Ceremonial Cleanliness


Leviticus 12-15


Israel was chosen to usher the Christ into the world. Such a nation must keep themselves holy, as the LORD is holy.  Jesus cannot be born into a profane (or “common”) nation.  Jesus will be born to a holy people.  There seem to be three distinct traits of a holy man:  1) He is in fellowship with God; 2) He is in fellowship with his assembly; and 3) He is separated from the world.


Fellowship with God: Sin separates a man from fellowship with God.  The holy man repents of His sins, and confesses, and restores his fellowship with God.


Separated from the World: All food was subdivided clean and unclean, because it was to be presented an offering to the LORD, and eventually as meals for the Priests.  By keeping your food separate from the world, you soon discover that it is impossible to share a meal with a family not likewise committed.  Since you can never be sure what is in the food the host was serving, you would almost have to bring your own food.  And that would make it awkward to inter-mingle outside your faith.


Fellowship with his Assembly: He must be purified from his uncleanness.  Leviticus 11 classifies food as clean and unclean.  Leviticus 12-15 addresses uncleanness in the worshippers.  Being (ceremonially) unclean is usually not connected with sin.  1  But the consequence of being unclean is repeatedly mentioned to be “cut off from his people.”2  After a prescribed number of days, purification is required in order to restore worship rights.


1 A few exceptions are noted in Leviticus 5:2.  A single act such as making contact with a carcass can make you simultaneously unclean and guilty.


2 “Cut off from the people” can refer to an excommunication (Leviticus 20), but here it refers to a short-term consequence of uncleanness.  While unclean, a man or woman may not approach the tabernacle or offer sacrifice.


3 Throughout two full chapters of discussing the uncleanness of leprosy, not once is a word used that connects the leprosy with sin.  References to sin and trespass offerings are offered AFTER the patient is pronounced Clean.  They should be comprehended as deferred offerings during the time he was ineligible to present offerings – or even possibly as a fee to the priest who ministered to him (Leviticus 14:32).


4 It is best not to speculate what this discharge may be, or where this discharge is protruding from.  Whatever may occur to you, it has already been presented in commentary as a possibility.  I am persuaded that nobody knows.


5 The woman herself is not unclean.  But people who have contact with her – sexual or otherwise – are unclean.


 None of the paths to becoming unclean mentioned in Leviticus 12-17 implies wrong-doing:


• 12:2 - If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days


• 13:2-3 - When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, ... if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore. Then the priest shall examine him, and pronounce him unclean.3


• 15:2-3 - When any man has a discharge4 from his body, his discharge is unclean.  And this shall be his uncleanness....


• 15:16 - If any man has an emission of semen, then he shall wash all his body in water, and be unclean until evening.


• 15:19-24 - If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart5 seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening....  Whoever touches her bed shall ... be unclean until evening....  And if any man lies with her at all... he shall be unclean seven days....


• 15:25 - If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days...[s]he shall be unclean. 


Being unclean does not necessarily have anything to do with being guilty of sin.  First, repentance is never cited as a part of the purification process. Second, the uncleanness cited in chapters 12-17 has nothing to do with disobedience, but rather a part of normal life and health.  


Food may be clean and unclean.  Though presented as commandments, there is no punishment cited for disobedience, and no call for repentance by the one who ate something unclean.  If I were to eat a bacon cheeseburger, I would be unclean more than sinful.  This is not license for someone to disregard the law of clean vs. unclean.  For cleanness is a component of holiness (Leviticus 20:25-26), and God desires you to be holy.  And besides, it is no badge of honor to live in perpetual disqualification from worshipping with God’s people.


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