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Feb 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 23, 2020


The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eight day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. Leviticus 12:1-4

Intro: Years ago, I was asked to speak to a large church in Europe

Afterward, the pastor and his associate invited me to lunch
– on our way to restaurant they cleaned hands with disinfectant wipes
• probably a wise and healthy thing to do, after shaking so many hands
◦ but it seemed wrong to me
• it felt like they were wiping off the contact they had with ordinary people
◦ that was exactly the behavior of Pharisees in Jesus’ time
◦ and it had evolved from purity laws like those in Leviticus
– we don’t derive the same value from this part of scripture as the original readers
• the nations around them were haunted by sinister forces
◦ they had all sorts of amulets, charms and spells for protection
◦ even today a popular talisman in the middle east is the “the evil eye” symbol
• Israel’s purity code was Israel’s protection from bad juju
◦ although their worldview was significantly different from ours,
◦ these rules still have something to say to us

Chapters 12-15 continue last week’s theme of ritual contamination

Their dietary restrictions divided clean from unclean animals
– some foods entering entered the body would make it impure
• impurities interfered with their connection to God
◦ these impurities were not moral or physical, but quasi-spiritual
◦ God’s holiness was a barrier that could not be violated
Mary Douglas observed that the purity rules offered them protection from “the dangers of impurity in the approach to the tabernacle, the danger that holiness will break forth and destroy or that impurity will break in and contaminate.”
• impurity could attach itself to their bodies
◦ in fact, the body continues to be a focus of concern in Leviticus
– both chapters 12 and 15 have to do with fluids that exit the body
• the contents of all four chapters summarized at the end of each section

Chapter 12 deals with impurity caused by chidbirth

There was nothing sinful, wrong, or dirty with childbirth
– but delivery drew thin line between birth and death
• there were ancient beliefs that spirits showed up at childbirth
• both the mother and child were vulnerable
– Leviticus has nothing to say about evil spirits and childbirth
• it shifts concern to God and his holiness
• protection for mother and infant are offered Israel’s worship
◦ that is, there was a period of separation from the sanctuary
◦ then afterward, there was a sacrificial offering for atonement

The sacrifice the mother brought is referred to as a “sin offering”
– Robert Alter says that is misleading, since no sin was committed
• he suggests “offense offering”
◦ the offense was the impurity that occurred naturally
◦ it only a problem if the mother had contact with anything holy
• it’s like the “pig in the parlor” I mentioned last week
◦ there was nothing morally wrong with the mother’s condition
◦ but for a space of time, it would be out of place for her to enter the sanctuary
– and that’s the issue here – blood belongs in the body
• outside the skin, it contaminates the body

Chapters 13-14 deal with impurity caused by leprosy

The first challenge here is that leprosy is not what we usually think
– the way it is used in English refers to Hansen’s Disease
• it is a serious illness and can be fatal if not treated
• what Leviticus describes is a variety of skin conditions
◦ it includes infections resulting from boils and burns
– Leviticus makes the priests experts regarding these ailments
• they would have to examine and diagnose the skin disease
• the protocol for person who proved to be leprous:
◦ they had to wear torn clothes
◦ they could not groom their hair
◦ they had to cover their upper lip with a veil
◦ they had to shout “Unclean, unclean” if anyone approached them
◦ they had to live alone outside the camp

The body’s first layer of protection (or covering) is its skin
– there is a second layer of protection for the body – its clothing
• this can also be infected by “leprosy”–i.e., mold or mildew
– the priest would inspect the garment, then it was washed
• next, there would be a trial period in which it was set aside
◦ afterward, the priest would reexamine it
◦ if the infection had spread then the garment was burned
• eventually it was either spared or burned

Chapter 14 shifts from clothing back to the leper
– it describes the ritual for purifying the leper when “clean”
• the priest would have to go and examine him or her outside camp
• the ritual for purification and atonement involved several sacrifices
◦ one part of the ritual was similar to consecration of priests
◦ blood, then oil, was applied to right ear lobe, thumb of the right hand, and big toe of the right foot
◦ in both instances, for the priest and the leper, holiness was the central concern
the priest was ordained for a sacred position
the leper was purified from an unclean condition
And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for him who is cleansed (v. 31)
– atone means “to cover” — to permanently remove from sight
• after the body’s first layer of covering is clean again,
◦ through the atonement ritual, the body’s purity is re-covered

The last part of chapter 14 brings us to the body’s third layer of covering
– and that is a person’s home – the house can also be infected
• in all three layers–body, clothing, and home–the protocol was same
• the priest would examine, diagnose, quarantine, re-examine, and then pronounce the person, the garment, or the house either clean or unclean
– here are three concentric circles that move outward from the body
• and they keep going, from their houses to God’s dwelling
Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst (Lev. 15:31)
(ch. 16 will address an annual purification of God’s tent)

Chapter 15 returns to bodily fluids

In this case, the fluids have to do with procreation
– Leviticus takes seriously the spiritual energies involved in procreation
• its connection is to the original divine act of creating human life
– it is worth noting, Leviticus has nothing to say about other fluids
• tears, sweat, blood from wound or nose bleed, or eliminating waste
• none of these normal, daily processes require special attention

Conclusion: Remember why we’re trudging through Leviticus

The Book of Hebrews will have something to say about these purifying rituals
– and it will reveal their fundamental inadequacy
– for now, what useful information from Leviticus can we take home?

Jesus had a run-in with some scribes and Pharisees over these rules (Mk. 7:1-23)
– they had over-interpreted them,
• so that they were performing little baptisms all the time
In Mark’s Gospel we read, For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches (Mk. 7:3-4)
• so the Pharisees criticized Jesus’ disciples for eating without washing
◦ but Jesus said they placed their tradition above God’s commandments . . . thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down (Mk. 7:13)
◦ then he reinterpreted the whole idea of purity
There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. . . . For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness (Mk. 7:15 and 21-22)

Few of us pass the “pure in heart” test
– our hope is in the atonement Jesus provides
• that our hearts can be purified again and again
• and at ever deeper levels as we become aware of what lies within

A favorite story of mine comes from Mark chapter 1. A leper came to Jesus, and kneeling on the ground in front of him, said, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Notice he did not say, “If you can, will you please make me clean.” He knew Jesus could do this, but he did not know if Jesus was willing to do it for him. Jesus was moved with compassion for this leper and he did the unthinkable, he reached out and touched his unclean body. “I will,” Jesus told him, “be clean.” It is no different when we come to Jesus with a heart that needs to be clean. His touch and his word sets us right.

Another favorite story is found in Luke chapter 5. There was overwhelmed by what Jesus did for him, and in his boat he also fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Jesus told him not to be afraid, that he would soon be catching men and women in the Lord’s gospel net. But let’s listen to their conversation by putting together what Peter says and how Jesus’ call came to him from the Gospel of Matthew.
Peter: “Depart from me.”
Jesus: “Follow me.”
Peter: “I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Jesus: “I will make you a fisher of men.”

Some Christians are on unending quest to find their Calling
They are either lured by the exotic or heroic
or else they’re terrified by the primitive and bug-infested
But it is here in our everyday world–
at times frustrating, at other times boring–
that Jesus sets us to work
The Lord fits us for service
and this is it
our work is always right here, right now

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