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Leviticus Bible Study – Lesson #6

Lesson 6:  Leviticus 11-15

THE CLEAN AND THE UNCLEAN (Chaps. 11–15)

The next five chapters deal with matters of ceremonial cleanness and uncleanness. For the Jews there were acts that were not morally wrong but nevertheless barred them from participating in the rituals of Judaism. Those who became defiled were ritually unfit until they were cleansed. A holy people must be holy in every area of life. God used even food to illustrate the difference between what is clean and unclean.

Read Leviticus 11:1-19

A clean animal was one which had hooves that were completely cloven and which chewed the cud. The expression “whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves” seems to say the same thing in two different ways. But the words mean that the hoof must be completely divided. Clean animals were oxen, cattle, sheep, goats, deer, etc. Unclean animals were pigs, camels, rock badgers (hyraxes), rabbits, etc. God was  protecting the health of His people by prohibiting meat that was likely to transmit disease in days when there was little or no refrigeration and the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry was unknown.  Many interpreters also see a spiritual application even in these laws.  They point out that we are told several times in the Bible (both Old and New Testament) that people are told that God’s Word is “food”; therefore, we should “chew the cud” (meditate long upon the Word) and have a “divided” spiritual walk.

A clean fish was one that had both fins and scales. Fish such as mackerel, eels, and shellfish were unclean. Scales are often taken to picture the Christian’s armor, protecting him in a hostile world, while the fins typify the divine power which enables him to navigate through the world without being overcome by it.

Birds which preyed on other creatures were unclean—e.g., eagles, hawks, vultures, bats. (Bats are not birds, but the Hebrew word translated birds is broader than the English word, meaning “flying thing.”)

Read Leviticus 11:20-47

Lev. 11:20-23 deals with certain forms of flying insects. Only those which had jointed legs above their feet were clean—namely, locusts, destroying locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers.

Touching the carcass of any of the foregoing unclean creatures rendered a person unclean until evening. Special mention is made of animals which walk on paws, such as cats, dogs, lions, tigers, bears, etc.

Other creeping animals are described next—the mole, the mouse, the large lizard, the gecko, the monitor lizard, the sand reptile, the sand lizard, and the chameleon. A person touching their carcasses became unclean until evening. If the dead body of one of these creatures fell on any vessel, the utensil had to be washed in water, and it was unclean until evening, except that an earthen vessel had to be broken. Any edible food in the earthen vessel became unclean and could not be eaten. Two exceptions are given—a spring of running water did not become unclean through contact with the body of one of these animals, nor did planting seed used for sowing, if it had not been soaked in water.

Human contact with the carcass of a clean animal which had died (rather than being slaughtered) or eating such meat unintentionally made a person unclean until evening. His clothes had to be washed.

Lev. 11:41-43 refers to worms, snakes, rodents, and insects. Anyone eating them became ritually unclean. In giving this law concerning clean and unclean creatures, God was teaching lessons concerning His holiness and the necessity for His people to be holy as well (Lev. 11:44-47).

In Mark 7:18-19, the Lord Jesus declared all foods to be ceremonially clean. And Paul taught that no food should be refused if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:1-5). However, even that would not include foods that are contaminated, culturally unacceptable, or digestively disagreeable to a person.  Also, Acts 15:22-29 has New Testament prohibitions against eating meat from a strangled animal, foods offered to idols, and from blood.

 

Read Leviticus 12:1-8  

Chapter 12 deals with uncleanness connected with childbirth.  A woman giving birth to a boy was unclean for seven days, just as the days of the impurity of her menstruation. On the eighth day, the boy was circumcised (Lev. 12:3). The eighth day was the safest as far as blood clotting was concerned. Today the blood clotting problem is solved by injections of vitamin K. She then remained at home for an additional thirty-three days so as not to touch any hallowed thing or enter the sanctuary—i.e., the court surrounding the tabernacle.  In the case of a baby girl, the mother was unclean for two weeks, and then remained home for an additional sixty-six days.  At the end of the time of purification, the mother was commanded to bring a yearling lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. If she was too poor to afford the lamb, she could bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one for the burnt offering and the other for the sin offering. The mother of our Lord brought two birds (Luke 2:22-24), an indication of the poverty into which Jesus was born.

It may seem strange that uncleanness is connected with the birth of a baby, since marriage was instituted before sin entered the world, since the Scriptures teach that marriage is holy, and since God commanded men to reproduce. The uncleanness is probably a reminder that, with the exception of our Lord, we are all brought forth in iniquity and conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5). The extended time of uncleanness in the case of a baby girl was perhaps an intended reminder that man was created before woman, that the woman was created for the man, that the woman is given a place of positional submission (but NOT intrinsic inferiority) to the man, and that the woman was the first to sin.

Read Leviticus 13

Chapter 13 has to do with the diagnosis of leprosy, and chapter 14 with its cleansing. Opinion is divided as to the nature of biblical leprosy. Bible lepers were usually mobile, were not deformed, were harmless when completely leprous, and were sometimes cured.

In some ways the priest filled the role of physician, perhaps a subtle reminder of the close connection between the spiritual and the physical.

Chapter 13 is admittedly difficult, dealing as it does with technical descriptions of leprous and non-leprous diseases and with “leprosy” in houses and garments. Dr. R. K. Harrison, who has medical training as well as being a Hebrew scholar, points out that there is “no translation that is satisfactory for all the conditions covered by the Hebrew word, but that it should be broad enough to include the disease we call Hansen’s disease.”

He summarizes the known facts about the Hebrew term and its Greek translation (whence our English terms leprosy, leper, leprous):

The Hebrew term s̆ràat comes from a root meaning “to become diseased in the skin,” and is a generic rather than a specific description. In Old Testament usage it was extended to include mould or mildew in fabrics, as well as mineral eruptions on the walls of buildings, and possibly dry rot in the fabric of such structures. In the Septuagint the Hebrew was rendered by the Greek word lepra, which itself appears to have been rather indefinite in nature and meaning. The Greek medical authors used the word to describe a disease that made the surface of the skin flaky or scaly, while Herodotus mentioned it in connection with an affliction known as leukē, a type of skin eruption which seems to have been the same as the Greek elephantiasis, and thus similar to modern clinical leprosy (Hansen’s disease).  

The opening paragraph describes the priest inspecting a man for the symptoms of biblical leprosy.  Next the proper procedure in questionable cases is detailed. The person was confined for seven days. If the spot had not spread, then he was confined for another seven more days. Then if the disease seemed to be checked, the priest pronounced the person clean. If the eruption in the skin had spread after the second examination, then the priest declared him to be unclean.

A leper was a miserable person. He was put outside the camp of Israel and had to wear torn … clothes and let his head be bare. Whenever people approached, he had to cover his upper lip or mustache and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” Again we have an early example of preventive medicine. Isolation is an accepted medical procedure to prevent the spread of infection.

The case of “leprosy” in a garment probably refers to some type of mold or mildew on a wool or linen cloth or leather garment. Harrison explains the wisdom of destroying garments so tainted:   Moulds are fungous growths on dead or decomposing animal or vegetable matter, and occur in patches of various shades.  He goes on to make a spiritual application: The fungous growth affects the entire article by its presence, just as the taint of original sin reaches all areas of the human personality.

 

Read Leviticus 14:1-32

Here is given the ritual for cleansing a leper after he had been healed: First he was inspected by the priest outside the camp. If healed, he offered two living and clean birds, with cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. The cedar wood and the hyssop, coming from a lofty tree and a lowly plant, picture the judgment of God on all men and on all that the world contains, from the highest to the lowest things. Scarlet is associated with sins in Isaiah 1:18, so the thought here may be of God’s judgment on sins. One bird was killed over running water, and the other with the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop was dipped in the blood of the slain bird. The cleansed leper was sprinkled with the blood seven times and pronounced clean. Then the living bird was allowed to go free.

In many ways, leprosy is a picture of sin. It rendered a man unclean, it excluded him from the camp of God and the people of God, it made the victim miserable, etc. This is why there needed to be an application of blood (the blood of Christ) and the running water (the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work) in the cleansing of a leper. When a sinner turns to the Lord in repentance and faith today, the death and resurrection of Christ (pictured by the two birds) is reckoned to his account. The blood is applied through the power of the Spirit and, in God’s sight, the person is clean.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee;

Let the water and the blood,

From Thy riven side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure,

Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

—Augustus M. Toplady

 

The cleansed leper washed his clothes, shaved off all his hair, and washed his body (Lev. 14:8). Then he was allowed to enter the camp, but he could not enter his own tent for seven more days. Seven days later he again washed and shaved and was pronounced clean (Lev. 14:9). On the eighth day, he brought offerings to the Lord (Lev. 14:10-11): a trespass offering (Lev. 14:12-18); a sin offering (Lev. 14:19); a burnt offering (Lev. 14:20). The priest applied the blood to the leper’s ear, hand, and foot (Lev. 14:14). This speaks of hearing God’s Word, of doing God’s will, and of walking in God’s ways.  It is interesting to note that a “cured” leper was “consecrated” in the same way that the High Priest and his sons had been consecrated by Moses.  If the cleansed leper was too poor to bring all the required animals, then he was permitted to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, but he still had to bring the lamb for the trespass offering.

A grain offering accompanied the trespass, sin, and burnt offerings in each instance.

Read Leviticus 14:33-57

Finally, laws for the detection of leprosy in a house are given. These would apply when the people finally reached Canaan and dwelt in permanent houses rather than in tents. “Leprosy” in a house was probably some sort of fungus, mildew, or dry rot. The Lord made provision for the house to be emptied before the priest went in so that the contents need not become unclean or be quarantined (Lev. 14:36-38). At first only the affected stones in a house were removed. But if the leprosy continued to break out, the house was torn down (Lev. 14:39-45). In the event that the leprosy was arrested in the house, the priest followed a ritual of cleansing similar to that for a leper (Lev. 14:48-53).

 

Read Leviticus 15

Chapter 15 deals with the uncleanness arising from discharges from the human body, either natural or diseased. Verses Lev. 15:1-12 seem to refer to a running discharge from a man, resulting from disease, such as gonorrhea. The ritual for cleansing is given in verses Lev. 15:13-15. Verses Lev. 15:16-18 refer to the emission of semen, involuntary (Lev. 15:16-17) and voluntary (Lev. 15:18).

Lev. 15:19-24 deals with a woman’s normal menstrual cycle. This required no offerings.  Lev. 15:25-30 describe a discharge of blood from a woman, but not connected with menstruation—therefore abnormal. Lev. 15:31-33 summarizes the chapter.