Leviticus 16 continues the instruction from God about becoming clean. The past few chapters have addressed men and women and their unique personal situations around uncleanness and how to be restored. Now God turns his attention to his leadership and the people at large. He has Moses give some pretty clear instruction to Aaron. “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die”.
Not any real options here. Obey or die. That is the reality of sin and how God sees it. It isn’t something to ignore or think lightly of. It is a deep and highly important thing in God’s eyes. Aaron was to clean up his own life and then work on the people at large. “He shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins”. Sin touches those around us, even down to the places we are and live. Sin is a big deal. It must be addressed.
The good news is that God has made a way for us to be set free from sin. In this time, it was a series of sacrifices and rituals that cleansed the impact of sin and restored the relationship with God. Jesus went to the cross to change that process and we are offered freedom from sin through His shed blood on the Cross. It still requires us to do something though – we have to confess our sins and repent from our sinful ways and claim the grace and mercy of God through Christ that sets us free.
So sin is a big problem for all of us. Scripture is clear that all of us will sin. That means we need forgiveness. God has made it clear that we can receive that through Christ, and be cleansed from our sin. “For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins”. Whether the sacrifice was bulls and goats that Aaron offered up, or the blood of Christ shed on the cross, we can be set free if we do the right things and allow God to be our God!
Leviticus 15 focuses a bit more on being clean for worship. Leviticus is a book which was written so that the people of God would come to understand how to worship before a holy and righteous God. The Lord desired the worship and lifestyle of His people to be distinct from the ungodly nations around them. Leviticus addresses guidelines in four areas:
- priestly duties
- uncleanness in worship
- individual holiness
This chapter addresses several areas of uncleanness in human discharge and is given to help the priests separate the holy from the unholy. So God gets pretty granular in His instruction here, and while it falls short of an anatomy lesson, it certainly does get right down to the basics of life. Concerning male bodily discharges, there are two different kinds mentioned: unnatural discharges and natural discharges. He does the same with women. In both cases, there are very specific instructions given as to how to become clean again so one could resume worship of God.
For men, unnatural discharges were primarily caused by a sexually transmitted disease (probably gonorrhea) would render a man ceremonially unclean. “When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean”. Since the discharge from the organ is highly contagious, anything or anyone who touched the discharge also became unclean and needed to follow specific guidelines for becoming clean again. After the cleansing had taken place, the individual had to wait seven days and then on the eighth day offer a sin offering and burnt offering. With a natural discharge, primarily related to intercourse, the man was unclean til evening and merely had to wash his body to become clean again.
With women any unnatural discharge was probably caused by a disease. She remained unclean until the discharge was cleared up. “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity….all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness”. A woman’s natural discharge would happen once a month and make her unclean for seven days. There was a specific set of steps a woman was required to go through each month to once again become clean. While this all may seem a bit over the top, God did not want His people to come before Him with any type of bodily impurity, whether it was natural or unnatural. He had strict guidelines that were designed to remind the people that they were also to be pure in heart when they worshipped Him!
Leviticus 14 continues with the laws around leprosy. In this chapter, God instructs the priests on how to cleanse someone that has recovered from the disease. That certainly didn’t happen all the time, but it obviously did on occasion. “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing”. Oh what a great day that had to be for one who has been living outside the camp since the disease infected them. They’ve been away from their family and home for some time, and now they are ready to re-enter the camp.
The priest went out of the camp to the place the person was staying to do an inspection. Once it appeared the person was clean, the priest would begin the process of restoring the person to the community. “He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean”. There was quite a process to go through – from washing all his clothing to shaving the hair off his body. He still had to wait seven days – sort of an in between stage – where the person lived outside his tent until one final inspection.
Of course there were offerings that were part of the cleansing, and the priests were deeply involved in the entire process. This chapter addresses one more job that the priests had – that of being home inspectors. God told them that some homes might be impacted with leprosy, and it was their job to get everyone out when the head of the house came and told them, and determine if the disease had infected the house. So they really had a varied set of things they needed to take care of as priests.
When notified, the priest would to visit the house. “Then the priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease….the priest shall go in to see the house…. if the disease has not spread in the house after the house was plastered, then the priest shall pronounce the house clean”. This is one nasty disease that not only impacted people, but also could affect garments and even houses. So the priest had to be very versed in health and disease management.
Leviticus 13 is God’s instruction around leprocy. The priests play a critical role as doctors and prognostic examiners around this cruel and contagious disease. When there was a sign of something that could be leprous, the person was to appear before Aaron at the entrance to the tent of meeting for examination. “When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean” if it was clearly leprocy. If not, the person would be determined to be ok and able to return to his family.
The process of determining leprocy was obviously not simple as this chapter defines a number of different scenarios that Aaron and the other priests needed to determine. At times, people would be put into seven day quarantines to see if there were any changes in the skin or hair. If it got white and was changing – it was a sign of leprocy and people would be sent outside the camp. It was a requirement of a person with leprocy to always warn those who were in the area by calling out “unclean, unclean”.
And they were to be living outside the camp apart from those who did not have the disease. “He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp”. It was a lonely life. They were basically isolated and kept apart so the disease did not spread to others in the camp. So the job of the priests was critical not only for the worship of God, but also for the health of the nation. The priests had to understand the direction from God on how to examine those that showed signs of leprocy, and determine if in fact it was.
In some cases the news was good and people were truly not leprous, but had other skin diseases that they could be cleansed of by washing or waiting. But those who had the disease were cast out of the camp and had to remain there until they got the all clear from the priests. In many cases, that day never came and they lived a lonely life until the disease killed them. The direction from God also covered the washing of garments and destruction of them as well if they had been touched by the disease. Thank God for the advances in medicine that have helped overcome this terrible disease.
Leviticus 12 lays down the law for circumcision where God says “on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised”. The chapter also talks about the process for a woman who has given birth to become clean again after the birth of her son (seven days plus 33 days) or her daughter (14 days plus 66 days). Exactly double the time to become clean and purified after birth for a daughter compared to a son. After waiting the appropriate length of time, she was to deliver an offering.
“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”. Giving birth is a pretty big deal, and it took time and a sacrificial offering to restore a woman to cleanness “from the flow of her blood”. We see over and over in scripture the sacredness of blood and the importance of how it is handled, whether in sacrifice, forgiveness or cleansing. Blood is the very source of life and must be treated with respect.
Some may say this doesn’t seem fair – the woman is treated differently than the man at the birth of a child. It is an outcome of the time this was written, and also demonstrates the differences between God’s creation of man and woman. We are all created in His image but we are not equal in all ways. God designed us, male and female He created us, and has created us uniquely and with His design in mind. The world today is trying to make us all equal and the same, but in fact, that is not God’s intent at all.
Far too much is being done by society today to attempt to take some of the manliness out of young men. There is a focus on ‘feelings’ and ‘emotion’ which are not bad in and of themselves, but the concept that men should act the same way as women is ludicrous. It is not God’s design. We are not created the same, nor should we act that way. TV and movies and every other facet of society is attempting to remove the differences between the sexes when in fact God designed us differently. We are His, created in His image, and that does not mean equal or the same.
Leviticus 11 addresses the kinds of things that God intended His people to eat. In a short word, “Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat”. That is a pretty large group of animals, but certainly does not capture the entire creation. God addresses a number of specifics in this chapter, which provide some insight into why this is part of His law. Was He simply trying to deny His people access to some tasty treats?
The truth of the matter is that God had some reasons for writing these laws. Some of it was related to health and well being and prevented bad things form happening to His people. There were three key categories of animals that were unclean:
- Potentially poisonous or dangerous foods
God wasn’t just trying to deny the opportunity to eat certain things – there was rhyme to His reason.
This all changed in the New Testament and Paul pointed out there that we have the freedom to eat whatever we want to. (1 Tim 4:1-5) But that doesn’t mean we necessarily should, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we can eat whatever and whenever we want. The battle with food has moved from what is permissible to the waistline for many of us today. We have the blessing of food, but now we have to learn to control the amount and how we do it. Food can become an idol in our lives. It can be sinful today too.
The key lesson here is that God does have a plan for every area of life, including what we eat. In the Old Testament days, He has specifics around what was permissible to eat. Today it is a focus on making sure food does not consume us and cause us to fail to take care of our body – which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Food is one of the key parts of life, so it isn’t going away any time soon. We have to learn to keep it in line with God’s truth and not allow it to destroy us or consume us.
Leviticus 10 begins with a rather stark example of what happens when people are disobedient to God. Two of Aaron’s sons, men that were serving as priests in the tent of meeting, “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord”. Nadab and Abihu did not do as the Lord had commanded. They did things on their own, did them their own way, and it was sinful. No where did God give them any direction that was even close to what they chose to do.
On the surface it seems pretty harmless. They took their censer, put incense on it, and burned it. They didn’t sprinkle the incense on the altar and burn it there as they had been commanded. The reality is that God had not authorized or commanded a single one of the things they did. They did things their way rather than God’s way, and paid a price for their sin, in this case immediate death. The bottom line is that they offered unholy fire before God. They did not follow His commandments but did things their own way and violated what He had instructed.
Seems pretty harsh doesn’t it. But it just shows us how very crucial sin is in our lives. It is not something we can just take lightly or ignore. There is a real problem with sin – it separates us from God and always has consequences. Does that mean we will die when we sin? Obviously not for all of us sin but we’re not all dead, at least not physically. But sin does kill us spiritually in that it puts a chasm between us and God. And when we don’t address sin, which in our case happens through seeking forgiveness and cleansing through the shed blood of Christ, we’ll experience eternal death and separation as well.
Throughout scripture we see that God holds certain people to different standards. Here the priests are held to a high standard of obedience. “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses”. God’s commandments are not suggestions, and are not open to interpretation. Aaron and his sons were required to do exactly as God commanded. Disobedience always carries a price tag. In this case it led to death. We need to heed God’s Word!