesus went on to say, “What comes out of a man is what defiles him…” (Mark 7:20). The truly dangerous discharges are not from the physical life, you see, but from the moral life. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man…” (Mark 7:21-22 RSV).

Here our Lord lifts this from the physical level to the level of the Spirit, on which we are to live. He says that it is these things which defile the human spirit, the tabernacle in which the Spirit of God has taken up residence. You will notice that many of them are unavoidable. There are certain evils that he lists there which are obvious and blatant and which can be avoided even by those without Christ. Murder and adultery and some of the other more open sins can be avoided by many people. But he also lists many which cannot be avoided, which will be found in us from time to time, whether we like it or not, even as Christians. Even in the most devoted and the most spiritual-minded of believers these things are sometimes present. Devious words which leave a wrong impression, thoughtless actions, foolish, prideful ways, hurtful, sharp responses — these come without our thinking sometimes. They come without planning and they represent the fact that the evil, fallen nature  is still there and is so subtle, so close to us,  that it slips out sometimes without us being aware.

What are we to do about them? Are we merely to ignore them? Are we to go on our way and think nothing more of them? No. If we do, we are in trouble. They will add up against us.  God has provided a way, a remedy.  First, a person who is defiled shall bathe. As we have already seen, washing is always a picture of the action of the Word of God. The person’s defiling thought, his statement, his tone of voice, his attitude of heart, he shall take to the Word and see what the Word has to say about it. The washing of the Word is the beginning of cleansing.

And then he shall be “unclean until the evening.” What does this mean? We have seen this phrase all through Leviticus and need to know what it conforms to in our own spiritual experience. There are two degrees of rejection described in the Old Testament. First, the people of Israel could become “unclean.” Or, second, they could be “cut off from their people,” called an abomination before the Lord. These are two degrees:

Uncleanness is what we call being “out of fellowship.” It means to revert somehow for the moment from rest and dependence upon the Spirit of God to a momentary pleasure of the flesh, the old life, the old nature. There is a break in communion with the Spirit of God so that the flow of the life of Christ in the believer is temporarily arrested. Although Christ doesn’t forsake him for one moment, nevertheless, there is, for the moment, no enjoyment of his life. That is to be unclean.

To be cut off from the people corresponds to what in the New Testament is called “apostasy.” It means to come to the point where we are set aside, “delivered unto Satan,” Paul says (1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Corinthians 5:5 KJV), “for the destruction of the flesh.” This is much more serious. It can result  in a complete turning on the faith. But mere uncleanness is much less serious than that, but it is to go on until evening.

This is instructive for us because among the Hebrews the day began at sunset. So the idea is that uncleanness continued until a new beginning, until the sun set and a new day arose. In the  spiritual life, that is the moment when we return to a position of trust in God and we walk again in the Spirit. Thus a new day begins. Whenever we rely upon the Spirit of God it is a new creation, a new beginning, a new day. The Spirit is the Lord of creation and so to be restored to fellowship with him is a new beginning.

This is a picture of what is to happen in our spiritual life when we become aware of having said something harsh or thoughtless or critical or unkind. We are to repent, to change our mind, to stop defending it and making excuses for it. We are to repudiate that old nature and immediately turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, thank you for your forgiving grace, and for your love which now picks me up and restores me to where I was before. Let’s walk on together.” That is a new beginning. Unless you do that you remain unclean. And that is how defilement gradually comes into the spirit of man and defiles the sanctuary in which God dwells. That is when  restless and unhappy. We have all had this experience!.

The third element in the cleansing is the offering of blood. All through this book you find that God’s cleansing agents are always water and blood. In his first letter John says that Jesus came to us by water and by blood( 1 John 5:6). He came to cleanse us in this two-fold way: The blood, of course, speaks of the death of Jesus on our behalf, which frees God to love us without any restraint whatsoever. The blood is what God really sees. . It isn’t easy for God to forgive. He is a just God. He is not only loving but he is also just.

The water, again, represents the Word, and the water is meant for us. It cleanses our conscience. You can say, “Yes, God has forgiven me.” But what many people do is to go on and not forgive themselves. They don’t allow their conscience to be cleansed. But when we read in the Word of God that he has washed away our sins (Acts 22:16) and has forgiven us all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) — if we believe that Word then our own conscience is clear, and we are cleansed by the Word. How often have you quoted First John 1:9? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And you have said to yourself, “If God said that then he must mean it. Therefore there is no reason for me to be beating myself on the back about this sin any longer. God has cleansed me. I am not dirty nor defiled any longer. I am clean.”  That is the effect of the water.

The water and the blood together cleanse the conscience and free us from guilt before the justice of God. All of this, you will notice, is in order to keep us from defilement, Verse 31:

“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.” (Leviticus 15:31 RSV)

How careful God is to insure that we walk in a way which will allow him to pour out to us the fullness of his glory, joy, and peace! And if we don’t experience this, it is because we allow defilement  to come in and remain uncleansed. We didn’t intend to do them. We didn’t deliberately commit them. But there they are! And they must be cleansed! We are to deal with them and handle them in this way which God has prescribed. When we do then we have a sense of untroubled peace and joy.

I pray this helps you. Many of us start our lives in joy but after awhile it all seems to grow pale. A lot of times, we have not learned to deal with the discharges of life, the aggravating things that they say and do which are hurtful and injurious to others.

But when we do learn to apply God’s remedy then the sanctuary is cleansed and the Spirit of God is free to release to them all the warmth of the light and life of a loving Savior.

I love Freedom, don’t you?




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