If ever there was a chapter which could call forth a cringe factor in a preacher, it is Leviticus 15, which deals with very natural—some might call them “earthy”—issues.
These 33 verses discuss, in a very structured form, the discharge of bodily fluids—both by males and females. Specifically, it discusses how one is to respond to the very natural emissions of semen from a male and blood from a woman.
I am aware that these are not matters that are frequently discussed in public, particularly from the pulpit. Sadly, because we live in a fallen world, that which is natural (and therefore sometimes a bit earthy) is easily perverted into that which is tactless and worldly. The issues addressed in this chapter have sometimes been so treated and abused.
It is my responsibility as a pastor-teacher to discuss these verses and thus to address these matters in a way in which we will not be unnecessarily uncomfortable, and in a way that is appropriate and therefore edifying. Of course, some may ask, why bother at all? After all, should these things even be discussed in polite company?
The reason, of course, is because this chapter is the very Word of God. As such, it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness. For reasons determined by God, and for reasons that we will see below, this chapter regarding bodily discharges further equips us to be a more mature, more fruitful and more worshipful people of God.
As we have come to appreciate, the book of Leviticus is a book about worship. It is specifically a worship manual, in which God gives to His people specific regulations with reference to how He demands to be worshipped. God is holy and therefore we may only worship Him in a way that is consistent with this holiness. And holiness requires wholeness.
Chapters 11—15 form a third mini-manual, which addresses the issue of uncleanness—unwholeness—and how to treat it. This section is commonly referred to as the Cleanliness Code. We have seen (in chapter 11) that God prohibited His people from eating certain animals deemed to be unclean and from touching dead carcases (thus protecting them from the temptation to eat). In chapter 12 we learned that, through childbirth, a woman was rendered unclean (with reference to tabernacle worship), and we saw how God prescribed how a new mother could be rendered clean. In chapters 13—14 we spent considerable time looking at the matter of leprosy and how infectious skin diseases, mould, fungi and mildew could render people, garments and houses unclean. In each case, we learned that the underlying issue was brokenness. That is, in each of these cases there is a common theme: We live in a broken, because sin-cursed and fallen, world. Things are not as they should be or could be, and they are certainly not yet as they will be. This had a direct bearing on the place of the tabernacle, which was literally central to Israel’s existence. The daily reminder of brokenness was designed to drive the people to God.
No Area of Life Exempt from the All Seeing God
The tabernacle was, of course, the prescribed place where God met with His people. The tabernacle points us to the church of the new covenant, but most importantly it points us to the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:14) and to heaven itself. The question before the people must be, how can man dwell with God? or, how can man be right with God? The purpose of the law was indeed to highlight how holy God is and how unholy (read: sinful) man is. One of the best ways to do this was to remind man of his brokenness in a broken world. Difficulties in life were a means by which God drove home to His chosen people that life is hard and this hardness is due to sin. The fall really was a long and hard fall.
And so, in the kitchen, God’s people would be reminded that the all-seeing God knew what they prepared for dinner, and so they needed to be careful what they boiled in the pot. Mothers were be aware that, in childbirth, there was not only pain but also a loss of blood, a process that represented a loss of life. As the community was exposed to the threat of skin eruptions and the onslaught of mildew they were reminded of their need for vigilance to avoid infection in a very broken world. These laws were intended to motivate God’s people to live Coram Deo, to walk all day long in the fear of God (Proverbs 28:14).
This brings us to chapter 15—the final chapter in this section. These very natural issues of life also speak to the brokenness of life in a very specific way: the challenges of human sexuality and the sanctity of life in a fallen world.
In this chapter, the theme is bodily discharges. More specifically, these discharges are those of semen and blood. Both of these are related intimately to matters of sexual reproduction. As we will see, the structure of this passage points to this being the central theme. The discharges mentioned here are said to render the individual ritually unclean. That is, they would not be admitted to the tabernacle when they were in such a condition. A certain process would need to be undertaken for the person to be rendered “clean” and thus qualified to worship God at the tabernacle.
Brokenness in the Bedroom
What must be observed in this passage is that something that is quite natural, and in many ways proper, is also deemed to be broken. Yes, human sexuality is a gift from God. But because of sin, this wonderful gift is frequently abused and often perverted. This law was therefore given by God to help His people appreciate the gift by putting some boundaries around it. This law teaches us something about God’s boundaries around sex while at the same time (in the context of) instructing us about the sanctity of life. When these two are separated then sex is mythologised and life is marginalised. This is precisely where we find ourselves today. Our society has mythologised sex and marginalised life. And this is all because we have minimised God. But where God is maximised then life is valued as sex is protected through marriage being enriched. These facts of life will come to the fore in our exposition.
May God give us a special measure of grace in this study so that we might leave it knowing God better and loving Him more.
I have divided this study into two major sections: the biological facts of life, and the theological fact of life.
The Biological Facts of Life
The biological facts of life are stated in vv. 1-30.
And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean. And this shall be his uncleanness in regard to his discharge—whether his body runs with his discharge, or his body is stopped up by his discharge, it is his uncleanness. Every bed is unclean on which he who has the discharge lies, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean. And whoever touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. He who sits on anything on which he who has the discharge sat shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And he who touches the body of him who has the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. If he who has the discharge spits on him who is clean, then he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Any saddle on which he who has the discharge rides shall be unclean. Whoever touches anything that was under him shall be unclean until evening. He who carries any of those things shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And whomever the one who has the discharge touches, and has not rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. The vessel of earth that he who has the discharge touches shall be broken, and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.
‘And when he who has a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, wash his clothes, and bathe his body in running water; then he shall be clean. On the eighth day he shall take for himself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and come before the Lord, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and give them to the priest. Then the priest shall offer them, the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord because of his discharge.
‘If any man has an emission of semen, then he shall wash all his body in water, and be unclean until evening. And any garment and any leather on which there is semen, it shall be washed with water, and be unclean until evening. Also, when a woman lies with a man, and there is an emission of semen, they shall bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.
‘If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything that she lies on during her impurity shall be unclean; also everything that she sits on shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And whoever touches anything that she sat on shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. If anything is on her bed or on anything on which she sits, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening. And if any man lies with her at all, so that her impurity is on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.
‘If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her customary impurity, or if it runs beyond her usual time of impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her customary impurity. She shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and whatever she sits on shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. Whoever touches those things shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.
‘But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the priest shall offer the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for the discharge of her uncleanness.
The Fact of Sexual Issues
There are only three times in Leviticus in which God directly addresses both Moses and Aaron and this is one of them (v. 1). I do not know for sure why this is the case, but I would guess that it is to emphasise the importance of what is being said. The children of Israel must pay special heed to these words, and probably this was the case because all too often such issues are ignored.
At this point, I wish to point out that these words (and what follows) highlight to us that men of God are called to deal with the delicate issues of life. The church must address matters of sexuality in a direct, clear, unequivocal and, of course, appropriate way. The Bible is for all of life and therefore when it comes to such a critical issue as sexuality the church must think God’s thoughts after Him and must speak His revealed thoughts. That is why we dare not skip this rather delicate chapter in favour of something easier to address.
Sexuality is a fact of life and we must consider it in the light of God’s facts about it. As the church does so, the home is equipped to fulfil its responsibility to do so.
One of the facts of life is that it is the church’s duty to teach the facts of life, which means that fathers are to know the facts of life and then teach their children well. This is the responsibility of fathers, but all too often we leave this responsibility to those leading our culture.
No doubt, one reason for so much perversion in our world is because of fathers who fail to teach their children about the facts of life. They, of course, fail to teach them about the facts of life because they fail to teach them about the fact of life—God. If we do not teach our children who God is then they will never understand the boundaries that God has given to us with reference to sexuality. And an unguarded sexuality is an assaulted sexuality.
The very structure of Leviticus 15 may very well serve as God’s provision to teach our children about the facts of life.
I am not a Hebrew scholar, but those who are point out that this chapter is structured specifically and purposefully in what is known as a “chiasmus.” “Chiasmus (pronounced kye-AZ-muss) is the crisscross figure of speech: a verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first with the parts reversed.”1
It is a literary device to display symmetry of the subject matter and would have caught the attention of an attentive Jew. Wenham notes the purpose of a chiasmus: “Chiasmus is regularly used in Hebrew to bring out the unity of a double-sided event.”2 Nordquist says that “the purpose of a chiasmus (chi=X) is to facilitate memorization in order to drive home a point.” He offers as examples, “We repeat what we remember, and remember what we repeat,” and “the first will be last, and the last will be first.”
It would have served as a pedagogical device to help one to learn the chapter and to teach it to others. It would have been a very helpful means for a father to teach his children the facts of life.
In other words, God used a chiasmus here to drive home some essential truths; truths that the ancient Hebrews needed to always remember and truths that are equally necessary for contemporary Christians.
John Currid explains the structure of the chapter in this way:
A. Long-term male discharges (15:2-15)
B. Short-term male discharges (15:16-17)
C. Male and female together (15:18)
B. Short-term female discharges (15:19-24)
A. Long-term female discharges (15:25-30)3
What is interesting to note is that the pivotal verse in this chapter highlights God’s prescribed way of sexuality: a man and a woman united sexually in marriage—only.
The Fact of the Sexual Infirmity
God reveals His prescription from the outside in. He begins by describing a condition characterised as abnormal with regards to a male and then closes the chapter with reference to an abnormal condition related to sexuality in a female. In other words, the chapter seems to be structured in such a way that we are reminded of both brokenness and wholeness with reference to human sexuality.
A Man’s Infirmity
First, we must consider male sexual infirmity.
Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: “When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean. And this shall be his uncleanness in regard to his discharge—whether his body runs with his discharge, or his body is stopped up by his discharge, it is his uncleanness. Every bed is unclean on which he who has the discharge lies, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean. And whoever touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. He who sits on anything on which he who has the discharge sat shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And he who touches the body of him who has the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. If he who has the discharge spits on him who is clean, then he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Any saddle on which he who has the discharge rides shall be unclean. Whoever touches anything that was under him shall be unclean until evening. He who carries any of those things shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And whomever the one who has the discharge touches, and has not rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. The vessel of earth that he who has the discharge touches shall be broken, and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water.
“And when he who has a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, wash his clothes, and bathe his body in running water; then he shall be clean. On the eighth day he shall take for himself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and come before the Lord, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and give them to the priest. Then the priest shall offer them, the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord because of his discharge.”
This passage describes an unnatural discharge. Many scholars have concluded that these verses describe one who is suffering from the consequences of gonorrhoea. This is inconclusive. Probably, no doubt, this includes but is not limited to this condition. In other words, though this passage would address the result of sinful sexual activity, it is not limited to that. The fact of the matter is that sin has affected every part of our world and the reproductive system is not excluded.
If the individual had a sexuality transmitted disease, this law would apply to him. In such a case, he would be rendered unclean and thus unable to worship at the tabernacle. Of course, this raises an interesting point: Who would know of this condition? If the man was married then, of course, his wife would know. If he was single, then perhaps a brother would know. But largely, it would seem that the man himself would be responsible to make the condition known. This would require honest self-government. But if the individual did not behave responsibly to govern his body in the first place, what likelihood is there of his dong so now? I don’t know. But I do know that God knows, and therefore he would be treading on holy and therefore dangerous ground if he was not honest about his condition.
I recently heard of a pastor who lost his position in his church and is in fact due to spend some time in prison for sexual intimacy with a teenage girl in the church whom he was counselling. He kept his sin secret for a long time, but God knew, and eventually the truth surfaced.
When you gather for corporate worship, are you being honest? Is there an unauthorised emission, which has made it impossible for you to worship? Are you guilty of some sexual sin that hinders you from offering acceptable worship? Have you somehow been disqualified from worship? If so, admit your sin to God (and to anyone whom you have wronged), be cleansed, and offer God the worship that is His due.
Notice also the matter of the contagious effect of this condition. It is clear that whatever this man touched was rendered unclean. In fact, he was deemed to be so infectious that his spittle was to be avoided. This no doubt meant that he could not eat with people unless he did so with care. In fact, for him to even speak with someone was a bit risky. And certainly he could not kiss anyone while in this condition. In other words, he was socially and relationally limited. Such an individual was dangerous to others.
Of course, there are hygienic issues here and this should not be overlooked. God was indeed concerned about containing contagions. Healthcare was a concern of God for His people. But no doubt these hygienic issues also point to spiritual matters. That is, the danger of physical infection points to the dangers of spiritual infection.
With reference to the infectiousness of others, those who lack the self-control to exercise self-government of their “vessels” are dangerous to others (see 1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 13:20). Be careful who you spend time with. This goes for your children as well. For example, do you know the worldview of your child’s teachers when it comes to the facts of life? In the 1970s John Stott wrote (concerning 1 Thessalonians 4), “It comes as something of a surprise to modern men to find an exhortation to sexual purity in the forefront of practical directions to a Christian church.” Actually, that comes as no surprise to me at all. Sexual sin is as rampant in the church as it is outside the church, and we therefore must take responsibility to teach our children properly about this matter.
Loving Your Neighbour
If someone was potentially infected by one with such an issue, then he needed to wash his clothes as well as themselves. It is interesting that v. 11 gives instructions with reference to the washing of hands. It is a shame that man pays such little attention to God’s Word. If they did then so much death and spread of disease could be avoided.
Joseph Lister was a British surgeon and a pioneer of antiseptic surgery, who promoted the idea of sterile surgery while working at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Lister successfully introduced carbolic acid (now known as phenol) to sterilise surgical instruments and to clean wounds, which led to a reduction in post-operative infections and made surgery safer for patients. His findings were utilised in the early twentieth century. Meanwhile, centuries before Dr. Lister’s findings, God had instructed His people to wash their hands!
Dr. Lister’s simple solution changed the world. So it would be if God’s Word was heeded in our society. AIDs is only an epidemic because sin is endemic. And this is so because God’s Word is systemically rejected.
In v. 12 we read that, if a clay vessel came into contact with the unclean individual, it would need to be destroyed. Violation of God’s sexual order is costly.
Having considered these matters, it remains to say that such a law would imply self-government on the part of the one who was unclean. It would require loving one’s neighbour as oneself. But further, prevention is better than cure, and so this law was a means to motivate God’s people to be very diligent to make sure that they remain clean. It would require a prioritising of the tabernacle and prioritising of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Worship would take precedence even over relationships. Worship is the solution to the problem of the idolatry of sex.
Reconciliation and Renewal
In vv. 13-15 the text informs us that, when God cured the man (it is always ultimately God who brings about healing), he was to “count for himself seven days” in which he would (repeatedly?) wash his clothes and bathe himself in running water. On the eighth day, the individual was required to go to the tabernacle to offer up two sacrifices (each consisting of a turtledove or a pigeon).
The first offering was the sin offering and the second was the burnt offering. The former spoke to the issue of confession of sin and repentance, and the latter spoke to the issue of consecration to God. The repentant individual was publicly professing that he had turned from sin and turning to God. When this prescribed act of worship was carried out then atonement was said to be made on his behalf.
This ritual on the eighth day speaks of renewal. It is worth nothing that we have here a glimpse of the reality that one can be cleansed from sexual sin (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
As we will see again later, these public acts of worship meant that one’s “private” life had public ramifications. Harrison observes, “The ceremony reminded all concerned that there was nothing in life that was purely secular, for even things that might seem to have no connection with spirituality were indeed amenable to such an interpretation, since all life was lived under God.”4 In other words, these laws, in particular, made it very clear that all of life was to be lived Coram Deo. This included the bedroom, the sick-room and the kitchen.
After quoting Viscount Melbourne’s infamous observation—“Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life”—Rushdoony writes, “Melbourne’s statement highlights a curious fact: he objected to allowing Christianity any role in a man’s private life: for him it was a formal fact of public life. Twentieth century man denies to Christianity any jurisdiction in public life and relegates it to the private sphere for those who choose to allow it there. In reality, the jurisdiction of Biblical faith is cosmic and total, and therefore inclusive of both public and private spheres.”5
Things have not changed since Rushdoony wrote some forty years ago. But they can—and by God’s grace they will.
A Woman’s Infirmity
Verses 25-30 detail a woman’s infirmity.
If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her customary impurity, or if it runs beyond her usual time of impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her customary impurity. She shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and whatever she sits on shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. Whoever touches those things shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.
But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the priest shall offer the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for the discharge of her uncleanness.
These verses address the possibility of an abnormality with a woman’s reproductive system. Such a woman is suffering from a reproductive infirmity. In this parallel chiasmus, which addresses the issue of a woman’s abnormal discharge, she is considered unclean until she is healed.
In the meantime, as in the case with the man, anything that she touches or anyone who touches her is deemed to be unclean. Of course, this would have significant social (and even familial) implications, but it would have even greater spiritual implications, since she would not be granted access to the tabernacle. She must bring sacrifices, like the man who had an abnormal emission. There is no discrimination here. The same rules apply to male and female.
In verses 28-30, we learn that there was always the offer of hope for one who was so afflicted. God could heal and no doubt often did.
We have an example in the Gospels where Jesus healed a woman with this condition (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-47). He touched the unclean and made her whole. Such is the work of the gospel. That which is broken can be made whole again. But until such time, we tend to corrupt all that we touch in life. Until we are made whole by the gospel, we will be barred from the tabernacle. One day, however, all those who have been atoned for will be perfectly whole.
The Fact of Sexual Intention
In vv. 16-17 and 19-24, in the context of sexual intention, we have laws regarding short-term male and female discharges.
Male Natural (Short-Term) Discharges
Short-term discharges in men are dealt with in vv. 16-17: “If any man has an emission of semen, then he shall wash all his body in water, and be unclean until evening. And any garment and any leather on which there is semen, it shall be washed with water, and be unclean until evening. 18 Also, when a woman lies with a man, and there is an emission of semen, they shall bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.”
In these verses we find God’s prescription for inadvertent emissions of semen, such as so-called “wet dreams.” It should be noted that, in such a case, there was no requirement of a sacrifice (this is “normal” brokenness), but washing was required. This is significant, for it indicates that such emissions are “natural” and that no sin is involved.
Uncleanness is another way of saying unwholeness; it is another way of saying that something is not as it was meant to be, that something is broken.
Again, there is no indication here that this was a matter of sinfulness; instead, it was an issue of brokenness. The natural issues of life have all been affected by the fall.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we have been so affected by corruption that even the most natural and wholesome of things in life are tainted.
But perhaps there is another issue here as well (and we will unpack this later): with such an emission there was a “loss of life.” At the very least, there was no possibility of the formation of a life from such an emission.
Before moving on we need to re-emphasise that sex within marriage is wholesome. It is not dirty or sinful. It is rather the gift of God (Hebrews 13:4). But emissions such as those indicated here are evidence that it is quite possible to become obsessed with God’s gift of sex to the point that it becomes idolatrous. By such a law, God was instructing His people that matters of sexuality must be approached soberly and in the fear of God.
Female Natural (Short-Term) Discharges
Verses 19-24 detail female short-term discharges:
If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything that she lies on during her impurity shall be unclean; also everything that she sits on shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And whoever touches anything that she sat on shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. If anything is on her bed or on anything on which she sits, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening. And if any man lies with her at all, so that her impurity is on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.
This corresponds to the second section of the chiasmus, and here we have the law of God prescribing how a woman is to be treated during her monthly cycle.
It is to be noted that the same rules apply for the male and the female when it comes to bodily discharges. This undercuts the unfounded criticisms by many that the Bible is misogynistic. On the contrary, God treats uncleanness the same in both male and female. In fact, this particular law (as well as that in Leviticus 18:19; 20:18) foes a long way towards treating woman with respect, dignity and with care.
Not Tonight Dear
Consider: If a man inadvertently slept with his wife while she was in her monthly cycle, he too needed to be cleansed. The effect of this law was to give the wife a break; it was a time when she could legitimately have a “headache.” In the words of Rooker, “The prohibition of sexual intercourse during menstruation would certainly be one way of indicating that sexual involvement should not be an obsession in life. Restraint would have to play a part in sexual activity.”6
Again, the issue here is one of brokenness—unwholeness—in a broken world. Discomfort occurs in this fallen world and a woman’s monthly cycle is a regular evidence of this. Men are to be cognisant of this. Men, show respect and practice restraint!
The Sanctity of Life
As with the emission of semen by a male, I believe that this law has much to say about the fact of life that we all too often lose sight of in our discussions about sexuality; that is, the issue of the sanctity of life. We need to ask and biblically answer the question, why sex? The answer is fundamentally because of the responsibility of procreation not merely recreation. I believe that this law points us to this.
Semen in men and blood in women are means of life. But semen that does not unite with the egg of a woman cannot produce life. In fact, the life it carries comes to an end. A woman’s monthly blood is evidence that conception has not taken place. There has been no formation of life.
It has been noted that “blood that was not living or life-giving defiled the holy place.”7 This no doubt was a major reason that God prescribed this law. With such an appreciation, a woman and her household would regularly be reminded that life is the gift of God and that it is to be cherished. “Essentially, [these laws] are inculcating a respect for life. . . . Matters of life and death are involved and should not be treated with indifference. God, the giver of life, wants his people to treat life itself with respect.”8
In a perfect (read: unfallen) world there would be no infertility. That is, God intended these natural functions to produce life and in these cases (except v. 18) the implication is that no life was being produced.
There is much brokenness over barrenness; or perhaps there should be more. That is, it should grieve us that procreation is so easily dismissed and so frequently politicised. We must always keep before us the truth that Israel was God’s chosen vehicle for His seed to come to crush the seed of the serpent. Thus, every Jewish woman looked forward to the possibility that she would carry the Christ child. And so each occurrence of her “customary impurity” served as a reminder of humanity’s need for the Saviour. The cry would be, “Even so, come, Messiah!”
For the same reason, when a male had an emission of semen that was not productive, he was to be sobered in his reflection that God had entrusted men to bring life into this world. And may I simply say that if our culture understood this, then the only “safe” sex endorsed would be that in the marriage bed! Let me put it another way: If we want “protected” sex, we need to engage in biblical worship. And the overflow of that will be an appreciation for the sanctity of life.
One final consideration is in order: If we valued life then there would be much deeper reflection on the use of contraceptives and sterilisation than is currently done.
The Fact of Sexual Intimacy
Verse 18 forms the middle of the chiasmus, which puts at centre stage the blessed union between a husband and his wife: “Also, when a woman lies with a man, and there is an emission of semen, they shall bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.”
In this verse, God prescribed the rite of cleanliness after a husband and wife had been intimate. Again, as we saw with reference to childbirth (chapter 12), this is not because there was sin. Instead, it simply spoke to the issue of brokenness. Our world is so broken by sin that even the best of gifts are not what they were designed to be. And by undergoing this ritual, the husband and wife would be reminded of God having first place in their lives. In other words, worship was more important than sex.
Note again the issue of self-government.
But further, this law (in addition to the other laws in this chapter) was designed to demythologise sex. As we have seen in previous studies, pagan religions in the ancient world mythologised sex. They attached all kinds of superstition to sexual activity, particularly fertility rites that were supposed to ensure that cattle would breed fruitfully and that crops would be abundant (see for example Exodus 23:19; 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21). Mark Rooker points out the pagan belief of the day when he writes, “The declaration of semen as unclean in this passage illustrates the sharp distinction between Israelite religion and the pagan religions of the ancient Near East. In pagan religion, sexual activity among worshipers was believed to activate the gods into fertilizing the soil with rain.”9
But since God intended for the people of Israel to be different, these laws would go a long way towards indicating their distinctive worldview with regard to sexuality. Harrison observes, “The rule . . . made partners in coition unclean for the whole day. This contingency separated sexual activity from cultic worship in a unique manner, and thus precluded the orgiastic fertility rites that were so much a part of religion among peoples such as the Canaanites.”10 And Wenham helpfully notes, “[These laws] would tend to encourage restraint in sexual behaviour. . . . Because sexual intercourse made both partners unclean, and therefore unable to participate in worship for a whole day, this regulation excluded the fertility rites and cult prostitution that were such a feature of much Near Eastern religion. It also served to make ordinary prostitutes social outcasts. . . . This rule deprived the prostitute of social respectability and therefore help to undergird the stability of family life.”11
This law therefore was a means to demythologise sex, but it also did something else: It discouraged intermarriage since those who rejected such divine boundaries regarding sexuality would probably not want to marry those who subscribed to such laws. Thus, these laws of sexuality were a means by which God would protect His people while promoting His purposes. God’s ways always are best!
The Theological Facts of Life
Verses 31-33 present us with some theological facts of life.
Thus you shall separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness when they defile My tabernacle that is among them. This is the law for one who has a discharge, and for him who emits semen and is unclean thereby, and for her who is indisposed because of her customary impurity, and for one who has a discharge, either man or woman, and for him who lies with her who is unclean.
The Fact of Sexual Integrity
These verses conclude this immediate section and are a fitting conclusion to the larger context from chapters 11. They reveal the reason for these particular laws and can be applied to the larger context as well. God gave these laws as a means to protect those who would worship Him.
The priests had the awesome responsibility to protect tabernacle worship. “The priest’s . . . responsibility was to guard the Tent-Sanctuary from the intrusion of anyone or anything that gave the appearance of being unclean, so that the wrath of God did not break out against Israel. He does so by observing all of the laws in Leviticus given to guard the sanctity of the Tent-Sanctuary.”12
Worship is not a free for all. We must worship according to God’s rules and this requires knowing those rules. It requires leadership that knows and is committed to God’s rules. But it also required individual believers to exercise self-government in the light of His rules.
Note that many of the scenarios in this chapter would not be public knowledge unless the person acknowledged his or her condition. But he or she knew the risk if not. Ross notes, “In all probability, some would have feigned purity for the sake of participation in worship services or in society. But devout believers who walked in faith and good conscience before God realized that they could not go to the sanctuary until this chronic disorder cleared up and they had gone through the prescribed ritual.”13
I wonder if we would not be more transparent if we took seriously the holiness of God. Would we not be more honest about our brokenness if we thought that God was dangerous? Would we not be more careful to not contaminate others if we loved them and loved and feared God? Where is the fearful transparency in our lives?
Are you unclean because of the Internet, magazines, TV, fornication, lust, or adultery?
The Fact of Sexual Impotence
Bu “sexual impotence,” I mean simply that sex is not omnipotent. You have heard the marketing adage that “sex sells.” Magazine racks shout this out, as do newspaper and Internet advertisements. Sex grabs our attention and the goal is to grab our money. Of course, one of the problems with this is that sex sells us lies. And the biggest lie that it pushes is that sex satisfies. Mick Jagger did say one thing worth noting, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Sex boasts of more than it delivers. And it was to drive this point home that God instituted this law.
Long before there was a Sexpo, sexting and magazine racks at grocery stores, there was a problem. That is why God addressed this matter in His instructions to His people so long ago. Even in the days in which the Hebrews lived, sex had already reached a perverted state. In fact, as far back as Abraham’s day we have clear biblical evidence that homosexuality was openly practiced (Genesis 19). It would appear that even in Genesis 6 that lust prevailed.
Do You Believe in Magic?
As noted above, archaeologists and historians inform us that in ancient days there were many sexual rites that formed a part of the average pagan worship practices. The idea abounded that if people desired to have good crops some kind of sexual practice was required. This often involved temple prostitutes and perverse priests who willingly slept with you in order to assure that you had a good crop of wheat that year. Such practices are still very common in certain parts of the world. But it does not take too much power of observation to realise that sex in our day has also reached mythic proportions. Most really believe that the highest experience in life is to engage in sexual activity.
In our day we face a similar mythologising of sex and so we need God’s Word to bring us back to reality. In a world saturated with sex, this passage reveals that there is more to life than sex. The obsession with sex was curtailed here by this law. Sex is impotent to cure man’s ills. We need to demythologise sex.
The evidence abounds that our culture sees sex as omnipotent. If you don’t believe this then ask yourself why there is so much pornography. Ask yourself why prostitution is so rampant—everywhere. Ask yourself why it is the common belief amongst advertisers that sex sells. Ask yourself why it is that you rarely see a TV show or film where lovers are not sleeping together—usually outside of the marriage covenant. Ask yourself why infidelity in marriage is the seeming order of the day. Ask yourself why when you come to a border post that you are greeted with a box of free condoms for the taking. Ask yourself why STDs are on the increase. Ask yourself why nations are fighting tooth and nail for the right to kill unborn children. And finally, if these questions are not convincing, then ask yourself why so many churches are now offering more and more sermons on how to enjoy a good sex life in marriage.
Yes, the universally accepted idea of our world is that sex satisfies and that it satisfies supremely—at least until the next time. Our sophisticated culture can mock previous cultures for their foolish belief that particular sexual acts would ensure a bountiful crop and a growing herd, but ours is no different. We still believe that sexual pleasure is the ultimate satisfaction; we still believe that unbounded sex is the means towards a harvest of fulfilment. But God’s Word is given to us to help us to demythologise such nonsense as it points us to the one who alone can fully and truly satisfy: the Triune God as experienced in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The purpose of this law was to put proper boundaries around the gift of sex, thus giving it proper respect while demythologising its cultural perversions. In other words, God’s purpose was once again to teach the children of Israel that He is Lord and is all they need. He is enough. He is sufficient. He satisfies. And He satisfies because He saves.
The Saviour of Life
The facts of life must be regulated by the greater Fact of Life, the Triune God. He alone is Omnipotent. He alone can satisfy. He alone can cure what ails us.
There is a story in the Gospels about a woman who had a prolonged discharge, one that lasted twelve years (Mark 5:25-34). As we have learned, this would have rendered her unclean and cut off from temple worship for over a decade. Though she could still worship God from afar, she could not enjoy the privileges of corporate worship. But, no doubt, her condition of being ceremonially unclean would also have cut her off from intimate contact with others—even in her own home. Imagine the heartache if she was married and had children. However, one day a glimmer of hope shone into her dark world as she heard that Jesus, the one who was making people whole, was passing through town. What she perhaps did not know was that Jesus was on His way to alleviate some other suffering: A man’s daughter had died.
As Jesus passed through her village, this woman reached out and touched the hem of His garment. Immediately, Jesus sensed that power had left Him, and she was immediately healed.
Think about what she had done; think about the risk that she had taken. In fact, what she did, had Jesus been an ordinary man, would have defiled him and rendered him unclean. But of course He was the God-Man. The result was that a woman who was unclean was now made clean; in fact, she was made whole. Rooker observes with reference to Jesus healing those who were unclean that His action “indicates a change in the function of these laws. . . . When they had contact with Jesus Christ, they were immediately cleansed. This immediate cleansing indicated that they did not transmit uncleanness since Jesus did not become defiled. These two events were further indications of Jesus’ divinity, since only God can heal and forgive sins.”14
Imagine the public uproar that may have occurred around this event. But she did not care; she knew that Jesus could make her well and so she ignored public opinion and her faith was honoured (v. 22).
Friend, have you reached the point where you know that you are unclean before a holy God? Do you see your need to be made well? Do you sense your need to be made whole so that you might worship God in spirit and in truth? Then come to Jesus today and reach out to Him by faith. You see, He alone can forgive you of your sin. Jesus died on the cross, not because He was unclean, but because you and I are unclean. But since He was the perfect Man, because He was God, He was able to endure the wrath of His Father for our sakes, with the result that all whom He touches by His grace will be cleansed from their sins. “His life-giving and life-restoring ministry is possible because he became the sacrifice that removed all our impurities and made them clean.”15 That includes you.
Have you been polluted by sexual sin? Jesus can cleanse you. It matters not what sins you have committed. The only sin that keeps you from cleansing is your unbelief. And most unbelief stems from a desire to please man rather than God. Forget what your friends will say and confess your need for the Saviour. Esteem the praise of God more than that of men.
May today be the day when you came to appreciate the facts of life: that you are a sinner who needs the Saviour. May you, like this woman, reach out and experience Jesus confirming to you, “Be of good cheer. Your faith has made you whole.” There is no more important fact of life than that.
- Richard Nordquist, “Chiasmus: The Crisscross Figure of Speech, http://goo.gl/B4B6A, retrieved 30 September 2012. ↩
- Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 217. ↩
- John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2004), 203. ↩
- R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 162-63. ↩
- Rousas John Rushdoony, Leviticus: Commentaries on the Pentateuch (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2005), 149. ↩
- Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 204. ↩
- Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 308. ↩
- Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to Be Holy (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 166-67. ↩
- Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, 203. ↩
- Harrison, Leviticus, 166. ↩
- Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, 222. ↩
- Robert I. Vasholz, Leviticus: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007), 180. ↩
- Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 309. ↩
- Rooker, Leviticus, 209. ↩
- Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 169. ↩