Over the last few weeks, on a wide array of various topics, we’ve seen God tell His people, “In order for Me to create you into a people so fundamentally different from the world that you’d be a light unto the world of a better way to live, I want you to know it’s ok for you to do this, but not ok for you to do that. You can enjoy these things, but not those. I want you to handle these type of situations that way and not the way everyone else handles them.”
In chapter 11 we worked our way through what is commonly referred to as the Dietary Guidelines. As the Hebrews approached the Land of Promise — through these prohibitions to their diet — God wanted them to always remember they were not scavengers nor were they to be predators. They were to place their complete trust in Him for their provisions.
In chapter 12 we see an incredible demonstration of God’s grace towards a woman who’d just given birth to a child. While the curse of sin had resulted in a real pain in childbirth, God tenderly establishes a framework whereby the woman had time to rest, heal, and nurse.
In chapters 13-14 God laid out a very specific set of guidelines for how the people were to handle leprosy or in the Hebrew language tsara`ath (sigh·ra·ath). While the ancient cultures viewed all sickness as being the judgment of the gods, in this new ordering of things the God of Israel makes an important distinction between His judgment and normal illnesses.
Not only does He establish a very detailed set of procedures for how the priests were to diagnose a leprous infection in an individual, an outbreak in a person’s clothing, or leprosy discovered in a physical dwelling, but God also lays out protocols for what was to be done when a person judged by God on account of sin also experienced His cleansing touch.
This morning as we turn to Leviticus 15 we’re going to wrap up this section by looking at the guidelines and stipulations pertaining to bodily fluids and discharges. Before we dive into the text and discuss the larger ideas God is communicating to His people through this passage, we should note how radicle this chapter is from a medical perspective.
With the scientific advancements that have taken place over the last 150 years we understand how human infections often spread through the transmission of bodily fluids between individuals and how certain diseases can transfer through sexual intercourse.
Because of this realization modern societies wisely place a huge emphasis on personal hygiene as well as general sanitation specifically in order to combat contagion. Sadly, we do less to encourage healthy sexual practices which is why STD’s are rampant in our society.
And yet, while commonplace today, these type of sensical practices are relatively new. Case in point… We take for granted the fact washing with water and anti-bacterial soap or what’s called “scrubbing down” before a surgery wasn’t adopted by the medical community until the 1800s. For most of human history it wasn’t the disease that brought you to a hospital that eventually killed you, but the one you contracted at the hospital itself!
You see from a practical angle the two core practices established by God in Leviticus 15 — one that limited contact with a person who had a discharge of bodily fluids with the second calling for a complete washing with water if contact was made — was revolutionary. God’s law did not intend to limit the ability to enjoy life, but to safeguard our ability to live!
Before we get to the larger ideas at play, let’s kick things off this morning by working our way through the entirety of this interesting chapter… Leviticus 15:1-3, “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 flesh), 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.”
In order to understand what’s being communicated you must obviously take a moment and define what God is referring too when He describes “a man” who “has a discharge” coming “from his body.” Note: The same word will be later used in relation to woman as well.
For starters, translating the Hebrew word for “discharge” is difficult. In the KJV this word is translated as “when any man hath a running issue out of his flesh.” To be fair there are a few commentators who say the word “discharge” is broad enough to include things like diarrhea or dysentery. And yet, the challenge with this interpretation is really twofold.
On one hand it doesn’t explain why a “sin and burnt offering” would be required once a man or a woman was “cleansed of their discharge.” If this was applicable for say diarrhea, everyone in the ancient world would be constantly making these offerings at the tabernacle.
The other obstacle is that there is no mistaking the context of the “discharge” itself is presented in relation to a sexual organ. What makes a precise translate problematic is the Hebrew word we have here — zowb (zōve) — is only used in this one chapter. The word is never used anywhere else in the Old Testament Scriptures.
It would seem the most balanced way of interpreting “discharge” would be that there was an “issue” with the sexual organ itself — the organ wasn’t operating according to God’s design! The reason this definition for zowb (zōve) is important is that it provides a more consistent application throughout the entirety of its use in the text.
For example, in verse 19 we’ll read how a woman’s normal mensural cycle will be called a “discharge of blood,” but won’t require any type of offerings. In this dynamic the definition for zowb (zōve) is still applicable because — while not caused by a specific sin of the woman — female mensuration wasn’t part of God’s original design and instead the curse.
That said… The reason a “discharge” in a male and one coming from an extended “flow of blood” from a woman (verses 25-27) did require a “sin and burnt offering” centered on the underlying causation being a venereal disease. Eugene Peterson’s The Message actually presents verse 2 the following way, “When a man has a discharge from his genitals.”
What this means is the man God is referencing in the first 15 verses and the woman with a continual flow of blood later in the chapter were both experiencing the natural consequences of a sexual sin. Because of either a leaking water hose or downward spout, the man and woman were considered “unclean” making any type of contact strictly prohibited. A sin in a private area fostered very public consequences and embarrassment.
Because this “running issue” now made him “unclean”… Leviticus 15:4-7, “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. (Applicable to anyone tending to the man.) 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.”
Leviticus 15:8-12, “If he who has the discharge spits on him who is clean (this would be a sneeze or cough), 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.”
Leviticus 15:13-15, “And when he who has a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, 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.”
In his commentary on this passage on EnduringWord.com David Guzik writes, “The idea is of some obviously abnormal genital discharge, indicating some type of disease. When this occurs, the man was to be somewhat isolated in order not to pass on the infection to anyone else. After the discharge had stopped, a sacrifice had to be made.”
It’s worth pointing out the two offerings required (“sin and burnt offerings”) reinforce the idea the man’s “discharge” had manifested on account of some type of sinful behavior. Following his cleansing — which was made evidenced by the fact the “discharge” had been gone for an entire “seven days” — he would “wash his clothes and bathe his body in running water.”
Once “clean” the man was then instructed to come to the “tabernacle of meeting” and offer first the Sin Offering — an act that acknowledged his sin, and the Burnt Offering — an act of repentance and faith in the sacrifice God would ultimately offer to atone for all sin!
Leviticus 15:16-17, “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.”
According to these verses if a man were to fire off a round on accident or empty his clip on purpose without the involvement of a female, God says he was “unclean until evening” and needed to take the appropriate steps to clean up his mess: “wash all his body in water” as well as wash “any garment or any leather on which there is semen.” This seems fair!
Leviticus 15:18, “Also, when a woman lies with a man, and there is an emission of semen (implied in the woman), they shall bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.”
Fella’s, I should say as a Bible scholar and in way of a practical application, including “a woman” in your “emission of semen” is a win, win! Not only is there less to clean up (no garments or leather), but God is very specific you also get to take a bathe with her! If she has any issue taking a shower with you after sex just take her to Leviticus 15:18!
On a more serious note it’s also worth mentioning we find presented here a great example of this concept of being “unclean until evening” not referring to moral impurity. In Hebrews 13:4 God is clear that “marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled.”
Understand, God intentionally separated the genders so that their reunification in sexual intercourse under the protective umbrella of a marital covenant would be fun. Sex is not only for procreation, but for unification through gratification. While pleasurable and enjoyable, God does add a bit of sobriety to the process. “Clean up afterwards!”
Leviticus 15:19-24, “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. (We’re talking about a woman’s normal, monthly cycle.) 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. (Note: They didn’t have the same sanitation products we possess.)
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.”
In Leviticus 18:19 and chapter 20:18 God will forbid a man from having sex with a woman during her cycle. In fact, the consequences for disobedience were severe. With this in mind, in this passage God seems to be referring to a situation whereby the man, in having intercourse with his wife, inadvertently — and likely to his surprise — initiates her period. In such a dynamic he’s not to be expelled from the camp, but is “unclean seven days!”
What I find to be particularly interesting about this passage is two things. First, God has a woman’s well-being in mind while she’s cycling. I mean He doesn’t want to make her mad either! Seriously, knowing the terrible experience this time of the month is for a woman and the horny, selfish nature of most men, God simply declares her off-limits! “Shut it down!”
Secondly, in my study I ran across one Rabbinical perspective on this prohibition that argued in creating a dynamic whereby a couple was forced to abstain from sex for a period of time each month God was establishing a monthly renewing of the marital relationship! There are times a designed and structured break from sex can help reignite the passion.
Leviticus 15:25-30, “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. (There is no question what’s happening here is abnormal.) 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 (literally her separation); 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.”
Because the process for her cleansing of this abnormal flow of blood is identical to the man with a discharge caused by sinful choices, it’s safe for us to assume a similar causation.
Closing out the chapter… Leviticus 15:31-33, “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.”
One component of this chapter that is unmistakable and profound centers upon a contrast God was establishing between His people and the pagan nations around them — specifically in relation to human sex and the tabernacle of meeting. While sexual activities, prostitution, and perversions were typical in the worship and temple practices of the ancient pagan religions, God wanted a clear delineation made between them and His people.
You see the designation of this constant refrain “unclean until evening” even being applied for accepted and permissible sexual relations between a man and his wife prohibited any intentional or unintentional overlap. In no way shape or form did God ever want sex associated with or incorporated into His worship! In fact, to disobey His commands would be to “defile His tabernacle” and bring upon themselves a certain death.
The second thing I want to bring to your attention is the fundamental difference between this chapter and what we saw in relation to leprosy. There is no doubt experiencing the judgment of God is much more severe than a natural consequence for sinful choices.
Regarding this “discharge” the diagnosis was largely left up to the individual. Unlike leprosy, there was no inspection process in the declaration of being either “clean” or “unclean.” While with leprosy the cleansing process was extensive, the offering in chapter 15 was “two turtledoves or two young pigeons” irrespective of what you could or couldn’t afford.
I should also add for those in the audience who aren’t married… Sex outside of marriage will always yield negative consequences. Yes, STD’s are real and at epidemic levels in our culture. But even if you’re careful, please understand, because God created sex as the instrument whereby two separate people become one, intercourse outside of a marital covenant will rob you of a future experience you’ll want reserved for only your spouse.
Honestly, I’ve never met a married couple who were so thankful they slept around before saying, “I do!” Instead, it’s always a regret they weren’t patient and waited until marriage.
While obviously different from leprosy, Leviticus 15 does establish an significant spiritual concept that plays an important role in the work Jesus would ultimately accomplish.
In Mark 7 the Pharisees (the religious leaders in Israel) get all over Jesus because He and His disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating. After a lengthy retort Jesus wraps up His response by saying, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.”
It’s interesting, but this concept of what “comes out of a man” being the “thing that defiles him” finds its legal basis established ironically in all places Leviticus 15! If you move beyond the particulars of emitting semen and flows of blood, the chapter sets up the framework by which a person’s internal condition of being “unclean” is determined by an outward “discharge” manifesting from a sinful decision and a contracted disease.
If you employ a little allegorical license there is a macro-application for this chapter that is both astounding and deeply relevant… I have found that whenever we have chronic sins (“running issues”) occurring in the private areas of our lives they never stay hidden for long.
Whether its a sexual proclivity or lust, resentment or growing insecurity, animosity or a root of bitterness, genuine hurt, envy or jealousy — some private matter festering deep within… Ultimately, these issue will either bleed out defiling almost every aspect of your life or with time they’ll emit a toxic discharge defiling yourself and affecting those around you.
Sadly, you know what happens when a person is bleeding all over everyone with all their problems and complaints or if they’re emitting seeds of discord or dissension? They end up lonely and isolated! Because they’re unclean, people simply grow tired of constantly dealing with them. I mean constant washing every time we hang out can become taxing!
So what’s the remedy? How can a person find themselves cleansed of internal ailment — a “running issue?” One aspect of this passage I’m really fascinated by is how eerily silent it is concerning this question. In verse 13 we read, “And when he who has a discharge is cleansed of his discharge…” Then again in verse 28, “But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall…” While the text explains what should happen after the person is “cleansed,” it provides absolutely no insight into the way in which the cleansing took place!
Since our text doesn’t answer this question, it’s only logical our answer would be found in a story whereby a person described for us in Leviticus 15 experiences a cleansing. In a bizarre twist the only example we have takes us all the way into the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 8:43-48, “Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any (Mark adds that “when she heard about Jesus she said, ‘If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.’”), came from behind and touched the border of Jesus’ garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped. And Jesus said, ‘Who touched Me?’ When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, ‘Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?' But Jesus said, ‘Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.’
Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Jesus, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.’”
This scene is absolutely chaotic. On one side you have Jesus making His way down this ancient Middle Eastern street with a mob of people thronging and pressing around Him. While this is happening in the shadows we have “a certain woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years coming up behind Jesus” in order to “touch the border of His garment.”
The idea that this women had “a flow of blood for twelve years” is the very dynamic outlined for us in Leviticus 15. While difficult to say, tragically this woman had committed some type of sexual sin that had resulted in a continual menstruation for 12 long years. Aside from the shame associated with such a condition, her situation was made worse by the physicians who provided no relief and eventually took all her money. At this point she had nothing left!
Because of this “flow of blood” we understand this woman for the last 12 years had been considered ceremonially “unclean” and banned from all religious exercises. She could not go to the Temple to worship and was largely ostracized from the religious community.
Beyond this, she was also socially scorned. Since no one could touch her, it’s likely her marriage had ended and she’d been forced to watch her kids grow up at a distance.
What really is amazing is that in spite of all of this, after hearing about Jesus, she reasoned that “if only she could touch the hem of his garment” she was confident she’d “be made well.” In an act of faith this woman worked her way through the crowd getting close enough so that she might inconspicuously grab His robe! To her delight “immediately the flow of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction.”
Following her touch and the healing that instantly occurred “Jesus knew that power had gone out of Him” which causes Him to “turned around in the crowd and ask, ‘Who touched My clothes?’” Obviously, as the disciples rightly pointed out, the question was a bit silly considering everyone was touching Him as they were on a crowded street.
The way the scene is described Jesus — largely ignoring the disciples — “looked around to see her who had done this thing.” Knowing she couldn’t remain anonymous for long “the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.” In response Jesus lovingly said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”
Leviticus 15 sets the stage for the uncleanness all men are afflicted with. We’re not sinners because we sin. We sin because of our sin condition. Apart from Jesus the simple reality is that we are all “unclean until evening!” Because of this disease of sin our lives emit a rank discharge. Sin oozes forth from all kinds of selfish behaviors and tendencies. On account of the consequences and the wounds that result our lives are a bleeding wreck. Our internal defilement is made evident by a wickedness emanating in the way we live.
And while Leviticus 15 effectively diagnoses the condition and even teases the possibility of a “cleansing” from such a horrid state, its not until this woman’s interaction with Jesus that we understand the ultimate remedy! How incredible that in a crowd of people “thronging Jesus” it was this one woman who experienced a miraculous healing by touching Him!
Friend, I want you to know it is entirely possible for you to bump into Jesus and even hang around Jesus without ever actually touching Jesus and being healed by Him. You see the key distinction between the mob “thronging Him” and this woman who reached out to “touch Him” was one thing — faith in Jesus! This woman’s belief that Jesus was able to cleanse her moved her to act. In the end it was “her faith that made her well!”
But that’s not all this story illustrates for us… When you study the ministry of Jesus many of those who end up being healed by Him operated under the belief that if Jesus would touch them they would be healed. What makes this woman and her story so interesting is that she believed if she could touch Jesus she would be made well. The opposite approach!
The idea is that there is just as much power to cleanse when you reach out and touch Jesus as there is when He reaches down to touch you! Friend, instead of sitting back and waiting for Jesus to reach down and miraculously cleanse you of your sin, you can instead initiate the miracle by reaching up and grabbing hold of Him in faith!
While Leviticus 15 fails to answer the ultimate question as to the mechanism of the initial cleansing, the one thing our passage does provide some insight concerning is what should be done following a “cleansing.” I don’t think it’s an accident the person who was cleansed of their discharge was then exhorted to “wash in running water.” In fact, this particular line is repeated in our passage over and over again.
You see a “running issue” naturally necessitates “running water!” Christian, we need to continually wash ourselves with a water that is both living and active — that’s perceptive and intrusive — a water infused with power from on high! Never forget God’s Word is the only cleansing agent for our spiritual lives! In Ephesians 5:26 we’re told that Jesus is actively “sanctifying and cleansing us through the washing of water by the word!”
In closing… What grace there is knowing that following an encounter with Jesus our uncleanness is only until evening! It doesn’t have to be a permanent state. Cleansing is indeed possible. In Christ our internal defilement gives way to righteousness, sickness to wholeness, brokenness to restoration. The dark night gives way to the glorious rays of a new day. For it was “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.”
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